| Late in June Architosh.com editor, Anthony
Frausto-Robledo, had the pleasure of talking to Robert Coulling
who is the Managing Director of Microspot Limited, the United
Kingdom-based Macintosh developer of MacDraft, MacPlot and 3D
World, to name a few of the leading apps this longtime Mac developer
has produced over the years.
During their transatlantic conversation Robert and Anthony
discussed a number of interesting facets of his company, its
long history, its products, its future and Apple Computer.
Regardless of whether you use Microspot products or not, if
you are an Apple CAD/3D user this interview sheds some interesting
light on topics dear to many of usincluding Mac
OS X as a technical design platform and its current readiness
for the market.
Early Years and Apple II
Macintosh Development and MacPlot
MacDraft and Mac
3D World and Other
OS X Plans
Mac OS X Plotter
On Being a Mac OS
Looking Into the
We start today by talking to Robert Coulling who is the managing
director of Microspot Limited
in the United Kingdom. Robert, are you in charge of software
RC I handle most of the functions here but I do have
a fellow director Roger Holmes. He is who directs the programming,
technically, but he is not the guy who directs the development
direction. That's done by me from the marketing perspective.
What is your background with the company?
RC Well actually, I am not sure if you know, but the
company was founded in 1964. I joined in 1966 and at that
time it was an electronic equipment company. I took control
of the company before 1980.
In 1980 we became Apple
Dealers in England. I was an electronic engineer and my father's
company needed a computer accounts. I was asked to help them
choose. I looked at Commodore, Tandy and Apple. I liked the
Apple best and decided to become a dealer.
The first software project was for my cousin who had several
CNC milling machines. He was going to buy a teletype machine
to feed the programs into the CNC Milling machines using punch
tapes. I told him not to do that and instead we used an Apple
II to write and edit the programs, save them onto floppies
and then send the programs in by cable through the RS232 link.
We sold many copies of this off line programming system with
Bridgeport machines. It was at this time that Roger Holmes
joined the Company to head up development.
RC We also got involved with 3D kitchen design. We
wrote a system under contract for what is now Planet International.
We started that on the Apple 2, moved it onto Apple 3, and
then Lisa then Macintosh. We sold more Lisas in U.K. than
any other dealer with this system.
So how did Mac software development start?
RC When we saw the Macintosh and we saw the early
versions of MacDraw we thought if engineers were going to
use this product then they would need to print large drawings
and they will need a program. We had been printing from the
kitchen design program and the off line editing program using
pen plotters for some time. This gave the kitchen customers
a nice presentation of what they were going to buy and showed
the milling machine programmers the tool path without tying
up the milling machine so with that knowledge we decided to
have a go at writing an application for plotting which we
So MacPlot was your first Macintosh product.
RC Yes. We wrote the application so that you drew
your drawings in MacDraw or MacDraft, then you copied your
picture to the clipboard and opened MacPlot, you pasted the
drawing in, then it plotted it out on a pen plotter We started
with the small HP 7475 and we worked up to A0 size plotters.
In November 1984 when there was not much Mac software around
Apple called and invited us to go and show MacPlot at Comdex.
After this they commissioned us to write the same product
as a proper printer driver...which we did. This product was
pretty successful. It was bundled with MacDraw, MacProject
and later ClarisCAD. Apple also allowed us to sell the driver
ourselves and this is the product line that has provided the
main revenue for us over the years.
One day when Roger and I were in Versatec's offices in Santa
Clara we found out that the large electrostatics had a parallel
interface. We immediately saw an opportunity there and started
to write for the large electrostatic printers with a DMA interface
card which Roger designed. We were then able to print raster
pictures with this hardware and software solution. And when
we saw the large ink-jet printers we saw another great opportunity
so, and we started writing MacPlot Raster for large format
raster output. We are selling this product now as Microspot
GraphicPak and UltraGraphicPak.
When did MacDraft begin?
RC I met Paul King who founded IDD in January 1985
before they released their product . I could see the potential
with them partnering with us with the plotter driver. They
were extremely successful and at one time we developed a plotter
driver for them which they sold to their customers. We used
to have an office in San Jose so I used to visit Paul very
often at their offices in Concord.
Anyway, in about 1995 I was thinking "well not much
is happening with MacDraft" and one day I called Paul
and said "hey Paul what is happening with MacDraft?"
He said that he was "really retired". "I just
go into the office twice a week, do a bit of tech support,
and ship out orders and that's all I'm doing with it".
So I asked him if he wanted to sell it. And in May of 1996
we bought it from him.
Since then we have really got to know the product and made
varies improvements. We just released MacDraft
5 and we have got it almost ready for MacOS
We thought that it was a good compliment to our other products
since we had already bought PhotoFix a photo editing program
and we were developing 3D World our own 3D design program..
So now we had a 2D products and a 3D product. Our idea then
was to try to move into applications rather than to rely completely
on drivers. With drivers you are very reliant on Apple's operating
systems and we had been through quite a trauma with QuickDraw
GX, writing drivers for that only to find out that the whole
thing was scrapped.
type of individual is using MacDraft? Are they engineers,
RC We have engineers, architects, technical illustrators,
hobbyists, all types of people who need to produce accurate
So it sounds like it is a multidisciplinary CAD package. What
is your user breakdown?
RC I think that really where we score is not perhaps
with architects themselves but with people like contractors...
RC Yes, people who have to do drawing but who don't
want to go for the high-end packages that would cost a lot
of money and would take a long time to learn, but they need
to do proper scaled drawings.
And I think those are the types of people that make up a
sizable proportion of our users.
I see. Do you do much exhibiting at building/contractor shows?
RC No, In fact we haven't done much at all. Most of
our show activity was always done at Macworld and we still
do a little bit, but we used to go to Macworld in both San
Francisco and Boston every year and have a 20x20 booth. Since
Apple's down turn we decided to scale that down. Now we still
go to the San Francisco show but we have a very small presence
This year is the year we want to start promoting MacDraft
again and sell to more new users. Now that we have Microspot
PC Draft at almost same standard as MacDraft and we, partly
at your suggestion, incorporated the OpenDWG
libraries, we feel this compatibility with Autocad will
give us a new lease on life because people will be able to
take complicated drawings and load them into MacDraft or PC
Draft. Some large architectural practices may want smaller
applications for some of the operatives who only have to open
drawings or print them or make small edits.
That sounds good, because that is a real issue with
some large firms.
RC We think the cross-platform side of this will be
important too, because Autocad only really covers the PC side
and now we can open Autocad files on Mac or PC and be able
to exchange those files between the two platforms very easily.
There is no translation required. You just open a file on
either a Mac or PC.
So will you be developing a new version of PC Draft as well?
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