CAD in the Cloud: Introducing AutoCAD WS

November 28th, 2010

Earlier this month, AUGI President Mark Kiker talked with Guri Stark, Vice President of the AutoCAD product line for Autodesk, and Tal Weiss, Senior Software Development Manager, about Autodesk's new product, AutoCAD WS.

Before we get into the Q&A, a little background on AutoCAD WS. Emerging from Autodesk Labs, where it was known as Project Butterfly, AutoCAD WS is a free web application that uses cloud computing technology to enable AutoCAD users to view, edit, and share their AutoCAD designs and DWG files through any web browser or mobile devices including iPad, iPhone, and Ipod touch. Three-way integration allows easy connectivity from mobile to desktop to cloud.\

Kiker: Is this product essentially a collaboration and exchange product or can someone do their work on AutoCAD WS?

Guri: The product is not designed to be an authoring product. We don't expect users to begin with a blank page in AutoCAD WS and do complicated drawings. AutoCAD on the desktop is still the authoring tool. What AutoCAD WS provides is the ability to access a file from anywhere and to make changes to it. It has very good editing tools.

Weiss: We want to leverage the unique capabilities of emerging platforms such as mobile devices and the reason why people started using them in the first place and apply them into the AutoCAD experience. They can edit and view and markup drawings. They can collaborate in real time - and not just from AutoCAD. With mobile devices, users can take all their drawings in their pocket.

Kiker: Do you see an embrace from the community for the use of this product on an iPhone or iPod touch? Both have small interfaces.

Weiss: Well, as we said before, it isn't practical for someone to begin drawing from scratch on an iPhone. But say you're on a job site and you want to measure something or you want to read the context of a specific block attribute that you worked on in AutoCAD. To be able to pull the phone out of your pocket, open the drawing, and look at that detail and get the data you need in real time or be able to annotate it, then go back to your office and have that automatically appear on your desktop AutoCAD. There’s a very compelling use case for a lot of users. Just being able to access all their drawings from anywhere and make simple markups and changes I believe will be very compelling to a lot of users.

Stark: The biggest advantage that the iPhone has is that it is on you all the time. Let's compare it to this: You have a camera on your iPhone. Now if you’re a professional photographer, you aren’t going to use the iphone to take professional photographs, but if you don’t have your camera with you and you suddenly need to take a snap, the iPhone provides a very good opportunity to take that picture and bring it back to your professional environment.

I think about AutoCAD WS in a similar fashion. If you’re a professional drafter and want to do drafting from scratch, you’re not going to use the iPhone to do that. But if you’re on site, you don’t have your equipment with you, and you have the need to measure something, to compare something, to leave a note - the iphone is with you all the time and you can do whatever you need to do then you go back to yoru professional environment.

Kiker: Would you talk about the AutoCAD WS plug-in that you can put into your desktop AutoCAD?

Stark: Yes. What you do is download the plug-in into AutoCAD and it brings you a menu that integrates the cloud environment of AutoCAD WS into the desktop environment of AutoCAD. So from this menu you can upload files and jump right into a collaboration session or do any of the other menu functions in WS right from your desktop AutoCAD.

Kiker: What about storage? AutoCAD WS allows you to upload files so is there a lot of storage space and can you upload files other than DWG files?

Weiss: You can upload files of any type. You can upload an MS Word doc or a spreadsheet - really any type of file. You can’t edit them online, but you can upload them and manage them in folders. You can share drawings, then upload a bill of material in a spreadsheet or a Word doc or whatever.

Kiker: So if I upload 25 drawings, how do I let people in to share them in my area?

Stark: It's so easy. You just select a file or many files, click Share, then just type in their email addresses. They get a link, they hit the link, they see the files. If it’s drawings, they can edit them online. Both of you are actually viewing the drawing at the same time – you can actually collaborate in real time.

Say you're working on a drawing and you want to talk with somebody about it. You call them and say, "I'm going to send you a link to my drawing. He or she opens the link from a web browser and since both of you are viewing the drawing at the same time, you'll be able to really communicate and collaborate on that drawing in real time. You aren't limited to what you can share - drawings, a simple data file, even folders.

If you’re working with a group, you can upload a folder with your most recent version and you can grant permissions to individuals, allowing some people to only view the drawing, others to edit, and so on.

You can share a partial drawing, too. If you have a large floor plan, for example, you can mark the area in the drawing you want to share and the recepient will see only that area.

We've put a lot of features into this product that I think will make AutoCAD users very happy.

Kiker: Can you speak to security issues? I’m putting my drawings up in the cloud somewhere... how do I know they're secure?

Weiss: We use the Amazon cloud, which is probably the world’s leading, largest, and most secure storage infrastructure out there. All communication between the servers is encrypted with 266 bit encryption. It is industrial strength. In terms of security, you have enterprise-level security.

Remember that when you send a file to someone in an email, for example, you don’t have any control over what they do with that file. But with this sytem, you can share a file with a person very securely and not give them permission to download it. You can remove the "share" so the person can no longer access the file. I think we have the highest level of security out there.

Kiker: Would you talk about the Timeline feature in the product. Is there an abilty to step back and forth in time?

Stark: Yes, that’s another cool feature, the Timeline. You upload a file and share with a person, and he makes a change and uploads a new version. Then you out into the field, make changes from your mobile device, go back to AutoCAD and edit it - you know, all the activities that go into the creation of a good design.

AutoCAD WS automatically tracks all of those versions and places them on an interactive timeline. You can go back to a different collaboration session you had with another user a few months ago and literally and track it, change by change, and then go a month forward nand download a version that was just sent to you. So the Timeline feature is an integral part of the system and it’s available both online and directly from AutoCAD using the plug-in.

Kiker: Is AutoCAD WS available to someone who doesn't own a copy of AutoCAD?

Stark: That’s the beauty of it. You don’t need a copy of AutoCAD to access those files.

Kiker: What is the cost structure of AutoCAD WS?

Weiss: The product is free for everyone to use. There are no hidden charge or costs. We want people to adopt this. We want to make it very easy for our AutoCAD users to share and collaborate with other people.

Kiker: Will there be future cloud computing products from Autodesk?

Stark: I can't give you specifics, but there will definitely be more products that connect the cloud to our desktop products.

Kiker: Where do people go to sign up for an account or get more information?

Stark: All they need to do is go to www.autocadws.com and create an account. They can go to www.autocadws.com/blog to get the latest news or tap into the interactive community. They can go to www.autocadws.com/tutorials for "getting started" and an overview, which will get you up and running in no time.

Kiker: As you know, AUGI is an international organization. Is AutoCAD WS available to everyone, regardless of geography?

Stark: That's right. People anywhere can use it, from any country on any platform and using any web browser.

Weiss: We have users from the most amazing and remote places – in the states, Europe, Asia, the Far East. It has definitely been a global experience so far. We've had more than 200,000 sessions on the application and almost 60,000 uploads by different users.

From the Editor
For information about AutoCAD WS from a user's perspective, be sure to read Brian Benton's TIPniques column in this issue of AUGI HotNews.

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