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CAD on Mac: Yea or Nay?

By Kenneth Wong

A recent survey Autodesk is conducting to gauge people’s interest in AutoCAD on Mac (see Autodesk blogger Shaan Hurley’s post here) revived the decade-old discussion that has been circulating in the bulletin boards and support forums for years: Would you like to run your favorite CAD software on Mac?

While architecture CAD users have been blessed with various dual-platform products (Graphisoft ArchiCAD and Nemetschek’s Vectorworks, to name but two), most mechanical CAD users are confined to Windows. Nearly all leading 3D MCAD programs—Autodesk Inventor, Pro/ENGINEER, SolidWorks, and Solid Edge—have been developed exclusively for PC.

Since Apple’s introduction of Bootcamp, those working in Mac OS X (Leopard) have been able to install and run Windows applications within Mac’s operating environment. But the demand for storage space is a hindrance for some. (In addition to the software you want to run, you’ll need to install the Windows OS in your Mac.) For others, running Windows apps in Bootcamp is less than ideal; they want to be able to run CAD software directly from the Mac OS environment, as a Mac application. So, naturally, Autodesk’s inquiry into AutoCAD for Mac stirred up questions about the availability of other 3D programs for Mac.

Autodesk’s Mac flirtation
Autodesk is no stranger to Mac. The company’s media and entertainment division houses dual-platform products like Autodesk Maya (animation and visual effects) and Autodesk Mudbox (3D sculpting and texturing). But its primary manufacturing software packages—AutoCAD and Autodesk Inventor—are available only for Windows. The last version of AutoCAD for Mac dated back to the 1990s (Release 12).

This year, Autodesk released the first version of Autodesk Alias, a 3D modeling and surfacing package, for the Mac platform, suggesting the design software maker is warming up to Mac again. At Autodesk technology evangelist Shaan Hurley’s blog, many readers greeted the AutoCAD for Mac survey with enthusiasm.

"Please, release even a light version of AutoCAD for OS X," pleaded one reader. "Everybody wants it! AutoCAD runs on OS X; it’s so logical and obvious I don’t know what they are waiting for," wrote another.

SolidWorks for Mac Petition
In 1999, one SolidWorks user, Dominik Hoffmann, single-handedly launched a petition to get SolidWorks to develop a Mac version. He wrote, "With Apple continuing to deliver screaming-fast hardware in their G4 line of computers and the new Mac OS X’s Unix underpinnings, the Macintosh would be an excellent platform for the SolidWorks 3D CAD system. By porting SolidWorks to Mac OS X, SolidWorks could truly make their flagship ‘The Standard in 3D’ Modeling Software in eliminating its single-platform limitation."

The 10-year-old petition has since been rediscovered. The total signatures collected now stands at 4,578. (On April 9, it stood at 4,403. Online discussions referencing Hoffmann’s petition undoubtedly contributed to the sudden increase of endorsements in the recent weeks). Alas, Hoffmann and other SolidWorks users may not see a Mac version anytime soon.

Jeff Ray, SolidWorks CEO, explained, "We’ve always been market-driven. When the market votes to do engineering design on Mac, we’ll be there. So far, the market hasn’t voted that way. That doesn’t mean it won’t change—I’m sure the day will come when we port ]SolidWorks] to ]Mac]. But that day isn’t today." (For the complete interview, click here.)

Gavin McKeown, a CAD user and a visitor to Desktop Engineering’s Web site, characterized market demand as the classic chicken and egg problem. "Vendors like to take their cues from the market, but there won’t be a groundswell unless a few daring vendors are willing to test the water with a new product."

Tony Bishop, an aviation engineer and the cofounder of e-Go Aeroplanes, noted, "My business is a Mac shop, and we run SolidWorks under Bootcamp. We might well go to Solid Edge when ]Siemens PLM Software does] its Mac port."

NX for Mac
Siemens PLM Software (known as UGS previously) has been working on a Mac-compatible version of its high-end CAD program NX since 2005-2006, but it hasn’t materialized so far. According to PLM World blog, associated with Siemens PLM Software user conference PLM World, NX 6 for Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) could be delayed till 2011.

"Mac OS X version of next NX release remains in limbo since Microsoft has dropped VBA from the latest Mac OS X version of Office. NX is not commercially viable without built-in spreadsheet support since Excel VBAs are needed to enable spreadsheets in NX," wrote blogger Bob Brandenstein, a regular contributor to PLM World blog.

Since then, Siemens might have found a way to overcome the development hurdles. According to the announcement from Siemens dated February 2009, NX for Mac is back on track, slated to make a splash at PLM World conference this June.

Siemens PLM Software’s midrange CAD package Solid Edge, however, has never been made available for Mac. PTC’s Pro/ENGINEER remains exclusive to Windows. The company once offered its product Pro/CONCEPT on Mac, but it only offers Windows and Linux versions now.

Even if he doesn’t plan to green-light SolidWorks for Mac anytime soon, SolidWorks Ray acknowledged, "Things just move faster in a Mac. In theory, a solid-modeler on Mac should be a high-performance product, because Mac optimizes the hardware and the software."

For more MCAD news, watch the video roundup.

About Kenneth Wong

Kenneth Wong is Digital Engineering's resident blogger and senior editor. Email him at kennethwong@digitaleng.news or share your thoughts on this article at digitaleng.news/facebook.