Earlier this month at SolidWorks World 2010 in Anaheim, we gave attendees a glimpse into some powerful new solutions that we’re currently developing. Over the past few weeks we’ve been watching and reading all of the various blogs, forum posts, and news articles talking about what we showed. We thought we’d take this opportunity to address some of the questions that we’ve seen.
First, let’s talk about the Monday morning technology preview. This is work R&D is doing to see how we can solve fundamental problems our customers have using emerging technologies. Key technologies explored were 1) the use of cloud computing, and 2) using various types of devices to create designs and access your data. I’m just going to summarize a few points that were made by Jeff and the team here.
- Device Choice. Whether you have a PC, a Mac, or a netbook, you should be able to work on your designs. If you have a mobile device like an iPhone or Android phone, you should also be able to access your design data. We demonstrated all of these, as well as the use of a Windows multi-touch device. The iMac and Windows 7 devices were running native implementations of the software, while the netbook was accessing a hosted version of the software through a thin client interface.
- Easy Design Access. The cloud-based data storage solution we showed allows users to access designs from any computer. If you’re creating a design at work, you can go home and continue working on it from your home computer. Our customers also want to share their designs with customers, suppliers and colleagues. The problem with sharing is that you end up with a lot of copies of your data. The solution demonstrated allows users to easily share a single copy of the data–just like sending someone a link to a YouTube video.
- Design Tools and Content. Helping users create great designs is at the core of what we do, but CAD systems are still too complex. Users want to capture design intent so they can make changes predictably. But sometimes users want to make changes that they didn’t anticipate at the outset. We demonstrated a unified approach that allows users to make these non-parametric changes while leaving other design intent and feature information intact. Currently, users also need to deal with too many low-level concepts in CAD tools that don’t really represent how things work in the real world. We’re making this content more lifelike. For example, springs will stretch and contract. And, to assemble things, you’ll be able to use concepts like glue, welds and hinges rather than atomic mates.
- New levels of performance and productivity. We can’t deliver a great user experience without great performance. Think of the power that users can get with multiple cores on the desktop, and many virtual machines in the cloud. If you put that all together you get massive opportunity for performance improvements. It’s not only about making things faster, but using this power to do multiple things simultaneously to save time. We want the system to predict the user’s next step so things can be ready when needed. This includes real-time analysis data and photo-realistic renderings. Users also don’t like waiting for files to open. So we want the data to always be available in the application instantaneously, just like you access objects in an Xbox or PlayStation game. In fact, as those of you in Anaheim might have noticed in the demonstration, we’ve eliminated the concept of Open File.
- Unmatched Reliability. CAD data is complex. Designs require large data sets with lots of references. When the system goes down due to software or hardware problems, designers can lose a lot of time. In the preview we showed, the data is ALWAYS SAFE. You never have to worry about saving, and if you have a failure, you can just restart the system and begin working again, exactly where you left off. You can even walk over to another computer and start working there, exactly where you left off. We’ll keep track of what you’ve done so you can get back to where you were–at any time, from any computer. It’s all up in the cloud at all times.
While what we showed is fully functional and working, we haven’t created a specific product offering. Similarly, there’s no defined schedule for deployment, other than to say SolidWorks users should be able to start taking advantage of some of these capabilities in the next 2-5 years. Regarding the Macintosh platform, we are currently looking at different ways to best serve Mac users, but again, there is no defined timeline, and there is also no plan to create a native Mac version of the existing SolidWorks product.
Something else worth noting is that once these new solutions become available, SolidWorks customers will be able to access and migrate to them as they feel comfortable. We don’t envision any kind of forced migration window in the foreseeable future, and we do envision continuing to support the locally-installed version of SolidWorks for our customers.
On Wednesday, we made a big announcement concerning a new solution we’re calling Product Data Sharing. Product Data Sharing will allow SolidWorks customers to share data with anyone, anywhere. There are no server or IT requirements, and setup is quick and easy. It will work within SolidWorks 2011, a web browser, or even on a mobile device. Versioning capabilities will let you keep track of your latest files, and you’ll also be able to visualize product structures – including part, assembly, and drawing relationships – without being in SolidWorks. Product Data Sharing also lets you build communities of your suppliers, customers, and other engineers to share information or work together in real time. Our current plan is to make Product Data Sharing available to SolidWorks customers by the end of 2010; we’ll be making more information available during the year.
We’re excited about the products we’ll be making available in the next few years, and while change is never easy, we think we’re doing the right things to prepare our customers for the challenges of the future. We’re also aware that there are a lot of questions out there regarding things like service providers, bandwidth, data security, licensing and third-party applications. One of the tradeoffs to showing preview solutions is that we’re still working on them, and much of what was shown remains a work in progress from multiple perspectives. And while we’re not at a point where we can address all questions individually right now, we understand the concerns. We’re listening to you, we’re doing our homework, and we’ll be making answers to these questions (and others) available in the coming months and years.