On 26 May 2010, I had the opportunity to ask Autodesk some questions about the Cloud in general and what was then Project Butterfly (now AutoCAD WS) in particular. The Autodesk people were:
- Guri Stark,Vice President, AutoCAD & Platform Products
- Tal Weiss, R&D Center Manager (Israel)
- Noah Cole, Corporate Media Relations
The interview was conducted by phone conference with no prior notice of the questions. Here is the first part of the interview, which I will be posting in three sections.
Steve: Guri, are you responsible for all of Autodesk’s Cloud-based offerings?
Guri: Tal and I are responsible for Butterfly, that’s the only Cloud-based offering that we are responsible for.
Noah: Steve, you can put the cloud-based offerings into three categories, those that are related to current products and therefore come out of the same organisations and divisions that those products come out of. So Butterfly which is related to AutoCAD so it’s coming out of the AutoCAD group. Similarly what you’d see happening with manufacturing and those projects. You also have the more emerging Cloud solutions like Dragonfly was (that’s now Homestyler) that’s coming out of Labs. So you see projects coming out of either the divisions if it’s related to product or the Labs group if it’s more forward-looking.
Steve: Can you give me a one-sentence summary of each of the Cloud-based offerings and what market it’s intended to fill?
Guri: Butterfly is one we’ll talk about in more detail in a minute. One we just launched as a product is Autodesk Homestyler (previously Project Dragonfly). It’s a SaaS-based offering done completely in a browser, targeting the home improvement market. It’s free to the end user so users who want to redecorate or remodel their kitchen or their living room can access this product, do a layout, place in it different types of furniture from libraries, and see how physical spaces fit together in this 2D and 3D type of product which is a completely SaaS-based offering.
The end user for this is not traditionally an engineer or CAD user at all, it’s more like the person at home; a typical user would be a 35-year-old lady who is interested in home decoration. The libraries in the product are either generic libraries or branded vendor-provided libraries from a variety of vendors in this space. That’s another type of product using SaaS technology that enabled us to get into a market that we’re currently not in.
There are other projects going on under the umbrella of taking existing products and trying to run them in a Cloud environment, and measuring the performance that they give us. All of them are experimental; some of them are on Labs already with some limitations of distance. So if you are in the California area you can try and use, mostly for trial and evaluation, some of our products such as AutoCAD or Inventor even, in this type of environment. You don’t need to install anything because the application runs in the Cloud; you have full access to the full application for a trial perspective.So there are different approaches to the Cloud. One approach is starting from scratch, developing something like Butterfly or Homestyler from scratch in the cloud to try and target a new market possibly. Another attempt is to take an existing application and try and run them centrally in the Cloud and see whatever performance it gets. Currently our intent is to use it for product evaluation.
Steve: The existing products running in the Cloud in the geographically restricted trial, is it just AutoCAD and Inventor?
Noah: AutoCAD, Inventor and Maya are the only ones currently running. There are also two recent technology previews happening in Manufacturing for Centaur and Cumulus which are different, but that involves Inventor and Moldflow.
Steve: With my experience with Project Butterfly, I agree that as a collaboration and review and viewing/markup tool it’s excellent, but it seems to me that it’s also being promoted as a drafting tool; that people will actually draw with it. It doesn’t seem so strong to me, for that. What is Project Butterfly now, and what is it going to end up being?
Guri: Steve, we’re not promoting this as a drafting tool, we say that the real authoring tool to create drawings is AutoCAD on the desktop. This enables you to upload a drawing that was created using AutoCAD to the Cloud, and in addition to review it and annotate it and share it; you can also make changes to it, to edit it. So what we’re providing in Butterfly is editing tools, not really drawing creation tools. I can tell you we have a free product called Autodesk Design Review, this product has only viewing and annotation capabilities. What a lot of users there are asking for is some basic editing tools where they want to make some local changes, and that’s what we are providing. The editing tools are intended for users that are not necessarily AutoCAD users, we keep them simple for that purpose.
Steve: So it’s not intended to be a drafting tool and you never intend it to actually become one in the end; is that correct?
Guri: I’d rather not comment on future direction. I can tell you right now that the positioning of the product is as a web accompaniment to AutoCAD, in a way similar to Microsoft’s Office Online in the most recent Office application is doing, in which an author on the desktop using Microsoft Word can upload it to the Cloud, view it, share it, edit it. So we are enabling editing of documents in the Cloud.
Tal: Just to add to that, we have different platforms, the desktop and the web. Each platform does certain things very well. So authoring, for example, on the desktop is something that is great, it’s mature and you can do a lot of amazing stuff there. What we want to focus on in building a tool for the web is leverage what the web can do for our users. Stuff like being able to access from anywhere, design timeline, collaboration, sharing; really hitting all those sweet spots instead of trying to imitate what’s already up there on the desktop and is working well. That’s why you see the different focus on the different platforms trying to do that thing it can do best.