Footnotes that changed the direction of CAD
A comment from a reader made me think about the CAD packages that had a big impact on our industry, but never did much in the way of sales. Here are the three most influential.
1. TriSpectives from 3D/eye
(1995) 3D/eye introduced drag and drop modeling, the TriBall interactive 3D cursor, and real-time rendering while modeling. TriSpectives failed to sell enough, even at $500, and so was split in two, with Autodesk buying some technology and the remainder eventually owned by CAXA of China and today sold under the name of IronCAD.
Portions of TriSpectives showed up in Autodesk's failed Actrix software, while IronCAD continues to break ground as the only MCAD software to run both the ACIS and Parasolid modeling kernels. But today, most MCAD programs have copied what the brilliant 3D/eye team invented two decades ago.
2. IntelliCADD from Softdesk
(1998) By the early 1990s AutoCAD had such a huge market share (70% by one calculation) that competitors were keen to wrest it away. A few attempts were made (like Bentley's Nexxus and Softsource's VDraft), but none made an impact until Softdesk wrote IntelliCADD in secret. The company was the largest AutoCAD third-party developer in the world, but reasoned that Autodesk might cut them off one day, and so wanted the insurance of its own AutoCAD workalike.
The opposite happened: Autodesk bought Softdesk, then discovered the IntelliCADD skunkworks, and was forced by the FTC to spin it off. The software was independently programmed for a while under the name of Project Phoenix, was purchased by Visio, sold as IntelliCAD 98 (with one 'D'), and when sales failed, was spun off to the IntelliCAD Technical Consortium, with Microsoft holding the copyright on the original code to this day.
ITC licensed the IntelliCAD code to dozens of ISVs, thereby launching the legitimate AutoCAD workalike market -- along with the independent Open Design Alliance's DWG read-write API. Sales of the software were never huge, even at 10% the price of AutoCAD, but today there are many names who acknowledge getting their start with IntelliCAD, like these:
- GStar CAD
3. SpaceClaim from SpaceClaim
(2005) SpaceClaim didn't invent anything new, but cleverly packaged existing MCAD features with personable love-bombing aimed at CAD journalists. The company was successful in presenting an ongoing image of success, but not until they had been around for nearly a decade did the truth come out: they had attracted just 30,000 users. Shortly thereafter, they were bought by ANSYS.
Despite its failure in the marketplace, SpaceClaim revolutionized MCAD through its ease of directly editing 3D models, especially those imported from rigidly history-bound modelers. The developers (and marketeers) of SpaceClaim can take credit for forcing competitors to launch their own versions of direct editors:
- 2008: Siemens PLM added Synchronous Technology to NX and Solid Edge
- 2009: Autodesk hatched Fusion in its labs
- 2010: Solidworks tried but failed to add direct modeling, and so the separate Conceptual line emerged later
- 2011: PTC fused Creo from Pro/E (the original history modeler) and CoCreate, their languishing direct modeler purchased years earlier from HP
Which would you rather be: hugely influential (like these three) or hugely profitable?