Years later, when Web-hosted CAD software is no longer an exception but the norm, when you launch your 3D modeling program not from the Windows start-up menu but from a Web browser, you might recall Project Twitch as Autodesk‘s first step in this direction.
Now live in Autodesk Labs, Twitch is the company’s experiment to deliver the latest versions of its bestselling software titles — AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Autodesk Revit, and Autodesk Maya — over the Web. (The first three are online now, but Maya is forthcoming.) In theory, Twitch lets you try out these software right from your browser window — without download, without installation.
This is the CAD giant’s babystep into cloud computing, more a tiptoe than a leap. As such, it’s not a highly publicized launch. It also comes with quite a bit of restrictions:
- You need to be located within 1,000 miles of Autodesk’s data center, located in the Bay Area, California.
- You need to have 1.6 GHz or higher dual-core CPU, 1 GB RAM, display resolution of 1,280 x 1,024 or higher, and a DirectX 9c-capable video card.
- You need to connect at 5 Mbps or greater bandwidth.
Though Twitch doesn’t require a full software installation, you still need to install a thin client. Depending on where you are located or when you reach the site, the small 7 MB file might require repeated attempts to download (that was my experience). The software made available online may be less than the full version you’re accustomed to. Autodesk press office verified that, at the present, you can only use the preloaded files that come with the trial software; you won’t be able to upload or open your own CAD files.
I live in San Francisco, the heart of the Bay Area, but apparently I don’t meet one or more of the other parameters, so I couldn’t get past the load screen shown below:
But, with Autodesk press office’s help, I can show you what you would see if you were able to log on. Bear in mind, however, that you’re in fierce competition. At the present, Twitch can only accommodate 50 simultaneous users at a time, Autodesk verified.
The project is as much a trial for you as it is for Autodesk. The company is observing how you use Twitch to better understand how it might deliver software over the Web in the future. It’ll be some time before Autodesk makes Twitch available on a wider scale.
Both Autodesk and its rival Dassault Systemes have dabbled into cloud computing, or Web-hosted software, via Autodesk Project Freewheel (at Autodesk Labs) and Drawings Now (at SolidWorks Labs). Whereas these technologies function as lightweight CAD file viewers available in a browser window, Twitch is a pioneering effort to deliver full-function CAD modeling in a similar fashion.
In the early 90s, Alibre Design tried a similar delivery model, under the name Alibre ASP (application service provider), but bandwidth limitations and low CPU horsepower hampered the software’s performance. Coming nearly two decades later, Autodesk’s foray into cloud computing also faces the same hurdles, but to a lesser extent.
As a technology reporter, I look forward the widespread availability of Web-hosted software. One clear advantage: I won’t have to download and install the products I review.
Update: Brian Mathews, VP of platform solutions and emerging businesses for Autodesk Labs, took at look at my log files to find out why I wasn’t able to run Twitch. The following diagnostics are from his email, republished with his permission:
- “Your network is only able to provide 2.4 Mbps of bandwidth. It looks like an older version of DSL. ADSL can reach 6 Mbps, and ADSL2+ can reach 18 Mbps. Some providers are promising 30 Mbps soon. Here’s an example regional ISP: http://corp.sonic.net/ceo/2009/09/09/fusion-broadband-pair-bonded/. As for Cable Modem users, speeds are generally well above our 5 Mbps requirement (Comcast’s base package is 12 Mbps).
- “Your CPU appears to be shy of the required speed to do high resolution, high frame rate graphics. While we could degrade the experience to run on your equipment, Autodesk Labs is initially interested in feedback from customers who have the ability to experience the full and immersive effect. We may consider relaxing the requirements in the future.”