Autodesk and Onshape disagree about cloud technology and focus

Autodesk and Onshape disagree about cloud technology and focus


For the last few years cloud became such a fuzzy buzzword, that to say about some software “cloud application” is basically means nothing. All companies are shifting towards cloud. So, to understand “how” actual product is leveraging cloud technology is absolutely important to make a comparison. I’ve been discussing the topic of “how to” with regards to different cloud approaches – PDM/PLM. Why cloud? Wrong question… I think, recent appearance of Onshape generated a large amount of industry discussion about how “cloud CAD” tools can be using different cloud technologies.

SolidSmack came with a great idea of simultaneous interview featuring parallel Q&A with Carl Bass and Jon Hirschtick. 6 questions, 100 words to answer. Short and sweet. Navigate you browsers to the link – Carl Bass + Jon Hirschtick = CAD in The Cloud Interview of the Year and enjoy the read.

I’ve been reading Q&A and was trying to find a key difference between Onshape and Autodesk Fusion 360 approaches. You probably had a chance to read my previous article – Carl Bass and Jon Hirschtick are in agreement about future of cloud CAD. The last Q&A didn’t change my opinion about that. I still believe both Autodesk and Onshape are recognizing cloud as a biggest trend and opportunity to improve design, engineering and manufacturing tools. At the same time, SolidSmack’s Q&A helped me to find a two important differentiations between Autodesk Fusion 360 and Onshape.

Full CAD in a browser

You can clearly read Jon’s statements about “full cloud”, which goes across all his answers. Technologically, it translated in the tech approach to provide full Onshape 3D design capabilities completely in a “browser”. Here is the passage, which explains that in the best way:

Jon: We at Onshape have a very clear and unique strategy: full-cloud 3D CAD. Our full 3D CAD system runs in browsers — no downloads or installs — and on phones and tablets. Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebook, Android, iPhone, iPad — full 3D CAD on any of these.

You still need to install Onshape app to run on mobile devices (I use Onshape iOS app on my iPhone and iPad). So, pure browser solution is applicable approach for running Onshape on Mac, Windows and Chromebook. Yesterday, I had to re-install a very early Onshape app on my iOS because it was crashing to run with upgraded version of Onshape (this is just my guess). Which is again a confirmation that any installation is potentially creating an additional barrier of complexity.

An integrated cloud-based experience

Autodesk Fusion 360 is focusing on how to provide a complete workflow for users going from the early design stage to manufacturing and fabrication. Here is the passage from Q&A:

Carl: We wanted to solve many of the problems that people experience today in terms of the workflows necessary to accomplish their overall jobs—so we used the best of cloud and mobile technology to build a comprehensive CAD system that goes all the way from ideation to fabrication.

Experience is a popular word in a lexicon of modern software. And this is absolutely important for users these days. The traditional experience is to run dozens of tools on a desktop and use files for interoperability between them. This file-based approach has many flaws and, I think, time finally came to change that. Autodesk’s focus to use cloud technologies to connect workflows and integrate between different stages of design is absolutely important.

Next week, I will have an opportunity to attend Develop3D Live where both Jon Hirschtick and Carl Bass are going to speak about cloud CAD. Agenda is here. Develop3D will live stream the event – registration link is here.

What is my conclusion? Autodesk has more mature product, which leverage almost 5 years of Autodesk development and experiments with different cloud tools and customers. Integrated cloud product experience on top of Autodesk A360 platform can be an advantage for many users. Coming later in the game, Onshape is more focusing on developing of unique “pure browser” technologies that can provide differentiation to users – ease of access and simplicity of data collaboration. I don’t see two approaches as mutually exclusive. Onshape apps on mobile devices is a confirmation that Onshape tech can be used with installed software too. At the same time, Autodesk focus on integrated workflows can become more important for Onshape later in the game. At the same time, Autodesk can innovate future with the ways applications are installing and used.  Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Jomphong at



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  • 1d2d3d4d

    There’s only one version of the Onshape App in the iTunes Store.
    Is there an earlier version available than what’s on the Store right now?

  • dmitrat

    I am watching for evolution of cloud CAD, such as OnShape
    and A360, they have many important and useful technologies, which are required
    to us, but on same time I see profound misunderstanding of reality by the CAD
    bosses, as if they are living in they own cloud world.

    Let me explain my position.

    Using File-database to store drawings is a generic problem (disastrous)
    for all CAD-systems, it is extremely uncomfortable, slow and unsafe storage
    method. Most companies long time ago (about 10 years) withdraw this method in
    favor of modern server database. Modern applications can use files as interchange
    format, but not as the main repository. CAD and GIS are the last guardians of
    this obsolete technology. This is because such large manufacturers are extremely
    inert, they are afraid to make extra breath, just not to offend existing

    This is what I need from cloud technologies:

    The project, contains set
    of drawings, their components (for example, blocks) and documentations as main
    working unit

    History of versions and
    revisions with ability to rollback each minor changes to each date


    Specific permissions for
    specific user, even within same team

    Server database repository
    with the ability to export individual elements of the project to file to
    transfer it, for example, by e-mail

    Moreover, it is not necessary to implement this on Cloud, it
    may be a local server. Some companies (for example military etc.) have strong
    security rules, and cannot use global network connections.

    It is obvious requirements and, is some way, they are implemented
    by OnShape and less by A360 (A360 is more similar to SVN, than to relational
    database). However, with these useful things, we get many controversial
    features, which are presents as major advance, rather than to solve problems,
    that exists more the 20 years.

    Why do I need the CAD in browser? Using html 5 and WebGL developers
    get access to PC hardware resources, but each such layer makes it more
    difficult to control resource usage and slow down performance. Native
    application with correct optimization can be much faster on same machine. In
    addition, solutions created using modern platform such as .Net or Java are much
    easier to maintain in future, without transform the application into a hulking monster
    of patches.

    Do you want to perform some computations on Cloud? Why? Each
    year computers become more powerful. Today for just $1000 you can buy a fairly
    fast computer that provides comfortable work even with slow todays CAD. 5-10
    years later computer for $1000 will easily provide real time photorealistic
    rendering, even for CAD (if you, finally, start using modern technology and

    Instead, you invest in the Cloud farms.

    Let us try to estimate. Computer for $1000 provides
    comfortable work with a single instance of the application. 100 of these
    computers, with the total cost of $100 000, will provide a comfortable work for
    100 instances of application. Now the question: how much will cost a server
    that is capable to execute simultaneously 100 virtual sessions for same
    application with same level of comfort as computer for $1000? How much will
    cost administration of this server?

    Your investments in cloud farms, most likely, will never
    return, and most importantly, that people will still buy computers, which would
    still be getting more and more powerful.

    Do you want to make available desktop cad features for tablet/phone?
    I would like to see a man who will seriously work on a 5-inch phone screen
    (10-inch tablet screen). On my opinion, maximum that you need for mobile devices
    – a good viewer.

    Today we have the artifact applications, unchanging for decades,
    new features attached to the old frame, and probably you are no longer able to
    understand your overloaded patched code. Each year you present new AutoCAD,
    Inventor etc., almost same as old, there is no evolution, problems are moving
    from one version to another. Now we have multicore CPU, GPU with thousands of
    cores, but you are selling application, based on core that has not changed since
    the days of single-tasking DOS, and you loudly argue about your vision of the
    CAD future.

    Take a break from the Clouds. Kill file database format and
    make a comfortable modern work with projects, versions and roles, and, most
    importantly, teach, finally, your applications to use the hardware resources of
    modern multi-core machines, make normal parametric, make 3D direct modelling
    with constraints, and make the work with CAD more intuitive – this is your main

    With your financial and human resources, you can create a
    truly modern system, but if your inertia and laziness will not allow you to
    take the right decision – you are doomed. You need to come down from clouds to
    the earth and start working.

  • beyondplm

    I had old one (before release) on my iPhone.

  • vlna

    Congrats! so long and so true… definitely I like it

  • beyondplm

    Dmitry, Thanks for sharing your insight! Single cloud data source is an absolutely key. The faster we kill files – better for the industry. However, I think, the missing point is the power of sharing of resources in the cloud. If some of these vendors – Onshape, Autodesk, or whoever else will prove that to share 100 virtual sessions or instances or… is cheaper than 100 computer, it will mean the end of desktop CAD systems. Just my opinion, of course. Best, Oleg

  • Reda Belarbia

    The onshape is an exclusively cloud based architecture & is working smoothly, with astonishing performance and with embeded collaboration.
    As the product is new, the success will depend on the minimum critical mass
    of functionality they are going to put in version one of the software and the capacity of onshape to bring in quality /complementary partners.

    The openess of the software to existing cad ( for import and translation) is really extensive.
    I see some countries and large customers ( germany, japan etc…) will require on premises installations to secure their data and control it.

    I believe that onshape will gain market share very fast despite a quite well established set of players. If not, as the technology is really innovative, some players will want to acquire the technology . I would prefer the first option as there is strong innovation capacity behind the creators that could risk to be inhibited with an acquisition.

    As far as the market is concerned, the current 2d users ( millions) will find it very simple and easy to adopt. The current 3 D users will be interested as long as it does the work 🙂
    Also the price entry point is like less that yearly maintenance of existing software …..

  • beyondplm

    Reda, thanks for sharing your insight and prediction!

    Agree, Onshape has some impressive technology. Customer / user traction is the most interesting data point to watch about Onshape these days. And it is unpredictable. But I can see how your prediction can work.

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