Autodesk’s Project Butterfly is its latest offering in the Cloud (Software as a Service, SaaS, web-based software, whatever) area. This is a Labs technology preview (i.e. it ain’t cooked yet) of browser-based drawing system based on Autodesk’s purchase of Visual Tao. The idea is that no software other than a browser is required to create, edit or just view drawings. To try it out, head to http://butterfly.autodesk.com/ and pick on Try Now. If you’re interested in going further with it, you will need to create an account, which is a quick and painless process. This account is separate from your Autodesk ID.
I’ve had a brief play with it and while it’s not as horribly slow as I had feared (the Ribbon is much quicker than AutoCAD’s, although that’s not difficult), it’s currently an extremely limited environment. Other than viewing and some very crude drawing operations, pretty much everything I wanted to do either couldn’t be done, or couldn’t be done in a satisfactory way. Once I had discovered how to get a drawing out of the clouds and in my own hands (it’s not Save As), the export crashed with an HTTP Status 500 error. Apparently, the server encountered an internal error () that prevented it from fulfilling this request.
Teething problems aside, it’s hard to imagine anyone accustomed to full-featured CAD software actually spending all day drawing with this mechanism. In fact, I can’t imagine spending more than an hour on it before tearing my hair out; a few minutes was enough. It’s perfectly adequate for viewing and marking up, but as a drafting tool it’s just a toy.
But it’s a start, and Autodesk is wise to get its head into the clouds. If SaaS really is The Next Big Thing in CAD, then Autodesk would have looked very silly if it had missed the boat altogether. I’m not convinced that SaaS is going to have the impact that some are predicting, but I’ll cover that argument in a separate post.