February 16, 2012

Hey left hand, could you maybe take right hand out to dinner or something?

Author at Work

After several weeks of self-flagellation and general outward positivity, the time has come for a good old fashioned rant. So here goes…

I have been testing a lot of mobile applications as I begin to prepare my presentation for SPAR 2012. While time consuming, it’s also a lot of fun and quite encouraging to see so many people working to solve so many problems with new tech. As with any software solution, a big company or brand name does not necessarily equal a better product than a smart college kid’s app built in his spare time in a dorm room. I have always supposed that this is because the larger company is less nimble and has to balance its many interest as it develops each project. However, the established brands have more resources and a big-picture understanding that often puts them in a place where they can buy what works and rebrand it before anyone except the early adopters know what happened. 

In the end this should mean better interoperability and less risk for consumers when it comes time to purchase software.

The author, hard at work.

It seems as though Autodesk has followed this playbook to the letter. My question is, when will we see the benefit? Exploring Autodesk’s iOS apps did the same thing to me that exploring their desktop applications did years ago. It filled me with awe and excitement at the possibility of what I could accomplish using these tools; then I tried to actually use them in a production environment. The very thing large companies are supposed to offer (platform interoperability) is nowhere to be seen! Let’s take a singular example, Point Cloud Data. How many years have we waited to be able to realize the promise of using point clouds in applications that have larger user bases? Don’t get me wrong, I love Cyclone, but if you could do the same work in AutoCAD or Inventor, or Revit, I could double my client base overnight. We are finally seeing point cloud engines native to these applications but they are still generations behind Cyclone or LFM. You know the situation is bad when you look at the market for plugins. Pointools, kubit, Cloudworx, Point Cloud for AutoCAD, not to mention the plethora of Autodesk Labs tools that appear (and then disappear) every year. Even when you get it in one flavor of one of their products you can’t export to another in the suite without some kind of hiccup. Want the same data in 3D Studio Max or Revit? Sure, just buy another plug-in, and then start trying to figure out all of the ways that it doesn’t behave like every other object in 3DS. And it’s not limited to point clouds, try making a 3D DWG with a lot of cylinders. Can you use it in Revit? Documentation says yes but it is so cumbersome to use that it’s counterproductive. I’ve been told by vendors that I push the software too hard, but then I go to SPAR and see companies exceeding my CAD output by orders of magnitude. 

Let’s just say it’s a bit frustrating and move on, shall we?

Now we have entered the mobile OS market. Have we learned from our mistakes? We have a chance to start over and get it right the first time. Autodesk did not. Look at their offerings in mobile apps. They are all derivative versions of the desktop apps with new apps to provide connective tissue between them, the office, and the cloud. Don’t get me started on the cloud management “strategy” they are implementing either. If you have a project with pieces in Inventor, Revit, AutoCAD, etc., you have a separate cloud stored model for each! There does not seem to be any way to define the cloud storage area by contract or project or client. It is incredibly redundant and as a result inefficient in its use of storage space and more importantly, bandwidth. We’re not moving closer to a unified platform but further away from it!

I’m sure that there are a lot of very smart people working very hard for Autodesk. I just end up with the feeling that the right hand never quite knows what the left is doing. Whether it is by design or an accident of the business model, I do not know. I guess I should be happy as a lot of my friends stay employed bridging the gaps left by Autodesk but on the days that I just need to get something completed and out the door, the lack of a unified, interoperable platform drives me crazy!  

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