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A few weeks ago SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray posted an update addressing some of the questions that  have come up following the  announcements made back in February at SolidWorks World 2010. One of the  things that Jeff touched on was the commitment SolidWorks made to  supporting three platforms—the desktop, mobile devices, and online.


While  the desktop is the platform used by most SolidWorks customers, online  and mobile are (relatively) new territory for the design software  industry. To get a better perspective on what’s happening in the world  of hardware and software, I sat down to talk with SolidWorks founder Jon  Hirschtick, who has been studying the changing computing landscape for  the past few years.


Matt: Before we start  talking about current and future platforms and technology, let’s go back  in time. What was the situation like when SolidWorks first came out in  1995?


Jon: It’s easy to forget, but the first  version of SolidWorks came out during a major technology shift. The  introduction of the Windows 95 platform and new processor architectures  combined to make the power of 32-bit computing available to 3D CAD users  for the first time. Before that, 3D CAD had to be done on expensive  UNIX workstations. It was new technology that made SolidWorks and other  desktop 3D CAD systems even possible.


Matt: And what do you see happening now?


Jon: We’re  in the middle of another major shift in computing, and how people use  technology. I’m seeing changes in ways people interact with their  devices, with touch and motion becoming more common. Think about devices  like the iPad and iPhone, or gaming systems like the Nintendo Wii. The  way you use those is radically different from the way you use a desktop  computer with a keyboard and mouse.


There’s also a shift to using  online apps and resources. Most people are comfortable doing their  banking online now, and almost everyone has a Gmail account. Lots of  businesses are using for their CRM needs. Adobe has  offered an online version of Photoshop for a few years. Millions of  people are playing videos games online, whether that’s something like  World of Warcraft or Xbox Live.


In a lot of ways, the design  software industry is late to the party, and is only now starting to  catch up. The technology and infrastructure is already there; we just  have to start developing software to take advantage of it.


Matt: One of the weaknesses of hosted or online computing that’s often  pointed out concerns Internet bandwidth and latency. Is the  infrastructure robust enough for most people to go to 100% online  applications?


Jon: Any computing model has  advantages and disadvantages. With desktops, you always have your  software installed locally, but you’re constrained by the processing  power inside your computer, and it’s expensive to upgrade. Your computer  is also vulnerable to viruses, crashes, and data loss. Moving resources  online largely eliminates these problems, but also forces you to change  your expectations about computing in general.


Depending on where  you are in the world, you may have to live with some amount of latency,  but what you lose there will be made up by the increased computing  power you have access to, meaning your models rebuild faster,  simulations are available on demand, and so forth. You’ll also have  access to rendering capabilities far beyond anything available for a  desktop computer. And bandwidth is increasing exponentially at this  point—I regularly stream (not download) full HD movies to my TV. If  that’s possible now, there should be no problem moving design software  online.


Another advantage is that applications can be specially  written for other devices, like tablets or smartphones, and can leverage  the strengths that those devices offer. So your data becomes more  portable, and you’re not confined to just your desktop workstation.


Matt: What about the way people work? How is that affecting the technology?


Jon: Good  question. I’m seeing two major things here. The first is that more and  more companies are outsourcing some amount of their design work, or  building ad hoc teams in different parts of the world. This creates an  increased need for data to be accessible anywhere, at any time.  Leveraging the Internet makes this simpler than emailing files back and  forth, which is something that the upcoming SolidWorks data sharing  application will address.


Secondly, the explosion in social  networking in the last ten years is making people more communicative and  collaborative, and any new applications should be built to take  advantage of team-based design. The days of a single person designing a  product from start to finish are largely over, and we need to make it  easy for teams to communicate and share data.


Matt: One last question—you’ve done a lot of research lately into online data  storage and security. What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of  each?


Jon: When you only store your data  locally, you have complete control over it. But it’s also pretty easy  for someone to steal it using a thumb drive, or even a SIM card from a  cell phone. And unless you’re working somewhere with military-spec  security, your computers are relatively vulnerable to viruses and  attacks. Especially if you’re like many of our customers and don’t have  dedicated IT staff. You’re also vulnerable to data loss if you’re not  adhering to a strict backup protocol.


When you store your data  online, you’re not as vulnerable to local issues, and the security  protocols at companies like Google are better than anything most of our  customers have access to. There’s also a considerable amount of  redundancy that takes place, so if one drive in a data farm goes down,  there’s a backup somewhere else. But on the downside, network congestion  or outages can occasionally prevent you from accessing your data.


It’s  like the difference between keeping your valuables in a bank vault, or a  safe in your closet. Sure, banks can get robbed, but homes get robbed  more often than banks. So, where would you rather keep your  grandmother’s wedding rings?

Earlier this morning, SolidWorks CEO Jeff Ray posted the following to the SolidWorks blog:


Eight months have passed since we took the stage at SolidWorks  World in Anaheim and talked about cloud technology and the benefits it  can bring to the product design process.  As I travel around the world  talking to companies and visiting user groups, I’ve noticed the same  questions keep coming up, and I wanted to address some of them directly.


First, people are asking what this “cloud” thing is all about
In  a nutshell, “cloud computing” leverages the Internet to shift  processor-intensive tasks from the desktop to more-powerful remote  machines.  We’ll talk more about technology later, but if you want to  learn more now, this blog post by Faisal Ghadially does a nice job of exploring the different options.


Second, people are asking if the introduction of cloud applications means the end of installed software.
Rest assured—moving resources online is not an “either/or” decision. In  Anaheim, we committed to supporting three platforms—the desktop,  online, and mobile devices. We will continue to offer locally-installed  desktop CAD, data management and validation solutions, and will allow  our customers to move online only when they are ready.


As an example, our first online offering is code-named SolidWorks  Connect (we originally referred to this as SolidWorks Product Data  Sharing at SolidWorks World).  This online CAD-based collaboration tool  is planned for early 2011 and is specifically designed for smaller  companies and individual users who need to easily upload, organize, and  share designs – many times at a moment’s notice.


While this online service will be available using a credit card and  doesn’t require any on-site equipment or IT support, users will still  have on-premise PDM options with SolidWorks Workgroup and SolidWorks  Enterprise PDM.  You can select the solution that’s right for your  environment and your particular business needs, whether it’s online or  on-site.


Third, I sometimes hear “…why are you looking at online CAD –users aren’t asking for this?!?”
Many  times in the technology development process, users don’t specifically  ask for a feature or technology.  No one asked for a laptop, or iPod, or  digital camera—right?   Rather, users lamented the fact that they were  tied to their desk for computing resources, and/or wanted the ability to  create their own customized mobile “player” of their favorite music.


Similarly, we’ve had a number of users who tell us they want file  sharing and collaboration  capabilities, but can’t make the commitment  to purchasing and maintaining such a solution over time.   SolidWorks  Connect provides great value to these users in helping them take  advantage of the basic collaboration capabilities that PDM systems offer  larger companies, and that they’ve enjoyed for years,  with the result  that smaller users are now able to compete more effectively.


This same idea could potentially apply to our CAD and validation  products. For example, imagine that you’re working on a project that  could really benefit from fluid or airflow analysis, but you only have  occasional use for such capabilities, and can’t justify the purchase of  SolidWorks Flow Simulation.  With an online option, you could  potentially “rent” those capabilities for a short period of time, giving  you access to the tools you need at a cost you can afford.


Security is another concern I keep hearing from the community.
What if someone steals my data? Protection of IP is certainly critical.  This blog entry by Craig Balding discusses seven ways that storing data online is actually beneficial to  businesses, ranging from data centralization to better security and  password protections than most small-to-medium businesses are capable of  on their own, and is worth reading through.  Any hosting partner we  select will need to meet a number of rigid requirements to ensure  customer data is safe.  That said, many times the real threat comes from  disgruntled employees who are already inside the organization or from  employees who leave laptops or other critical assets vulnerable.


I realize that there are other questions and concerns out there that  haven’t been addressed. In the next few weeks, members of the SolidWorks  executive team will talk more about some these topics, such as issues  with Internet bandwidth and outages, ownership of electronic data, and  more.

In the meantime, please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.

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