Following Autodesk is like chasing a jack rabbit. You think it will hop one way but it hops the other.
I have watched Autodesk for about 15 years. I’ve written much about them, their products. I live in its shadows. My neighbors are Autodeskers. All that, I still can’t predict their moves.
Never has this been more obvious than when Trimble came out of nowhere to buy SketchUp from Google (see press release). CAD insiders had known SketchUp was on the blocks. We speculated and came up with the usual suspects. Not one predicted Trimble.
Why did Autodesk not outbid everyone? I would have thought they’d do whatever it took to acquire SketchUp. Autodesk has been actively chasing the maker/inventor/hobbyist market, such as it is. The AEC community may not have jumped on SketchUp to create the built world, but the DIYers sure jumped on it to make whatever whirligig, gizmos, low-riders, furniture, or whatever crazy contraption that was in their head. It was easy. It was free. It spread like wildfire, reaching and saturating an unintended but huge audience. I attended a Maker Faire south of San Francisco and was amazed at the almost universal adoption of SketchUp. Autodesk had noticed, too, and they were not about to let this go unanswered. They had come out with great fanfare with its 123D product. They were chasing the same audience, but had devised a new product to do so. And spent millions. Like SketchUp, 123D was also free. (see Autodesk 123D, Autodesk Taking on Google)
But it takes more than throwing free product around to convert users. Think children from their mothers. SketchUp already had its faithful adherents. Lots and lots of them. This was clearly evident in its 3D Warehouse, a vast library of models, produced over the years -- all available for free.
I had to make a factory layout. Let’s see, should I make each machine in 123D, even if was free and easy to use (supposedly)? Or should I use models from the SketchUp library. I found Bridgeports, lathes, drill presses, tables, even a water jet cutter in the SketchUp library. In less than one hour, I had a reasonable attempt at a factory layout. In fact, every tool and machine I needed was there. How deep was this library? Out of curiosity, I looked for Adirondack chairs. There were dozens of Adirondack chair designs, for God’s sake.
Thousands of people had been at this for year… SketchUp had – without trying – gained an incredible head start into a market that Autodesk was publicly drooling for. So if I was Autodesk, I would have to wonder… do I want to spend millions marketing and product development and years to try to lure customers away from a product they have willingly chosen, invested time to learn, may be even love? Spend other millions for a website that purportedly has the demographics of makers/DIYers (see What Where They Thinking? Autodesk Buys Instructables) and end up with picklers and cupcake makers? Wouldn’t it make more sense to just buy the product everyone is already using?
Don’t ask me. I can never get it right.