The folks at DEVELOP3D have broken news of Autodesk’s stealthy Project Leopard, which consist of putting its hot new product development CAD system fully in the web browser as opposed to a very sophisticated cloud-connected client.
Codenamed Project Leopard, this latest move sees Autodesk creating another path for Autodesk Fusion 360 access, enabling its users to get at its projects when not at a computer that has Fusion 360 installed. But that isn’t the likely real reason why Autodesk has launched Project Leopard.
The real reason Autodesk has likely launched Project Leopard has everything to do with the CAD giant’s moves to investigate and pursue all paths involving the use of cloud-based technologies in its leading edge tools. More than that, the company has found itself up against a new formidable force (no Star Wars puns here…) in Onshape, a Cambridge, Massachusetts, based CAD startup consisting of veteran All-Stars from the SolidWorks days.
Onshape recently received another massive round of investor funding (see, Architosh, “Onshape raises $80 Million in funding led by Andreessen Horowitz,” 16 Oct 2015) and is moving full-steam ahead. While the company has beat Autodesk to the punch in delivering what Onshape calls a “full cloud 3D CAD system” what we have always understood Autodesk Fusion 360 to be is a true cloud-based CAD system as well. The difference is that Onshape works straight out of a standard modern web browser. And so too does the new Project Leopard, which is an invite beta and you can apply for it here.
Browser CAD War—Industry Impact
The idea of putting an entire 2/3D CAD program in the cloud and powering it through your web browser alone—that is, it doesn’t require an install of any kind—is radical. Radical at least from the perspective that just five years ago the core technologies that would enable such an offering were either non-existent or in an infant stage.
At the Graebert Annual Meeting event held in Berlin last month, I had a chance to hear the Onshape folks discuss a bit about just how challenging delivering Onshape, a fully browser-based cloud CAD system, was and that it took specific kinds of technologies that are just emerging in order for it to be truly workable.
“Workable,” in this case means that the user-interface and user-experience (UI/UX) is on-par with a native application running off your hard drive. It turns out that alongside Onshape and now Autodesk with Project Leopard—two MCAD oriented product by the way—Graebert itself announced its beta version of ARES Kudo. (see 02 above). The German CAD innovator isn’t wasting time advancing its multi-pronged strategic agenda and what ARES offers is a native DWG-based CAD product that will run through your browser on any modern device as well.
So the industry impact?
The industry impact is immediately this: with one major or two minor CAD players launching such initiatives it might have been possible for the CAD industry as a whole to ignore, or at least substantially delay, moving in the direction of a “full cloud 3D CAD system.”
However, that isn’t the case now. While Onshape is new it shouldn’t be considered a minor CAD player at all. And Autodesk is a major among majors. And Berlin’s Graebert is showing the CAD world that it has some serious software brilliance.
Despite all of this, it doesn’t mean the CAD industry will shift to supporting full cloud-driven and browser-based solutions in the end, even alongside native client-driven apps. Though it would be awfully cool for end-users if that did happen. Think of it…
No longer would OS platform truly matter. More importantly, perhaps, it wouldn’t matter if you had your computer with your native applications installed with you anymore. If you go on vacation or travel to a client location or conference, you can just take something lighter as a device. It might mean a tablet with some power (like the iPad Pro) or it might simply be a lighter-weight and not that expensive laptop…say a Chromebook.
In the case of Onshape, the PC-versus-mobile devices-versus-native apps is inverted. Instead of native on PC with perhaps mobile device access through a web browser, the core app is accessed through the web browser and the mobile devices have native apps for access. Nothing would please Apple and Google more than such a development trend. It would mean that the native app development would quickly follow the work stemming from the development that shifts the experience to the web browser on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.
A new CAD war over who dominates and excels at a full, true cloud-based web-delivered CAD experience will drag in most of the CAD industry. From my discussions with many of the other CAD developers in the world, this is the issue or question they are pressing themselves with now: how do they bring their solutions to the cloud? The question isn’t if…but how?