Jeff Ray Looks to the Horizon

 

Jeff Ray is the CEO of SolidWorks. Somehow, he just has not become the real spiritual leader for the software that Jon and John were. This is probably because he’s a business type, not an engineer. So when he has something to say about the future of the SolidWorks software, it seems maybe a little antiseptic, or distant or whatever. I don’t feel absorbed by his vision, maybe that’s the best way to put it.

So Jeff made a couple of appearances at user group meetings on the west coast, and Devon Sowell was there tocapture some of what Jeff had to say.  Devon listed Jeff’s points, and I’m going to restate them here, and then react to each individually. Devon’s post was short and informative. Mine will not be short on anything but facts. It’s called conjecture, and its the thing you do when people don’t answer the questions that you really have.

Open Catia files in SolidWorks and SolidWorks files in Catia, this will happen.

Well, that’s good news. About effing time too. When? But then SW and DS have been saying something like this for years. Who knows. Some people say DS is too jealous to give SW too much access, but I disagree. The display in Barcelona didn’t tell much about the software they were talking about, but putting Bernard Charles on stage with Jeff Ray did send a message. I think DS understands a few things about profitable companies, and SW is profitable. There is no religious turf war here. The decisions are made by the bean counters, and sometimes that can be a good thing. SW and DS are coming closer together, and I believe the initiative for that has come from above, not below. John McEleney was removed for a reason, and I believe that reason was that he was seen as too independent. DS wanted to pull SW a little closer, and Jeff Ray was seen as that kind of player.This is a complete guess, of course, but I think it makes sense. I doubt anyone who knows the situation will chime in to correct me.

What doesn’t make sense is why the file incompatibility has persisted for so long. I guess keeping the data separate means that SW is not canabalizing any Catia sales. So in that sense I guess it doesn’t make sense that the bean counters would approve of this. I mean, SolidWorks has more compatibility with NX, Pro/E, AutoCAD, Inventor, Solid Edge, etc than it has with Catia. Then of course is the conjecture about the Catia V6 kernel being used in SW. That’s the big one for me, because it makes sense. Rewriting SW for Mac doesn’t make sense, but making the change to Catia V6 kernel would make sense. That’s the question that should have been answered. I mean answered directly, not the standard SW playbook answer “We are constantly evaluating technology to provide the most possible value to our customers”.  See, I’m so good at that, they should hire me as a VP of PR or something. ;oP

Release cycles; currently every 12 months, they may become sooner, like every 8 – 10 months. Look for more functionality additions and changes in future SolidWorks Service Packs.

Wha???? Remember a long time ago, when release cycles were every 6 months? and new functionality actually DID come in service packs? Customers have been screaming for longer cycles, not shorter. Not just SolidWorks, but AutoCAD users too on the AutoCAD blogs. The time between 2009 beta and 2010 beta was closer to 14 months. This sounds like a complete disconnect here. I have to say I don’t know what to make of this.

SolidWorks & SaaS (Software as a service (SaaS, typically pronounced ’sass’) is a model of software deployment where an application is hosted as a service provided); this is coming.

You could almost feel the air currents in the room change with the collective gasp and eyebrow raise of  Twitter-prone SW users when they heard SaaS and SolidWorks in the same sentence. You could mention anything at all that is considered web-progressive in conjunction with SolidWorks, and a predictable group would be microblogging from iPhones as they run back to their rooms to change their soiled undergarments. It really is that silly. Does anyone remember Paul Salvador’s invention of Web Noodles? Prophetic.

3diwHere’s a little history lesson. Once upon a time, say 1997-9 or there abouts, SolidWorks was trying to integrate the internet into the software in anyway they could.  Remember at that time the same sort of “irrational exuberance” existed around anything even remotely connected to the web in general that exists around anything vaguely connected to social media these days. One product of that period was what is now known as 3DContent Central, which like Photoworks, is in a constant state of overhaul. Another product was … and who could forget… then there was some manufacturing connection site, which it seems is all but defunct these days, and most notably, something called 3D Instant Website. 3DIW was a way to basically put an eDrawing on a SolidWorks hosted web server and allow people to comment on it. Wow. So you’ve got Cloud Data, SaaS app, collaboration, 3D, threaded conversations about CAD data – I mean, what other buzzword pop fad could they throw into that one? Anyway, very few people today remember 3DIW, and even fewer know that it is still available. (if you follow that link, you are greeted by a Silicon Graphics workstation with a CRT monitor, if that tells you anything about how old this stuff is.)

The ironic thing is that this is the one web app that I wish had caught on. It actually worked (just not on Netscape, Firefox, Opera, Safari or Chrome), and it was a great communication tool. I liked using it for technology impaired customers who were too clumsy even for eDrawings.

Anyway, back to the “SolidWorks & Saas” comment, the implication here is that SolidWorks will run over the web like, well, like Twitter, or like WordPress blogging software, instead of locally like software did in the 1990s. The set of SW users who are always dreaming about tomorrow, but not quite sure what to make of today predictably embraced this idea, even though it was not clear exactly what was being said. SolidWorks running over the web is a long way off. Can you see it running as a Flash application? Geez, Flash is horrid! Facebook has some Flash games that are slow, and crash frequently – which by the way is a description you might confuse for Twitter. (In fact, people generally dislike the SaaS interface for Twitter so much that most access it through a locally installed application rather than through the actual SaaS interface – even among the purists, there are limitations to belief). There are other ways to do it, but none frightens me as much as Flash. Well, maybe Java. Remember the Java SolidWorks viewer? It was dead slow, and never saw the light of day as a real released software. I believe it was killed in beta release. Remember the internet Dot Com bubble crash? Does anyone else think we are headed toward another social media bubble pop?

I think what is really being said here is that something related to SolidWorks is going to work like SaaS. But not necessarily SolidWorks proper. Maybe they meant licensing, or possibly just viewers, and not the executables. That much is already happening with activation and all. Maybe they mean something like Blueprint Now, which is already a SW Labs app. Don’t worry, CAD in the cloud is a long way off. I hope that before they try to do something like this, they consider the issue from some other perspective than their own highly biased and purely optimistic point of view. I hope they employ a skeptic to try to actually explore and understand the downside of this type of implementation. There is far too little realism involved in some of this starry-eyed bs. I hope they consider the implications for CAD Administration, data security, off-line use, military use, web performance, scalability. In the end, it seems clear that they will need to at least offer the option of a local install. SaaS is not a one-size-fits-all type of shoe.

Theoretically, the advantages of SaaS are many. The software runs on servers that SW would control. So local workstation requirements would be less, and would affect stability less. Also, upgrades would happen in a central location, and would cut down on sending out disks or the expensive download bandwidth for service packs. It would stall piracy (the piracy would just shift to take a different form), where maybe all you need is a username and password to use the software from any device that is web connected, and the browser would be the OS, so this whole blasted argument about my OS is prettier than your OS would disappear. Of course the holy grail would be to Twitter SolidWorks documents from your iPhone. (If sarcasm had a color, what would it be? I think sarcasm needs a color.)

Once SolidWorks is “on the cloud” (SaaS), your designs will be “live” and “on” all the time. No need for File Open, no need for Check In and Check Out. Just like video game environments.

Ok, maybe I was wrong. Maybe they really are talking about full-on SW in the cloud. Honestly, I don’t get the rest of this comment. SW data in the cloud would be unacceptable to a lot of companies. I don’t think SW in the cloud will see widespread acceptance. There will be that extremely vocal and over-connected set (they want you to believe it’s an entire generation, but it isn’t, it’s a very small subset from a wide range of generations) who will say otherwise, but know that it isn’t true.

Service Based Charges; when SolidWorks is hosted SaaS, SolidWorks is consideringworking towards Service Based Charges, for example; pay a fee, based on time, to use a SolidWorks application.

Oh, ok, Rich Welch will be redeemed. Only pay for what you need. Hold it, where is the reseller? Where is the subscription? Where is the upfront cost? You can bet this new way of doing things will go nowhere if it isn’t significantly more expensive than the old way. The cost of doing business will go up while they tout one of the reasons for going to this model is that it costs less. That’s just business people, though, with that uncanny ability to talk out of both sides of their mouths at the same time. I wonder if it makes the same sound to them that it does to the rest of us?

Real Time Simulation; access analysis results as you model a new part.

Ok, whatever. It would be cool, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ll also believe the results when I see the software automatically apply boundary conditions. You can make the software so automatic that even a monkey can get results, but you still can’t make the monkey understand why or how or what it all means.

Social Networks such as Facebook and twitter are looked at by SolidWorks and will play an important part in the SolidWorks application.

What does it sound like when a bunch of microblogging techno-optimists all jizz in their pants at the same time? Again, I invoke the memory of Paul Salvador who could recognize over-ambitious techno-market babble and useless bs when he saw it. I think the CAD industry has an illustrious history of glomming on to uber-popular buzzwords (shall we also invoke the patron saint of meaningless buzzwords, JB the CADCAM Terrorist?)

SolidWorks looks at sales figures daily.

Wow, now there’s one I don’t doubt for a minute. I’d guess it is safe to say that this is a gross understatement.

Last year SolidWorks had $405 million in revenue and was profitable. This year will show less revenue but they will show a profit.

Ok. What’s the break down of the various types of licenses and maintenance?

SolidWorks position in Dassault Systemes; SolidWorks has 10% of the headcount, 24% of revenue, and 40% of the profit.

Alright. SW folks know numbers. So do DS. In fact, I think it is telling that numbers are the one thing that go back and forth between French and English without any need for translation. With numbers like this, I don’t believe that any sort of techno-religious jealousy is going to have much weight with the management.

SolidWorks is betting big on R & D.

Well, yes. We all expected this. This says nothing about the direction of the R&D. It just says “we got a big gun and we’re gonna shoot it”. Yes, of course. But in which direction will you aim the blasted thing? That is the real question. I don’t believe SW has a great track record in the last couple of years of making technical decisions about the software that are good for the users.

But, as is always the case when talking about things out there on the horizon, it remains to be seen.

Much thanks to Devon for reporting on Mr. Ray’s comments.

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