Web-based CAD With Project Butterfly
After reading about Autodesk’s Project Butterfly, I took some time to give it a whirl. Project Butterfly is an on-demand system designed for users that want to experience AutoCAD through a web browser. Being a technology preview with limited functionality at present, it isn’t a product available for sale – but you can try it out for free and see how the experience differs from the usual desktop (on-premise) experience.
I’m not a heavy CAD user, but there are several reasons why I think Project Butterfly is compelling.
1) The fact that it is an on demand solution:
- No installation required. A secondary benefit is that updates are pushed out rather than downloaded and installed.
- Platform independence: enables accessibility on desktops, laptops (netbooks!), and a number of operating systems.
- Project Butterfly utilizes Amazon Web Services. This enables online data storage, but also allows users to download models to local computers.
2) SaaS solutions are nothing new, but I’m not aware of a precedence of a solidly entrenched geo-related desktop application being offered as an on-demand service in addition to the traditional desktop ownership model. I wouldn’t bet on the decline of AutoCAD as a desktop solution anytime soon, but Project Butterfly provides and attractive glimpse of future possibilities in terms of CAD and geospatial data production and editing. It will be interesting to see if and when Product Butterfly can graduate into a commercial product!
3) Online data hosting:
Files are stored using the Amazon Simple Storage Service. It is possible to upload your own data (e.g. I was easily able to add a JPG image as a backdrop), or download data in a number of formats. These include DWG, PNG, JPG or Zip (with Xrefs).
4) Data production and editing tools: I played around with the geospatial sample data in Project Butterfly. While the current functionality is limited (it is a tech preview after all), the available features are presented in an nice user interface that is easy to navigate. Basic drawing and editing tools are available, as well as modes such as snapping and ortho. It is also possible to upload (import) local data.
5) Collaboration: I didn’t actually try it out, but there is an option to invite others to edit and also set permissions for invitees. These include the ability to edit and download the data – great features for showing the data to someone without actually allowing them to edit or download the data.
It’s great to see a major vendor moving in this direction. From a product perspective, an application like this should be able to dramatically reduce the typical software release cycle (e.g. 6 months or more for a heavy desktop application), and create greater efficiencies in terms of product rollouts, technical support, removing the need to ship traditional media discs, and more…