CAD, PLM and Future Cloud File Systems

CAD, PLM and Future Cloud File Systems

Cloud is everywhere these days. It becomes a mainstream in our everyday life and it is coming to businesses and enterprises. Emails, photos, social networks, mobile apps… Cloud services and applications are destroying old paradigms and create new ones. One of the most powerful paradigm we developed for the last 20-30 years is folders and files. I’ve been discussing it in the past and want to get back to this topic again. You can navigate to few of my previous posts –  PLM User Experience and The Evil of Folders and The Future of CAD without Files?

One of the most popular concepts of past 3-5 years was development of apps. The idea of Apps replacing everything got viral. Many people thought that apps are going to replace everything (including files and folders). I’ve been reading an interesting publication over the weekend – The Death Of The File System: What You Need To Know. The author is discussing the reason why folders and files systems will remain even after we move to the cloud. Here is an interesting passage.

No file system is a no-go. This is the deepest analysis I’ve found of a vision of a future in which “users simply have apps” and are not conscious of storage repositories. And it doesn’t bode well for workplace users. We may need new UX paradigms. Via JohnnyHolland: “Documents associated with them appear magically. Presto.” While this might sound like some kind of user experience utopia, I have a grave concern that eliminating a file system in this manner misses a huge audience. Us. While opening Pages to work on the family newsletter might make sense for casual home users of a computer system, it does not make sense in a professional context. In the professional world, we work on projects. Projects are composed of many different types of files. And yes, we might have the same apps open all day, but do we want to be forced to duplicate a hierarchy of information in every single application? No. Besides, “projects” are just one type of organizational scheme. As a user experience designer, I’ve seen a lot of professionals in other fields organizing a lot of stuff in a lot of different ways. So even attempts at inter-app organization around the concept of a project, such as Microsoft’s Project Center, are not effective replacements for an infinitely flexible organization scheme like simple folders.

The idea of new UX cloud paradigm emulating folders and files behavior resonates. It eliminates many problems and the biggest one – the need of customers to adopt to something new. Customers will continue to use existing paradigm and some of them even didn’t pay attention how they switch from proven file/folders environment to cloud storage.

The development of cloud platforms is going in parallel. Companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and some others are spending billions of dollars building infrastructure transferring the data to the cloud. Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Apple iCloud – this is only a short list of services emulating cloud files/folders and allowing to us to store a conventional data (eg. files and folders) in the cloud. Navigate to the following article – Google Drive adds apps folders and customer properties for developers to learn about latest Google extension in that field.

The app data folder serves as a hidden storage space that developers can use to store configuration files and other important app data that shouldn’t be changed by the user. Files stored within an app data folder are hidden from both the user and from other apps. Only your app can see what is stored within this location. It prevents other apps from taking information from your files and also stops users from accidentally deleting core app files.

Google and other cloud infrastructure providers are making their cloud platforms fully transparent and available to store engineering data – CAD files, Excels, etc. CAD/PLM vendors are also working in the same direction. A good example – Autodesk 360 provides a convenient way to store files and other application data.

What is my conclusion? File system dead, long live “Cloud File System”. I can see two potential trends related to the development of new cloud-based file systems and storage. First is related to existing applications – with the increased transparency of cloud file storage, I can see a renaissance of existing CAD applications in the cloud. It still hard to predict dynamic and interest, but I can clearly see how existing vendors will be trying to re-use it anyway. Second trend is related to establishment of new native cloud design systems (eg. Autodesk Fusion 360 or long time promised Solidworks Mechanical Conceptual). These systems will provide apps (or webapps), but will keep data (file) storage system transparrent. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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