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Goings on at the Because We Cannery

Autodesk's new Project Dragonfly

OK, so truth be told, we've stated more than once that we felt that Autodesk was still very much stuck in the 80's as software companies go. It's not made us terribly popular at the Autodesk conferences at times, but it seemed to us that all they understood sometimes was selling very expensive software on CD's to a group of semi-locked-in end users. But we're happy to report that they seem to be moving in a more modern direction, even if it's still a little "Internet 1.0" at times.

The first inkling of this was the new Autodesk Seek, an online content service that ties into their various tools. Need a chair, or a lamp, or a door of a particular brand for that house you're working on? From within the standard Autodesk apps you can launch a browser and search for it. Then you can download it straight into your app, place it, and get back to work. Some of the content is from the actual manufactures, and has a lot of useful BIM data already in it. Which, when they have what you need and it's well made (neither are certain at all), is a great time-saver. Some of it's generic, or worse just a AutoCAD model wrapped in a Revit Family, which are only really useful as placeholders until a 'real' family gets made.

While Seek is fast and useful, and significantly better than what it replaced, I'm still on the fence if it's going to work. Namely, because there is no indication of quality prior to download (no user ratings or feedback) and now manufacturers have to pay to get their content on there (meaning that it's not very neutral, and that more obscure or niche stuff probably won't get on there). Why not take a page from the Google Model Warehouse, and let users as well as 'officials' post content, and let a social network grow up around the whole thing so that it steers itself?

But at the very least it worked well with any browser, was nice and fast, well done on the UI side, and had decent search- i.e. all the things that we'd all expect from a web application, but was a bit of a first for Internet Explorer / Microsoft centric Autodesk. So Seek has been useful for us for quickly grabbing some content (as long as we're not picky) but I don't know if it's going to become any sort of cornerstone of our workflow.

But now they've released a new thing that's pretty keen: Project Dragonfly. It's like a 3D Home Architect or The Sims, but for interior design and fully online. It lets you draw up floorplans, place furniture in them, and view them from plan or a 3D view. It's impressive how fast it is, has some Revit-like smarts with things auto-updating, and the UI is easy to use and decent. And it ran just fine on my Mac in Firefox. Huzzah! It even looks like you can publish your plans for others to look at.

Now all they need to add is some way to import and export those plans to their more 'serious' apps like Revit, some way for multiple users to edit the same plan at the same time, and some way to leave notes attached to things in the plan and we'll be talking!

Wouldn't it be cool to be able to post a space plan from Revit to this, have a client review and even edit it easily right online while you're talking to them, and then dump that changed version back to Revit?

I know about Project Freewheel (an online viewer for Autodesk content) and sadly so far we've not had any luck with getting it to work correctly with Revit. If we could use that we'd jump on it!

But still, cudos to Autodesk for getting a clue! Looking forward to see what more they come up with along these lines.

Jeffrey McGrew