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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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Reader Comments

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anthony Frausto, Anthony Frausto. Anthony Frausto said: Exclusive: AutoCAD's Fateful Return to the Mac. Architosh has the complete story. http://lnkd.in/fvEB8C […]

  2. Posted by:
    markuspirker
    December 17, 2010 04:00 pm EDT

    I can’t wait fro them to bring over REVIT. Now that would be awesome.

  3. Posted by:
    nolton
    December 17, 2010 10:46 pm EDT

    I am impressed! I really never warmed up to Acad and do not use it, but I have a passion for CAD on the MAC. I maintain that Mac productivity is much better. Windows has so many issues and problems that it wastes my time. After 20 years on the drafting board I bought a CAD package in 1983. It was based on a built up Apple lle. I had looked at Acad and it scared me. It looked very inefficient. No joystick or GUI.

    Today I have 27 years experience with many CAD programs on Mac & Windows. Mac wins, period. I have gone to extremes now and purchased Siemens NX Mac to be able to work efficiently on my chosen platform. I will always have a PC to use SolidWorks and integrate with the Windoze world but I naturally gravitate to my Mac as much as possible.

    I am having a discussion with Siemens NX people in the Linkedin NX User’s Group at http://www.linkedin.com/groupAnswers?viewQuestionAndAnswers=&discussionID=36619937&gid=869117&commentID=28040105&trk=view_disc
    about the logic of making more money (as an independent) or being more productive as a large company by simply adding a Mac to each solid modeling designer’s workstation.

    Your business may have chosen Windoze as the standard platform but an Apple Mac can be added to run Acad, NX 6 or higher with no downside. If it pencils out and makes me more money, I would add a hippopotamus to my office.

    The question I am asking is will someone (Siemens?, Autodesk?), do a benchmark test over a few weeks to put the two OS’s up against each other. The only question should be which platform supports the designer best and allows him to produce the most paying work with a given dual platform program. And how much more. The PC can be along side the Mac in this test to allow the user to have access to anything he needs in the Windoze world. I think the payback will be so good that both platforms can be afforded and used at will. I use both every day and I am shopping for a hippo.

    Merry Christmas,

    Nolton Johnson

  4. Posted by:
    emergencypicnic
    December 18, 2010 01:23 pm EDT

    AutoCAD is crap. Just like Microsoft AutoDESK uses their market dominance to shell out poorly designed software that forces users into corners they should stay away from. They compel the industry away from open standards. There’s a strong indication in the story that the company is also violating privacy principles to discern who among their users is running on Macs. I don’t trust that even if they deliver a credible product that they will stick with it or maintain adequate support. I don’t think Architosh should be providing free marketing for a company that has shirked the platform for so many years.

  5. Dear Emergencypicnic,

    Your views are of course welcome and appreciated at Architosh. You do raise an interesting point about privacy but I am not sure they are doing anything that Apple and Microsoft don’t already do in some form or another. When programs crash and send crash reports, they send vital info on the OS and hardware they run on. If the OS companies are doing it, not sure it is all that terrible for third-parties either. Just a thought?

    As for “providing free marketing”? We don’t provide free marketing to anyone. A feature interview does give corporate and product managers/creators a chance to tout their stuff but only in the context of genuine interest to the larger community of users. Many Mac CAD users have been wanting to see this happen for a very long time. Some PC AutoCAD users didn’t! We think the story is interesting on many levels as it provides a glimpse into background thinking, forward-looking vision and implementation details for one of the world’s largest most important software companies in the context of how it affects the Mac CAD/3D community.

  6. Congrats to the AutoCAD crowd, but as an animator for games, I still say that Autodesk treats Mac users as second class customers.
    After buying Alias out, they killed the Mac version of Motionbuilder, which despite promises from Autodesk in several forums (including their own Area.com) shows no signs whatsoever of making a comeback after 3 Win-only versions.
    As a direct result of this, Autodesk’s much touted Entertainment Creation Suite is not available for Mac Users either, since such bundle includes Motionbuilder along with Mudbox, Maya et al.
    Their solution? “run it on Bootcamp”. Just don’t expect A-desk to credit the $300 that it costs to buy the copy of Vista/7/XP to Mac users.

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