Cloud benefits – collaboration, with Autodesk’s Tal Weiss

In May 2010 I took part in a phone conference with several Autodesk people about the Cloud. Part of that discussion was in the form of an interview, which I will publish in later posts. Another part was in the form of a verbal presentation from Autodesk’s Tal Weiss, concentrating on what was then Project Butterfly, Autodesk’s then Labs-based Cloudy CAD offering. This product had been called Visual Tao and was later renamed again to AutoCAD WS. As this presentation was largely based on the benefits of the Cloud for CAD collaboration, I think it is worthwhile reproducing it here. Obviously, it represents Tal’s view rather than my own. First, a little background. Project Butterfly started with an Autodesk acquisition in November 2009 of a company called Visual Tao, based in Tel Aviv, Israel. This is now an Autodesk development office led by Tal Weiss, former CEO and co-founder of Visual Tao. Here is what Tal had to say: Butterfly is a web application to enable users to edit, share and collaborate on AutoCAD drawings, on line using any web browser. One way to describe it in just a single sentence is, “Google Docs to AutoCAD”, meaning a web application to which you can upload your desktop content to then be immediately able to view and to edit that content using just your web browser with no desktop software necessary, and to share that content very easily with other users without them having to have any kind of software to download and install on the local machine. The way that we look at it is that Butterfly extends AutoCAD to the web, meaning turning AutoCAD from a best-in-breed software experience for drawing, drafting and modelling on the desktop and extending that over to the web; putting the power of the…

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Cloud concerns – security

OK, this one’s a biggie. For many, security is the biggest Cloud turn-off. Drawings are valuable property, and the thought of putting them up on the Internet is enough to give some people nervous twitches. I see two major worries: Is my property safe from destruction? Is it safe from unauthorised access (copying, modification, theft)? There are at least a couple of ways of looking at this: If you’re worried about data destruction, back up! You should be doing that anyway, regardless of where you store your stuff. Most people are comfortable enough with Internet banking, or at least using a credit card to make Internet purchases. The security of a major Cloud infrastructure provider is likely to be better than that of your own in-house infrastructure. It’s certainly a lot better than email, and almost everybody emails drawings about the place without even thinking about it. Plus, you can use Cloud security features to restrict access to your drawings in ways that you have no hope of doing if you’re emailing your drawings to other parties. So what are you worried about? Isn’t one of the supposed benefits of Cloud storage that backups are all taken care of for me? Putting my designs in the Cloud doesn’t remove any risk if I also need to store my own backups. However, it adds extra and unnecessary risk. Amazon (Autodesk’s Cloud infrastructure provider) irretrievably lost some of its customers’ Cloud data just a few months ago. There are many, many instances of supposedly secure sites being infiltrated by hackers. You’d have to be very unlucky to have somebody that wants your designs intercept your email, but a static site that is known to contain millions of dollars worth of drawings is a huge and tempting target. Putting your designs on the…

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“The Cloud is Dead” is not what I said

I guess most of this blog’s readers also read WorldCAD Access and upFront.eZine, so it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that in the latest upFront.eZine, Ralph had procalimed “The Cloud is Dead” and referred to some of my recent posts here as supporting evidence. I’d just like to point out that it’s Ralph announcing the death of the Cloud, and not me. Personally, while I agree with some of Ralph’s points, I think there’s life in the Cloud yet and the obituary is somewhat premature. My own attitude toward the cloud matches that of most of you, judging by the poll results here. I see pros and cons, and have strong concerns about many of the cons. However, I intend to cover both sides objectively. Look out for more coverage soon.

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Cloud benefits – processing power

A frequently stated advantage of CAD on the Cloud is the access to large amounts of processing power. Instead of relying on your lowly local processor to perform complex tasks, you can instead zap the job up to the Cloud where vast numbers of processors churn away in massively parallel fashion and then zap the results back to you before you’ve even had time to head for the coffee machine. This is a scenario that applies only for certain types of very complex tasks that are suited to subdividing the calculations among many processors. Autodesk already has a big toe in the waters in several of those areas. The recent Autodesk Cloud changes made available Inventor Optimization, Cloud Rendering, Green Building Studio and Conceptual Energy Analysis to a small subset of Subscription customers. It’s safe to assume that these services will be improved and expanded over the next few years. (Is there anybody out there using Autodesk Cloud services for these processor-intensive tasks? Let’s hear about your real-world experiences.) What this doesn’t mean is that it makes sense for us all to be using CAD on the Cloud, all the time. The processing time gained by using the Cloud is offset by the communication time spent passing the data back and forth, so any processing gain has to be substantial to make it worthwhile. Twenty years ago, when every zoom extents was followed by a looooong wait, a big swag of extra processing power would have come in very handy. These days, processors are ridiculously fast in comparison. They are also very cheap and getting cheaper. Even low-end PCs have had multiple cores for some years, and these days seeing eight almost unused cores on your performance monitor is pretty normal. The performance of today’s CPUs and the variable performance of today’s Internet, mean that…

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Any AutoCAD WS users out there?

In the post Cloud benefits – collaboration, I asked for people’s real-life experiences using, or attempting to use AutoCAD WS. In particular, I’d like to hear about you using its features to collaborate with others, which is a major selling point of the Cloud. As the other post hasn’t seen any replies yet, I’ve added this one to better attract the attention of AutoCAD WS users. Autodesk has put a lot of effort into this and it’s been out for a while, surely somebody’s using it for real work? If so, I encourage you to comment on the other post.

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Cloud concerns – downtime

One concern with any SaaS (Software as a Service) product is the potential for downtime. Is this really an issue? After all, big Cloud vendors have multiple server farms as part of their huge infrastructure investment. This provides redundancy to keep things going even in the event of a major local disaster or two. Cloud vendors have a lot of experience handling things such as power outages, hackers, denial-of-service attacks and the like. Amazon, the vendor currently used by Autodesk, promises an annual uptime of 99.95%.  That’s got to be good enough, surely? Maybe not. The Amazon cloud service has had some noticeable failures, in some cases affecting customers for several days. Amazon may promise a certain average uptime figure, but it provides only credits if it fails to meet its targets. Amazon has been known to be slippery about using fine print to avoid paying those credits, which in any case would go to Autodesk. Joe Drafter, who relies on a Cloud application to do his work and who suffers a significant loss of income and business reputation from a 4-day outage, probably shouldn’t hold his breath while waiting for a big fat compensation check to turn up. But is a Cloud solution really going to be less reliable than what you have now? Nothing’s 100% reliable, including a standalone PC, so what’s the problem? The problem is that with the Cloud, the potential for downtime is in addition to that you currently experience. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the sort of things that could stop you producing a design using traditional software: Power failure at your office Your hardware fails Your operating system fails Your CAD software has problems bad enough to prevent you working Here’s an equivalent similarly non-exhaustive list for a SaaS CAD application: Power failure at your office Your…

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Cloud benefits – collaboration

The “other” C word – collaboration – was super-trendy in a mildly amusing way a couple of years ago, so I hesitate to use it here. But it seems to me that it represents a real potential benefit of CAD on the Cloud. Not just potential, because it’s already here, free for anyone, thanks to AutoCAD WS. The optional ability to put your designs where they can be worked on by those who are contributing to the design, regardless of their location, has to be a good thing, surely? Let’s find out how it’s going in the real world. I’d like to hear from people who have used AutoCAD WS, or tried to use it, in order to collaborate with others. What are the benefits and problems? Does the workflow match your needs, or do issues such as contractual and legal responsibility prevent you from working in this way? Are there practical difficulties in areas such as performance and CAD management? Is AutoCAD WS a good enough CAD tool for this job, or does it have a way to go yet?

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This blog is just wonderful, apparently

One of the more interesting things about running a blog that is visited by a reasonable number of people is the fan mail. My immense modesty prevents me from keeping visible the thousands of positive comments that are posted here, but I thought I would give you an idea of the sort of praise I receive (and Akismet hides) on a daily basis. This small sample is all from the past 48 hours, with my comments in blue: My brother recommended I might like this website. He was entirely right. This publish truly made my day. You cann’t believe simply how so much time I had spent for this info! Thanks! Actually, I cann, how so much! Many of my publishes make many people’s days. Please tell your brother I said “Hi!”, and thank him for the massage oil. That is very attention-grabbing, You are an overly professional blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look ahead to in search of more of your great post. Additionally, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks. I look ahead to in search, too. I appreciate the social sharing, because I’m sure you have a lot of friends. Thank you so much for this! I haven’t been this thrilled by a blog post for a long time! Keep up the great job. Keep on inspiring the people! Don’t mention it; inspiration and thrills are all part of the service here. wonderful blog, very well written. I like it very much. I would read your site monthly and recommend it to my classmates. Please keep it updated. Keep on the good work. – A sweet girl Only monthly? I’m hurt. To make amends, send pics of yourself and your classmates to my email at pedowatch@fbi.gov. Such a wonderful analysis! No idea how you were able…

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Autodesk Cloud – don’t panic, business as usual

Autodesk recently made a big announcement about its Cloud initiatives, and reactions have been all over the place. Some people can barely contain their breathless excitement while others are outraged to the point of passing out the pitchforks. Why? It’s pretty much business as usual. It’s nothing like Dassault’s disastrous we’re-moving-you-to-the-Cloud FUD campaign against its own product, SolidWorks. There’s no hint here of AutoCAD (real AutoCAD, I mean, not “AutoCAD” WS) being moved to the Cloud, or anything as radical as that. (Yes, I know there’s a limited experiment along those lines but that’s nothing to do with this announcement). It’s just a collection of relatively minor changes to Autodesk’s existing on-line services, collected together to make a newsworthy press release. (As an aside, I must say this was a much more worthwhile announcement than the ridiculously over-hyped DE8.16N thing. So I was supposed to get excited about a routine upgrade of a product I have already been using for months, on an OS I don’t use, when the upgraded product is still half-baked just like the first underwhelming effort? Fortunately, I didn’t get sucked in by the pre-announcement build-up so I wasn’t disappointed, just amused when the truth was revealed. Autodesk PR, please don’t cry wolf so often; keep the hype in reserve for the hypeworthy stuff.) Back to the Cloud thing, and putting aside hype and horror, here’s the stuff that has just happened: Autodesk Cloud documents lets anybody store up to 1 GB documents on-line, or 3 GB if you’re a Subscription customer. This isn’t new, but until recently it was an Autodesk Labs project called Nitrous. The infrastructure is provided via Amazon and Citrix. AutoCAD WS has been updated to integrate its storage with Autodesk Cloud documents. Remember, WS isn’t anything like real AutoCAD, but rather a limited on-line DWG editing tool.…

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AutoCAD 2012 – Downloading the trial is a trial

Let’s say you’re trying to download some software and it insists on first installing some intermediary download manager. Do you think, “Great, this will make my life easier, things are bound to go quickly and smoothly now”? No, didn’t think so. How about when it’s by Akamai? Does that make you feel more confident? No, nor me. If I download stuff without a manager, it just works. Sometimes it’s slow, but it works. If I use a general-purpose download manager that’s part of my browser, or one I chose to install and use (e.g. Free Download Manager), things generally go very well. If there’s a direct download link to use, success and a very quick download are almost guaranteed. But it seems that every time some company wants to force a download manager on me, something bad happens. Now maybe I’m only remembering the failures and forgetting the successes, but I’m absolutely sure that download reliability is way, way poorer when companies insist on inflicting their download managers on me. I’ve had issues with them at home with a straightforward ADSL connection, and I’ve had no end of problems with them at work in a proxy server environment. Even when they work, the download speed is generally significantly poorer than when I use something like Free Download Manager. The latest in a long line of download manager difficulties is this morning’s attempted download of the AutoCAD 2012 trial. Why, as a Subscription customer, am I downloading the trial? Why don’t I just get it from the Subscription Center? Because Autodesk hasn’t got around to putting 2012 on there yet. Paying customers come some way down the priority list, apparently. I hope it’s just a temporary delay, because last year here in Australia the delivery of AutoCAD 2011 software to customers was a…

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AutoCAD WS contest poll added

Thanks to all entrants in the AutoCAD WS contest. I have now closed the entries and added a poll (see right). Although I did state that there would be no prize for this contest, I have some exciting news! I am happy to announce that thanks to an exclusive* arrangement with Autodesk, the winner of this contest will receive a free** copy of AutoCAD!*** I will keep the poll open until I feel like closing it or the entry I like best is winning, whichever is the most convenient. * Exclusive to people with Internet access. ** Excluding any Internet access expenses the winner may incur. *** AutoCAD WS. If the winner is unable to use AutoCAD WS due to iThing insufficiency, browser-based access to Project Butterfly will be provided instead.

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iPad, iPhone app – good and bad news

Good news! Autodesk has announced an app that will link iPads and iPhones to Project Butterfly. This provides viewing, markup and limited editing facilities. Bad news! Autodesk has decide to call it AutoCAD WS, which is bordering on the fraudulent. It’s not AutoCAD, is nothing like it, and is unlikely to ever be anything like it. I can call my dog Prince, but that doesn’t make him royalty. Unfortunately, much of the mainstream media appears to be blissfully unaware of this. This is gaining Autodesk some short-term column inches, but at the longer-term expense of furthering the myth that “AutoCAD” is going to run on iPhone and iPads. People will start using Butterfly, think it’s AutoCAD, and then, if they need CAD for their Macs, wonder why they should spend thousands on something so basic and limited. Good news! It will be available Real Soon Now, and you can sign up for it at http://butterfly.autodesk.com/mobile/. Bad news! You can’t sign up for it using your iPhone or iPad (unless it’s jailbroken). Apple may be convinced you don’t need Flash, but Autodesk disagrees. The Butterfly signup page requires Flash, you see. It wants to send you off to adobe.com. Ouch! You have to admit, that’s pretty funny. Cluelessness? There’s an app for that. I guess iUsers will just have to use their Macbook Pros to sign up.

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Autodesk user community survey

Autodesk is running a web survey to try to find out which user communities (including blogs) its customers find valuable. If you are interested in participating, the survey is here. If you want to specify any blogs, you will need to type or paste their names into various “other comments” boxes. As the number of blogs I read far exceeds a reasonable type-in requirement, I couldn’t accurately give an idea of my web habits. So I’m not sure how much can be accurately read into the results. (Source: CAD Panacea). I saw Shaan asking about this kind of thing a while back, but not getting much response. It looks like Autodesk is trying to work out exactly where its customers go these days for support, discussion, networking, training, etc. I can’t speak for other bloggers, but I’d be happy to provide my site statistics on request. Anybody can also get an idea of how much of a “community” a blog is by the number of comments. One point I found strange in the survey was the order of “valuableness” in one of the questions. It went something like: Not at all valuable Not very valuable Valuable Somewhat valuable Very valuable Exceedingly valuable (or whatever) The ordering of “somewhat valuable” and “valuable” was the opposite to what I would have expected. What do you think? Is “somewhat valuable” more valuable than “valuable”, as the survey suggests?

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Magic vanishing images

In a thread in the Feedback & Questions about the Discussion Groups section of the Autodesk discussion groups, somebody called ACADuser contributed what I thought was a highly amusing bar graph as a test image. Inspired by this, I contributed a couple of test images of my own. A few hours later, the whole thread magically disappeared! It seems a shame that I went to the effort of making those images, and all for nothing. The handful of people who would have seen them on the discussion groups have now missed out on the experience. So I’ve decided to make up for that by posting them here, where thousands of people can look at them instead. Here’s the first one (not that amusing): Here’s the second one. Given the circumstances, it seems somewhat prescient: If ACADuser wants to get in touch, I’ll be quite happy to post his image too.

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Autodesk discussion group changes – user reaction

I will be airing my own views on the Autodesk discussion group changes in a future post. In the meantime, I have collected some reactions from other users. For the record, there has been only a little censorship in this area. Here are some of the comments that made it through unhindered: I’ve given it a fair shake and it’s just as bad as I imagined Goodbye, people. It was nice while it lasted it sucks it doesn’t look like you have any intention to meet the expectations of these people not [as] much traffic as there was before the change.  I hope things improve I’m sure you’ve noticed the sourness many folks are having with this interface What a f’in f-up This is so aggravating that I am resorting to posting questions that may have already been answered vs. trying to find them via the search tool Very annoying We use NNTP because it’s easy and fast, and better very slow, compared to “other” html forums This was hyped as a “state-of-art web experience”. It is clearly not Extremely slow compared to the previous web forum we are screwed with this interface This is like having your high performance vehicle (NNTP) stolen and having to take the bus to get to your destination 4 days later, still sucks Still very slow, cumbersome, difficult to track and navigate, unintuitive It took me literally 30 seconds to get that smiley to insert I really was expecting something better I see too many people who may not be around anymore. In most cases their expertise far outweighs any improvements to the forums Welcome to the new and improved Autodesk forum brought to you by high school students near you You keep using that word [“upgrade”]. I do not think it means what you think it means…

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Censorship on the Autodesk discussion groups

The Autodesk discussion groups have quite a few problems at the moment, which I will discuss at length in future. One unnecessary problem that has been added to the mix is censorship. Having praised Autodesk in the past for allowing discussion to go unhindered, it’s only fair to slam heavy-handed moderation when I see it. Before I get started, let me just say that Autodesk is entitled to moderate its discussion groups as it sees fit. The forum belongs to Autodesk and it can do what it likes with it. But just because Autodesk can censor its forums, that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to do so. Neither does that it mean that Autodesk is immune to public criticism of that censorship. There is no First Amendment obligation on Autodesk, but there are many other places that censored viewpoints can be repeated. Here, for example. In this particular case, a section was deleted from a reply I made in a thread about the educational plot stamp. In that section, I mentioned that the educational plot stamp is very easy to remove with an everyday AutoCAD command. I didn’t name that command or give any details of how to use it to remove the stamp. Now I understand that Autodesk gets the twitches when people discuss circumvention of its educational stamp “virus”, but I didn’t mention anything that isn’t already public knowledge. I discussed this issue at length in Cadalyst some five years ago, again without giving away the details. If you really want to know the details, please don’t ask me because I won’t reply. Google it, it’s out there. You probably don’t even need to do that. It’s a pretty obvious thing to attempt. It was, in fact, the very first thing I tried when I first…

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Autodesk discussion group update – what do you think?

On 4 June 2010, Autodesk turned off NNTP access to its discussion groups as part of the process of updating its software to use a different engine (the new one is from Lithium – here are its own forums). I am preparing a large post about what I think of the new web interface, but for now let’s hear from you on that subject. Please vote in the poll on the right, and add your comments once you’ve had a chance to put the “state-of-the-art web experience Autodesk customers have come to expect” through its paces. In related news, I have now closed the short-lived poll about the end of NNTP access to these groups. The results were: Should Autodesk shut down NNTP access to its discussion groups? Yes (8.8%, 5 Votes) No (59.6%, 34 Votes) Don’t care (31.6%, 18 Votes) Total Voters: 57 This is a small sample and must have some self-selection bias, in that those who cared about this move were more likely to read my post on the subject and vote about it. I attempted to temper this by including a “Don’t care” option, but some bias is still bound to be there. There is also likely to be some bias in the opposite direction, because people are less inclined to bother voting to try to fight a decision that had clearly already been set in concrete and which was never going to change. That said, it does seem remarkable that only 5 people could be found who supported Autodesk’s decision to drop NNTP access. According to my long-running What is your relationship to Autodesk? poll, There are at least 25 (claimed) Autodesk employees who are active enough on this blog to respond to its polls! Without wishing to compromise the private nature of my polls,…

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Autodesk to kill NNTP discussion groups

As of 4 June, Autodesk intends to update its discussion group software to something that does not support newsgroup (NNTP) access. From an email by Autodesk’s Eric Wright to NNTP users: “As an active NNTP user, we wanted to reach out to you directly. We recognize this will change your experience participating in the forums and want to help you transition to the new web interface. Improvements include a simpler, more intuitive interface to post & reply, bookmarking and e-mail notification features to track favorite posts, and more powerful search tools and filtering. While not a substitute for the NNTP experience, the streamlined capabilities of our enhanced RSS feeds can also provide an alternative offline forum reading experience.” As you can see, we are significantly investing to improve the platform behind the web-based experince to address many of the shortfalls reported by users over the last few years. Rich text vs Plain text confusion, formatting issues (like I just experienced cutting and pasting this message), logout issues, search, in-line image support, and robust RSS capabilities are just a few areas of improvements in an update planned for June 4. A public announcement will be posted in the forums in a few days. I hope you will give it a try after launch, and provide any feedback or best practices to help in the transition. Eric Wright Product Manager – Support & Learning Web & eBusiness Autodesk, Inc. The public announcement mentioned above can be found here. As you might expect, this decision has been a hot topic of conversation. A survey has been set up (by Tony Tanzillo, not by Autodesk), and the running results are here. I’ve added a poll of my own (on the right). Feel free to express your views here, too. I have some sympathy for…

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AutoCAD for Mac in Beta

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no access to inside information about this Beta. Even if I had, I would not reveal anything that I had learned as a result of such access. This post discusses only information that is already public knowledge. The native Mac OS X AutoCAD port that Autodesk has been foreshadowing for some time is now in Beta, it seems. The Italian Mac community is getting particularly excited about the leak, but it’s also a popular subject of discussion on at least one English-speaking forum. The Autodesk codename is Sledgehammer, and it’s currently 64-bit only. If this is a subject that interests you, with a bit of sniffing around you can easily find screenshots, a video and you can apparently even download it via torrent if you’re feeling particularly brave/stupid. If you’re interested in trying it out, it would be much better to apply to join the Beta program. That way, you will stay legal, you won’t download a trojan and you will contribute towards improving the product. Autodesk will probably need such contributions, because the early Beta allegedly runs like “a sewer” with huge performance issues. That should not be a surprise at this stage, but it should give you some idea of how much work Autodesk has ahead of it before it has a product that is fit for human consumption. Oh, if you do join Autodesk’s Beta program, please be a bit more careful with the software than the guy who thought it would be a cool thing to hand out to his friends. Edit: Ralph thinks it’s fake. I really don’t think it is, but must acknowledge the possibility that I’m wrong. Edit 2: More discussion and screenshots at SolidSmack.

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