Autodesk develops, markets, and supports a family of software packages which allow computer aided drafting, design, and drawing (CAD) to be performed on desktop microcomputers such as the IBM PC family.
CAD packages are used to produce drawings in such fields as architecture, civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering, surveying, facilities planning: any field in which information is communicated via drawings. A general purpose CAD package such as AutoCAD can make any drawing that can be made on paper.
The benefits of CAD are faster, more accurate generation of drawings, more efficient revision of drawings, the ability to use predefined symbols, eliminating time-consuming repetitive work and automatically assuring adherence to drafting standards. The benefits of preparing drawings on a CAD system exactly parallel using a word processor to write documents.
In addition, a CAD system such as AutoCAD maintains a database containing every element in the drawing. Users may attach information to objects in the drawing (for example, in a drawing of an office, a desk might carry its manufacturer, model number, date of purchase, price, and depreciation information). This information can be retrieved and modified from within the CAD program or sent to other application programs to prepare bills of materials, job costing reports, or inventory updates. A CAD system may thus be used as a ``graphic database'', allowing design information to be taken directly from drawings, or conversely, allowing the presentation of design data in graphic form. AutoCAD was designed to make the integration of application programs for such purposes easy. Software suppliers serving structural engineers, surveyors, architects, and facilities planners, etc., can build applications based on AutoCAD, using it to accomplish the otherwise difficult tasks of graphic input, output, and editing inherent to their application.
Before AutoCAD, computer aided design was primarily done on mainframe and minicomputers, often with proprietary graphics hardware. Usually CAD systems were sold as integrated hardware and software (``turnkey'') systems. With the introduction of the IBM PC and the many 16-bit desktop machines which followed, the basic desktop office computer reached a level of capability which allowed serious computer aided design to be done on the machine as supplied by the manufacturer. Thus, AutoCAD was introduced into an essentially vacant market: a software package for computer aided design sold separately from hardware and intended for use on existing desktop computers.
Additionally, AutoCAD was the first CAD package to support a wide variety of computer configurations. Today, AutoCAD runs on 31 different desktop computers and supports close to 100 graphic input, display, and output options.
AutoCAD's support of all major computers and graphics hardware is central to the Company's perception of the market and to its strategy. Exactly as portable, open-architecture operating systems such as Unix and MS-DOS have supplanted vendor-proprietary operating systems, and portable open-architecture networks such as Ethernet are supplanting those developed by computer vendors and sold only with their hardware, the Company feels that CAD customers will demand flexible CAD software which will run on a wide variety of hardware configurations and which can be expected to be available on newer, more powerful computer systems as they are announced.
AutoCAD is written in C, one of the most widely implemented and compatible computer languages for software development available today. Interfaces to operating systems, computer hardware, and graphics input, output, and display devices are completely separate from the main program, and may be changed without requiring alteration of the program itself. These design principles allow Autodesk to market AutoCAD on virtually any computer system which supports graphics and provides the C language. The C programming language is currently available on every serious candidate in the engineering workstation market, ranging from Apple's Macintosh to the Cray X/MP. This, combined with the proven portability of well-written programs written in C and the Company's experience in successfully moving its software from machine to machine, demonstrates that the Company can with minimal effort make its products available on any computer system it chooses as a potential market.
While CAD has been traditionally seen as a vertical market product (specific to one narrowly-defined industry), the Company feels that this has been more a result of the high price of turnkey CAD systems than the applicability of such systems. Just as word processors have become almost universally used by those who write and spreadsheet programs are widely used by those doing financial forecasting, CAD systems will soon be seen as essential by those who draw as part of their work as well as by full time drafters.
This large general market can be addressed only by those packages which require no special hardware, because such users cannot justify a special-purpose computer just for drawing. Instead, the drawing task will be done by a program running on their regular workstation, just as word processing and database software are used.
Autodesk's proprietary language translation utility vastly reduces the effort required to maintain foreign language editions of its products. Currently AutoCAD is available in English, French, German, Italian, and Swedish editions. Spanish and Japanese editions are in preparation.
Editor: John Walker