Anybody go to the AU Cloud Innovation Forum?

At this year’s Autodesk University, Autodesk is running a series of Innovation Forums. There was one scheduled for Tuesday November 29 at 10:00 (Las Vegas time) called The Promise of the Cloud – The Implications of Virtually Infinite Computing for Your Industry. That’s about 12 hours ago as I type this. I was hoping to attend this event, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Did any of you attend that Forum? If so, what did you think? How did Autodesk address the concerns and promote the benefits? Did you feel any differently about CAD in the Cloud after attending it? Please add your own comments here, or if you wish to make more expansive observations, please contact me and I may publish a post dedicated to your review.

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Cloud concerns – security again

It’s probably worth pointing out that if you you have no problem emailing your designs around the place without some form of protection or encryption, there’s little point in getting all worked up about Cloud security. Email isn’t remotely secure. FTP isn’t exactly watertight, either. If you’re still interested in Cloud security issues, this post includes some relevant links you might like to peruse. First, here’s what Autodesk’s Scott Sheppard had to say about Project Photofly (now 123D Catch Beta) security last month: Project Photofly FAQ: What about the security of my data? This covers some of the same kind of stuff I’ve already discussed, but from an Autodesk point of view (albeit a pretty transparent and honest one, as you might expect from Scott). Here are some selected quotes: In essence, we don’t want to accept liability when we don’t take money… We intend to have a reasonably secure service, better than email, but less secure than a bank account. We store your files on Amazon’s S3 service, and they maintain their own physical and data security policy that is considered robust. Next, here are the 123D Terms of service, which raise many of the same alarm bells I mentioned before. Selected quotes: We reserve the right to change all or any part of these Terms, or to change the Site, including by eliminating or discontinuing the Site (or any feature thereof) or any product, service, Content or other materials, and to charge and/or change any fees, prices, costs or charges on or for using the Site (or any feature thereof). By uploading, posting, publishing, transmitting, displaying, distributing or otherwise making available Shared Content to us and/or any Users of or through the Site you automatically grant to us and our sub-licensees…the worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, fully paid-up, irrevocable, non-exclusive,…

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How you feel about CAD in the Cloud

In February 2010, I ran a poll to gauge your feelings about CAD in the Cloud and left it going until October 2010. Just over a month ago, I asked the same question again and ran an identical poll. I have closed that second poll, and here are the comparative results (new poll at the top, old poll at the bottom): I’m not pretending this is a scientific survey. There is bound to be some self-selection and other sources of bias, as there must be with anybody’s survey processes (very much including Autodesk’s CIP). Looking at the logs, I haven’t detected any obvious attempts to interfere with the poll, although there’s nothing I can do to stop people voting multiple times if they have access to multiple IPs (e.g. a work and home account). There are fewer votes in the newer poll only because I didn’t let it run nearly as long; the rate of voting actually doubled this year. Caveats aside, what can we say about the way in which poll respondents’ views have changed in the last 18 months or so? The most obvious change is a marked reduction in the proportion of people who now feel Hopeful. There is a small increase in the number of voters who are now Excited or Frightened, but a big leap in those who are Concerned. Combining the two positive choices (Excited and Hopeful) to come up with a simple “Cloud approval rating”, in 2010 39% of voters were positive about CAD in the Cloud. In 2011 that number is down to 29%. In other words, people voting Cloud-positive are about a quarter down on last year. Most poll respondents here are Autodesk customers, so I think it’s fair to say that this result reflects poorly on the effectiveness of Autodesk’s…

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Autodesk Cloud-based structural engineering software review

As I’ve already discussed, one of the areas where CAD on the Cloud shows potential is in handling specific tasks that require performing intensive calculations that are suitable for sharing among many processors. That sounds great in theory, and a lot of Cloud marketing (e.g. Virtually Infinite Computing) emphasises that point. OK, that sounds promising, but how does it pan out in real life? One problem dissuading me from finding out is that Autodesk is being very restrictive with access to many of its Autodesk Cloud products (I’d probably throw a few sample render jobs into the Cloud and compare the performance, but I’m not the right kind of Subscription customer so I’m not allowed). Another problem is that I’m not qualified to review things like structural engineering software where the greatest computational potential appears to lie. Fortunately, Alex Bausk is qualified, so it was interesting to read his review of Autodesk’s Project Storm software. It’s important to point out here that anything Autodesk with ‘Project’ in the name is not a finished product. It’s an Autodesk Labs thing, designed to attract feedback rather than use in production. I very much approve of this process. It’s one area in which I’m happy to endorse the way Autodesk is approaching the whole Cloud thing, and has several benefits over the flawed private Beta process that Autodesk uses for its mainstream products such as AutoCAD. The downside for Autodesk when it comes to doing pre-release things publicly is that the criticism can be public, too. For example, selected from Alex’s review: …the product is, for reasons unknown, available only in selected countries… …utterly meaningless popups… Options for analysis settings are, to put it short, appalling. Project Storm is nothing more than a web envelope for our good old ARSA package. It is basically…

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Cloud concerns – trust

Using any software involves some degree of trust in the vendor. Using the Cloud requires a much higher level of trust. Autodesk boss Carl Bass is a maker of carefully crafted things, so I’ll use that as an analogy. Using standalone software requires the sort of trust that a maker has in a tool manufacturer. Will the tools work properly and last a long time? Or will they break, potentially damaging the materials or even the user? Using SaaS requires that same kind of trust, plus others. Will the tool manufacturer keep making that tool? If not, will spare parts continue to be available? Will the manufacturer change the tool design so it doesn’t suit your hand any more, or doesn’t work as well on the materials you use? Beyond that, there are some aspects of the relationship that stretch this analogy somewhat. For example, a SaaS vendor resembles a manufacturer that won’t allow you to buy tools, only lease them. Except the manufacturer can change the lease terms or end it any time it likes, and then come into your workshop and take all your tools away. Oh, and this take-your-tools-away right also applies to the company that delivers the tools to your door. Using Cloud storage requires yet further levels of trust. It’s not tool manufacturer trust, it’s bank safety deposit trust. Will your carefully crafted creations be kept safe? Or will they be stolen or damaged? If they are, will you be compensated? If you can’t afford to pay the bank fees or want to use another banker because the teller was rude to you, will the bank politely return your valuables to your safe keeping or transfer them to the new bank? Or will they end up in the dumpster at the back of the bank? Trust is vital.…

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Poll of evil

I have closed the Which of these is most evil? poll, which had been running from 20 February 2009. It attracted 2,351 voters, each of whom could distribute up to three votes among thirteen (yes, that number was deliberate) candidates. Here are the ranked results: Satan (36%, 846 Votes) Microsoft (31%, 721 Votes) Apple (26%, 614 Votes) RIAA/IFPI/MPAA (26%, 601 Votes) Miley Cyrus (23%, 546 Votes) Autodesk (23%, 536 Votes) Disney (16%, 382 Votes) Google (10%, 230 Votes) Dell (7%, 172 Votes) The Pirate Bay (6%, 147 Votes) Sony (6%, 140 Votes) Steve Johnson (4%, 89 Votes) Gaahl (3%, 82 Votes) That top three is not going to shock anyone (except perhaps some fanbois), but are some surprises in the list. For example, more than a quarter of voters were aware enough of the evils of Big Content to be able to decipher the alphabet soup RIAA/IFPI/MPAA choice and select it. More than four times as many people think this litigious pack of demons is voteworthy than think the same about arch enemies The Pirate Bay. That’s not so shocking for those of us with our fingers on the pulse of popular opinion, but I was surprised to see so few people choose Big Content arch-villain Sony. Rootkit, anyone? For Autodesk, this poll is something of a triumph, with less than a quarter of voters putting the company in the top three. Mind you, Autodesk was faced with some very stiff competition, being very narrowly edged out of fifth place by Miley Cyrus. Only one in ten of you thought Google was worthy of selection. This is Google, a company that knows more about you than you do. Google, which passes out your information whenever it feels it might gain some strategic advantage from doing so, and really doesn’t care when it violates your privacy.…

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Autodesk Cloud interview May 2010 – Part 3

Steve: Another issue I have with Cloud-based environments is the lack of customisation. One of the things that makes AutoCAD so efficient for people is that they can get it exactly the way they want it. With a browser-based environment, we’re pretty much stuck with what you guys decide to give us. Can you see any solution to that in the longer term? Tal: From a pure technical point of view, there’s not a lot of difference in terms of the way you can customise an application on the desktop versus customising it on the web. I think AutoCAD, having a very mature application has a lot of functionality which has built up over the years to provide customisation capabilities to the nth degree. So I think it has less to do with the platform of your choice and more to do with the maturity of the solution and how much customisation the people who designed the product wanted to put in there. Steve: I guess you have the issue of where does that customisation live? Does it live on the PC or on the Cloud? Tal: A good thing about moving it to the Cloud would be that if you moved to another computer, the app would still be customised to your needs. Guri: I was going to say the same. It’s actually an advantage to store it in the Cloud because regardless of where you are accessing it from, you can still have your customisation go with you wherever you go. To address your previous question about customisation, I think it’s a pretty relevant request to be able customise this application. But at the same time, remember who is the target audience for that. If you are an AutoCAD user, we assume you have AutoCAD with all the…

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CAD on the Cloud according to Autodesk’s Jim Quanci

In all of the Cad on the Cloud discussion so far, both here and elsewhere, there have been a lot of anti-Cloud comments and very little in the way of response from the pro-Cloud crowd. Participation in the debate from Autodesk people has been minimal. In one way I can understand that, because given the current atmosphere, who would want to stick their head above the parapet? On the other hand, Autodesk wants to position itself as a Cloud leader and obviously needs to bring its customers with it. It is unlikely that many hearts and minds will be won over with press releases and other forms of corporate self-praise. Therefore, it makes sense for someone to get their hands dirty and engage with the plebs. Step forward Jim Quanci, director of the Autodesk Developer Network. In the last edition of upFront.eZine, Jim was brave enough to enter the fray with a “letter to the editor” response to Ralph’s The Cloud is Dead position. I appreciate that Jim went to some length to compose his epistle and I thought he deserved more of a reply than Ralph’s one-liner. There will probably be a few letters in reply in next week’s upFront.eZine, but I’m placing my own response to Jim’s arguments here. It’s quite a lengthy tome and it would be unreasonable to expect Ralph to publish the whole thing unedited. I have quoted parts of Jim’s letter for the purposes of comment and criticism; for the full context you should read the original in upFront.eZine. You’ve been at this CAD thing a long time; use more of that long term perspective you have. Think past that time you and I have retired. I think of my two kids in college. My younger son (in engineering school) believes having valuable data…

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The worst feature ever added to AutoCAD is…

…the Ribbon, according to your selections in the What are the worst features ever added to AutoCAD? poll. As in the best ever poll, the winner (loser?) in this race had no serious competition. I’ve listed eleven top (bottom?) features here rather than ten, partly because the popular (unpopular?) choice Memory Overuse isn’t exactly a feature. But it’s mainly because I’d hate to see Action Recorder unfairly miss out on a well-deserved mention. Ribbon (30%) CUI (20%) Help (on line / 2012) (18%) Memory Overuse (17%) AutoCAD Today (2000i/2002) (16%) White / Cream Drawing Background (16%) Unreconciled Layers (16%) Nudge (10%) Blipmode (9%) Proxy Object Compatibility (9%) Action Recorder (8%) Given the reception the Ribbon received when it was introduced, maybe it’s unsurprising to see it top the lists here. Cloud observers may find it interesting to note that that Autodesk’s attempt to move AutoCAD’s Help on line has been very poorly received. Yo Autodesk with your Cloud an’ all, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but on-line Help has been voted one of the worst features of all time! Of all time! The dislike of the intrusive, useful-to-some but short-lived AutoCAD Today feature remains strong a decade later. Light drawing backgrounds remain unpopular, which should not be a surprise to anyone, except maybe some people at Autodesk who thought it was a good idea to rehash old mistakes in a new and exciting way (“This time it’s magnolia!“). History, doomed to repeat, etc. As for poor old Action Recorder, that has to be the ultimate brochure feature. It’s something for Autodesk to boast about rather than something for customers to actually use; “We responded to customer requests and fulfilled AUGI wishlists for a macro recorder!” Well, you did, kind of, by giving us something that’s about as useful as a chocolate…

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Autodesk Cloud interview May 2010 – Part 2

Steve: Autodesk is currently giving away these Cloud-based services, Butterfly for example. Presumably you’re not going to keep doing that for ever. Are you going to start charging for these services eventually? Guri: Again, you’re pushing us to talk about future. Currently, for as long as this is in a Labs environment, we’re encouraging users to use it and we’re giving it free in the Labs environment and we’re not putting any limits on it during the Labs experiment. Once we make it a commercial product we may change that. Steve: I put a poll on my blog asking readers what they thought about CAD on the Cloud, and most of them are either concerned or frightened. Solidworks users are in revolt about what they see as being forced onto the Cloud. Why do you think there is this fear or apprehension of CAD on the Cloud? Guri: I’m not sure. I’m curious myself about this type of reaction. Maybe it’s fear of the unknown, it’s a new environment, maybe there is some fear about security of documents while they are in the Cloud, it’s just “it’s a new thing”. We believe the approaches we are taking in providing a complementary product to the desktop environment which takes advantage of the latest and greatest web technology and enables those advantages to the user actually will make them feel more at ease. We’re not changing their normal CAD tools, we’re adding to them by enhancing them to take advantage of the capability of infinite storage and infinite CPU that the Cloud brings to them. So in a way, it’s a mixed environment. It’s probably easier to think about moving from desktop only to a mix of desktop and Cloud rather than a step-function where you move entirely to the Cloud. Tal:…

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The best feature ever added to AutoCAD is…

…LISP. I have now closed the What are the best features ever added to AutoCAD? poll, and the winner is AutoLISP/Visual LISP, by a long, long way. I don’t always agree with the majority view expressed in the polls here, but in this case I wholeheartedly agree. Adding LISP was the biggest and best thing that ever happened to AutoCAD. Autodesk owes an enormous debt of gratitude to John Walker for incorporating the work of David Betz, who was of course standing on the shoulders of John McCarthy. It’s a crying shame that Autodesk has been so terribly neglectful of Visual LISP for over a decade. Here are your top ten “best ever” AutoCAD features: AutoLISP / Visual LISP (32%) Paper / Model Space / Layouts (21%) Xrefs (20%) Copy / Paste between drawings (19%) Dynamic Blocks (16%) Object Snaps (15%) Layer Visibility per Viewport (12%) Undo (12%) Grips (12%) AutoSnap (9%) Something interesting I noticed is the age of these features: AutoLISP / Visual LISP – 1985 (significantly improved 1999) Paper / Model Space / Layouts – 1990 (significantly improved 1999) Xrefs – 1990 Copy / Paste between drawings – 1991 Dynamic Blocks – 2005 Object Snaps – 1984 Layer Visibility per Viewport – 1990 (improved 2008) Undo – 1986 Grips – 1992 AutoSnap – 1992 The youngest feature here is 6 years old, the oldest is 27. The average top-ten AutoCAD feature is over 20 years old. What does that tell you?

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Autodesk Cloud interview May 2010 – Part 1

On 26 May 2010, I had the opportunity to ask Autodesk some questions about the Cloud in general and what was then Project Butterfly (now AutoCAD WS) in particular. The Autodesk people were: Guri Stark,Vice President, AutoCAD & Platform Products Tal Weiss, R&D Center Manager (Israel) Noah Cole, Corporate Media Relations The interview was conducted by phone conference with no prior notice of the questions. Here is the first part of the interview, which I will be posting in three sections. Steve: Guri, are you responsible for all of Autodesk’s Cloud-based offerings? Guri: Tal and I are responsible for Butterfly, that’s the only Cloud-based offering that we are responsible for. Noah: Steve, you can put the cloud-based offerings into three categories, those that are related to current products and therefore come out of the same organisations and divisions that those products come out of. So Butterfly which is related to AutoCAD so it’s coming out of the AutoCAD group. Similarly what you’d see happening with manufacturing and those projects. You also have the more emerging Cloud solutions like Dragonfly was (that’s now Homestyler) that’s coming out of Labs. So you see projects coming out of either the divisions if it’s related to product or the Labs group if it’s more forward-looking. Steve: Can you give me a one-sentence summary of each of the Cloud-based offerings and what market it’s intended to fill? Guri: Butterfly is one we’ll talk about in more detail in a minute. One we just launched as a product is Autodesk Homestyler (previously Project Dragonfly). It’s a SaaS-based offering done completely in a browser, targeting the home improvement market. It’s free to the end user so users who want to redecorate or remodel their kitchen or their living room can access this product, do a layout, place in…

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Any Autodesk/Akamai people care to explain this?

Akamai is an Internet/Cloud infrastructure company, used extensively by Autodesk. To be polite, my experiences using its services over several years have been somewhat negative. Back in March, when trying to download the AutoCAD 2012 trial, I went through the usual Akamai download manager struggles before being informed of the wonderful Opera workaround (thanks again, Helper). I thought I’d seen the last of Akamai for a while, but today, while left unattended, Windows threw up this warning: Huh? What is Akamai software trying to do here? I hadn’t asked it to do anything. I’m not downloading Autodesk software or even visiting an Autodesk site. There’s no reason for it to be running at all. Whatever it is, I don’t like it. Time to uninstall anything and everything Akamai, I think; something I should have done back in March. But wait! When I go to uninstall, what do I see? This: Note that the dates are in DD/MM/YYYY format. There’s an application installed back in March, for which I granted permission (unwisely, apparently). OK, but there’s another one installed today! No permission was sought or granted. Right, that’s it. Akamai is now on my brown list, which is not a place anyone wants to be. Nothing in any way related to Akamai will ever be installed any my computer or any computer over which I have influence or control. If Autodesk continues to use Akamai’s services, Autodesk can expect to see continued strong criticism in this area. Unless, of course, somebody from Autodesk and/or Akamai can provide a reasonable explanation of what’s gone on here. Over to you.

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Cloud discussions generating interest

This is one of those self-indulgent posts you probably hate, so feel free to skip it and just read the more interesting stuff. Last month, my site statistics went through the roof. Here’s a graph that shows the number of unique visitors and the number of visits per month since I started the blog in February 2008. Page views, hits (a pretty useless statistic) and bandwidth all spiked in a similar fashion. I remember being very surprised when over 1,500 people visited my blog in the first month, as I would have been very happy with a few hundred readers. I was astonished when more than 5,000 people visited here on the second month. Last month, there were 30,921 unique visitors who visited 58,342 times, viewing 129,206 pages. I’m sure there are other CAD blogs with many times the traffic, but for this blog, October’s numbers were crazy. The mentions on upFront.eZine didn’t hurt, but the daily statistics were already high and didn’t show a huge leap afterwards. So what’s going on? Well, just posting anything rather than little or nothing (as has happened here from time to time) obviously helps a lot, but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s the Cloud generating interest. While it might be tempting for Cloud proponents to associate interest with excitement, that would be a mistake. Judging from the comments and poll responses here and elsewhere, I’m convinced that many more people are interested in CAD in the Cloud because they are concerned about it, they fear it, they even hate it. Given that atmosphere, I think CAD in the Cloud is going to be a very hard sell.

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All major Autodesk products on the Cloud by 2014?

As reported by multiple on-line news outlets, Autodesk just announced that it is increasing its research and development budget (having slashed it last year), and increasing the percentage of that budget on the Cloud. Carl Bass: When there are technology transitions in place, you better be more mindful of that, or you become roadkill. That’s fair enough. Autodesk would be stupid to ignore the Cloud, and needs to bet at least some of its cash on anything that stands a significant chance of being important. This quote from Autodesk spokesman Paul Sullivan gets more specific: We are devoting a larger percentage of our R&D budget to cloud computing, with a significant portion of our new product investments going toward products that are cloud-enabled. We expect that all of our major products will be available in the cloud within the next three years. Now “available” can mean various things. The restricted trial of Cloud-based AutoCAD, Inventor and other products is already year-old news, but that fits the “available” bill. So does a situation where the product is exclusively available on the Cloud and you can no longer buy standalone software. Between those two extremes, there are a variety of possible definitions of “available”. So we’re not that much wiser as a result of that statement. However, one thing is clear. Autodesk is spending up big on making this Cloud thing happen, so traditional software is going to suffer from a comparitive lack of investment. Autodesk customers, you’re the source of all that cash. How do you feel about subsidising the move of your software tools to the Cloud?

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Fencing in Canberra – video

It’s about time I posted about something other than the Cloud, or even CAD. Every year, there are four national-level fencing competitions in Australia. As they are almost all held on the other side of the continent, I don’t get to compete in them as often as I’d like. However, a couple of months ago I did have the opportunity to compete in the third of these competitions for 2011, held this year in Canberra. This was very special to me because my mother and sister were in the audience and it was the first time either of them had ever seen me fence. It was also special because my sabre coach, Frank Kocsis, flew out to be with me and his other students. Frank has taken only two years to move me from complete sabre novicehood to being competitive at national level, particularly in the veteran (over-40) events. This is not an entirely Cloud-free post, because this video of me fencing in the Veteran Men’s Sabre Semi-Final (2:49 long) is hosted on YouTube: I’m on the right. If a green light goes on, I’ve hit him. If he hits me, it’s a red light. If both lights go on, we’ve both hit each other within 120 milliseconds and the referee awards the hit based on right-of-way rules. Veteran direct elimination bouts (like this semi-final) are fought until one fencer scores ten hits. If you want to see how the winner of the semi-final did, here is the Final (4:46).

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