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…

Full post and comments

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:…

Full post and comments

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…

Full post and comments

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…

Full post and comments

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:…

Full post and comments

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…

Full post and comments

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…

Full post and comments

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…

Full post and comments

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…

Full post and comments

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…

Full post and comments

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…

Full post and comments

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?

Full post and comments

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.

Full post and comments

(Don’t) Ask Autodesk a question

If you had a real live Autodesk development person standing in front of you right now (an AutoCAD Product Manager, for example) and were allowed to ask one question, what would it be? Please add a comment here with your question. I would ask that you keep your question civil and reasonably concise (one or two sentences), and bear in mind that the development person in front of you isn’t going to have a useful answer to policy questions about pricing, license agreements, customer service and so on. Other than that, anything goes, so let’s have ’em. I can’t promise that your question will get answered, but I’ll see what I can do. Note: comments are now closed, as this post keeps getting mistaken for an ongoing mechanism for asking Autodesk questions.

Full post and comments

The John Walker interview, and other observations

I have been thoroughly enjoying Kean Walmsley’s interview of Autodesk co-founder John Walker, which he has now finished. Kean’s link to part 4 is currently broken (edit: now fixed) and that broken link has been picked up by others (edit: also fixed in Between The Lines), so here are the correct links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. One of the best things about the interview is that it contains some frank criticism of Autodesk (and Microsoft, for that matter). On an Autodesk blog. Think about that. OK, it may be criticism of some stuff that is now ancient history, and it was made by someone who isn’t actually an Autodesk employee any more, but when was the last time you saw even that? It’s refreshing to see just a tiny crack appear in the never-say-anything-negative Autodesk facade. I remember a time when Autodesk people were allowed to speak reasonably freely in public, often did so, and were even known to make admissions that not everything always smells of roses. John’s fellow Autodesk founder Duff Kurland once wrote this wonderful, wonderful response to a question of mine on the CompuServe ACAD forum (it was about Autodesk removing Visual Basic support without warning, if you’re curious): We screwed up. We screwed up twice. He then went on to explain the detail of how and why Autodesk had screwed up and exactly what they had learned from the experience. Can you imagine any Autodesk person saying that now? If they did, can you imagine that person remaining an Autodesk employee afterwards in anything other than a sweeping-up capacity? Nor me, and that’s a real shame. It would be easy enough to justify it by saying Autodesk is a public company and has a glossy corporate image to preserve, but…

Full post and comments

The Ribbon Man interview – fluff?

Looking at the comments, it seems not everyone is happy with the Matt Stein interview. If so, I’m sorry you feel that way about the piece. In my own defence, I would point out the following: I like to think my work at Cadalyst represents a balanced viewpoint. I pride myself on being fair. Whether Autodesk deserves praise or criticism for something, I provide it. But an interview isn’t really the place to do that. An interview is supposed to be an opportunity for the interviewee to say things, not a platform for the interviewer’s opinions. My job as an interviewer is to extract information, not provide it. In my opinion, the best TV interviewers listen a lot and say very little. Confrontational interviewers can be fun to watch, though. I have many other opportunities, both here and in Bug Watch, to express viewpoints that may conflict with what Matt had to say. Matt doesn’t have a blog or a regular Cadalyst column, he has this one chance to put his point across to Cadalyst readers. I think it’s fair to let Matt make best use of that opportunity and not beat him down with a confrontational style. I think it’s important for readers to understand the thinking behind the user interface changes. You may not agree with Autodesk’s thinking (in fact, I often don’t), but if you know what the thinking is, you can argue against it more convincingly. I don’t want to go into too much detail about this because it involves private correspondence, but getting this interview published at all was an effort and a half. Anyone who wants to get access to an Autodesk employee’s comments for publication has to go through Autodesk’s PR people. While the people I dealt with were pleasant and cooperative, the pace at which things happened…

Full post and comments