Yesterday was a very busy day for online community of people involved in engineering and manufacturing software. Onshape, the new cloud CAD ventured founded by Jon Hirschtick and the team announced about availability of public beta. It was hard to miss that announcement in the spike of publications about Onshape. Tons of opinions, initial experience, concerns – this is all good stuff.
My special attention caught by Autodesk CEO Carl Bass blog post – Setting the Record Straight. For the last five years, I’ve seen Autodesk as one of the most visible and prominent supporters of cloud technologies in CAD / PLM business (full transparency – I was Autodesk employee for the last 2.5 years). Autodesk for sure gathered a lot of experience in development and operation of cloud software. So, Carl’s opinion was very insightful. In one of my earlier blog posts I put some of my thoughts why I think Jon Hirschtick and Carl Bass are in the agreement about cloud CAD. But it was clear to me, there are differences as well. I captured few of them in the Carl’s post and wanted to share my thoughts about that.
The first point is about offline and cloud. Here is the passage I captured:
How do we know offline is important? Because when we first rolled out Fusion 360, the single biggest complaint we got is that people wanted access to their data and tools even when they had limited or no Internet connectivity. And how do we know about the tradeoffs? Because we built the tools that more engineers use on web, mobile and desktops than anyone else in the world. Our goal is to make sure our customers have access to the tools and data they need on any device they want.
I think the key point here is “tradeoffs” and real experience. Each customer scenario can be slightly different. If you have limited access to internet, you probably not cloud CAD user. However, in case you are going in the basement of manufacturing facilities or product site with no access, or (this is classic sales example) you want to design on board of airplane, you will appreciate offline access to a snapshot of the data.
My personal experience with Gmail and Google Docs about the same topic shows that you want to get some offline access and there are moment of times, it is very important. Some of them are covered by apps synching a snapshot of your last few days of emails on the device and some of them can be added to the list of actions I can handle when I go back online. What would be very important for me is how seamlessly software can go between online and offline mode. In many situations, I would prefer not to have offline mode if it will make my sync process cumbersome. My hunch, people favorite Google Apps because their online access first. Microsoft Outlook is one of the best tools I used that can provide smooth email sync. However, CAD data relationships and dependencies can introduce a significant challenge to make offline access efficient. But this is an interesting and complex feature to watch.
The second point I captured is related to browsers and installed applications. Here is the comment from Carl post:
Now let me directly address the question of access to the cloud via browsers or apps. Look at your phone or tablet where both the browser and apps exist. Which one do you choose to use? It depends. If I’m accessing my email I tend to use the mail apps on my devices. If I’m using Evernote or Twitter or A360, I prefer the apps. But there are many times where the browser is more convenient and over time, the browser will definitely get better.
The key point I care about is what is my experience. This is what really matters to me. We live at the time roles of operation systems, browsers and applications are often exchanged. While you may think about Chrome as a browser, for Chromebook users, it is an entire operation system. For the last few years we considering installation of software as something disturbing things we like to avoid. At the same time, we are installing tons of apps on our mobile devices and browsers. For many situations, I don’t care about installation until it can update itself when it needed and unless it doesn’t impact what I do – experience is a thing to remember.
However, despite some level of disagreement between Jon and Carl, the following summary is really important. In my view, it is an excellent summary of why cloud is important for the future of engineering and manufacturing software. Here are few passages:
First and foremost, the cloud provides access to nearly infinite and scalable computing power at reasonable costs. In the world of engineering, this is incredibly powerful. We have used the cloud for compute-intensive tasks like visualization, simulation and analysis. The second thing that the cloud is ideally suited to do is be the central coordination point for storage, data management and collaboration. Behind all of our cloud-based products are the tools that allow people to manage their data and their projects.
What is my conclusion? Onshape availability is a great news for the industry of engineering and manufacturing software. Fusion360 and Onshape are two very important products to watch for the next few years. The competition means there is a market to compete for and there is an interest from customers. We can clearly see it now. Beyond that, open discussion is a very good thing to build a healthy industry. Vendors will be innovating and competing – customers will be the first to leverage that. Just my thoughts…
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