Going to Hunsville
Telling people I'm going to Huntsville, Alabama only provokes people to ask why. I tell them it's to see Solid Edge but it never seems to be reason enough. I'm advised to get some good southern cooking. Never mind that most people in Huntsville seem to be transplants and you have to venture farther than the hotels and offices before you hear a drawl. Southern food? Good luck. You're more likely to find salmon than catfish, cursed fast food chains and yuppie eateries than BBQ shacks.
Let's focus. I had been flown in to get a sneak preview of the upcoming release of Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology 3.
Siemens, which had inherited Solid Edge along with NX, seemed to be devoting itself to latter. But for a few weeks now, Solid Edge had been parading editors, journos, bloggers through their offices. The new head of Solid Edge, Karsten Newbury, had called me a while back to introduce himself, and I was looking forward to meeting him. Just a few days ago, they had announced the new VP of marketing, John Fox, who comes from PTC. Something was clearly afoot.
Demo of Solid Edge Impresses but Embargo Gags
We had breakfast with Karsten, Anthony Lockwood (former editor of Desktop Engineering, now consulting for Siemens PLM and now makes his home in Dallas) and Kenneth Wong, who covers all matters of CAD for DE. Afterwards, we were led to a glass and steel office office building Solid Edge shares (nondescript, but way upscale from the pre-modern prebuilts in which they were housed when Intergraph owned them). We were treated to the latest edition of Solid Edge, though a bit stymied by a press embargo that will delay the revelation of choice new features until mid October. Why do companies do that! I have one shot to write this up and that's on the way home on the plane.
Kris Kasprzak, director of marketing for Solid Edge, expounds on a series of improvements while playing canned demos. Kris knows his stuff, and better yet, tolerates all the dumb questions I blurt out. Synchronous Technology showed its growth by being able to handle changes in assemblies, working on SolidWorks parts, Pro/E parts.... it didn't seem to matter. So adept did Solid Edge seem with other CAD models, it made me think that Solid Edge could be sold on that strength alone.
Solid Edge Convinces SolidWorks Expert
But Solid Edge is a full MCAD product. In fact, no less than SolidWorks expert, power user, SolidWorks Bible author Matt Lombard (Solid Edge shrewdly invited him for a demo) has declared it better than SolidWorks (see Solid Edge Gets Ready for ST3). OMG! It's one thing for Solid Edge to be recognized on its merits -- but an endorsement from the enemy camp?
Most CAD insiders believe Solid Edge to possess every technical reason to be a front runner. We wonder why the technology has not brought leadership in the market place for the mid-range, which is dominated by SolidWorks and Inventor. We've wondered for years, actually. After we saw Synchronous Technology, most of us thought this was it, now for sure, people would start buying Solid Edge -- in droves.
ST may have helped. Solid Edge license revenue is up almost 50% over last year, they tell me. But world domination still eludes.
The Idea of a CAD Olympics
Kris and Dan Staples, director of Solid Edge, took me out for dinner. As we were seated outdoors overlooking a moonlit lake, they tell me of their histories as demo jocks and doing benchmarks. Short of being lowered into a pit to collect pythons, there may be no other job more stressful. They tell me of getting handed a stack of drawings and told to make the solid models. Knowing the software is one thing, but a company's design could be sheet metal. Or plastic molds. Each company will have its own conventions, or subscribe to different standards -- 3rd angle projection vs 1st angle, for example. Some leave bad dimensions in... or leave dimensions out altogether. All the time the clock is ticking and the sale depends on whether you can create the finished part faster than your counterpart. No, thanks, not for me.
"But companies aren't doing that any more," says Kris. You might think Kris is relieved but I think he relished the fights. Solid Edge probably won their fair share of benchmarks. At least he saw some action. Solid Edge had a chance.
If there aren't any benchmarks, how in the hell are companies picking MCAD products? There's no consumer reports or JD Powers to guide the CAD shopper.
Sadly enough, they are not choosing -- they are accepting. Poor Solid Edge does not even get on the short list of MCAD software to buy because... there is no such list. If you have AutoCAD drawings, you buy Inventor. Or you go with SolidWorks because everyone else is. You won't lose your job if you pick SolidWorks, Inventor, or Pro/E. Everyone else is. Safety in numbers. Why go out on a limb?
Am I the only one who thinks this is not fair?
I apologize for my profession. The industry press used to do head to head reviews. But those have disappeared.
I pop the idea of a CAD Olympics.
Solid Edge needs to be in a contest in which it can be fairly judged against its competition. Sure, they can fly in a bunch of us CAD insiders and tell us how great Solid Edge is. Most of us are fairly easy to convince and quite a number of us will glorify the product in print or online. We will bestow our editors choice awards (doesn't everyone get one of those?), gladly accept big ad campaigns in our publications and web sites, but nothing will get the bang of a head-to-head, very public contest.
And if Solid Edge is as good as they it is...it might even win.