Why Autodesk’s Cloud push will fail, part 1 – failure defined

It’s probably unwise to make predictions about what is going to happen in technology. If so, I’m about to be unwise. So be it; if I’m wrong you can taunt me about this post in a few years. Here’s my prediction: Autodesk’s attempt to move CAD users onto the Cloud is doomed to failure. This is the first of a series of posts that will examine what I mean by that and the reasons behind it. The first thing that’s important to lay out is what I mean by failure. What I mean is that reality will not match Autodesk’s expectation of what will happen with its products moving to the Cloud. What expectation is that? I’d say two to three years from now, every one of our products will be used online. The only way to use them will be online. Carl Bass, April 2012, TechCrunch interview So let’s say you’re an AutoCAD user. A successful Cloud push by Autodesk will mean that you and very large numbers of people just like you be using AutoCAD or an equivalent Autodesk product on the Cloud by 2014 or 2015. If that doesn’t happen for you and all the other users of Autodesk products, then that’s failure by definition. Autodesk will have failed to meet its own publicly stated goal, and that’s exactly what I’m expecting to happen. While it might look to a Cloudophile that I’m swimming against the tide of inevitability, I’m not alone here. Let’s examine what this blog’s poll respondents think about the chances of them using CAD in the Cloud: (Snapshot taken a couple of weeks ago; more votes but no percentage change since then). The poll has been running for nearly a year and attracted a sizeable number of votes. More than half of the…

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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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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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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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Executive summary of Deelip’s AutoCAD for Mac interview

Deelip has just published an extensive interview with several Autodesk people about AutoCAD for the Mac. Deelip had a good set of questions and I suggest you read the whole thing, but if it’s all too tl;dr for you, then here is the lazy reader’s version of what Autodesk had to say: The AutoCAD code was split up into 3 sections: the core CAD engine (platform-independent), the Windows-specific (MFC) parts and the Mac-specific (Cocoa) ones. AutoCAD for Mac is incomplete. Choosing which features to leave out was done with the aid of CIP (oh, dear) and Beta feedback. (Hang on a minute, I thought CIP said most people were using the Ribbon…) No comment on when or if AutoCAD for Mac functionality will catch up with its Windows counterpart. No comment on the stability or performance of the Mac version. Buying Visual Tau wasn’t a complete waste of money. If Mac users want Windows-level functionality, they should use Bootcamp. The Mac version is intended to expand the AutoCAD market to those Mac users who are frustrated by Bootcamp or who find it too hard. Some mind-blowing spin was attempted in a valiant but vain attempt to explain away the Ribbon = productivity, Mac <> Ribbon marketing problem. You will really have to read it for yourself, as I can’t do it justice here. But “just because 2+2=4 doesn’t mean 4-2=2” will give you some idea of what to expect. The Mac version is the same price as the Windows version, despite being incomplete, because Mac users won’t know or care about the missing stuff. There are no plans for a Linux port, or any other platforms. Autodesk will wait and see how AutoCAD for Mac does before porting any of the vertical products. (Very sensible). Autodesk closed off the AutoCAD…

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Not answering the question

Here in Australia, we’re in election mode, so I have even more reasons to avoid watching TV. On those occasions when I do watch it, I am often annoyed by what I see. This is not a novel observation, but one of the things that annoys me about many politicians is their habit of sidestepping questions when interviewed. It also annoys me when interviewers fail to follow up these non-answers and let them slide. Depending on the circumstances (e.g. limited timeframe, more important questions to ask, etc.), there may be valid reasons for journalists failing to chase after legitimate answers in a live interview situation. But I would much prefer to see a non-answering interviewee tied down and not allowed to wriggle free. Squirm, baby, squirm! For on-line journalists and bloggers, there are few excuses for letting non-answers go unchallenged. There is virtually unlimited time, opportunity and column space in which things can be chased down. With that in mind, this post is an analysis of the response Callan Carpenter gave to the four specific questions I raised, and three points of dispute raised by others and passed on by me for a response. I have marked each response (or non-response) out of 10. Questions Please clarify in as much detail as possible exactly how you arrive at your figures. Answer: none given. 0/10 A percentage is derived by dividing one number by another; what exactly are you dividing by what to come up with 1.5%? Answer: none given. 0/10 Please explain why your statements appear to contradict Autodesk’s own published figures. Answer: Callan explained that he did not intend to suggest what it seemed he was implying, but didn’t clearly explain exactly what it was that he actually was suggesting. 5/10 How large is Autodesk’s total installed base? Answer:…

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Autodesk’s Callan Carpenter responds to Subscription follow-up

You may remember a month ago I raised the question What proportion of Autodesk customers really are on Subscription? Shortly after that, I sent Autodesk Subscription VP Callan Carpenter these questions following up on the interview: I have a request for follow-up information arising from this interview. I hope you can find the time to provide some answers. Preamble: Several people have called into doubt your assertion that the simplified upgrade policy affects only a tiny minority of your customers (you seemed to imply a figure of around 3% non-Subscription customers, with 1.5% who upgrade within a year or two). My own calculations based on Autodesk’s latest published financial results indicate that of upgrades represent 21% of the combined income from Subscription and upgrades, which is 7 times greater than the impression you gave in your answer. Please see this post for more discussion. Questions: Please clarify in as much detail as possible exactly how you arrive at your figures. A percentage is derived by dividing one number by another; what exactly are you dividing by what to come up with 1.5%? Please explain why your statements appear to contradict Autodesk’s own published figures. How large is Autodesk’s total installed base? Other points of dispute have been raised by various commenters, which I have paraphrased here. I invite your response. Because Autodesk made Subscription cheaper than upgrading, it is no surprise that upgrading became less popular. This doesn’t indicate that customers prefer doing business in that way, merely that Autodesk made it the cheapest alternative. If the idea of Subscription is such an attractive proposition, why do you need to sweeten the deal with tools that you don’t allow upgraders to have? Your assertion that the 12-month cycle is driven by the product teams is incorrect. It was chosen for…

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What proportion of Autodesk customers really are on Subscription?

In my recent interview of Autodesk Subscription VP Callan Carpenter, he made these statements: …there is a very small fraction of our revenue that comes from upgrades at this point in time. We’re down to very low single digits of customers who upgrade, and of those only half of those upgrade 1 or 2 years back. So we’re talking about approximately 1.5% of our revenue that comes from customers upgrading 1 and 2 versions back. …[customers who upgrade] 1 or 2 [releases] back, a very small percentage of our customer base, less than 2% of our customer base that was buying those upgrades. Others are calling those numbers into doubt. Deelip Menezes (SYCODE, Print 3D) estimated the numbers of AutoCAD users not on Subscription at 66% (or 43%, depending on which bit of the post you read), by counting the AutoCAD releases used by his customers and making assumptions about their Subscription status from that. That’s an extremely suspect methodology, as I pointed out: Your numbers don’t really tell us anything about Subscription v. upgrade proportions. All they tell us is that large numbers of people wait a while before installing a new release. We all knew that, surely. However, Deelip’s post did prompt me to point out this: …there is a fair point to be made about people on earlier releases who have hopped off the upgrade train altogether, or at least for a significant number of years. How would they be counted in Callan’s figures? They wouldn’t exist at all, as far as his income percentages are concerned. Owen Wengerd (ManuSoft, CADLock) asked a random sample of his customers and came up with 82% of them as non-Subscription customers. He also noted that he could come up with a 3% non-Subscription figure if he cooked the books by…

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Callan Carpenter interview 5 – the 12 month cycle

This 5th post concludes the Callan Carpenter interview series. For the record, this interview was done in real time over the phone, with no prior notice of the questions. SJ: The 12-month cycle that you have for most of your software has come under some criticism from all sorts of people, especially me. Once you have your customer base practically all on Subscription, what’s the incentive for the 12-month cycle to persist? CC: In what way have you criticised the 12 month cycle? SJ: In that it damages the product. In that there’s not enough time to release a properly developed product within that 12-month cycle. This is an observation that many people have made going back many years. That’s the basis of the criticism; not that, “Oh no, you’re giving me more software”. Well, there are people who complain about that but I don’t think that’s a valid criticism. I think the valid criticism is that it damages the product. A poll that I ran on my blog asked that question: is the 12-month cycle damaging the product? The answer was a very emphatic yes from the readers of my blog. I know that’s not a scientific survey but it fits in with other viewpoints I’ve seen expressed in various places. CC: The question was, do we intend to continue to do that? SJ: Yes. Once you have effectively have your customers on the Subscription model, so that you’re no longer internally competing with the upgrade model, do you really have to have a 12-month release cycle? CC: Well, I think it’s a very interesting and valid question, do we need to have a 12-month upgrade cycle? I know there are customers who simply cannot absorb technology at that rate. But it’s a bit of a two-edged sword, in…

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Callan Carpenter interview 4 – enhancing the program

Part 4 of 5 in this series. SJ: There is always the fear that once you have all of your customer base on Subscription, you’re not going to need to offer those benefits any more. Can you assure people that that’s not going to be the case, that you are going to keep being “nice” to your customers? CC: Absolutely. I think my team and I spend as much time and brain energy trying to figure out how to enhance the program as anything else. Our goal is to make Subscription a compelling value proposition; to make it not only cost-effective but valuable in other ways. An example would be the Advantage Pack program. We had a history of Subscription including extensions and other little technology bonuses for subscribers. But last year, we said we’re going to do something different with that. One of the problems with our historical technical Extensions program is that it was optional for product line managers to either participate or not. It was optional for product line managers to localise those Extensions in languages other than English. It was optional to make those Extensions incremental install as opposed to requiring a full reinstallation of a product. So last year, we turned a lot of our product development upside down and produced the Advantage Pack with a whole new set of requirements. A product had to be localised, it had to be incremental install, and the top 26 or 27 product lines all had to participate in delivering that value. We saw the impact in the form of a 150% increase in the downloads of that Advantage Pack. That’s an example of trying to improve the value, and you’re going to see some additional fairly significant moves on our part on the Advantage Pack this year…

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Callan Carpenter interview 3 – the cost of complexity

Part 3 of 5 in this series. SJ: In one of my blog posts, I was pretty cynical about one of the phrases used in the press release: “the streamlining of upgrade pricing based on feedback from customers and resellers”. Was I wrong to be cynical about that? Did your customers really ask for upgrade prices to be increased to some nice round number? CC: What our customers have asked for is simplified purchasing. We have a very complex price book and it leads to thousands of prices items, maybe tens of thousands when you have all the permutations across all the different geographies in which we sell software. A lot of that complexity came from having multiple-step upgrades, multiple-step crossgrades. There is a cost to maintaining that kind of a system. So our resellers certainly were asking for simplification and streamlining explicitly. Our customers were asking to find ways to make it easier to do business with Autodesk; can it be less expensive? One of the costs of doing business is maintaining a very complex pricing scheme as we have in the past. So while we may not have a customer say, “Gosh, I wish you would simplify your upgrade pricing” explicitly, it is implicit in trying to offer an easier path to buying and less cost in the long run because we’re not maintaining a very complex system that only serves a very small percentage of our customer base. SJ: So there’s a real cost associated with this. Can you put a number on that as a percentage of the cost of the upgrade? Is it 1%? 10%? Is a big amount that customers need to be worried about? CC: You know, I’ve never tried to put it as a percentage of the cost of an upgrade and…

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Callan Carpenter interview 2 – upgrades a tiny minority

Part 2 of 5 in this series. SJ: Is there anything specific you want to say about what I have written in my blog? CC: There are a number of things we can do to put Subscription questions and Simplified Upgrade Pricing into context. I think the first thing we need to recognise is that there is a very small fraction of our revenue that comes from upgrades at this point in time. For the last 8 years or so, our customers have fairly well self-selected to either prefer to be on Subscription and have the latest version and technology available to them, or to not do that, in which case they tend to upgrade 3 years or more after the current release. We’re down to very low single digits of customers who upgrade, and of those only half of those upgrade 1 or 2 years back. So we’re talking about approximately 1.5% of our revenue that comes from customers upgrading 1 and 2 versions back. And so I think there’s clearly been a natural selection, a natural fallout over time of customers choosing; do I prefer to be on Subscription or do I prefer to pay for an upgrade? If you look at the real impact of upgrade pricing, the real impact is the customers who prefer to upgrade from 1 or 2 versions back, that’s a very very small percentage of our business. For those who are 3 versions back or more, there’s really no change at all. For subscribers, which is the majority of the customer base, there is no change at all either. I just wanted to start by kind of putting that in perspective. I think the other thing we should look at is that the history of the Subscription program is one of actually…

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Callan Carpenter interview 1 – Autodesk and social media

A couple of weeks ago, Angela Simoes from the Autodesk Corporate PR team invited me to interview Callan Carpenter, Autodesk’s Vice President of Global Subscription and Support. Callan is responsible for the sales, marketing operations and product support associated with Subscription. He is also Vice President in charge of Jim Quanci’s Autodesk Developer Network. This morning, we had a very extensive discussion about Subscription and other topics that I intend to publish in several parts over the next few days. Deelip has already published a Callan interview, but mine is quite different. In this post, I will let Callan introduce himself and then move into some questions about social media that I asked at the end of the interview. In this post, both Callan Carpenter (CC) and Angela Simoes (AS) responded to my questions. SJ: Callan, can you give me some background on yourself? CC: I’ve been at Autodesk since November 2008. Prior to that, I spent 20-odd years in the semiconductor and semiconductor-CAD software business: technologies in many ways analogous to what we have for our manufacturing, civil and media/entertainment markets here. I was focused on semiconductor design, manufacturing, electrical properties and so forth. I’m an electrical engineer by training. I’ve spent about half of my time in startups and about half in big companies. Everything from designing silicon to sales and marketing to engineering to you-name-it. SJ: It’s kind of unusual for me as a mere blogger to be approached by a Vice President, but I’ve had this happen twice in the past couple of weeks. Is there a move within Autodesk to engage more with bloggers and social media? CC: We’re definitely more conscious of social media than we have been historically. We are becoming more cognisant of the power of social media, whether it’s tweets or…

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CAD International interview on drcauto and other subjects

This morning I spoke with CAD International‘s Nigel Varley. Here is a paraphrased summary of the interview. SJ: When did CAD International buy the drcauto intellectual property rights? NV: About two weeks ago. SJ: You are currently helping drcauto customers with authorisation codes, is that correct? NV: Yes, masses of them. It’s taking up a lot of our peoples’ time. SJ: Are you charging for this service? NV: Not at present. SJ: Do you intend to charge for this service in the future? NV: Maybe. We may need to, both to pay for our time and to recoup our investment. I don’t particularly like the idea of annual renewals for software, so we may do something different in future. SJ: If somebody wanted to buy drcauto products such as LT Toolkit now, could they do so? NV: No, we’re still processing the materials we were given when we bought the rights. It wasn’t left in a well-organised state. I’m not sure if that was done deliberately or if it was just like that. SJ: Do you have any plans to continue development of LT Toolkit or the other drcauto products? NV: It’s too early to say at this time. I understand it doesn’t work right now with AutoCAD LT 2010 with Update 2 applied, or on 64-bit Windows, or on Windows 7. It’s not clear at this stage how much work is involved in making it work. It should be doable, but we can’t make any commitments at this stage. SJ: So do you have a timeframe for doing any of this stuff? NV: No, it’s too early. We’re still processing it. SJ: What about former drcauto employees helping people out with authorisation codes? NV: They have no rights to do that. They don’t own the intellectual property, we do.…

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Some thoughts on AutoCAD Exchange

I’ve added a link to Autodesk’s new AutoCAD community site, AutoCAD Exchange. As with most things Autodesk, there are pros and cons. Here are my first impressions. I think it looks good in a Vista-black kind of way. I know some of you don’t like the black look in software, but I do. The layout looks a bit cluttered and confused at first, but I’m sure visitors will quickly get used to where to find things. The site appears to be designed around 1024-wide resolution. If you have more than this, as most CAD users do, then there are wide areas of wasted space either side of the good stuff. The front page is basically a teaser. To get to the useful content or do pretty much anything, you need to register or sign in. I don’t particularly like this, and it gives the impression (false or not) that Autodesk wants to own and control you, even if you’re just viewing a site. The registration process is the same as for other Autodesk sites such as the discussion groups, so if you have an Autodesk identity, you’re already registered. As it is a “community” site, on first sign-in you are invited to fill in more details, provide an avatar and so on. Some people might not like this, but it’s optional and Autodesk knows where I live so it makes no difference to me. I know where Autodesk lives, too. It has yet to be seen if Autodesk manages to develop a real community on this site, and if so, how open that community is allowed to be. Autodesk is encouraging bloggers to add an Autodesk Exchange widget to their blogs. I won’t be adding one in a permanent position because this is my blog and not Autodesk’s. I kind…

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A gaggle of geeks

Time to lighten things up a bit, I think. While attending the AutoCAD 2010 product launch in San Francisco on 5 February 2009, I conducted a series of micro-interviews with a collection of AutoCAD bloggers and Autodesk employees. One geek asks 14 other geeks if they are geeks; nothing too serious here. I hope Shaan enjoys my tabloid journalist editing job right at the end. YouTube link. Thanks to all the interviewees: Heidi Hewett, Autodesk blogger Lynn Allen, Autodesk blogger Melanie Perry, blogger Robin Capper, blogger Brian Benton, blogger Todd Shackelford, blogger Jon Page, Autodesk person Matt Stein, Autodesk person and personal blogger Shaan Hurley, Autodesk blogger Donnie Gladfelter, blogger Ellen Finklestein, blogger David Cohn, blogger Mark Douglas, blogger Guillermo Melantoni, Autodesk person (still waiting for that blog, Guillermo!) What is the collective noun for geeks, anyway?

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Autodesk answers – 2 of 4

In a comment on the first of these posts, Ralph G raised the possibility that these answers have been edited by marketing people. I have checked with Eric Stover and he assures me these answers come direct from the program managers concerned and are unmassaged by marketers. That ties in with the partial email trail that came with the answers. It also ties in with the impression I have formed recently that Autodesk is starting to open up a bit. That’s a trend I’m happy to encourage. There’s one thing that clinches the marketing-interference matter for me. Despite Eric being on vacation when I sent in the request, the answers came back in days rather than weeks or months. Enough of that, here’s the next question, courtesy of Matt Stachoni: Q: Why haven’t the latest Subscription Bonus Packs been released for AutoCAD Architecture Subscription customers? A: This year was the first time we released bonus packs continuously throughout the year to AutoCAD subscription customers, and we had a lot to learn about how to best deliver the bonus packs, and how often to release them. Based on our learnings from this year, our plan for the coming year is to ensure that AutoCAD Architecture (and other AutoCAD vertical product) subscription customers also receive any AutoCAD updates and bonus packs we deliver.

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Autodesk answers – 1 of 4

At the end of January, I asked for your questions to put to Autodesk product managers. My intention was to pose your questions in a video interview format while attending the AutoCAD 2010 product launch, but for logistical reasons I was unable to make this happen. Autodesk’s Eric Stover kindly arranged for your questions to be answered anyway. The delay in getting these answers back to you is my responsibility, not Autodesk’s. The answers come courtesy of the following product managers: Diane Li – lead manager on AutoCAD; Guillermo Melantoni – 3D and Parametrics expert; Kathy O’Connell – customer requests, quality improvements, and 2D improvements. I will post each question and answer a day apart, to give you chance to comment on each issue separately. Here is the first question, courtesy of Chris Cowgill: Q: With the current release cycle being so short, has anyone considered suspending a new release for a time, to spend an entire release cycle working on improving/restoring functionality of existing features and fixing bugs, why, or why not? A: With any given release, we aim to deliver a healthy balance of new features & functionality along with improvements to existing functionality, so we can help enable new ways of doing design, but also provide more efficient ways of working the way you do today. We plan to continue this balancing act for future releases, but have also started delivering regular product updates (formerly known as ‘service packs’) throughout the year. So, rather than requiring you to wait for a new release of the product to get product improvements, this year we delivered 3 product updates that included hundreds of bug fixes to existing AutoCAD features and functionality.

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Autodesk not listening? The response, part 1.

While attending the AutoCAD 2010 launch today, I took the opportunity to interview three Autodesk people: Eric Stover, Jon Page and Shaan Hurley. I raised the issue of Autodesk being seen as not listening to its customers, and was given a very comprehensive response. Here is the first of two parts of that interview. YouTube link. Disclosure: Transport, accommodation and some meals were provided by Autodesk.

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