Web-based vs. Desktop software: which is better? Is SelfCAD the future of online 3d modeling?
A look into the past: What changed the trend and how
I'm old enough to remember the day Gmail was born, surprising the world with a complete online email system. The excitement at that time was mostly how the programmers at Google managed to create a fully functional program in a simple web browser.
Few have anticipated that a decade later, this would become one of the most popular tools on the web, and even fewer expected that such a program would become a norm within the corporate and even government industries.
Looking back, we can see that the continuous development and integration of other tools like google calendar, docs, drive, etc. created an unmatched, flexible toolset that Desktop software simply can't compete with.
About a decade later, Adobe released its online Photoshop version, which was a huge leap from using browsers primarily for search and short, redundant tasks people did on the fly, to a complete workstation. The question we want to focus on is if this change was successful and if yes, why?
Smart technologies: Breakthroughs that enabled web applications
Web 2.0, Jquery, Ajax, and SPA
Web 2.0 is partially credited to a single open-source library, Jquery. It was the first widely adopted DOM programming library. When used with the Ajax technology, it allowed fetching from a server and changing small parts from a web document, which opened up the possibility of making more dynamic web pages needed for making online programs. These technologies later gave birth to the concept of a SPA (Single-Page-Application).
Big Data became an idiom for anything that requires analyzing large data sets. Think about the way Facebook and Google know exactly what you're doing at any time of the day and then share this information with your government. You may ask, how is this related? Well, storing such large data sets gave birth to the concepts of cloud storage, like Google Drive, Amazon Cloud, DropBox, etc. Requirements for analyzing large data sets gave birth to cloud computing, where someone can offload and process tasks that can take ages on a single computer, and finish them in minutes by using a cloud farm.
Apple, WeWorks, and Outsourcing
Many people have succeeded in making a new or changing an old market in some way, but no one, in my lifetime, has managed to make such significant changes, and affect Consumer and Corporate markets alike the way Steve Jobs did with Apple. He managed to change the mindset of people, that it is acceptable or even desirable, to work on a laptop or notepad, for any personal or business-related tasks. Companies like WeWork coincided with the outsourcing movement and embraced that trend so people could create and relocate their offices on the fly. This Dynamic Office concept gave birth to Google Cloud Print and Staples printing services. All these changes made companies realize the benefits and cost improvements from having such an agile and global workforce.
The unintended consequences and security concerns
Having an office-on-the-go blurred the lines between private and corporate use. What was once a strict corporate policy of not allowing to download any unauthorized application went out-of-the-window when the same Laptops were used for private and corporate use cases. Common sense would say that web-based applications are more vulnerable to hacks, but in reality, it's the other way around.
Web browsers are like a Blackbox. No developer can add any malicious software or code on any website, as long that you do not install a plugin. What developers can do is to install whatever they want in a downloadable application, which makes web apps more secure then downloadable ones. However, like any online shop, when data is sent and stored over the wire, it is vulnerable, and that's where the PCI compliance authority comes to the rescue.
All popular cloud computing and data storage providers are PCI compliant, which means that all servers and infrastructure are monitored. It makes sure that they do not install any vulnerable software and that it has the most up to date security software installed.
Not too long ago, every e-commerce site had to have and maintain their own data centers that are quite expensive. When you add security issues, many companies realized that it's both cheaper and safer to use outside storage. In conclusion, using a web-based app that has end-to-end encryption, and uses PCI compliant cloud service, is more secure than having a downloadable app.
The future of web-based technologies
It's interesting to see how quickly technology trends can change. A few short years ago, desktop applications, were considered the best development platforms since you only had to accommodate Windows, MAC, and Linux, while web-based software had to consider many unreliable browsers. However, the most popular, and the most successful tech startups, are nowadays using web-based technologies. So, what has changed? Well, the short answer is Open source Chromium and WebAssembly.
Chromium and its V8 engine
When you think about a Web browser you need to think about its two parts: about the browser itself and its engine.
I have briefly referenced how a web browser is like a BlackBox, designed with security in mind. In the old days, all popular web browsers had their teams writing them without much accountability to each other, and that resulted in inconsistencies for web pages or web applications running within these browsers. The first initiative was to create Web standards, and W3C is doing a great job updating what and how to write code that will work the same on all major browsers. But that's only part of the solution.
Fast forward a few years of development, and all competitors realized that they could no longer compete with Google Chrome, as its core Chromium and V8 Engine were just too advanced. It forced other popular browsers like Internet Explorer and Edge, to switch to the same Chromium engine, which finally gave a consistent coding environment to developers, and finally, web-apps became the norm.
As web-apps gained popularity, Google embarked on its next big project, the WebAssembly. It's developed in a W3C Community Group (which includes representatives from all major browsers), as well as W3C Working Group. Much like the V8 Engine and Chromium, V8 WebAssembly implementation was open-source. The goal of this project was to allow programming in languages like C++ in the web-browser or Node.js environments, and to allow precompiling the source into binary, like in traditional program executables. This means that developers could now run real programs on the web.
SelfCAD is already using WebAssembly in its 3D Printing Slicer, and in many of the tools in the 3D Modeling editor, which explains how SelfCAD succeeded in making such a powerful Web-based 3D Modeling app. WebAssembly (often shortened to Wasm) is still in active development, and each new version brings great improvements. SelfCAD can simply recompile the code (without any changes) to benefit from them, so you can expect our online 3D Modeling app to get better every few months as a simple consequence of the improvements in web-based technologies.
Making a desktop version
SelfCAD is an online 3d modeling application and is also planning to release a downloadable, 3D Modeling application by using this same Electron library in the near future.
Is it a good idea to use a web browser for long and demanding tasks?
I made the case, as to why browser-based software is a good option for day-to-day tasks, and how it's more secure. But what about using it for more demanding tasks? Companies that offer web-based applications like Photoshop from Adobe, or CAD application from OnShape, TinkerCAD, and SelfCAD are all trusted, and no one would have a problem downloading their software. So what are the benefits of having an online version? Well, let's analyze it based on the following list:
- Computing power
- Minimal system requirements
- Device compatibility
- The SaaS business model
- Ease of use and accessibility
- Stable internet connection
- Team working environment
- Automatic updates
- Pay in advance vs. Pay-as-you-go
- Freemium vs Premium vs Free
- Import and export compatibility
Nowadays, browser-based apps can be just as powerful as desktop apps. As discussed above, traditionally, a web browser app will have less computing power from a desktop version. That's why many browser-based apps are actually cloud-based. It means that computations take place in the cloud, so it can be even faster than a local machine, so people without the newest, most powerful computer can find a web-based app performing better.
Minimal system requirements
Most of the complex apps like Adobe Photoshop, or 3D CAD and 3D Modeling applications like AutoCAD, Google SketchUp, Autodesk Maya, etc., require having the most up to date graphics cards. Software like SelfCAD, on the other hand, can be easily run on most laptops and even on Chromebooks!
Most CAD Software requires different installations for Mac and Windows, and many of them do not support both systems. So if you change the system, you will be forced to purchase a new license to install it on your new device.
The SaaS business model
When you purchase a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), you do not purchase a license for a single device. Rather, you're buying an online subscription that will allow you to log in from any device, in any country. In some cases like with SelfCAD, you can even use it simultaneously on multiple devices. All for the price of a single subscription.
Ease of use and accessibility
The fact that you can access it from any browser and any location makes it much easier to use, especially if you are on the go or lack a good computer. It is also very helpful when using any public computer that does not allow installing custom software. For example, students can use the same app in school, and later do homework in the library and continue designing under the same subscription account.
Stable internet connection
One of the biggest downsides facing cloud-based 3D modeling applications like OnShape, and TinkerCAD, is that it requires having a good continuous internet connection. That is less of a problem with web-based 3D modeling applications like SelfCAD because it runs in the browser and uses the cloud only for backing up your data. But once loaded, SelfCAD will continue working without the connection, and will automatically back up all the data once reconnected to the internet. This makes SelfCAD the only on-the-go 3d modeling application.
Team working environment
I briefly described the benefits of using a PCI compliant cloud service instead of managing your own data center. The same is true when it comes to 3D Modeling applications. Many of the Fortune 500 companies used to manage data centers for synchronizing the team design projects. Having a cloud-based modeling app solves that problem, especially when managing a global team is becoming an ever more pressing need.
Like most SaaS applications, SelfCAD will automatically update to the latest version, without charging upgrade fees, while desktop versions would charge for them. Automatic updates are also great for bug fixes. Most people purchasing a CAD application, upgrade it not to get more features, but rather to fix the issues. That's not a problem when using a subscription model.
Pay in advance vs. Pay-as-you-go
When purchasing a desktop version, you need to pay out a large sum at once. That can be a burden for small and medium-sized enterprises, and usually, it is not even an option for casual users. With a subscription model, you can simply pay-as-you-go.
With SelfCAD, you can get an annual or monthly subscription and self-serve or email to cancel when the software is no longer in use. All your files will stay available for you to use or download when needed, even when not playing. This leads me to Freemium vs. Premium vs. Free.
Freemium vs Premium vs Free
A Free Account sounds incredible without looking at the license terms and conditions. Software like OnShope, Fusion 360, TinkerCAD, and other Autodesk software often promote a free account for students and hobbyists. But it's the contract that matters, and it's no free lunch. They get to keep all your files, you can't sell or use them commercially, and they can cancel anytime the free license and force you to pay in order to download the files you've created.
On the other hand, Freemium models like DropBox, and now SelfCAD, are simply giving the users the same terms as paid accounts for free. They are just limited to some features so that active users will pay to upgrade.
This means that when you no longer need the app, you can downgrade it and stick with the free account. It will not only allow you to download your files, but it will also allow you to continue using the 3D editor to make new or to modify old files. But what if for whatever reason, you decide to switch to another app? Well, that leads me to Import and Export options.
Most parametric design software has limited import and export options because of the entire concept of parametric modeling, is using parameters that later can be manipulated through the design process. On the other hand, mesh-based modeling applications like Autodesk 3ds Max or SelfCAD, allow you to not only import and export models, but also to convert them from and to almost every file type. It allows you to not only use open source 3d objects but also safely switch between the software. In SelfCAD, you can export your models anytime, and thanks to its compatibility, you can convert them into most standard file formats.
Full-time and independent 3D Modelers
If you are a full-time, independent 3D Modeler, where team sharing is not an issue, and you can afford to pay out a one-time perpetual license fee, and would rather pay for upgrades if and when needed, you are better off purchasing a downloadable version.
DIY, Students, and casual users
If you are just learning 3D Modeling or 3D printing, or if you are using CAD software casually, you can benefit from a SaaS subscription model. It's also beneficial when you're concerned with one-time costs and upgrades fees, or if you need to access the app remotely and on the go.
Large and international teams
If you need to share your files with your team or manufacturers, you should consider using web-based or cloud-based 3D Modeling software. It's especially the case when many people need to work on the same project, and creating your own data center is not an option.
What Adobe and SelfCAD users say
Adobe (ADBD) is a 200+ billion-dollar company that has spent millions on research before they stopped supporting Photoshop and switched to Adobe Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud). They concluded that it's worth the change, but you can still find many users expressing frustration about the move and would prefer having a desktop version. But it looks like the younger generation is finally adopting and is embracing the benefits you get from an online SaaS model.
I remember how corporate users initially hated the iPhone, as they were all behind Blackberry. It took a few years, but we all know the results, and no one is looking back. Big changes can often take a while to become the norm, but visionaries can foresee and predict future trends like when Google started Gmail, and so we have no reason to doubt Adobe and it's research.
SelfCAD has recently conducted a survey with companies using 3D Modeling software. One of the questions asked was whether they prefer the online or desktop application, and surprisingly, only 25% of the people appreciate having an online version, and a staggering 67% prefer having a downloadable version. The remaining few are either undecided or suggest having both options like the Slack and Skype model. That's why SelfCAD has decided to offer a downloadable version while keeping its online application.
TinkerCAD vs OnShape vs SelfCAD: The top three Online CAD software
TinkerCAD is most commonly used in elementary schools. It is owned by Autodesk, and its main goal is to get children into the 3D Modeling and printing-related industries, to later upsell them one of its flagship software. It is similar to how scientists create scientific experiments to get children excited and to entice them to enter science. They do a great job and are partial to credit why STEM education now includes 3D Modeling and 3D printing curriculum.
The biggest issue with TinkerCAD is that it's an antipattern software. TinkerCAD uses its own 3D modeling logic, and that does not help in learning other 3D CAD software. When the time comes to upgrade to a fully functional CAD application, TinkerCAD users need to start learning them from scratch.
TinkerCAD is also cloud-based, so Autodesk can't offer an offline version, which is an issue for many schools and students.
Onshape is the Cloud-based Solidworks; Solidworks, owned by Dassault Systèmes, is the standard CAD software for mechanical engineers and is often taught in professional engineering schools. But as explained above, companies managing global workforces, prefer cloud solutions, instead of managing their own data centers. That's where OnShape comes to the rescue.
Onshape is running fully functional CAD software on the cloud. It takes a lot of computing power, hence the steep pricing. Despite that, some companies still see it as a better option than managing their own data centers, and Onshape has been gaining ground in the corporate engineering industries. PTC recently required OnShape
SelfCAD is the underdog. It started off as an upgrade option to TinkerCAD, but after its 2.0 release, SelfCAD has become a force to be reckoned with. The main advantages of SelfCAD are its intuitive UI/UX, and its diverse technical and artistic toolset, that despite its simplicity, still meets the industry standards. It allows people coming from other software to master SelfCAD in a few minutes and vice versa - anyone who knows SelfCAD can easily jump into other CAD software.
SelfCAD is the only fully-featured, web-based professional CAD software, and the most intuitive, and the most affordable CAD software on the market. SelfCAD is often compared to Google SketchUp and Autodesk Rhino, as it incorporated the simplicity and technical tools of Sketchup while offering the artistic modeling tools available in Rhino. On top of that, SelfCAD charges a fraction of the cost of Rhino and less than half the cost for SketchUp.
SelfCAD comes with an in-built 3D Printing FDM slicer. It already lists most of the FDM printers, and SelfCAD keeps adding more of them upon users' and manufacrurers' requests. It's not surprising why so many companies using 3D printing are switching to SelfCAD.
Who is using SelfCAD?
The above (multiple selections) survey responses suggest that 3D Printing and Product Design are the most common uses of SelfCAD, which is reflected in the type of videos you can find on SelfCAD YouTube Channel. Furthermore, Architectural designers are now embracing SelfCAD due to its organic design. Additionally, SelfCAD keeps on getting requests to add Rendering, as the last missing piece in making it the Go-To software for Product and Architectural design.
SelfCAD is on schedule to release its long-awaited rendering by September 30, 2020. At the same time, SelfCAD also plans to release a downloadable desktop version, as well as a perpetual license option to accommodate users' requests.
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