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Autodesk Project Butterfly Comes Out of Cocoon

Autodesk Project Butterfly flutters towards cloud computing, or CAD in a browser window.

Autodesk Project Butterfly flutters towards cloud computing, or CAD in a browser window.

Need to edit, review, annotate, or share DWG files? Don’t bother launching AutoCAD. Just launch Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.

Last week, Autodesk Project Butterfly took flight, fluttering towards the computing cloud to join its cousin Project Twitch. Like its predecessor, Project Butterfly teases us with the the promise of browser-based CAD. According to Amjad Hanif, Autodesk’s senior director of product management for emerging products, nearly 4,500 people rode on the wings of Butterfly during the week it emerged from the development cocoon.

Made possible by Autodesk’s acquisition of VisualTao, Project Butterfly lets you upload a DWG file into a remote server, then edit, annotate, and review it with a number of collaborators. The preview code is stable and easy to run. It works like a simplified version of AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT embedded inside a browser window. Familiar commands and functions — zoom extent, rectangle select, polyline, to name but a few — are arranged in the ribbon-bar menu. The absence of File > New suggests that, at least in this early stage, the technology is not recommended for creating a drawing from scratch; it’s better suited for editing, redlining, and annotation.

While snapping to the objects’ corners or edges is relatively easy, snapping to midpoints of lines or centers of arcs proves challenging, because inference lines (the dotted lines that automatically appear to guide you with your placements in AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT) don’t always appear.

In my test run, I encountered a few noticeable moments of latency, especially when executing higher-level commands like Mirror or Scale. (The delayed response made the mouse seems sticky.) Hanif said studying the latency issue is a priority for the development team.

To test out the co-editing function, I teamed up with DEVELOP3D‘s Martyn Day, a fellow CAD reporter. Most viewing and markup programs facilitate collaboration sessions involving more than one user, but they generally let one user control the session while others remain idle (that is, one person edits while the others watch). By contrast, Butterfly lets both Martyn and I edit the same drawing simultaneously.

Butterfly is a technology still in metamorphosis, so subsequent updates are destined to be nimbler and faster. In time, it may develop into a new specie of CAD, free to float in the cloud and land on a browser upon request, unencumbered by hardware requirements.

For more, watch the video clip below (where Martyn Day put in a cameo appearance in the form of a gray mouse).

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. Thanks for helping spread the word. As this is a technology preview, we are looking for the kind of feedback you have provided in your posting.

  2. Very cool technology. I can see this used by design groups located in different geographic locations. This is a great leap toward minimizing the use of paper-based mark-ups for design reviews.


  3. Scott: Glad to provide the feedback here! I enjoyed using Butterfly.

    Sam: True! It’s also great for some who need to update info in the field (like facilities managers or plant managers) using portable devices.

  4. Really Nice. Hopefully 3rd party apps will be able to integrate skeleton functionality cause I know there are hundreds of 3rd party VAR’s who want to say and truely be fully web enabled but AutoCAD dwg files were the hold up. Finally a solution.

  5. Jim: For third parties who want to integrate similar browser-based editing and viewing functions, another vendor, AfterCAD Online, may be worth investigating. The company recently struck a partnership with Open Design Alliance. More on that in a subsequent blog post coming soon.

  6. I loved reading it. I require to read more on this issue…I am admiring the time and effort you put in your blog, because it is plainly one great place where I can find lot of useful info..

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