Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Future of AutoCAD-Bridge Up and Bridge Down

I was invited to Autodesk’s office in San Francisco on February 5th to be present at their unveiling and live webcast of AutoCAD 2010. I was invited for three reasons; I was/am a member of the beta team that tested AutoCAD 2010, I have a blog that discussed AutoCAD, and I created new dynamic blocks, templates and sample files for AutoCAD 2010. Now that I have patted myself on the back, let’s talk about some of the items and topics that were discussed at this event.

One question I had going into this event was the future of AutoCAD? Would it eventually be orphaned, falling prey to the verticals? Or would it remain a staple product for Autodesk? How did Autodesk look at it? Was it too old to make better? What does the future hold for AutoCAD? Most of these questions were answered for me by Eric Stover, AutoCAD Product Line Manager. He is in charge of AutoCAD. He had his main team there and they too answered many of my questions and concerns. They are; Kathy O’connell, Guilermo Melantoni, and Diane Li. These three individuals are the AutoCAD Product Managers. They are the eyes and ears for the AutoCAD product.

Together, through their presentations, taking our questions, and through asking us questions I came to the conclusion that AutoCAD is here to stay. Autodesk sees AutoCAD as their main product with all other products stemming from it and pointing back to it. I was glad to hear that. They want to fit the needs of every user and they feel that AutoCAD can fit a wider range of needs than any one vertical can. The verticals (Inventor, Revit, Civil3D, etc.) serve specific purposes, where as AutoCAD can fit the needs of all of these and more. There are so many uses for AutoCAD that they can’t possibly make a vertical for every field of use, so they want to make AutoCAD as diverse as possible. They also want to make it a stepping stone to more industry specific verticals. The two main features added to AutoCAD 2010 reflect this philosophy and was one of the major reasons it was decided to be put them in. Those two features are Geometric Constraints and Free Form Modeling. They are fantastic. Once you use them you will love them too. I do.

Parametric and Geometric Constraints are nothing new to CAD, but they are new to AutoCAD. Inventor has had these for years. Adding them to AutoCAD will give more power to its users and make a transition to Inventor a little but easier. At the event, Lynn Allen (AutoCAD and Inventor Evangelist for Autodesk) said that she took an inventor example project and tried to do it with the new constraints in AutoCAD. She said she was able to get quite far, though admittedly Inventor does this type of thing better than AutoCAD. These new constraints will give a little bit of Inventor Power to AutoCAD users.

The Free-form Modeling that is now in AutoCAD came straight from Maya, mostly. The programming Architects told me that they took that code, and made it work for AutoCAD. Great! I have recently begun modeling in AutoCAD so I understand the frustrations that users have in its limitations. Now with free-form modeling, users can create organic styled models. AutoCAD can create solids, surfaces, and mesh objects now! There are several new gizmos and enhanced gizmos that allow users to smooth a surface, crease it, turn it into a mesh and into a solid object for documentation. Great enhancement.

Eric Stover said that these two main features are stepping stones for other products, but yet give enough power to AutoCAD users to do even more. They (Autodesk) want AutoCAD to fit the needs of everyone they can, but also want to make products that fit specific industry needs. They see AutoCAD as a bridge up and a bridge down to the other software. Users can start in AutoCAD and move those files up to a vertical. They also want their users to take the vertical and go back to AutoCAD with their data. That process is not perfected yet, but is a major goal they want to achieve. They also see AutoCAD as the “Front End Ideation Tool.” They see AutoCAD as a starting point for ideas, concepts, and derivations. The verticals are to do more industry specific projects in a more precise manner that is appropriate. AutoCAD can’t do everything perfectly, but they want it to do many (if not most) things well.

In a nutshell, Autodesk seems to want to keep AutoCAD around for a long time and use it to fill the needs the verticals can’t. This is good, because many users are still using AutoCAD and don’t have the means or need to transfer to a vertical. If you are worried about becoming obsolete because all you know is AutoCAD, don’t worry it’s here to stay. But, according to Autodesk, it will eventually be only one tool in a vast supply of design tools available. I recommend you stay on top of AutoCAD, but also learn one of the other verticals because in the future we won’t be using just AutoCAD, or just Inventor, but will be using them both and more to get our work done.

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