The Beta launch of a new SaaS-based manufacturing CAD application, OnShape, has excited a few bloggers and tweeters recently, although the concept is nothing new (I recall US CAD writer Brian Seitz wondering Is SaaS the Killer App for the CAD Industry? in 2008, and it stimulated some CADaaS posts from me – first, second – and later some BIMaaS posts – the first was in 2008 and there has been a steady stream since).
OnShape, from a Boston, US-based company of the same name, is not a CAD tool expressly for most architectural, engineering or construction users. Three years and US$64m in the making, it is a feature-based model authoring tool for mechanical designers (so it could be used, for example, by construction product manufacturers), but – and this was the area that particularly interested me – it works like Google Docs insofar as all files are stored on the web, are available to anyone with Internet and file access, can be co-edited, and run in nearly all modern web browsers (read Ralph Grabowski’s blog post; also TechCrunch).
And perhaps even more radical, it is free. The OnShape commercial model offers the complete software package free, but after the first five models, users have to pay for private storage of their files (cost US$100/user/pcm). Otherwise, other users can view the files, make copies and develop their own versions of the models.
OnShape uses a container file format to organise and store all files and data (including PDFs, videos, and spreadsheets) related to a project in a single document. The container file format is also used to unify versioning control and to help it run in web browsers. Ralph’s Initial user experience suggests it runs like an installed application; model files can also be viewed and edited on mobile devices (iPhone and iPad initially, Android coming soon); and users can work on a file simultaneously if they wish (a collaborative feature of Google Docs that I really like).
Industry observers like Adam OHern have made comparisons between OnShape, Autodesk’s Fusion 360 product (which started as a browser-based tool, but now requires software installation) and Solidworks (featured in one of my 2009 CADaaS posts – which also mentions Onshape’s CEO Jon Hirschtick). Having two players in the cloud CAD space makes things interesting, says Adam; the game has changed:
“It’s no longer enough for The MCAD Syndicates to sell CAD by the “seat” with complex bundling restrictions, bizarre and arbitrary licensing schemes, and pricing that was dreamed up in a backroom sales negotiation at Boeing or GM. Even if Onshape is only moderately successful as a product in itself, it will force the industry to re-examine regressive revenue models in favor of simpler, more straightforward, customer-oriented value propositions.” (my emphasis)
Autodesk President and CEO Carl Bass has also blogged about OnShape, prompting some predictable comments from both the CAD cloud fans and those who think the cloud is a security risk, but also a sense that competition in this sector can only be a good thing.
Although it is not strictly in the AEC sector, the launch of OnShape interests me because it challenges preconceptions about how software for complex design challenges can be delivered, and it offers new scope for collaborative co-creation and design development.
It also offers a different take on per-seat up-front license payment approaches, preferring instead to offer all functionality free, but charging for enhanced levels of security. Denmark-based GenieBelt is another company that has launched a free forever online product, designed from the ground up for access on mobile devices and in web browsers (5 November 2014 post; I had a brief chat at Ecobuild last week with GenieBelt founder Gari Nickson who is excited about the imminent launch of new document management functionality on the platform).
Just as the SaaS collaboration vendors (among others) challenged existing approaches to software delivery and licensing and heralding the wider adoption of pay-as-you-go computing, it appears pricing approaches have evolved still further to the point where we can now get software free, but pay for additional components such as private storage, advanced analytics, etc. Some software and services are rapidly becoming commoditised, barely distinguishable from one another in their core functionality, with users now able to pick and choose between the added value options offered by vendors.