Architosh News Reports
  Anthony Frausto-Robledo, B.Arch. ([email protected])


Editorial: Why petition for Autocad on Mac OS X - Part 1

6 Jun 00

As many of you know Architosh has been running a petition 'questionnaire' for getting Autocad on Mac OS X. As of late Sunday afternoon (Jun 4th) we have collected over 600 petitions with 99% in favor of having Autocad on the Mac OS X platform. However, many of you -- especially those blissfully happy with some other CAD program on the Mac -- may be wondering just why?

What the Petition Responses are Saying

To be absolutely truthful I was completely stunned with the response. When I decided to run this petition it was because many individuals had written in over the last year asking about the validity of persistent rumors that Apple and Autodesk were in discussions to bring Autocad back to the Mac. Because of the consistency of this rumor and certain sources it appeared that these rumors had a 'high degree' of probability. Furthermore, Apple once worked with Autodesk to bring Autocad to the Mac. It was a judgment call to run the petition, for sure, but one I believe was well made. I'll get to that in a minute.

A number of petitioners wondered out loud what the ramifications would be to those loyal Mac developers who have provided us excellent CAD products over the years and never turned away from us during the Dark Years. It was a serious question and it was on my mind before the petition was produced. After all, if Autodesk came back to the Mac with a large marketing push from Apple, it could (possibly) take serious market share away from such excellent Mac CAD developers like Graphisoft and Diehl Graphsoft (arguably the two most important CAD companies in the Mac CAD market for AEC). And this would be a shame given that they have always supported the Mac -- in fact, they started on the Mac.

As it turns out the petition results are saying something else that speaks to this issue. For those many petition questionnaires with attached commentary (about 4 out of 10) it appears that there are two key factors driving the push to get Autocad on the Mac. And they have to do with working in an 'Autocad world'. They are:

  1. Current Mac CAD users need to work with Autocad users.
  2. Some Autocad users want and need an 'alternative platform' for Autocad

Both of these two reasons for wanting Autocad on the Mac do little to threaten other existing CAD developers in the Mac market. In fact, both of these reasons could help these developers grow their user bases both on and off the Mac platform. What the petitions seem to suggest is that Autocad on Mac OS X is not only desperately needed but that it would drive Apple's market share in the technical CAD market. This is very good news! Mac CAD developers have little to worry about in Autodesk. The main reason for wanting a copy or two of Autocad for OS X is to be compatible with the Autocad world...not to join it.

Additionally, engineers and other technical pros working presently in Autocad and enjoy doing so wish to have a more friendly operating system to work on. Specifically, some petitioners are saying all of their tools are available to them on the Mac with the exception of Autocad. And that contemplates them to consider Wintel despite the fact they wish to avoid Windows operating systems if that is possible. For many having Autocad on OS X makes this completely possible.

The following two sections discuss these two key factors briefly. In a later in-depth report on the petition results Architosh will cover these two factors more deeply.

Needing Autocad in the Mac World

"Autocad has become an 'industry standard'. I know many architects who used Autocad R12 on Macs but were "forced" to switch to PC's. All the best graphic and design packages run on the Mac, and Autocad should be included in this group." -- N. Jennings

"We have hundreds of clients who are architects, designers and engineers that all grumble about the lack of Autocad for the Mac. Some of them, longtime Mac loyalists, believe they are going to have to migrate to the Wintel platform if no serious solution emerges soon." -- L. Rubin

"I have been slowly converting all my engineering stations in my company to Windows due to the poor communication between Autocad and MiniCAD, the only solution we have had on our is a shame as we had 27 Macs in the engineering department at one time...we NEED Autocad on the Mac, and so does APPLE." -- C. Nielsen

The overall theme of these responses, which are of a typical type, is that the CAD world is an 'Autocad world", period. For better or for worse, today's CAD professionals needs to realize that Autocad currently dominates the market and will continue to do so for a number of years -- regardless of the current trend moving away from Autocad.

It is possible that Autodesk will lose market share at an accelerated rate due to the pace of innovation at other rival CAD companies -- Revit and BOA CAD come to mind. However, even if Autocad was to have only half of the CAD market in two or three years time, there are still thousands of companies and institutions that have millions of Autocad files in their possession and will need to continue to work with them. And even half of the market is a very dominant position. The chances of Autodesk falling this far that fast is quite remote, for all the obvious reasons. And it would be foolhearty to believe that the Autocad compatiblity issue is going to go away anytime soon due to the many advances being made on other CAD platforms. (BTW: This is the same for Windows regardless of how awesome Mac OS X may eventually be.)

Needing an Alternative Platform for Autocad

The most shocking aspect of the 600 plus petitions so far has been the high count of current Autocad users. These are PC users! Many of these are former Mac users or Mac users at home. Many are in AEC, but a large amount are in other technical or scientific fields which involve Autocad use. Their dominant theme is this: "we can't stand Windows" or "Windows is too costly"; and, "We only need Windows for Autocad". This group of Autocad users have a Mac affinity which could be tapped. How big this group really is is a mystery.

Particularly in the non-AEC disciplines, many Autocad users are using Autocad either on a separate machine alongside a Macintosh or running it inside a Windows emulation program on the Mac. Either way, they don't need or want Windows but are forced to have it because of Autocad -- which they do need. Although architects working without Autocad may find it hard to believe, some technical professionals do enjoy Autocad, or at least find it suits their particular tasks well. Here are some quotes:

"I have kept both platforms for years on my desk and at home. I would be very excited to use one platform --- and that wont be Wintel!!" -- J. Haviland

"Apple should work harder at getting support for engineering software in general for the Mac. There was a time before NT that we actually wrote some custom software on the Mac due to the fact it's performance was better than DOS or Windows 3.1. Although NT (3.51 and greater) has essentially erased any performance advantage on the Mac. I hope that OS X will again provide compelling performance and features not found on the Windows platforms to justify new generation engineering / controls interfaces on OS X.

The main reason I use NT is for access to Autocad (which most customers specify) and control interface products (WonderWare, RSView, etc.). I still prefer the Mac and use Microstation if the customer has no preference, which I also hope to see a full OS X port of." -- D. Ash

"I am the president of the MUG here on lab at NASA Glenn Research Center, and our users would benefit from the availability of a CAD program like Autocad or Pro-E on the Macintosh. There has been a push to go to NT from our UNIX based systems for cost savings, and our users would like to see the Macintosh as an alternative option to NT. We use VectorWorks from Diehl Graphics right now (formerly MiniCAD) for some design work on the Mac, but could use a high end design and analysis package as well. This would go a long way to "proving" the usefulness of the Mac in the science and technical disciplines. With OS X and the speed of the G4 platform, we'd have some serious design machines on our hands! -- M. McGuire, NASA

"I think you should definitely petition Autodesk to make Autocad available on the Mac again. I am an Autocad user, but also a Mac owner, and I think the stability of MacOS X and Autocad would make a great fit." -- R. Christopher

"We use mostly I-DEAS (on NT boxes), but have to generate Autocad files on many projects, because that's what customers use as a standard. The conversion process is problematic, and I'd love to be able to perform this on Macs, which are easier in so many ways." -- R. Kent

"I get the (dubious) honor of supporting 148 seats of PTC ProEngineering (Solaris Unix) as well as a back-up administrator to 60 seats of Autocad (WindowsNT). I wish both were available for the Mac. MacOS X will bring "real operating system" status to the Apple platform.

It would be in Apple's best business interest to further the porting of professional level software to the Macintosh platform. While there are any number of "professional" software packages, the definition of such is pretty much subjective to the market they apply to, so it would be difficult for Apple to make a choice based on professional merit alone. But Autocad is an incredibly visible piece of software. Getting it operating on the Mac again would be a great incentive for other software vendors to follow." -- C. Allison, Lawrence Livermore National Lab

Cleary there are some serious users out there in very large settings (like NASA) who would prefer to run Autocad (and programs like ProE) on Macintosh for all of the common reasons most Mac users currently favor Macs: namely better return on investment (ROI), better "ease-of-use" and stronger affinity to the best graphics apps -- which is the market Macintosh is dominant in.

Furthermore, others are discussing the advantages coming to Mac in OS X, a fully UNIX-based operating system with state-of-the-art graphics abilities to boot. Even the IT people at large facilities like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and NASA -- places that will always run multiple operating systems -- recognize the Mac's current and future strengths. And there is clearly a momentum of opinion building for favoring Mac OS X over Windows NT/2000. The recognition being that OS X provides UNIX power and stability with the Macs legendary ease-of-use, something WindowsNT/2000 just can't live up to. The other compelling feature of OS X that people in the technical CAD markets are getting excited about is the Quartz (PDF/Postscript) graphics technology native to only Mac OS X.

Closing Comments

Not all of the petitions echo these two dominant themes: 1.) we live in an Autocad world, and 2.) I'd rather run Autocad on OS X than UNIX or Windows NT. There are two other rival themes coming out of this petition movement as well. The first of those is about Autocad giving the Mac "legitimacy in the CAD market", while the other is about wishing to not support a company (Autodesk) that doesn't really have its heart in the Mac community. The next editorial coming shortly will address this side of the Autocad on OS X equation.

Till then, if you have something to say or share please write to us. If you wish to take the Autocad on Mac OS X petition questionnaire, please click here. Thanks.

Anthony Frausto-Robledo, B.Arch., is the founder and editor of the award-winning Architosh Web site. Educated as an architect, he has been an AEC professional for over 15 years and was a senior designer with distinguished Boston architectural firms prior to launching his firm BritasMedia. As president of BritasMedia, Anthony consults AEC firms on Web, animation and IT-related issues in addition to publishing the Architosh site daily. He has been a member of the Design Studio and History & Theory faculty at the Boston Architectural Center College of Architecture and Interior Design since 1997. BritasMedia's mission with the Architosh Website is to again establish the Apple Macintosh platform as the premier worldwide leading computer system for technical design professionals.

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