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BlogCAD exclusive interview: Ralph Grabowski

December 17th, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments


Ralph Grabowski is one the most appreciated, skilled journalist of the CAD world and one of its finest observer.

Too long it would be to report all his works, but you can easily check it here: http://www.upfrontezine.com/ralphg.htm.

That’s why we thought it would be very very interesting, for one time, to interview Ralph instead of reading his interviews to others; so we asked Ralph if it was possible and he was very collaborative and fast in providing all the answers.

You’ll find a lot of good tips, opinions, ideas and suggests in this interview and we truly believe all the CAD users would be better read it :)


Let’s start from you CAD vision: what’s your opinion/vision about the future of CAD in 5 years?
I think there will continue to be amalgamations as the largest CAD vendors buy up smaller companies. Two reasons: (1) to acquire technology they don’t have time to develop in-house; and (2) to reduce competition.

CAD Players will be the same?
Largely. The big vendors will keep getting bigger, while small vendors will stay “boutique” size with just enough customers to stay in business. You can stay in business with just a few thousand loyal customers.

Do you think Microsoft will step in CAD market?
No. Microsoft understands that it does not understand CAD.

Dwg format will remain the leader?
Yes, due to inertia against change.

Let’s talk about standard. About DWF vs PDF battle who will prevail?
PDF, because it is already universal, and because it is from a company that is neutral towards CAD. Even my dad can open PDF files. DWF will never be fully accepted in the universe outside the Autodesk solar system — just as Autodesk won’t accept eDrawings, JT Open, 3DXML, and other DWF-equivalents from other CAD vendors.

Ralph you are one of the most experienced CAD journalist; how is the CAD market evolved in the last 10/15 years?
Sometimes we think of CAD being static, but there have been big changes in the last 15 years. Fifteen years ago, SolidWorks didn’t exist. CAD ran on Unix or DOS. GUIs were proprietary. Solid modeling was not mainstream. Back then, CAD was the most powerful software that required the most powerful computers; today, it is games! Back then, hidden-line removal took many hours to complete; today, we have real-time photorealistic rendering.

Other technology seems new, but just took a long time to mainstream: ethernet, Internet, email, LCD monitors, inkjet printers, and so on. Some promising technology from 10-15 years ago never came to fruition, and never will: speech recognition, hand writing input, virtual reality, 3D GUIs, and tablet PCs.

How will CAD technically evolve (GUI, features, etc.)?
There will be two trends: (1) to reduce the intrusiveness of the GUI, aka “heads-up drafting”; and (2) to increase the realism of the CAD model. We see that today with advances like collision detection, objects with intelligence, and wire routing.

Dan Gillmore recently published “We the media”, about the new possibility for the normal users to become a media; what’s your opinion about and how will the journalist role change (especially in specialized field like CAD)?
The same idea was expressed when desktop publishing became popular and cheap: everyone would become a desktop publisher. That’s the dream of the marketing and sales departments, who always hope for six billion customers. In reality, only a few people have the artistic ability to create good looking pages with DTP. The same happened when the Web became popular last decade: anyone can be a Webmaster; few are good at it.

In the same way, today “anyone” can become a journalist. But in truth, only a few people have the combination of writing ability, the CAD knowledge, and the discipline to pump out a regular publication. And that’s a good thing, because this world would suddenly be a pretty poor place if all six billion spent all day writing blogs to the exclusion of activities that are actually useful.

What is different today is that the barriers are lowered: people with the ability, but not the means, now have a better chance to become what they are good at. I’m glad I was born in the era that I was; I would be been very frustrated had I lived a hundred years earlier!

What’s your suggest (if any…) to young CAD people willing to create a CAD start up, to try to become the new Autodesk (!) ?
I don’t know that that’s possible anymore — unless they have a unique idea that captures the imagination of the broader CAD population. I think that SketchUp was the most-recent good idea that succeeded, and it’s already several years old. Young people have to understand that most efforts result in failure. upFront.eZine is my fifth newsletter attempt; four others failed. Even Autodesk has had far more product failures than successes.

What’s the secret to become a great CAD journalist?
I listed three above: writing ability, CAD knowledge, and discipline to meet deadlines. I won’t tell you all my secrets, but a few include: be able to distinguish spin from fact; treat your subjects with respect, but also with some skepticism; be accurate, but don’t be dry; copy what works, but be different; and most importantly: don’t take shortcuts to short-term success, but accept short-term pain to enjoy long-term gain.

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