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CAD: the Heart of Computer Science


With the introduction of AutoLisp and the growing power of AutoCAD as a modeling system, it became clear to me that we were on to something far more powerful and significant than a drafting system. This was an attempt to place CAD in the position I believe it deserves--in the mainstream of computer science--as opposed to the backwater in which many believe it languishes. This was an internally-distributed ``think piece''. I am even more convinced now of the arguments expressed herein than the day I wrote them.

Computer Aided Design:

Vertical Market Application, General Purpose Productivity Tool,
or the Heart of Computer Science?

by John Walker
Revision 1 -- May 19, 1986

Over the brief history of Autodesk, we have observed the evolution of how CAD is perceived. We have always believed that we were selling a ``word processor for drawings'', suitable for anybody who draws as part of their work. The market as a whole and the analysts in particular, saw CAD as ``a package for architects'', or at most a tool applicable to a small set of highly specialised markets.

Time has proven us right. We could not have sold so many AutoCADs so rapidly, nor would we have the broad and flat distribution among market segments were CAD as specialised as the pundits believed. Moreover, the fact that have continually opened new, ``nontraditional'' markets for CAD without even trying vindicates our belief and confirms that in this case the users are way ahead of most of the sellers.

What we once knew and took action on is now becoming the conventional wisdom. Recently, in a more general context, Carl Machover wrote that the ``computer graphics'' industry is disappearing as it is assimilated into the mainstream of the computer industry. What we are seeing in CAD is part of this overall trend. Thus, the head start in positioning our product that this insight gave us is no longer a competitive advantage. We should look forward now to where CAD will evolve next (keeping in mind that it might not evolve anywhere, and that our original perception was the end of the road).

In this paper, I will suggest that what we have seen so far is simply the first step of an even greater integration of computer aided design into the mainstream of computer science and the computer industry. I will point to trends and events which, I feel, confirm this, and I will suggest product and marketing directions which will position Autodesk to take advantage of this trend.

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Editor: John Walker