AutoDesk’s offerings certainly proliferate the global market, and though most are professional level software, many of them are almost household names, names such as AutoCAD, Maya, and 3ds Max. We met with Lynn Allen – AutoDesk Technical Evangelist and host of AutoDesk University – on her recent trip to India, where she was promoting AutoCAD’s latest release – AutoCAD 2011.
2010 was a major year for AutoDesk, if only for the fact that they brought back AutoCAD for the Mac platform after nearly two decades. They’ve also created AutoCAD WS for iOS devices, a nod in the direction of mobility. We spoke with Lynn Allen about all of these things, as well as the state of AutoCAD education of India, about what makes Indian users different from others in the world, and much more.
Q1. Let us start off with Autodesk’s latest offerings, before getting to the background. AutoCAD is back for Mac, and in a big way, allowing for an almost unprecedented converged devices offering, by catering to all the iOS devices. How come now after 20 years? Was something vital missing from the Mac platform?
20 year absence? It hasn’t been 20, more like, 17, maybe 18...it’s less than 20. So...I’ve been using AutoCAD for almost twenty-five years. One day, I was at an architectural event, the AIA – a trade show, back when tradeshows were really popular. I wasn’t working for AutoCAD then, but I was helping them at their booth. That was the day they announced that they were no longer going to have AutoCAD for Mac, it was that day. Architect after architect came in, and was so upset that we were no longer AutoCAD for Mac.
|"At the time it was a really small market, and it was also very, very hard to program AutoCAD to run on the Mac. It was a nightmare!"|
But at the time it was a really small market, and it was also very, very hard to program AutoCAD to run on the Mac. It was a nightmare! We could not even keep programmers at AutoCAD, because it was so hard to program to get the software to run on the Mac. But things have changed a lot in the last few years, and now the Mac operating system is a very robust operating system, and it got to the point where we decided the market was big enough, again, and every time, everywhere I do presentations, some architect would raise their hand up and ask when AutoCAD would come back for Mac. We were also now able to do good programming for Mac – we didn’t want to put AutoCAD on Mac if it wasn’t going to be good, we didn’t want to give a crippled AutoCAD and put it on there. So all the timing, all the stars were aligned, all of us were aligned, so it was now just really good timing for us.
So we’re very, very excited about it, and I’m sure you’ve read, it’s been very well-received. The nice thing about this that we didn’t just take AutoCAD exactly as it is and port it over for the Mac. It’s very Mac-friendly, and very Mac-like - different commands look very different in the Mac version. It’s going to make the users very happy.
Q2. What’s the point of making mobile applications of such a powerful software? How exactly are they intended to be used?
As far was AutoCAD WS, it was kind of a logical thing to do, with so many people buying iPads as well as other mobile devices. To be able to go on site, with your AutoCAD drawing, and in realtime make changes, with even people back in the office being able to see the modifications...That’s impressive, and that’s something we’ve had people asking for, for a long time. For a while there, we had an app for the Palm, but you couldn’t see it. You had to go to a site, and see it the drawing in a tiny little window, on a small little screen. But now we have the situation where so many people have these larger devices, because you need to have a fairly big-sized screen to make it really effective. I don’t think you would want to do it on your iPhone either, it’s way too small. But the iPad might be the way to go, nice lightweight, going into field.
|"We’re trying to let people really be able to mould their design almost like clay, so that they can make changes on the fly, right from the concept level."|
It’s not actually AutoCAD on the iPad. You just have access to AutoCAD drawings on the iPad, and you can do some basic editing and drawing operations. It’s not full-fledged AutoCAD. That would be too much for your iPad. You iPad would just be completely filled up with just the program. It’s working in the cloud, and it’s just really great, exciting technology.
Q3. Will any other mobile platforms get the same treatment?
Well, I wouldn’t be at liberty to say anything that hasn’t already been announced. Off the top of my ahead though, I have to be honest, I don’t know of any others.
Q4. AutoCAD 2011 was released nearly 5 months ago. How has it been received - globally, and in India? Are most people looking to upgrade from 2010?
Yes. It’s been well-received, and there are some really nice features in the products, some features that people have been asking for, for a long time. We took the 3D capabilities we introduced in 2010, and really amped them up in 2011. We’re trying really hard to make AutoCAD as user-friendly as possible, from the very beginning of the design process – right from the conceptual stage. We’re trying to let people really be able to mould their design almost like clay, so that they can make changes on the fly, right from the concept level.
So a lot of that has happened in 2010 and 2011. Many customers have been wanting that, maybe they use other programs to that right now. Might as well just use one product, get it all done in one program, no going back and forth. We are trying to take everything you possibly need from the conceptual design at the very beginning all the way to digitalization to completion at the very end. So we keep working on that, and will continue to work on the 3D features and the 2D features.
So, as your question is, it’s been very well received, and at the launches - where we introduce the new features - everyone has been very happy.
Q5. What’s the significance of a HP Workstation being responsible for an expected 44% increase in productivity with AutoCAD 2011, as seen in your press releases? Is there some kind of optimization with HP products? Do you partner with HP?
HP is one of our strong strategic partners, and we actually do most of our programming on HP, as a matter of fact. So we are a very HP-focussed company, and we’ve worked hard with them to make sure our software runs well on their systems. So in the David Count study you’ve referred, we are talking specifically about the HP V200, which is a really strong, robust and not a super expensive workstation, but an affordable workstation. So the 44% was where we included Windows 7 and also HP V200 workstation. You don’t have to have and HP workstation to get good results from AutoCAD. If you are on XP for example, you still get a 31% increase in productivity when you upgrade from AutoCAD 2008 to 2011, just doing everyday tasks from within the software. There’ve been a lot of changes, and when I use older software, it’s hard because I feel I’m missing so much.
Our goal is to keep as many people as up to date as possible so that they can get their designs and their jobs done faster. A lot of people are on subscription, and we want make sure that they are not just paying their money and not upgrading. We want to make sure that they take advantage of the money they are paying, and really upgrading the software, and using the new features.
Read on to know about Indians being "super smart" AutoCAD users, and more...
Q6. You’ve been a user and advocate of AutoCAD for almost than 25 years. What attracted you to the software in the first place?
When I became involved with it was brand new, and nobody had heard of it. It was definitely filling a hole that hadn’t been filled at the time, I don’t think people knew that it needed to be filled, it was so new. My major was in math, so I’m a math person not an architect or an engineer. So for me personally, I was so interested about it because of the geometry of it, its ability to do the drawing, the lines, the arcs, the circles, the geometry inside a software program.
|"In the early days it was not easier to do on the computer, it was very frustrating, really painful to use"|
Definitely what our users use it for, so I had kind of an unusual background to get into it. But it was really exciting in the early days, to be able to work the architects and engineers, who were drawing by hand, and teach them how to use the software. Because in the beginning, I was just training people how to use it. Showing them, at least eventually, how much easier it was do on the computer. Eventually as in the early days it was not easier to do on the computer, it was very frustrating, really painful to use it, with no GUI, and an all-DOS interface.
It has of course come a very, very long way. AutoCAD definitely took the market by storm, it was the first one that was there, and thankfully they kept modifying it until it kept getting better and better, and became a product that people could use.
Q7. How does AutoCAD fare in the modern world? Many call it almost obsolete...
I they that’s maybe because it’s been out for 28 years...name any other software that’s been around for 28 years, I mean, they aren’t any right? In of itself, that’s quite amazing. But it’s still so prevalent, all over the world - no matter where I go, people are using AutoCAD. One of the reasons for that is we’ve continued to innovate it, continued to keep it updated. It’s had so many complete overhauls, where it has been upgraded to work on current technology. So, there is some old code in there, but so much of it is brand new code that takes advantage of what we have today. AutoDesk is more than just AutoCAD, we have so many other great, great programs, but we still have lots of customers who use only AutoCAD, and want nothing else. So we feel it’s our job we continue to update it, and keep it so that they’re happy.
Q8. What really separates AutoCAD from other computer aided design programs out there?
One thing I would probably say is that since we’ve been at it a long time, we’ve definitely got the features down to a fine point, we’ve honed the features, and done what we can to make it as user friendly as possible, and very robust. It also has a very strong 3D package as part of it as well. I’ve been there since the beginning, and it proliferates the market. Wherever you go, everything is DWG. So even if you were using another CAD product, you would still end up, somewhere, somehow having to be converted to DWG. It has just kind of been the industry standard for so long, and unless we do something really stupid, and really ruin the program, I don’t see that changing. As long as we can continue to spend a lot of money on the product, research it and making it the best it can be, I don’t think anybody can really catch up at this point. It’s a pretty fine-tuned product.
Q9. What other AutoDesk program really complements AutoCAD, or what do people usually buy along with it?
People buy different programs based on their needs, but as a generalization, a lot of companies that buy AutoCAD also buy 3DSMax Design. It’s because they really want to take AutoCAD to the next level, and really get into the visualization. We find that most companies are selling their designs by adding that aspect, using 3DSMax as a visualization tool. We do have a design suite, where we package 5 software (including AutoCAD, 3DSMax Design, Alias Sketch, Alias Design and ShowCase) together, so from a cost standpoint it’s less expensive, and we try to put products together that make sense, from what’ve seen people buy.
Q10. I noticed in your blog that you called Indians “super smart users”, when you met them 6 years ago...What did you mean by that, and, what is the state of the current Indian CAD industry in your opinion?
| Indians are "super smart users"..."they just catch on faster"|
Well, I wasn’t just being nice for one thing. When I think of an Indian audience, I mean I’ve travelled around the world and seen many different cultures and audiences, I just feel that they just catch on faster, or they are using some of the features that maybe I won’t see in any other places. They just seemed a sharp audience, and another way I could tell that was by their questions. At the end of all our presentations, especially 6 years ago, we had a good half an hour we opened up for questions, and the questions were amazing! They were not everyday questions that I would get with other audiences. So that’s the way I can judge, what kind of questions are they asking, and then their reactions as I am presenting, i.e., how many of you are using such and such. And if you don’t get any hands, then you know that they aren’t up to date, and you need to explain it.
I anticipate the Indian audience today are going to be on the ball, and are going to have great questions, and I wouldn’t have to explain as much as I would with other audiences. They just seem to work harder at really understanding everything, as they don’t like to use the same commands every time to get from A to B. Instead the Indian audience would say okay we got that way, and let us see if we can find another way to get there. They’re just more apt to go outside of the box and try another route. Which leads to more questions but really ultimately makes them more intelligent as they have just a larger set of commands at their disposal. There are some statistics that say generally users only use 40% of the commands inside AutoCAD, and that’s pretty low. But I can guarantee that number is much higher in India, because I just think the users here just work harder, they are more curious, and they want learn more.
Read on to know about how students and teachers can download AutoCAD for free...
Q11. What’s AutoDesk’s strategy in India?
In terms of AutoDesk as an organization, we are looking at democratizing technology, adapting ourselves to the growing IT needs. So whatever it takes to address the requirements of the customers, and that’s been our goal in the past, and our goal for the future.
Q12. Could you describe the AutoCAD education scene at the moment? Are there any accredited universities out there in India?
At AutoDesk we are really happy and proud of the fact that we do make out software available to students. Anyone with an educational email address can download 25 of our products from AutoCAD to 3DSMax to even Maya, which is our really high-end media and entertainment product. They can download it free of charge, and even teachers can download it free of charge as well to use for themselves, not for the classroom. This license is valid for 3 years, which is great so that both students and teachers can get really good at the programs, and easily find jobs and train others well.
|"[Students], and even teachers can download it free of charge"|
We have a good student community site as well, where they can get their questions answered, download the software, and interact with other students across the world. It’s very exciting!
So I would encourage all students to go download the software, and try it. They might also be getting a chance to try out software that their school doesn’t teach, i.e., maybe their school teaches AutoCAD, but doesn’t teach 3DSMax Design. So this way they could learn and try out other software as well.
We also have AutoDesk Training Centres, but those are really focussed on the corporate sector, where architects and engineers who need to learn our software and keep up with the various releases are trained. But from the educational standpoint, we don’t really accredit educational institutions, and feel that if they are accredited by their local governments, then that is enough for us.
There are also certifications programs from AutoDesk, and are available for most of the software, and are of two types, associate and professional, where associate are more geared towards theory, and professional towards the practical. Students can get accredited at their local AutoDesk Test Centres. The certificate shows that you have a certain amount of knowledge, which is great for future employers.
Q13. How badly does piracy affect your business here, and how do you fight it?
Piracy of course, is big problem here, but it’s really reducing. Part of our goal is to make our software more affordable, so that people don’t feel the need to pirate as much. We feel that as long we continue to create great software, people will fall in love with AutoCAD, get excited, and even if they start with a pirated version, somewhere down the line they will switch to the legitimate version, and similarly at some point, everybody will switch to legitimate version.
|"I would encourage all students to go download the software, and try it. They might also be getting a chance to try out software that their school doesn’t teach"|
Q14. What’s the future of AutoCAD?
That’s funny, because sometimes when I travelled up to few years, people ask if AutoCAD is going to die. I think the main reason people ask that is because we have so many products at AutoDesk, and we do spend a lot of time promoting our other great products as well. But as long as we have so many people on AutoCAD, who love AutoCAD and only use AutoCAD, we feel it is our responsibility to always make AutoCAD the best product it can be. You can tell by looking at the last few releases, that we have really ramped up a lot of the 3D capabilities. I know some of the features coming up in future releases of AutoCAD, and you can tell there is a lot of momentum, and a lot of new features that will take advantage of newer technologies....Look at point clouds for example, a new feature that was first integrated in AutoCAD before any of our other products. It’s definitely going to continue to evolve, it’s going to continue to become whatever our customers need it to become, and as new technologies come along AutoCAD will harness those technologies. We just want it to be as easy to use and as powerful as possible – plain and simple. There’s a huge development team on AutoCAD, and a huge group of people who are working and trying to figure out exactly what the future of AutoCAD should like, and they are very, very focussed.