My son, Stefan, is marrying Ivonne on Saturday, and we have set up a UStream channel for watching it live -- WiFi speed permitting. The ceremony begins at 1:00pm Pacific (22:00 Europe) at
Wedding photography by Katrina Grabowski
My son, Stefan, is marrying Ivonne on Saturday, and we have set up a UStream channel for watching it live -- WiFi speed permitting. The ceremony begins at 1:00pm Pacific (22:00 Europe) at
Wedding photography by Katrina Grabowski
There are a tonnne of tablets available now, and I've realized I'm buying none. There's two reasons: (1) I don't need one; and (2) next year's models will be much, much better.
As Apple, HP, RIM, and Google announced and delivered tablets, I debated which one might be best:
So, no model is suitable today. Or, more precisely, more suitable than the 4" Samsung Galaxy Vibrant cell phone that I use daily.
Then I thought about what I'd use it for. I've watched the few fellow journalists employ their's at press events, and didn't see the advantage over my 2.5-year-old LG X110 Linux-running netbook with its fabulous keyboard.
I used to own a touchscreen notebook computers, one of those dismal HP tx1000 convertibles, where the screen swung around to create a tablet form factor. (The screen sensitivity was dismal, the build quality was dismal, and the bad nVidia graphics chip killed the whole system.) While it worked (well, laboured actually, according to the sound of the roaring fan), I used it for... oh, lessee, a sum total of 15 minutes as a tablet. Specifically, trying out MoI software.
I'm not buying a 7" or 10" tablet this year, because:
- Current models are insufficient for practical and political reasons.
- I don't see that I would put a tablet to use for anything more than a few minutes of software testing here and there.
- The LG netbook and 4" Vibrant do all I need, road warrior-wise.
Whenever I install a software update -- or have an update imposed on cloud software, like GMail -- I have a feeling of hope underlaid by a sense of dread. I am hoping the upgrade will do wonderful things for my productivity (the sole reason for using software); I am dreading that the upgrade will (a) make things more unstable and/or (b) erase functions I find useful. Hence, it is useful to let bleeding edge users get burned by the update first, while the rest of us sit back and wait for yelps of pain to emerge -- or not.
One of the drawbacks to cloud computing is that it takes away our control over updates. (Heck, the cloud takes control away from all aspects of computing.) In their drive to lock up customers ever more tightly, software vendors spin this as a positive: everyone happily up-to-date, running the latest release in harmony. The anti-nirvana of all 4.5 million users experiencing the same bug is seen as a good thing, somehow. (Lately, I have arrived at the assumption that software developers share the delusion of dog owners: "My dog never bites.")
Anyhow, the good news today from Google is that users can delay updates. Leena Rao of TechCrunch reports:
Users can now choose between two feature tracks—rapid release and scheduled release:
Rapid Release users will have access to new features as soon as the features have completed testing and quality assurance, and are ready to roll out.
Scheduled Release users will access new features on a weekly schedule, with at least a one-week notice following the initial feature launch. These users can also preview feature releases on a test domain...
Even better would be updates delayed until manually approved by the customer, as Google Docs' spreadsheet implemented it last year.
If Google can do it, then krazy-for-the-kloud CAD vendors can do it, too.
Bricsys just launched its new Bricsys Meeting Point hub with some interesting new twists. Here's what the portal allows:
Access to the portal is free; from the press release, it looks like the only cost is a 5% fee to developers using the invoicing system (and that's 6x cheaper than what Apple charges!). The site apparently supports 20 languages.
The point to this new portal, ceo Erik De Keyser says, is to prove that Bricscad is the number-one DWG alternative. It's good to see competition between Bricsys and Graebert improving the quality of DWG-based software and support! (Graebert has announced its own app portal, due to launch this month.)
[Disclosure: I write ebooks that are sold by Bricsys and Graebert.]
(A tip of the hat to Josh Mings of SolidSmack for uncovering this item yesterday.)
Benjamin Nortier figured out how to make a solid modeler work in nearly any Web browser. Read about it on his blog here. In brief, the three components are as follows:
A video on this blog page shows him creating a gear in his browser-based modeler, and then 3D printing it.
In the comments section, Tony Buser notes that CloudSCAD is similar.
After the SolidWorks Cloud marketing fiasco of the last year, nothing was shown from the main stage at last week's SolidWorks World 2011. Nothing! The only time it got mentioned was when new-CEO Bertrand Sicot promised that there would be always be a locally-installed version of Solidworks (*koff* as long as there is a demand in the market *koff*).
(I'm starting to wonder if nothing was shown because the project is hugely delayed. Last year, ex-CEO Jeff Ray said he was showing us the result of three years' work. In a recent interview, it sounded like there was another year or two to go. Four years in development, maybe longer. That's a long time in this world where components make it easy to cobble together a CAD system. As comparison, AutoCAD Mac took 18 months to be ported to OS X.)
Instead, we got a demo of SolidWorks Live Buildings, which has nothing to do with SolidWorks (as it now exists) and has nothing to do with mechanical engineering. It was, however, significant, because it is based on the same V6 technology as SolidWorks Cloud will be based. ("V6" is the general name for Dassault's next generation cloud-based, social, design software.)
When you look at Live Buildings, you are looking at SolidWorks Cloud.
During the demo, I snapped many pictures in rapid succession. From examining them, I've found the following user interface elements.
First thing to notice: no ribbon. Instead, LB sports the traditional menu bar.
Second thing to notice: all modeling is done in a fully rendered environment, with simulated shadows.
Parts Library -- lets you drag and drop pre-build parts (aka blocks, cells, components) into the drawing.
At-cursor tools -- small toolbar appears at the cursor from which you select relevant tools.
Bird's-eye view -- shows an overview of the entire drawing, in a semi-transparent rectangle.
Wheel with tools -- is the primary user interface, from which toolbars jut out when you select a segment on the wheel.
Floors (stories) -- quickly lets you navigate between floors on multi-story buildings.
Status bar -- is like a communications center (more later).
Triad -- shows the xyz orientation in 3D space. We saw another program that had a miniature version of the model at the center of the triad, and I expect that feature to migrate its way over.
Here is a close-up of the menu bar:
Ready for Selection -- I wonder if this provides a variety of selection modes, such as by geometry, by properties, by owner, by location?
Ready to Chat -- for communicating with other users on the project.
Ready for Propagate -- I think this is for updating the master model with changes made locally.
2D drawings can be placed, in this case from DraftSight. The 2D floorplan can be used as a guide to place 3D components.
Other data sets will be added later, such as zoning regulations.
Dave Ault writes:
Sitting here this morning pondering the upcoming Solidworks convention and the Dassault Systemes obsession with the cloud, I have a list of unanswered questions. Personally, I see nothing but downsides to this whole cloud thing and would really like to stop it dead in its tracks. It is my opinion that most CAD users have not really thought much about what could be coming down the pike to them soon; the trendy bunch can't seem to get past how cool this will all be -- without thinking of practical answers for just how is all this wonderful stuff really supposed to work.
[I added my comments in square brackets and italics. - Ralph Grabowski.]
by Tony Zilles, Digital Business Media
It's always good to get reports direct from the field, unfiletered by the establishment media's need for eyeballs. Here, Tony Zilles reports from Melbourne, Australia about the flooding affecting his country. I've know Mr Zilles for more than a decade, and spent a delightful day with his as my tour guide during my visit to Sydney some years ago.
Floods in Queensland and Northern New South Wales are of no immediate effect on me personally as I live around 1,700km (1,056 miles) south of Brisbane in Melbourne. However it will affect others in my family that live in that area, although they're all on high ground.
Indirectly the flooding will affect everyone in Australia almost immediately with some food prices sure to rise as a result and a massive redirection of resources and energy into damaged areas as the waters recede. As you will have seen, the flooding is extreme across the eastern states of Australia and truly devastating.
Floods are a fact of life in Australia as much of the inland country is very flat and rainfall drains away very slowly. The flooding in Brisbane, on the other hand, is the result of heavy rainfalls on large catchments in the coastal mountain range that drain out quickly and dramatically through Brisbane into the Pacific Ocean.
The devastation is by no means unprecedented. Flooding of a similar magnitude occurred in Brisbane in 1974. The difference is that much of the area inundated at that time was parkland or undeveloped space. Growth and multi-level residential development has taken over so much of that space now and it affects many more people, buildings and infrastructure than it did 36 years ago.
For many people affected now the last major flood was beyond their personal memory. That, combined with the scale of devastation and the speed with flood waters have risen has come as a savage blow to those involved. The transition from a relatively scary, but safe, water level to a raging torrent has developed within minutes in some cases. This is a situation that most people are just not prepared for mentally or physically.
[View this remarkable video www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-12158608, where footage shot by David Jutsum in Toowoomba shows cars being swept away]
It is still raining by the way, although I just read that flood height predictions are being revised down. Extraordinary rainfalls are still occurring across a vast area of eastern Australia. Flood mitigation controls are close to capacity. All are releasing water in order to provide capacity to absorb further anticipated surges.
In bitter irony, the flooding comes after 10 years of severe drought across the entire country.
Many communities are isolated with no road or rail communication, meaning no food, fuel, medicine or supplies of any kind can get in. While remote outposts were once well-stocked and able to cope with 6 or 12 month intervals between restocking, this state of affairs is fading into history with everyone everywhere reliant on their fresh supplies of Californian oranges, asparagus from Peru and so on. (Don't get me started on that one!) I read that there will be airlifts of essential supplies to remote communities probably using military transport helicopters.
Here in Melbourne it is also raining steadily, and flood warnings are current across the state. It is very unlikely that we will experience a similar situation to Brisbane as we just don't get that tropical kind of deluge and the entire city is not on a flood plain like Brisbane is. There is occasional flash flooding and sometimes major rural roads become impassible, but this is usually quite short-lived and inconvenient rather than catastrophic.
Queensland and New South Wales will require a massive clean-up effort in coming months and rebuilding over a many years. Crops, infrastructure, homes, commercial buildings, cars, equipment, livelihoods have all been washed away. The return to a normal life for many people in the north will be long and hard.
Apparently people are canceling their Queensland holiday bookings in droves -- this is our summer now -- not wishing to be stranded or washed away. This is yet another effect of the flooding on the economy.
This week marked the latest twist against the cloud. Twitter said it was going to court to protect tweets against subpoena by the Obama government. The announcement is a good move, for it revealed a troubling aspect of cloud-based data.
Twitter and other data storage providers are not allowed to tell the owners of the data that the subpoena exists. Paul Carr of TechCrunch reports:
The New York Times says over 50,000 “national security letters” are sent each year -- but even more concerning is the fact that often these subpoenas are sealed, preventing the companies from notifying the users they affect.
When the data resides on your computer, then you are alerted, should the government demand to see your data. When it's on the cloud, you are not allowed to be alerted. Twitter is trying to get the courts to at least let the owners of the data be notified.
As I keep harping, this is why the personal computer became so popular: so that we could be in charge of own own data, no longer victims of the foibles and vagaries of the mainframe gatekeepers. Some people apparently wish to return to such a time.
Daniel Marcotte sent me a screen grab showing Bricscad displaying data input from a 3D laser scan file. He writes:
I wrote a point cloud custom entity for Bricscad while back as a programming exercise, it reads points in from .las files. If I remember correctly, the upper limit was about 7 million points. I added Delaunay triangulation too, but I have no idea if this would be useful -- just not my field. I've posted the source at www.theswamp.org
And here's the screen grab:
I thought cloud computing was supposed to be easy, transparent even. Apparently not.
Rachael King of Blomberg Business Week writes about a new job category: Cloud Services Brokers. Here's why she says brokers might be needed:
In the future, companies may hook up with more than a dozen different cloud services providers. Brokers would serve as intermediaries, offering such services as customization, integration, security, and aggregation.
Sounds to me that "cloud broker" is just a rewrite of the more familiar term, systems integrator. Indeed, on page 2 of the article, that's what gets admitted.
Nevertheless, there is this deliciously dire warning from Daryl Plummer of Gartner Research: "If companies integrate it themselves, they have no hope of saving money."
No hope, no hope, no...
Autodesk’s annual Autodesk University conference -- for customers, developers, resellers, other industry partners, and a gaggle of analysts -- reinforced several recurring themes about the company, namely its almost unique position in the industry in terms of the breadth of its product portfolio for addressing multiple end-market design technology requirements.
Attendance was up nicely from last year, though not back to pre-recession levels. The conversations with various relevant channel partners suggest that the business is doing well (though not back to 2008 levels in every case, as we can see from Autodesk’s own recent segment results), but the trend is right, including in Europe (Autodesk’s largest region).
Suites: Autodesk and Adobe
After a long period of strategic gestation, suites are now one of the company’s most significant business and product initiatives. The channel partners concur that Autodesk is “very serious about suites”, though there is “more to do” to prepare the channel for the major spring 2011 launches the company has spoken of. One of the things that Autodesk will have to do, as with all such suites strategies, is to do establish the “right” type, mix, and number (not too few, not too many) of configurations for the new offerings.
With so much attention now being paid to the suites initiative at Autodesk, and with Autodesk’s having looked to Adobe over the past few years as a “model” for suites, it is interesting to consider some differences between the two companies:
First, Autodesk is already doing just over a fifth of revenues from its current suites portfolio, including the three it introduced this year. When Adobe launched Creative Suite seven years it had been getting about 12%-15% of its revenues from the predecessor bundles/collections;
Second, Autodesk says it will probably not terminate the existing set of suites when the new ones launch, unlike Adobe, which quickly terminated the pre-Creative Suite products;
Third, if the proportion of maintenance in total suites revenue is comparable to the overall corporate average from maintenance (including maintenance from standalone products), we can infer that about 5%-7% of Autodesk revenues is already coming from suites maintenance, not a huge proportion but still better than Adobe’s recurring revenue proportion. The attach rate and renewal rates for suites maintenance is likely to be high, as with the standalone applications, consistent with the usual industry practice in Autodesk’s addressable markets;
Fourth, it remains to be seen (or at least Autodesk isn’t counting on its occurring) whether the Autodesk suites ramp will match the steep revenue trajectory of Creative Suite in its first few years. The addressable markets are similar in some respects but Adobe very likely has a larger unit opportunity. Autodesk’s suites revenues were $107 million last quarter, from more than a dozen available suites, while Creative Suite revenues were more than $350 million, from six configurations (the best-selling selling flavor of Creative Suite, Design Premium, seems to generate more annual revenues than all of Autodesk’s current suites together). Nevertheless, in the end, it’s likely that Autodesk’s suites could prove to be largely incremental to new license and maintenance revenues, given that Autodesk is the highest-volume supplier in technical software. With higher average revenues per seat likely, the effect will be incremental to operating margins as well.
Fifth, after the release of Creative Suite, the principal standalone Adobe apps, e.g., Photoshop, had by and large flat revenues, as opposed to a significant falling off. (Indeed, gross Photoshop eventually started to grow again, before the recession, with the introduction of the high-end Photoshop Extended.) It will be interesting to see if there is a similar effect for Autodesk, most especially as it relates to AutoCAD, its largest product (about a fifth of revenues, including maintenance and upgrades). Thus far, over the past five years, even with the rise of model-based design, standalone AutoCAD continued to account on average for half of all AutoCAD-based units (with average annual volume of more than 100,000 units for standalone AutoCAD).
Finally, for those closely tracking the company’s subscriptions metrics, e.g., deferred maintenance, seats under maintenance, it is important to note that to date the company has been counting each of the component apps in a suite as a seat under maintenance, i.e., if, say, a customer bought Revit Architecture Suite with maintenance, then each of the three constituent apps would count towards the maintenance seat base. Apparently, the future suites, including the three new ones introduced so far this year (Plant, Factory, Design) will be counted as a seat. Over time, the seat number will become less indicative (unless of course it goes flat or down), while billings (about $800 million for the trailing twelve months, up 13%) and deferred maintenance will remain highly relevant.
Customer Views: Then and Now
As it has done for the past several AUs, Autodesk arranged a customer panel for investors. The panel consisted of a small cross-section of Autodesk’s customers in terms of size and end-markets, including Intel (semiconductor facility layout), Ford (where the Autodesk products are used more for manufacturing facilities layout, etc. than actual vehicle design), Worley Parsons (an Australian engineering company), and Little (a US AEC consulting firm).
At the panel two years ago, the main themes were that:
3D is here to stay (but so is 2D). The adoption of model-based design (otherwise known as “3D”) is well established. Nevertheless, many customers will continue to use (standalone) AutoCAD (as discussed in the section above). I would reiterate a market observation, namely that the usage trend is 2D and 3D, not just 2D to 3D. Autodesk clearly continues to advance the AutoCAD-based technology (which is no longer strictly a 2D product in any event), e.g., DesignScript, a new programming language for AutoCAD. .
Pulling the pieces together. One of the requirements from Autodesk that was very much highlighted had to do with the integration and management of multiple products from Autodesk. Many customers have purchased products in effect from different Autodesk business units, and then used them together in their design infrastructure. Integration was again very much a keyword at the 2010 panel too (along with licensing models and data management); good integration is in itself a valuable and right thing to do, and it is of course a necessary condition for suites. At the 2010 management lunch with analysts, Autodesk noted that it has been investing in the “glue”, and that we would see more evidence of that next year.
Data management. There was also a clear interest from the 2008 panel in Autodesk’s having an answer for customers’ data management needs. The same was the case a year ago, and remained so at the AU 2010 panel. That view is quite understandable, though Autodesk has noted this year that its Vault products are in fact widely used; even so, it would be useful therefore for the company to be more specific about its Vault family of products. In addition, perhaps the rumored combination of Vault for AEC/NavisWorks/Buzzsaw will be a useful answer for the data management needs of AEC market, where Autodesk is the design tools leader with AutoCAD and Revit.
License flexibility. With respect to the aforementioned issue of licensing models, the largest customers, such as Ford, have access to pools of multiple products and multi-flex usage. The standard (small/medium) customers (which comprise most of the base still) would like to see some more flexibility to mix and deploy their licenses. We could see over time some professional apps available “on the cloud” and/or by some kind of “token” methodology (the latter would entail time-based revenue recognition). The company doesn’t yet say “cloud” obsessively but it is clearly moving towards more web-based services and capabilities, e.g., Project Neon, the new position of vice president of suites and web services.
Revenue and channel. With Autodesk’s having guided to 10% growth for next year (its FY12), it’s likely that it will set the channel sales quotas, typically, a few hundred basis points above the external goal. With respect to the domestic channel itself, the recent combination of Rand and Avatech indicates a movement towards a more concentrated mix of one or two large national players, a number of significant regional players around the country, and then the remaining group of smaller local partners (some of whom may end up being acquired, not unlike the consolidation wave we saw earlier in the decade).
Management noted at the analyst lunch two years ago that pursuing and investing in vertical market development, with the reseller channel, would remain one of its key initiatives -- and indeed this has been and will be the case.
The General Theory of the General Session
Among the main technology themes from the CEO/CTO's general session were leveraging increasing computing power to improve design productivity and “impact,” similar to the main themes at the analyst meeting last June. At the same general session two years ago, among the new concepts introduced were:
Management did not use the same terms this year, but it’s clear that much of what was discussed then is now becoming implicit in the Autodesk portfolio, or will be. This matters, as it reinforces the depth of Autodesk’s capabilities, not merely its breadth.
One of the battles in CAD is over this question: Who owns the data? Users like to think that they do, but CAD vendors instead act as if they do by employing tricks that make it hard for users to do simple things, like separate their data from the CAD system.
(It is ironic that CAD vendors call their software "tools," a term that appears to emphasize the distance between the tool and the result, when in CAD it is the tools that define the result. Object enablers, anyone?)
CAD vendors are looking to the cloud as a way to further lock up your data by injecting it into their data storage systems. Besides being afraid to speak the price they will charge end-users, they are vague on where the data will be stored. Dassault has said "somewhere else, first; on our servers, eventually." Autodesk has named Amazon and a couple of other brand names, "but not on our own servers." You're not supposed to worry.
As WikiLeaks tries to dodge the noose that's tightening around its head (figurative and literal), interesting information has come out about storing data in the cloud. Here's the reason Amazon kicked WikiLeak's data off its cloud system (source):
Amazon Web Services (AWS) rents computer infrastructure on a self-service basis. AWS does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed. WikiLeaks was not following them. There were several parts they were violating. For example, our terms of service state that “you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.” It’s clear that WikiLeaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content
So if Autodesk is going to act as an intermediary in depositing your CAD data with AWS, then it better be clear to all parties who owns the data -- clear to you, Autodesk, and Amazon. Fog -- in the form of object enablers, proprietary formats, and encrypted data -- make it difficult for users to warrant that they control all the rights to the data.
CAD vendors will have to do a McNeel: make all of their file formats fully documented, or risk having their cloudy plans turn stormy.
- - -
(As a side note, I find it fascinating that private industry is the one making life difficult for WikiLeaks. Perhaps because private industry is worried what this wiki might leak all over them. Government appears to be failing in its primary role of providing protection for the people it governs.
(Here, for example, is the view from Germany's public broadcaster, Deutsche Welle: "As the organization faces swift pressure from American government authorities, Europe welcomes it. Three American companies have denied service to WikiLeaks after pressure from a US senator." Not true, but then Europeans have rarely understood how the American-style of government works.)
Headlines from various news sources:
France seeks to bar hosting WikiLeaks website
French minister declares war on WikiLeaks
WikiLeaks Strikes Back and Moves to Switzerland
With New Swiss Host, WikiLeaks Continues to Publish
WikiLeaks.ch (Swizerland) goes down as EveryDNS pulls the plug again ("WikiLeaks site was shut down after electronic attacks threatened the stability of access to other websites.")
Library of Congress Blocks Access To Wikileaks ("The Library decided to block Wikileaks because applicable law obligates federal agencies to protect classified information.")
PayPal Announces It Will No Longer Handle Wikileaks Donations ("PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity.")
Jeremy Kirk of IDG News reports on the European Union giving some $2o million to Siemens, IBM, SAP, and a couple of universities to research cloud computing.
The "Virtualized Storage Services Foundation for the Future Internet" project has three years to figure out the following issues:
It sounds like all of this would be of use to CAD users. But three years is a long time from now, and having a group of large corporations doing research funded by a huge governmental organization is the primo recipe for getting results that will be late and less than practical.
The corporate reaction to CAD on the cloud ranges from "it's stupid" (PTC) to "it's gonna make your desktop useage painful" (DS SolidWorks) to "try it now for free" (Autodesk). But none will discuss price.
I figure CAD vendors haven't talked about cloud pricing, because they are desperately trying to figure out how to make it expensive. They have the rest of 2010 and a few months into 2011 to set their prices. Next year, 2011, they have to deliver -- or else find a different "future" technology with which their marketing departments can distract us. (Hint: CAD-friendly Android devices.)
Pricing the Cloud
Let's take a look at what Amazon charges for its cloud service. I'm using them as a measuring stick since (1) they just lowered their prices and (2) at least two CAD-related vendors have indicated that they would either use Amazon or else would have pricing similar to that of Amazon.
Amazon has an array of unit prices that depends on (a) how much storage space you use, (b) the region of the world in which you are located, (c) how much data you transfer, and (d) the number of times you access your data. (See aws.amazon.com/s3.) I'll take 100GB storage in the USA, of which I upload 1GB a day, and I access 5,000 times a day. (There are 220 working days a year, at least in North America!)
Heh: Amazon lets you store as little as a 1 byte!
Total cost for a modest CAD design office = $300 a year to store and access 100GB of drawings and other data with 99.999999999% durability and 99.99% availability.
The $300 is the base cost; on top of this, the CAD vendors add their software licensing prices.
The problem with the cloud is that nobody significant is doing it in the CAD world. There is no ComputerVision to under-price. CAD vendors who were used to saying, "Buy us because we cost 20% as much as the incumbent" are now the incumbents who have to set the pricing for others to undermine.