How do you tell the largest CAD user base in the world that they they are going to cut off? You don't.
CHICAGO (AIA Conference 2014) - SketchUp, known and loved by millions (30 million users, they tell me), was revised late last year. There was the usual list of improvements, a name change, but most significantly, Trimble, owner of SketchUp for the last two years, makes it very clear that SketchUp is not free for commercial use.
From the FAQs issued with Trimble announcement of SketchUp Make, the new name for what was commonly referred to as "free SketchUp" is the statement:
"SketchUp Make is the new name for our basic version. It’s available today and still free to use. With this change, we’re also clarifying that SketchUp Make is not licensed for commercial work."
This would mean all architects using SketchUp may be in violation of the license agreements.
It was easy to overlook if you only read the May 22 press release, which contained only this reference to commercial use:
"In addition to serving the commercial market with SketchUp Pro, Trimble will continue to provide a free, entry-level, 3D drawing tool—now named SketchUp Make..."
It seems free use of the current version of SketchUp is confined to students, hobbyists...makers, for which the product was named --so long as they don't actually ever sell their creation.
And the initial cost of SketchUp Pro has increased from $495 to $590, as users are required to pay the $95 annual maintenance fee for the first year in additon to the $495 license.
Biggest CAD User Base
SketchUp had grown to become, almost by accident and under all radar, the most used CAD software in the world. It is, by CAD standards, ridiculously easy to use. Being free had helped. Created initially for architectural conceptualizing in 3D, it was readily adopted by interior designers as well as product design by anyone and everyone not already mired in "professional" CAD software packages, which lo and behold, was a user base an order of magnitude larger. It was quite a feat for an upstart and showed no respect for the established order. Professionals criticized SketchUp for its imprecision and impurity (it was not "exact," not a solid model, it was not robust ("you cannot document a big project") and it wasn't a "real professional CAD application" (meaning it was not expensive, as if free was a liability) but it SketchUp filled a vital need and so grew to the be the biggest CAD user base in the world.
Trimble Needs to Make Money
Google had acquired @Last, the original creators of SketchUp, to populate Google Earth with man-made objects, like buildings and towns. Google cared little about making money from a CAD product and gave it away. Google may have received a little money from users who paid $500 for SketchUp Pro, a drop in Google's big bucket. When they found people actually cared less about creating buildings and structures than they hoped, the company seemed to lose interest, selling it to Trimble, a company known on a lesser scale than Google (both in revenue and project size).
But for Trimble, SketchUp is an opportunity to cash in on the now ubiquitous user base.
Let's Not Make a Big Deal of It
The removal of free commercial use from SketchUp has caused barely a ripple. Trimble itself is hardly promoting the change. Even the "official" SketchUp forums have little protest. The few bloggers who have posted have received only a handful of comments. See About SketchUp 2013 and the Meaning of "Free", Stefan Boeykens, CAD, BIM and 3D, June 4, 2013.
So while Trimble is not breaking down doors with BSA enforcers brandishing EULAs, as is the way of big software, I wonder how long this will last. Trimble may be content with an honor system for now.
"They'll get quite a bit of money from firms that have to stay on the up and up," says one exhibitor at the recent AIA convention, who hopes to capitalize upon the stranded SketchUp users.
Enjoy it While You Can
Only one architect I spoke to (out of of over 20 polled for this article) say they will be upgrading to SketchUp Pro. Several others were careful to say they will use SketchUp only in early, conceptual modeling and not for customer deliverables. Is that legal? It's hard to say. One part of the license of SketchUp Make says if you are not selling, renting, leasing or lending the output of SketchUp, it's ok, but then quickly insists you have to get a SketchUp Pro license if you work for a for-profit organization of any kind.
For the other architects and mechanical users who continue to to use SketchUp for business, the future could be bleak. Trimble is letting everyone stay on a less than latest version if they have it. This appears to the path of least resistance for most SketchUp users that need to stay legal, though the worst case scenario would find themselves increasingly isolated as SketchUp moves forward with more updates. Trimble will not be fixing or enhancing anything but the most recent version. Soon sources of downloads for free-for-commercial versions will dry up -- if they haven't already. Those users may soon not be able to read files made with a current version. A future OS upgrade may render their free version totally unusable.