Thursday, December 17, 2009

Thinking Ahead - How Far Should That Be?

In September 2009 I wrote a post about the future already being here and now. I then read a post by Steve Johnson (from Perth, Australia) called, "Trusting Autodesk? Contemplating a New Product" on his blog Blog Nauseum.

I'll let you read his post there but the essence of his post was how can we be certain that the software we use today will be able to support our needs far into the future. His post was focused on the new Plant 3D product. It was this part that caught my attention (my emphasis in bold):

In a word, it comes down to trust. Each drawing used or issued by this utility is a legal document with a potentially very long life ahead of it. I showed the Autodesk person a drawing issued in 1901. The assets documented by that drawing are still in use today; indeed, many thousands of people daily depend heavily on them. Before we invest our money, time and training in Plant 3D, we need to know that the electronic drawings produced with it are going to be fully functional in the long term.

My reaction was, what software can boast that it will support a legacy file format that is as ancient as the document he pulled out of a drawer? I dare say none can. The first software I used to produce drawings was MAC Draw on a Macintosh Enhanced with an internal 800 kb hard drive AND an external 800 kb hard drive. Good luck opening that file today. The television studio equipment that my drawings documented was installed in 1988 and the drawings were probably never needed again, they were installation/shop drawings.

I've met firms that (a few) are actually upgrading every project they have done in CAD/BIM to the latest version of software they use each time they start using the newer version. Just think what committing to this means on a practical level as a task for each project. The thing is, unless you do this, you must continue to rely on the printed documents (or perhaps pdf versions) forever because you may not be able to open the project files in five, ten, twenty, thirty years from now if you don't upgrade them (current and old) routinely.

What if the software ceases to exist as Steve suggests in his post? What shall we upgrade to then? We can keep the software but we'd also have to keep a working computer available indefinitely that could run the software too! A trip to the DigiBarn perhaps?

Something to mull over...


ixxx69 said...

Mainly I just want to say that you reminded me of my beloved Mac SE I got when I started university in the late 80s and I used until I graduated. I still miss that computer... easily the "best" one I ever had.

I used ClarisCAD on it a bit, even though at the time, computers were somewhat discouraged in the design studio. I believe I still have some of the CAD files, but no way of opening them.

Our firm makes PDFs of all drawing sets. While we still have paper copies in storage, they are slowly being "retired". We're relying on PDFs being around forever. ;-)

Anonymous said...

I actually know someone who works of a Heads Up Display manufacturer/designer (for commercial aircraft) who I believe must have available the operational testing and calibration equipment for all still installed HUDs in operation in commercial aircraft they sold per the FFA in case of an airplane crash or malfunction to verify if their equipment might have been a cause or to figure out what might have lead to that incident. At one point they had to pull computer equipment from so long ago they almost were not able to make it work because someone threw away the keyboard when they archived the equipment and testing tools.

Pete said...

It is a very interesting point. I would just like to say that we lose sight of what computers & software really are. They are tools to produce a result. This result used to be produced on a medium such as paper. It was produced by way of a drawing board, pens etc. We have not kept any of the tools that produced that drawing. Just the end result. Saying this, as much as I dislike Autodesk, they actually have no obligation to support the tool they have created in the future. We use their software because it creates the result we are looking for.

Electronic storage, by way of a PC, has only been around for lets say 30years. It is still in its infancy but it is more of a global problem than a software developers problem. A standard storage format must be created for all types of data. It will not be DWF. It is looking like PDF will be the standard format.

When they invented printing they must have gone through the same transition. Everyone printing on different mediums & using different inks. But a paper & ink medium standard prevailed.

With regard to updating drawings to every new release. We give warantees on building products & the same should be said for drawings. if a client comes to you 20years later. You will most probably be retired & be on a beach somewhere fishing. But if you were not, then can you guarentee that the drawing created was correct. I would not be trusting a drawing done by someone 20years ago. If it was a building you would get it surveyed first. You are usually commissioned to continue a job by the client for the, easy access to, knowledge you have in the project, not so much having the software files after 10-20years. You still charge them for drawing a complete documented set of plans that will be accurate.

I have no idea how construction software will go in the future, for it is developing at an unbelievable rate. However, we should not be wasting our time grilling Autodesk on the storage guarentee of there product; More so that they deliver the best software for the job at hand. I use Revit & it is along way from that. But that is for another day.

Steve said...


Thanks for the thoughts. I didn't intend to imply that I thought it was Autodesk's responsibility though I can see how you could come to that conclusion.

I am more interested in the larger matter(s) that you touch on nicely in your comments.

Thanks for taking time to comment!

iyyy69 said...

To Pete's comment about computers and software being about a "result" - it seems that's the very notion that's being challenged. Computer technology is no longer simply about a result - it's fundamentally changing how we live and interact in nearly every aspect of our lives. The implied guarantee of data longevity is imperative to the success of companies in those businesses (if not today, it will be in the not too distant future).

It's easy to perceive that the technology we have today was a forgone conclusion, but you only have to look at all the sci-fi movies of the last fifty years to see that we only have an inkling of where that technology will be another fifty years from now.

saso said...

Like few of the above comments said PDF is mend to be used for this specially the PDF/A standard

And for example Nemetschek is pushing quite strong with PDFs (import, export, 2d, 3d, PDA/A standard support,...)

Jeff Hanson said...

Paper is really the safest and most reliable medium over time. Does anyone use 10" floppys, 5" floppys, 3.5" floppys, or ZIP Drives any longer? (and those are just the ones I can remember) PDF formats can change and may not be supported forever especially when you consider the media you have stored them on. Even in a technical world paper is still king. Who even knows if the current generation of bond paper and xerox toner can stand up to the test of time. Maybe we all need to go back to ink on linnen?

Steve said...

A friend wrote to me about something else after reading this post and he mentioned "Ink and Mylar" being the "best bet". Thanks for all the comments!