There has been a fair bit of open discussion from Autodesk lately on the subject of a possible future OS X AutoCAD version. The more I think about this, the more I am inclined to believe that this would be a bad idea. A very bad idea.
It pains me to write this, because I’m very much a user advocate and I’m arguing here against something that some users have been requesting for a long time. If you’re one of those users, I’m sorry, but I think this is one of those cases when giving you what you want would be bad for everybody, and bad for you in particular.
Now, this sort of platform discussion often degenerates into a quasi-religious debate, so let’s see if I can head it off at the pass. If you’re a Mac fan who wants to tell me the benefits of your chosen computer family and how inferior Windows is, save it. I’ll concede right here and now that you are probably right. My experience of Apple products has generally been very positive. They look good, they’re well made, they work well, the Mac OS has been shamelessly copied by Microsoft for decades, and so on, ad nauseam. Yup. Not disputed. Also, not relevant to the point I’m about to make.
Ever since the last multi-platform AutoCAD (Release 13), Autodesk has dedicated its primary product solely to Windows. Since then, the code base has been spreading its mass of roots deeper and deeper into the Windows soil. Any Windows-specific advantage the developers can take has been taken. Reversing or working around that process is a very substantial undertaking. If it were done, I think it would have the following outcomes:
AutoCAD for Mac would suck
The performance is likely to be poor, because all the Windows-specific stuff will have to be redirected, recreated or emulated. The stability is likely to be awful, because this will be new ground for almost all of the developers involved. Developers with AutoCAD experience are going to have little or no Mac experience and vice-versa. They would be trying to make significant changes to the code base at the same time that that code base is being modified for the next release. The bug level is likely to be abysmal, both for the above reasons and also because the number of pre-release testers available to Autodesk on this platform is likely to be relatively tiny. The user interface is likely to be an uncomfortable square-peg-in-round-hole effort, which will work badly and be derided by OS X users.
AutoCAD for Mac would be half-baked
Not just half-baked in the usual let’s-put-this-out-as-is-and-maybe-we-can-fix-it-later way, but half-baked by design. The Autodesk survey implies that serious consideration is being put into a version of AutoCAD that is missing some of the things that make AutoCAD what it is. Things like paper/model space functionality, the command line, 3D, LISP, the ability to use third-party apps… AutoCAD for Mac LT Lite, anyone? If the APIs are not all there, that means no OS X version of any of the AutoCAD-based vertical products, either.
AutoCAD for Mac would be bad for Mac users
Last time this was attempted, it was a failure. The early 90s attempt at AutoCAD for Mac lasted for
two three releases: 10 to 12. Autodesk had little option but to pull the pin on a non-viable product, but the orphaned users weren’t happy. Fortunately, there weren’t that many of them.
Would this happen again? Yes, I think it probably would. Any Mac user with any sense wouldn’t touch the first new Mac release with a bargepole. That, of course, makes it much less likely that there would be a second or third release. Autodesk’s corporate culture (espoused very strongly by Carol Bartz, but dating back to John Walker) encourages brave attempts that may lead to failure. This policy has unfortunately left large numbers of orphans in its wake over the years. In the event of poor sales, Mac for AutoCAD users would just be another set of unfortunates to add to a long list.
AutoCAD for Mac would be bad for Windows users
The very substantial effort required to produce any kind of AutoCAD for Mac at all would be a major drain on very limited (and shrinking) development resources. That means Windows users of AutoCAD would look forward to a release (or more likely several releases) with fewer new features, less completion of existing undercooked features, and longer waits until bugs and other problems get fixed. This, in exchange for no benefit whatsoever to those users. In fact, the decoupling of Windows-specific calls and the likely introduction of extra bugs would probably make AutoCAD for Windows work less well than it otherwise would.
AutoCAD for Mac would be bad for Autodesk
Autodesk is currently trying to save money by closing down offices, dropping products, cutting down on expenses and sacking employees (some of whom were long-termers; irreplaceable sources of information about use of the product and why certain things were done the way they were). In such an environment, does it make sense to start up a new project with high resource requirements and limited potential benefits? Especially when it is just a repetition of a previous project that was a complete failure?
So, in addition to costing Autodesk a lot of money and harming the quality of its core product, a failed AutoCAD for Mac would leave behind more Autodesk haters and be rather embarrassing.
I must admit that a lot of this is based on guesswork, but it’s educated guesswork. I’ve been educated by history, if nothing else. Autodesk’s corporate consciousness has an occasional habit of ignoring the lessons of history and repeating old mistakes. I hope AutoCAD for Mac – The Sequel isn’t one of those occasions.