Deelip Menezes Predicts a Cloudy Future

I had the good fortune of hearing Deelip Menezes deliver the keynote address at the Bricsys 2010 Conference in person. If you missed it, check out the video now at the Bricsys web site. The question and answer session after the speech is an excellent harbinger of the discussions to come if Deelip is correct in his prediction about CAD on the cloud.

Bricsys 2010 Developer Conference Post Mortem

I am back home after a whirlwind trip to the Bricsys 2010 Conference. I’m very happy to be back to Ohio food and my own bed. It was a great experience and well worth the trouble.

I’ve written before (and here) about the problem with food at conferences, and this one was no different. Unfortunately, there are no Burger Kings in Belgium, so the problem was compounded. I was excited when I saw a restaurant touting “American Food”, unfortunately it was “American Food as Europeans Imagine It”, which is not American food at all.

The hotel was, well, let’s just say you got that genuine experience of living in the past. Not quite the stone age past, but clearly before the age of modern locks and clocks — and well before air conditioning was invented. To make matters worse, housekeeping did not replace the provided shampoo and soap, so I had to make do with no soap on day 2 of the conference. The concert hall where the conference was held was also not air conditioned, which just compounded the problem — and certainly contributed to the dispersement of attendees from initially a small intimate group on day 1 to most of us sitting in the galleries by ourselves by the end of day 2.

The good news is that all the suffering was worthwhile. Bricsys was very accomodating, and it was a pleasure to meet modern day Robin Hood and Bricsys CEO Erik de Keyser and his merry band of men. Deelip Menezes’ keynote address about the future (cloud) of CAD (cloud) was (cloud) excellent, and the discussion that followed turned into a 12 round bout that Deelip played to a draw. Well done, Deelip, well done. I’m sure the fight will continue virtually, so take heed, and stay out of the line of fire.

I learned that Bricsys has made an impressive investment of time and resources into a foundation upon which to build a “DWG CAD” business. This is no longer about who can take on Autodesk. Autodesk conceded the AutoCAD (or “DWG”) market with their push toward subscription (aka “maintenance”), annual release cycles, and artificially high pricing on their platform technologies. There are literally dozens of companies trying to capture that market: products like ZWCAD and GstarCAD from China are hot on the heels of Bricscad. This is about who will emerge to control the market that Autodesk abandoned, and to some extent about how Autodesk will respond.

Bricscad is currently the clear leader among DWG CAD companies in terms of technical capabilities, but at least to date, it’s mostly AutoCAD application developers that recognize this (because of Bricsys’ very successful effort to make their BRX API source code compatible with ObjectARX). The question is whether they can convince consumers that Bricscad is the best choice. I think we will be a long way toward answering that question by this time next year, and of course the answer will be critically important to the DWG CAD market. I think it was shrewd of Bricsys to invite thought leaders like Deelip to this conference, but that is only a first step. Still, the very fact that I am writing and Deelip is blogging and tweeting about Bricscad is an important milestone on the road to respect.

[Full Disclosure: Bricsys paid for all my travel and conference expenses.]

Belgium Bound

Bricsys asked me to give a short presentation about OpenDCL to developers at their Bricsys 2010 Conference in Bruges next week. I’m looking forward to meet keynote speaker Deelip Menezes and other familiar names in the CAD community, and of course planning to learn more about the ever evolving Bricscad platform.

[Full Disclosure: Bricsys is paying for all my travel and conference expenses.]

The customer doesn’t count

Autodesk has been pushing for years now to get all customers onto an annual subscription program. They’ve trotted out the typical reasons: it’s cheaper, it’s easier, it’s simpler, you get more free stuff, etc. Clearly the “sell now, deliver later” model is better for Autodesk, and it’s not surprising that Autodesk has been pushing it hard.

One can imagine that tough economic times are taking a toll on Autodesk’s customers, and that they are deciding to jump off the subscription bandwagon. Ralph Grabowski suspects that plummeting subscription revenues are causing Autodesk to renew efforts to paint a rosy picture and convince its customers to stay on the wagon.

In an interview on Steve Johnson’s blog nauseam, Callan Carpenter of Autodesk attempts to portray non-subscription customers as a dying breed.

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.

This statement seems to be carefully designed to imply that only 3% of customers are not on subscription. That’s not what it says, of course, but that’s the impression it attempts to convey. Without knowing the precise definition of “customers who upgrade” (how could you possibly know that a customer won’t upgrade?), and without knowing what percentage of those same revenues come from subscription customers, there is just no way to gain any real information from Callan’s statement.

Since I can throw numbers around just as well as the next guy, I decided to survey a random sampling of Autodesk customers (that also happen to be ManuSoft customers). According to the responses I received, 82% of Autodesk customers fall into the non-subscription category, and about half of those are in the “3 or more versions behind” category.

What’s really interesting is that if I carefully hand pick the time period, then about 3% of ManuSoft revenues for that time period came from non-subscription Autodesk customers. Funny how that works.

New ManuSoft web site

After over 10 years of the same infrastructure and the same look and feel, the ManuSoft web site has finally been given an overhaul. The original web site used Perl scripts that I wrote myself to serve up pages by patching together a header, table-of-contents, and main content frame and displaying it either as a 3-frame web page or by using an HTML <table> to format the layout. It wasn’t exactly pretty, but it functioned well and served its purpose for a long time.

So what prompted the new design? Primarily my desire to make it easier for customers to download updates to previously purchased software. The old web site used a rather simplistic authentication system that resulted in me spending a lot of time looking up order numbers for customers who had lost their order information. There also was no automated way for customers to update their own registration information, so I had to do that as well.

The new web site requires only a user name and password, both of which can be retrieved or reset simply by entering the email address for the account. Hopefully this will reduce the need for manual intervention. If you purchased ManuSoft software in the past, please visit the Customer Service page now to activate your account (in the Legacy Account section).

I used Joomla for the content management system and VirtueMart for the shopping cart, both of them heavily customized. The template I chose doesn’t work correctly with IE6, but later versions of IE, FireFox, Opera, and Chrome seem to work pretty well (except that, ironically, my Google Translate widget displays incorrectly in Chrome).

I think the new site looks a bit nicer and more modern than the old one, although it’s still amateur by most standards. As long as it serves its purpose of making both yours and my job easier, I’m satisfied.