Autodesk’s cloudy drawing offering

Autodesk’s cloudy drawing offering

Autodesk’s Project Butterfly is its latest offering in the Cloud (Software as a Service, SaaS, web-based software, whatever) area. This is a Labs technology preview (i.e. it ain’t cooked yet) of browser-based drawing system based on Autodesk’s purchase of Visual Tao. The idea is that no software other than a browser is required to create, edit or just view drawings. To try it out, head to and pick on Try Now. If you’re interested in going further with it, you will need to create an account, which is a quick and painless process. This account is separate from your Autodesk ID.

For more details, see Scott Sheppard’s posts here and here, the Project Butterfly blog, and the Project Butterfly page on the Autodesk Labs site, which includes a series of videos such as this one:

I’ve had a brief play with it and while it’s not as horribly slow as I had feared (the Ribbon is much quicker than AutoCAD’s, although that’s not difficult), it’s currently an extremely limited environment. Other than viewing and some very crude drawing operations, pretty much everything I wanted to do either couldn’t be done, or couldn’t be done in a satisfactory way. Once I had discovered how to get a drawing out of the clouds and in my own hands (it’s not Save As), the export crashed with an HTTP Status 500 error. Apparently, the server encountered an internal error () that prevented it from fulfilling this request.

Teething problems aside, it’s hard to imagine anyone accustomed to full-featured CAD software actually spending all day drawing with this mechanism. In fact, I can’t imagine spending more than an hour on it before tearing my hair out; a few minutes was enough. It’s perfectly adequate for viewing and marking up, but as a drafting tool it’s just a toy.

But it’s a start, and Autodesk is wise to get its head into the clouds. If SaaS really is The Next Big Thing in CAD, then Autodesk would have looked very silly if it had missed the boat altogether. I’m not convinced that SaaS is going to have the impact that some are predicting, but I’ll cover that argument in a separate post.


  1. I interviewed a rep from Visual Tao when it was first starting out and loved it. They didn’t (and I think Autodesk is on the same page) that mean for it to replace AutoCAD all day long. It was presented to me as a conferencing tool, or as a way to share information through the web. Because you are right, it can’t be used for full out CAD work, yet. Instead, it is meant for a meeting where both parties can mark up drawings together and both have access to the data. Visual Tao had many more features to it besides CAD. This is just another step in moving to the cloud. Eventually, it won’t matter what your OS is, the internet will be the desktop.It’s a ways off yet, but I feel it will happen.

  2. In the late 90s, every CAD vendor had to have some sort of foot in the Internet waters. If not, then they were seen as un-InformationSuperHighway-savy.

    They tried things like Web-friendly file exports (like DWF), integrated Web browsers (in MicroStation and Pro/E), links to Web-based services (like Buzzsaw), and even server-based CAD (Alibre, originally)!

    It took a few years for the usefulness of the Internet to reveal itself, and one can assume the same pattern will repeat itself for cloud-based CAD.

  3. I don’t think I suggested that Project Butterfly was intended to replace AutoCAD, I’m not sure where you got that idea. I stated that I wouldn’t want to spend all day drawing with it, and I stand by that comment. The Autodesk marketing naturally doesn’t say that it will do your head in if you try to use it for more than a few minutes, so it’s up to independent voices like my own to point that sort of thing out. 🙂

    I hope it will get more usable over time, but it will be interesting to see if it’s allowed to do so or if it’s just ignored to death like so many other Autodesk buy-ins over the years.

    I’m aware of Twitch and would be happy to try it out, but the trial is geographically too restrictive at the moment. Also, having no ability to upload, download, or save files makes it extremely limited even as a trial.

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