We managed to wrangle Jon Hirschtick (Founder and Chairman, Onshape) and Carl Bass (CEO, Autodesk) into answering the same six questions about CAD in the Cloud, including the ultimate, whiz-bang question of the year at the end: “How do Fusion 360, Onshape, and 3DEXPERIENCE differ?” You saw it here first, folks. A SolidSmack exclusive, side-by-side interview with two of the biggest names in MCAD today.

We are seriously bummed that we can’t make it to Develop3D Live this year, not least because Carl, Jon, and Gian Paulo Bassi (CEO, SolidWorks) will all be speaking… at the same time. (That last bit’s not true, but we wish it were.) Since we can’t make it to D3D, we figured we’d get the party started early by asking Carl and Jon a few questions about their respective cloud services, Fusion 360 and Onshape.

You’ll notice we put a strict word count on these questions. We did that for three main reasons: 1) to keep it a readable Q&A format, 2) to keep the content on point, and 3) because we are lazy, and reading long articles makes us sleepy. Word count bumps up the thought octane–that’s what we were going for, at least. Carl and Jon each have plenty of long-form stuff to say on their corporate blogs, so if you want depth, that’s the place to look.

Neither participant saw the other’s answers before today. We expect there may be further clarification in the comments over time.

Lets rumble.

1) How is the cloud going to change the way we think about CAD? (100 words)
Carl – We’ve been saying for awhile that there are two benefits the cloud brings: first, it gives you virtually unlimited amounts of computing, which is critical when you’re talking about solving real engineering problems, specifically simulation, rendering, CAM and even generative design. And secondly, it serves as the central point for sharing, collaborating and managing data projects—critical for distributed teams and those working across the supply chain.

Fusion 360 was imagined for this new world, and because it’s built on the cloud, it will be able to easily evolve over time as our customers’ needs change and all the various platforms they use improve.

Jon – Cloud, web and mobile technology will make CAD dramatically more accessible. CAD can now run in a browser and on phones and tablets. No more downloading or installing CAD software. Simple free and monthly plans make it easy to give CAD to all who need it when they need it.

Users will work faster because they no longer have to worry about finding the latest version, copying files, checking out, or locking. Everyone on a team works on the same data at the same time.

2) Presumably cloud-enabled CAD will grow the potential markets into new areas. How do you see market demographics changing? (100 words)
Carl – Four years ago, when we first started putting design and engineering software on the cloud and made it available via mobile, we really weren’t sure what the reaction would be. Since then, we’ve reached millions of people who’d never used CAD tools before.

What’s happening now is that easier access, lower price points and better devices are making CAD available to a whole new group of people. The availability of powerful software coupled with digital fabrication tools has gotten a generation of young engineers and an army of makers engaged, and that’s really exciting.

Jon – CAD market demographics will expand in two ways due to full-cloud 3D CAD.

First many more professionals will use CAD. Instead of few people with precious CAD licenses, everyone will instantly get right into CAD with no downloads or installs or payments. Teams grow and shrink constantly — contractors, interns, vendors, customers, manufacturers, etc can all be easily added and removed as needed.

Second many more students and makers will use pro-level 3D CAD. Potentially millions that could never before afford it. Anyone with a low-end Linux netbook or even a phone can instantly and freely access it.

3) Do you realistically think users will use CAD tools on mobile devices? If so, how do you see them being used? (100 words)
Carl – They already are today. We have tens of millions of people accessing CAD on mobile devices. Let me use an analogy from our consumer business. Four years ago, many people thought no one would want to draw on a phone or a tablet. Today, we have more than 30 million people using Sketchbook.

In the CAD world, access to designs and information on the factory floor, while on your commute, or at a customer meeting are important. Mobile is most valuable for things like viewing, monitoring what’s going on in a project and making small edits to a design. But for longer periods of work, most people will still be more comfortable working at a traditional setup with a larger screen and better peripherals. As mobile devices get more powerful and screens get larger, you’ll see more work being done on those devices.

Jon – Onshape users are already using full 3D CAD on mobile. Full-cloud CAD on mobile does not just mean viewing — it means ALL CAD and data management functions — sketching, features, etc. on iPhones, iPads, Android devices, etc. Users will do some work on mobile and some in the browser — similar to how many of us use email. Whenever and wherever inspiration (or desperation!) strikes, users can explore a new idea, refine a colleague’s CAD work, or make last-minute design changes on the go.
4) Of course the cloud means better collaboration, we all get that. Aside from collaboration, how has your strategy changed as a result of a focus on the cloud? (100 words)
Carl – When we started offering cloud and mobile design and engineering tools, it seemed like a crazy idea. But now that we’re four years into it, we’re more convinced than ever that the move was the right one. We’ve got millions of customers using it—they’ve done hundreds of thousands of designs, hundreds of thousands of hours of simulation and millions of renderings on the cloud. I was talking to our cloud ops team today and found out that people have created petabytes of design data on Autodesk’s cloud.
Jon – Our full-cloud CAD focus has affected a lot of areas of our strategy: pricing, delivery of updates, support, sales, partner applications, etc.

Full-cloud has been a great new strategy for improving reliability. Because desktop and semi-cloud systems rely on installed CAD software, bugs cause crashes and data loss. Our full-cloud system is distributed across many servers and has no crash-prone installed software — so even when we have bugs they never result in any interruption or loss of work. This improved reliability from our full-cloud architecture has been astounding to users who suffered from typical installed software crashes.

5) What specific initiatives are you working on to get these new CAD tools into the hands of students? (100 words)
Carl – One of the decisions I’m most proud of is that last year we decided to offer all of our professional products free to students, institutions, and faculty worldwide. Since then we’ve distributed tens of millions of licenses through this program, and we’re working closely with educators to develop curricula and make sure our tools are appropriate for students at all levels. Kids today touch their first computer before their first birthday; we’re thinking completely differently today about how we create offerings and engage with young people.
Jon – We are creating teaching resources for instructors and piloting Onshape in design classes. Onshape is proving a great choice for students because it is free, easy to setup, and great in group settings. There’s no special student or education status or application. Like Google Docs, anyone can get a free Onshape account. Students love that our entire 3D CAD system runs on Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebook, Android, iPhone or iPad. And Onshape is perfect for highly-collaborative group and teacher settings. Everyone looks at and can simultaneously edit the same data at the same time.
6) How do Fusion 360, Onshape, and 3DEXPERIENCE differ? (200 words)
Carl – I’d love to hear Jon’s answer on 3DEXPERIENCE since he worked at Dassault for so many years—I for the life of me can’t understand it.

On the other hand, I’m happy to have Jon on my side arguing that there are better tools than Solidworks.

It looks to me like the Onshape team has decided to try to build a better shape modeling tool—taking CAD as it was imagined 15 years ago and rebuilding it on a new platform. In some ways I understand why people are trying to compare the products, but if you take a close look, they couldn’t be more different.  The similarity ends in that each has a cloud-based modelling tool.

We took a completely different approach.  We wanted to solve many of the problems that people experience today in terms of the workflows necessary to accomplish their overall jobs—so we used the best of cloud and mobile technology to build a comprehensive CAD system that goes all the way from ideation to fabrication.

Jon – We at Onshape have a very clear and unique strategy: full-cloud 3D CAD. Our full 3D CAD system runs in browsers — no downloads or installs — and on phones and tablets. Windows, Mac, Linux, Chromebook, Android, iPhone, iPad — full 3D CAD on any of these.

Onshape is unique in that the CAD system and the CAD data live in one place in the cloud and are never copied anywhere. Because all users are always looking at the exact same data there is never an issue with being out of sync or not looking at the latest version. No need for locking, checkout, auto-save etc. All users can edit anything with no fear of overwriting others.

SolidWorks and Autodesk have semi-cloud approaches. Traditional installed desktop software applications must be downloaded from cloud servers and installed on each computer. The full 3D CAD system does not run on browsers, phones or tablets. CAD files are downloaded and copied from cloud servers to each user’s computer. Copies of files means true unrestricted collaboration is not possible. Users need to worry about who is editing what, locking, checkouts, etc.