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The View from the Top

One of the reasons that Autodesk was ignored by the turnkey vendors in the early days of desktop CAD was that the developers of the high-end systems honestly discounted any value which desktop CAD systems would be able to offer to users. The concept of ``CAD-on-a-PC'' directly conflicted with their understanding of their own essential purpose in life, which was to bring order, power, and complete integration to the design and manufacturing process.

A CAD/CAM veteran at that time would have described his system as something to design with. ``Sure,'' he might have said, ``our customers use our system to do production drafting, but its true value derives from the fact that these users can create a complete digital representation of their models, and all the integrated applications which we offer can access this model directly, taking whatever application-specific data it needs. Thus there need be only one copy of the data for everyone.'' He would have smiled smugly at this point.

``FEM users can access the original model, subjecting it to analysis, re-design, and successive refinement. Stylists can obtain photorealistic visual output directly off the model, toolpaths can be created automatically which will drive machine tools, and draftsman can produce drawings by working directly with the model.

``Drawings are a by-product of the process,'' he would have said, his nose wrinkling slightly. ``Not an end product by itself.

``Who would ever want a drawing as the only output of a design process?'' the CAD/CAM veteran would continue, his voice undoubtedly rising in pitch and volume. I mean, who else could use it? How would you get the data from one application to another without having to re-input it?'' At this, he would probably shiver as if he had glimpsed a world he didn't want to be part of.

It was crystal clear, at least in the minds of these CAD/CAM veterans, that any user worth his salt would choose the turnkey system for his work, and only those who couldn't afford the high ticket prices would be forced to settle for the poor imitations of CAD systems offered by the PC software vendors.

For ``poor imitations'' is exactly what the turnkey vendors believed them to be. These sophisticated, dedicated, and right-thinking representatives of high-end CAD/CAM, collectively looked at the desktop CAD systems and could see no justification for their use, as hard as they tried to see it. Because of this, they completely ignored that piece of the market and allowed upstart companies such as Autodesk to not only grow, but in their success to grab large numbers of their customers, and to never give them back.

Consider the standard, instinctive and universal reaction by members of the turnkey CAD/CAM community to the success of Autodesk. The party line, which was actually deeply and honestly believed, was that AutoCAD was being purchased simply because it was cheap, and that after companies bought it, they put it away and never used it again. This was a popular theme at all of these companies, at every level from consultant to programmer, from salesman to Chairman of the Board. By this reasoning, the failure of Autodesk was only a matter of time as users eventually, but inevitably, came to their senses and returned to the family.

But let's briefly look at the real history of desktop CAD. Consider what a customer got for his money when he bought a turnkey system in the early 1980's. For $100,000 a seat, this customer could design, analyze, refine, view, dimension, and manufacture his parts. The goal has always been to achieve all of this from one single data representation, but this was never achieved. The process wasn't perfect, or even close to perfect as all users knew, but it essentially worked. Compared to old-fashioned, non-interactive or manual methods, it represented a true revolution for that user.

Consider the user of the desktop system of the early 1980's. For $10,000 a seat, the customer could create very complicated engineering drawings, and easily output them to paper, but that was all. Did the desktop system attempt to solve all of the customer's problems, or to provide a total solution? Not hardly! Did you get more for your money from a turnkey system than from a desktop system? Clearly!

Why then would any user be satisfied with a desktop system? How could any company settle for less than a full-solution approach? Shouldn't this be the goal of all users?

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Next: Real Users buy Up: Whither AutoCAD? Previous: Traditional CAD/CAM

Editor: John Walker