Well, just look how time oozes suspiciously right past us. SolidWorks 2011 launched last week, but you may not have known there have been 15 years of enhancements before it.

Today, September 6th, 2011 marks the 15th anniversary of SolidWorks selling the very first seat of their 3D product development software. Over 1 millllliooooon seats have found their way into the talented, and not so talented, hands of people around the world since. It just so happens we found the guy who laid his hands upon that first seat and asked him a couple questions.

In 1996, Bill Townsend took a chance with a then unknown 3D modeling software. Here’s what the CEO of Barrett Technology had to say.

Did you think then that using SolidWorks would bring you to where you are today?

I was so blown away the first time I sat down to SolidWorks — you cannot imagine. I could not sleep for a couple of days. It was especially frustrating that I could not share this excitement with another real-world (i.e. not a SolidWorks developer) SolidWorks user as there were no others initially. I would call Jon Hirschtick every few hours (night and day) almost beyond excitement before sitting down for another few hours. Everything else in my business for that time period suddenly seemed unimportant. It opened a whole new world to me. What I may have felt were just radical thoughts back then came true many times over since then. My imagination about where it might take us did not come close to the reality. For example, the notion of being able to render a photorealistic animation for a presentation is so easy today, but I could not have conceived of that in 1995 partly due to advances in the product and partly due to the wave of advances in PC technologies.

Is there anything you would change about SolidWorks having used it for so long?

I would not have changed anything in today’s SolidWorks except, perhaps, to see it spread much further into our culture than to just mechanical engineers and architects.

A big thanks to Bill Townsend for sharing his thoughts.

The next 15 years

I began using SolidWorks a few months later than Mr. Townsend. I didn’t have Jon Hirschtick’s phone number, but my boss at the time was pretty excited about the results from the software. There’s a laundry list of items I wish were done differently over the years. Perhaps another post for another day, but it’s pretty amazing where SolidWorks has brought people, how companies have used it and how SolidWorks itself has changed over the years.

Looking on to the next 15 years, I can’t hardly imagine what will change… Actually, I could. Computer tech didn’t change much over the past 15 years. It’s different today. We’re starting to use computers differently, access data differently, and we have many more options to help create our ideas.

What’s your favorite version?

I’d probably have to go with Solidworks 2001+ or SolidWorks 2005. Both were stable with great performance. I loved the UI changes with 2008, but the speed was awful. 2010 improved that and 2011 brings some more speed and performance.

If you want to recall some old memories or uncover some repressed trauma, Ricky Jordan has all of the What’s New Guides since SolidWorks started.

Northeast SolidWorks User Conference

One more thing, If you’re up in the Northeast part of the US, you’ll want to mark September 17th on the calendar. Bill Townsend will be the opening keynote speaker for the 1-day SolidWorks World equivalent Northeast SolidWorks User Conference (NESWUC). If you can, be sure to say hi and talk to him.


Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.