Autodesk Beyond Desktop CAD & BIM

or: How they Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Internet

It is my opinion that Autodesk is in the early stages of implementing a bold Internet-centric strategy that if successful will position it as the Software + Services giant within the Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) industry. Excluding the spin-off and re-purchase of Buzzsaw during the Dot-com bubble one could say Autodesk's attitude towards the Web, like the rest of the AEC industry, has been tepid at the best. In a similar manner to Microsoft, the historical and financial foundations of Autodesk lie in the traditional, desktop software market. Here its catalogue of heavy-weight tools compete for domination of the competitive CAD, BIM, animation and rendering markets. Unlike Microsoft vs Google, Autodesk and its competitors (such as Bentley Systems) have yet to face serious competition from an Internet savvy, AEC software heavy-weight. Rather than waiting for such a competitor to emerge Mike Haley, Jeff Wright and the rest of Autodesk's Content division are building it 'in-house'.

Google Apps gets serious but where is the offline option?

On February 21st Google released their anticipated Premier and Education versions of its Google Apps service. In a rare move for Google the Premier option actually costs the business US$50 per user per year rather than simply relying on advertising revenue. For your money you get quite a few more features: 10gig of storage per user, some interesting looking API's and a guarantee of 99.9% uptime with support.

On the whole deal is pretty good but Google has gone out of their way to stress that this service is targeted at the significant portion of employees who do not actually have email accounts on the basis that it is too expensive for the business to maintain them internally. Aiming at this market is a good strategy considering Google Apps lacks one significant feature that will see it struggle to gain acceptance in the majority of businesses where staff email is an entrenched and essential service: offline access.

Google to replace Microsoft Exchange & Office at Pixar?

This Business Week article 'Google Steps Into Microsoft's Office' is interesting because it is the first time I have seen a rather large corporate entity (Pixar/Disney) express an interest in moving to a non-Microsoft, Web-based platform like Google Apps for your Domain. The other interesting point to note is published user-base of Microsoft Office Live which is sitting at 250,000 businesses, quite a respectable number for a new, non-free service.

I have been a user of Google Apps for your Domain for a while now on a number of domains and have got a few other well entrenched in-house email fans to sign up as well. By far and away the best things about it has been the spam protection and the fact that within an evening you can have a fully functioning email and calendar service up and running with no fuss at all. It has been slightly disappointing that the applications list has not grown to cover the Docs and Spreadsheets products already and many of the new GMail features such as the very handy retrieve mail service or increased storage sizes have not become available to Apps users sooner.

Windows Live to host college email

I talked about Windows Live a while back and so news that 72 U.S. colleges will be using Windows Live for student email services seemed quite relevant. It makes sense financially for the colleges and from Microsoft's perspective it gets customers early before they have made a definite decision on who their email provider will be. No doubt Google and Yahoo will soon be following this same path with their mail services in an effort to build (Google) and maintain (Yahoo) their user-base.

The move is another vindication of the software as a service concept and will help bring some sanity to educational IT departments. Victoria University should adopt the same policy for student email and file storage. If not sponsored by Microsoft/Google/Yahoo they should at least scrap student email and file storage services in favour of Google/Microsoft/Yahoo email and personal USB keys. The savings whilst not huge would add up over time, plus I am in no doubt that the big players could provide a better level of service and featureset than what any over-stretched educational IT department could ever provide.

Software as a Service - myths destroyed

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to the Software as a Service concept. The basic idea behind this catch phrase is that rather than paying a lot of money up front for a piece of software and/or server combination you subscribe to the software online and have it hosted remotely. There's obviously a couple of concerns over such a model, firstly you have got to trust that these companies do not go out of business plus you have to be confident that your Internet connection (and theirs) will be working whenever you need the service. A lot of these myths have been put to rest as this Business Week article illustrates, but for hard-core (old school) network administrators the idea of out-sourcing essential software sends cold shivers down their spines.

S3 provides unlimited cheap online storage

It has been a while since I last posted, mainly because I have been very busy working on Reasonate, going to Japan and doing end of year taxes...

Anyway one thing that really blew my mind the other day was Amazon's new S3 service. On the surface it seems really simple, a basic web service that provides cheap online storage (US$0.15 per Gigabyte for storage per month). What is exciting is the ramifications, if somebody (like you or I) want to store a lot of information for ourselves or others online there is no need to invest in big servers and fat Internet connections to serve that data. It also means that by design your web applications will scale effortlessly at least in the sense of the data storage mechanism assuming Amazon's server farm is up to the task. I have signed up for an account and read through the documentation and some of the features are pretty nice (access control lists, time sensitive url's and a lot more). There has been very good things said about it on TechCrunch and other places, plus some criticisim for not supporting the very simple XML-RPC protocol (which would have been very nice to have in simple applications).

Microsoft Office Live = Low cost web collaboration?

Today Microsoft released a Beta of Microsoft Office Live, a set of online tools targetted primarily at small businesses. With the product Microsoft appears to be aiming its big guns at rather than Google's GMail, GTalk and rumoured calendar products. It is also a push to provide extra value within the Office lineup now that free software like OpenOffice are generating serious competition in their bread and butter, writing, counting and presenting marketspace. Microsoft Monitor has a good article about what Office Live is not which is probably more helpful than the stuff that comes out of Microsoft PR.

Regardless of how it is adopted worldwide it would appear to be a very good value proposition to New Zealand businesses. Currently vanilla hosting (web/email) are relatively expensive and for decent web/email/collaboration services it is easier (and often cheaper) to host things internally. If Microsoft can introduce these services within New Zealand at the same cost as advertised in the U.S. it should hopefully cause a shakeup within the local pricing structure. $50-$60 per month for email, web and basic collaboration services is extremely good value especially if Microsoft can integrate these online services with their desktop bretherin (which they will no doubt do). Another important concern for any business will be the backup/redundancy services offered. At this point it is unclear if this data can be easily backed up locally in a relatively open format (not encrypted Office Live only files).