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Exclusive: AutoCAD’s Fateful Return to the Mac

In this exclusive feature report Autodesk talks to Architosh about their fateful return of AutoCAD to the Apple Mac platform after nearly two decades absence.

Five years ago this month Apple put out an unusual online seminar titled “Working with AutoCAD DWG on the Mac.” It was organized by Kenny Lee, then Apple US Segment Manager and featured John Mamuscia of Graphisoft, Fielder Hiss of SolidWorks, and John Williams of Nemetschek North America. The focus? Demonstrate how to work with Autodesk’s proprietary file format in the CAD world using tools other than tools by Autodesk.

Now why would that be important?

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The short answer is because back then it appeared to the CAD world that Autodesk would never fulfill so many Mac users’ dreams of being able to work with native DWG files on the Mac. The long answer, of course, delves into the nitty gritty details of how Autodesk competitors–on and off the Mac–affectively must deal with a de facto file format standard for computer-aided design information. In the CAD world five years ago, and still very much today, the DWG file format still rules the roost.

For the last 10+ years, since Architosh has been a publication, Mac users in the CAD and 3D markets have been clamoring for a return of AutoCAD to the Mac. When Apple announced in the late 1990′s that they were going to develop a UNIX-based operating system with the famed Mac user-interface on top many had assumed that even long-time Windows-centric developers, rich with deep pockets due to market dominance, would spend the effort and the money on creating new native applications for Apple’s shiny new OS. Well, that did–and did not–happen. For industry design software giant Autodesk, it didn’t.

While industry newcomers like @Last Software with its now famous SketchUp (later acquired by Google) made early decisions to embrace Apple’s award-winning Mac OS X operating system, and important veterans in 3D verticals like Alias embraced the Mac with Maya, Autodesk decided to stay on the sidelines.

As we will learn in this detailed feature interview–exclusive not because Autodesk only wanted to talk to us (though they spoke to us very early) but because of the rare information contained within–the design software giant didn’t ignore the Mac platform because they hated Apple or were a puppet giant of Microsoft but rather because too many of their customers simply didn’t care for Steve Jobs’ beloved Mac platform.

This is important because contrary to some CAD industry observers, pundits and even analysts today–who believe Autodesk is gambling or speculating on Apple–the CAD giant has made the decision to support the Mac with AutoCAD precisely because of market facts and forces.

Fact. Apple’s Mac platform has been growing at about 33 percent year over year, a faster rate than the rest of the PC industry for 18 straight quarters. Fact. The Mac installed base is now 50 million users. Fact. Autodesk’s own customers are both interested in, investing in and asking for Mac software. Fact. Apple is the undisputed leader in new mobile platforms with its iOS in the iPhone and iPad. Force. Apple has become a technology superpower able to punch hard in the highest weight classes across most any market it wishes to turn its attention to.

With these types of market realities at play it makes perfect sense why a company with pockets as deep as Autodesk would return to the Mac. What doesn’t make sense is why some of their key competitors haven’t also come to the same conclusions. What follows below is a detailed discussion by Rob Maguire, AutoCAD for Mac Product Manager, about how Autodesk made this fateful decision to return to the Mac.

01 - Screen image of the new AutoCAD for Mac. The program features a very clean, dark and adjustable attractive user-interface (UI) with native Aqua Mac OS X elements.

Interview

AFR: (Anthony Frausto-Robledo): You guys did a pretty good job keeping this secret for quite awhile. When and how did it start?

RM (Rob Maguire): We started a few years ago…slowly. We started with our existing customers.

AFR: How so?

RM: We began with a group of 60 customers who we knew were Mac people in nature.

AFR: Were these Autodesk customers or AutoCAD customers or both?

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