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AutoCAD for Windows

Developing a version of AutoCAD for Microsoft Windows had been a key technical priority at Autodesk ever since it became clear that OS/2 was going nowhere (at least in its original 16 bit incarnation—at this writing, OS/2 2.0 remains a contender). I first tried to raise the priority of the Windows project in my “Max Q” memo in September of 1990 (see page [Ref]) and, of course, throughout Information Letter 14. Shoehorning a huge program like AutoCAD into the 16-bit architecture of Windows 3.0 was a Herculean task, made easier by our initial investment in the OS/2 version of AutoCAD. Months of difficult work by the Windows team finally culminated in our announcement of the AutoCAD Extension for Windows in March of 1992. For only $99, any existing AutoCAD user could obtain the Windows version, allowing him to run AutoCAD both on Windows and directly on the 386 DOS machine.

We held a press conference at a hotel in San Francisco to announce AutoCAD for Windows. In my rôle as acting Manager of Technology, I was invited to “say a few words.”

Remarks for the Windows Press Conference

March 10th, 1992
by John Walker

I'm John Walker. Thank you all for joining us for this announcement. Before we get into the good stuff—the details of the Windows AutoCAD we're announcing today, I'd like to briefly put the product into perspective, drawing upon the history of Autodesk and the microcomputer market over the last decade, the situation in the industry today, and the events we can expect to observe over the next several years.

I usually don't like to recycle material from earlier talks, but the breakneck pace of events at Autodesk in early 1992 left me no alternative but to reuse the sections of the talk I wrote for the special shareholders' meeting explaining Autodesk's industry position and technological strategy. Besides, the audience at a rollout of AutoCAD for Windows had virtually no overlap with the shareholders' meeting, and they needed to hear the same things anyway. In any case, the next several paragraphs of my talk were virtually the same as those at the shareholders' meeting starting at the paragraph that begins “I would like to briefly explain…” through “So now what?” Please refer to page [Ref] if you'd like to reread that material.

And next?

We must, at the end of this current technological transition, emerge with the same or greater market share for CAD on the new standard platform as we currently command in the DOS market. If we achieve this goal, Autodesk's success in the next decade will be assured. As the current technological transition matures, we will enter an era in which the easily-drawn distinctions among “PCs,” “workstations,” and even “mainframes” begin to disappear. There will be, instead, a continuum of computing capability and cost that ranges from pocket pen-based portables to parallel supercomputers, all of which can be accessed by users with a common user interface, and which run a wide variety of industry standard applications. The era in which users had to discard all their applications and investment in learning them simply because they purchased a different class of computer will seem as quaint as the distant days when every brand of typewriter had a different keyboard layout.

We have some distance to go before we make our landfall on that friendly shore. And yet the welcome scent of land wafts above the waves and the shorebirds circle above our craft.

What is the true significance of Windows? It empowers.

Windows empowers the tens of millions of owners of industry-standard individual computers with the ease of use, inter-application data transfer, and device independence which have long been available only to those who spent far more money to buy and time to master a high-performance engineering workstation. Windows empowers application software vendors like Autodesk by allowing us, at last, to deliver an intuitive graphical user interface, on-line assistance, and all the other benefits of the workstation environment not, as in the past, to a tiny fraction of our customers, but to all of them—and by doing so to raise their expectations once again and ever higher.

Windows empowers both developer and customer by providing a migration path that protects the investment we both make, a guarantee that the evolution of hardware will not leave us orphaned as has happened so many times in our past. That migration path, evident already in the progress to Windows 3.0, the forthcoming 3.1, and, on the horizon, NT, makes us confident that products such as our forthcoming HyperChem for Windows—a molecular modeling product that would have recently been deemed a supercomputer application—can, evolve, as Windows grows, into the multitasking and parallel architectures that will at last put supercomputer power on every scientist's benchtop.

OK, so Windows is a Big Thing—everybody knows that. But why is computer aided design so important? Because it is the single most important thing you can do with a computer and it will, in time, I believe, become the largest single area of computer application. Some people ask me if the market for CAD is saturated. Are they kidding? Are they crazy? Even if you limit CAD to professional two dimensional, production drafting the market is far from saturation. Every shop with one or two copies of AutoCAD and five or six drafters still on the board represents future revenue for Autodesk. Every company with dozens of drafters and no CAD system is an opportunity to demonstrate the proven productivity benefits of CAD and broaden the market with every sale.

In the larger world of CAD, where the “D” stands for “Design” instead of “Drafting,” we have barely scratched the surface. The computer aided design industry is still in its infancy. Even in two-dimensional drafting, most drawings are still done manually on drawing boards. The standards for three dimensional design, solid modeling, conceptual design in architecture, interactive mechanical engineering, facility planning, geographic information systems, and integrated flexible manufacturing have yet to be established. Each is a fledgling market with a potential as great or greater than our current AutoCAD business, and all are poised to grow at an accelerating rate for the foreseeable future. Autodesk intends to become the leader in every one of these areas.

Amidst all the daily news and quarterly Wall Street thinking, it's easy to lose perspective. Only in America can you earn more than 57 million dollars in one year in the middle of a depression and get beat up. Let's look a little further out for a moment, because what's going on in our industry isn't going to end this quarter, or next year, or in the foreseeable future. The basic trend that drives this industry—the fact that every 18 months the computer power available at constant price doubles—continues intact and may even be accelerating. Look around this room. Other than people and plants, this room and everything in it was designed and manufactured. Today, despite all our progress in computing, the process of architectural and engineering design and manufacturing is done much as it was fifty years ago. All of this is about to change. In the largest companies, you can see glimpses of it already, but, as with the first computers, the benefits have not yet entered the mainstream of the economy.

That is the work before us. Soon, millions of designers around the world will possess the tools that empower them to design the products of the next millennium. In the United States alone, there are more than 600,000 manufacturing organisations. Eighty-five percent employ ten people or less. The revolution in design and manufacturing that is about to occur will change the way we conceive and construct every artifact of humanity. This is not a small market, or one in danger of “saturation.” Its size is constrained not by economic forces so much as the availability of computer power and the creativity of the human mind. The first is growing exponentially with no end in sight. The second knows no bounds.

We are living on a small blue sphere in an endless black void. Over the next twenty or thirty years, the human population is expected to double. Five billion new people are going to be sharing this world with us. To provide those people with the food, the shelter, the clothing, and all the other things we feel entitled to ourselves, we are going to have to design and manufacture, over the next several decades, as many artifacts as all of humanity have created over the last two million years. And we shall have to do that in a way that preserves this fragile home of mankind for the generations that will follow.

The mission of computer aided design is to create and deliver the tools we will need to accomplish that. What we do at Autodesk is to build, inside a computer, models of things that exist in the real world. Whether you call it computer aided drafting, or solid modeling, or computational chemistry, or desktop video, or virtual reality, this concept is at the heart of the technological adventure of the second half of the Twentieth Century and will form the centerpiece of the industrial revolution of the Twenty-First.[Footnote] Autodesk's goal is provide the tools for this Golden Age of Engineering to every designer, in every industry, in every nation, so that their creativity can help us all to succeed.

What we are announcing today is a modest yet significant milestone toward that distant goal. It is now my pleasure to introduce John Lynch, co-manager of the AutoCAD Business Unit. John will describe the details of AutoCAD for Windows and our future directions for CAD under Windows.

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