Last month we got an email from Autodesk asking if we would be interested in looking very closely at Project Butterfly and doing an editorial feature on it. Just to be clear to some of our readers, we don’t get too many emails from the world’s largest design software maker. And when we do they tend to come from the Entertainment and Media division (think Autodesk Maya!) because that is the division, until recently, that had the only native Mac software. But things seem to be changing with this company and its relationship to Apple’s growing Mac audience. So we said “sure…we’d love to take a look!”
So we booked a Web meeting. And we met. And what was presented was very interesting, different…and future-oriented!
Background: An Israeli Story
Project Butterfly is led by Tal Weiss, who is its software development manager and director of Autodesk’s AutoCAD Israel R&D facility. Weiss–who led the Web meeting–explained that he was the former co-founder and CEO of a software company called VisualTao, based out of Tel-Aviv, Israel. Its main product, VisualTao (same name) featured an innovative web-based interface that enabled users of design software to work together over the Net.
From what we have learned Autodesk acquired PlanPlatform (whose previous name was VisualTao) last year, giving the CAD giant its first Web-enabled collaborative platform. And according to an article from Israel, the American CAD giant now looks to utilize Weiss’ unit as the beginnings of an Israeli research and development center.
Part of Autodesk’s discovery in Israel was that the high-tech country is a world-leader in “cloud-computing” and online applications and services. And according to this article on the Web Autodesk probably isn’t stopping at its acquisition of PlanPlatform.
VisualTao Becomes A Butterfly
Cloud-computing and software as a service (SaaS) is where the applications world is moving. Even in the intensely complex and file-heavy CAD world. This was a notable topic in the CAD industry even as far back as 2007 at COFES. With rivals publicly displaying the beginnings of their Web-enabled and cloud-computing technology it only makes sense that Autodesk would move in this direction. It has started by focusing on its flagship program–AutoCAD.
The VisualTao technology is today implemented in its most mature state as Autodesk Butterfly, a Web-application that enables users to view, edit and share their Autodesk AutoCAD drawings. Tal Weiss explained that Autodesk Butterfly works with any modern web browser on all the major computing platforms. This includes Google’s Chrome and the Linux platform in addition to Windows and the Mac. (see image 01)
As you can see from the image above Project Butterfly–which is an open beta totally free for people to use and try out–is an actual CAD application that will run on your Mac. The part that we need to emphasize at this moment however is that Butterfly doesn’t allow you to create files with it. So no, for the Mac user reading this don’t get too excited that Project Butterfly is a new substitute for a native Mac version of AutoCAD that isn’t yet available. It isn’t!
However, make no bones about it, everything you can do with Project Butterfly on Internet Explorer on Windows you can also do on the Mac (or Linux).
Three Principles About Butterfly
Tal Weiss said that basically Autodesk Project Butterfly is like Google Docs for CAD folks. There are three key principles behind the purpose of the technology and application.
The first principle is the ability to access your content from anywhere. Weiss explained that in today’s market with the advent of social media and cloud-computing people are growing to expect access to their content and applications from just about anywhere…on a multitude of devices. “People no longer want to be tied down to a specific location to get their work done,” he said.
The second principle is to use the Web as a collaborative medium. “It means being able to work together,” said Weiss, “because everything we do in design is usually in a collaboration with others.” What Project Butterfly does is provide a way for multiple users to literally collaborate in real-time on the same drawing file. (see image 02 and 04 below)
When collaborating with users in Butterfly one takes over control of an object when one clicks on it. The program negotiates and manages this process.
Lastly, the third principle behind Project Butterfly is the support for storing “timeline-based” discussions and previous saved states of a drawing. Butterfly saves meeting discussion transcripts as well as older version states of your drawings. You have the option for downloading this saved-state material to your desktop at anytime. And you can revert to older states of a drawing.
These three primary principles are driving the focus of the Web application. And so far the thousands of users who have taken part in the open beta are enjoying where the technology is going.