When the market value of Internet router maker Cisco Systems passed that of Microsoft a few weeks ago, some marked the event as emblematic of the “post-PC” era to which we are headed. This is not to diminish the benefits that PCs have brought to our individual desktops, but rather to note that the value of stand-alone computing pales in comparison to the power of networking on a global scale, made possible by the Internet.
While ‘Net hyperbole abounds these days, there is no doubt that it is already transforming our notions of how we connect to information as well as to each other. But we’ve barely begun to see how it is going to change how we connect to technology, and how we’re going to pay for it. A particularly interesting snapshot of that future came online recently, launched by a CAD company you’ve probably never heard of.
Alibre Design (www.alibre.com) is not so much of a product as it is a service. Yes, it includes a 3D, parametric solid modeler and the ability to create 2D drawings. But the software is available more or less for free. Where Alibre contends its customers will receive the greatest value, and where it will generate its revenues, is in “improving the flow of information throughout the product development process.”
How? The software and the ability to share design files are rented rather than bought, and they’re accessed via the World Wide Web. The service is built on a three-tier architecture that includes a Web browser-based client, an application design server and a design data repository server. The client provides a Web site-like environment to view models and drawings. The design server handles model and drawing creation, accessible by multiple users. And the design data repository provides functionality comparable to today’s product data management systems.
The service can be subscribed to as a self-hosted application, or companies can access the online collaboration and data sharing features via the Web for $100 per month, per seat. Off-line use of the modeler is free.
So, what the service is intended to provide is an easy-to-access, common platform on which companies and their suppliers can share design data. I don’t mean to imply any kind of endorsement here, and in fact don’t know how good the service may be. But the business model is fascinating, and just the beginning of much more to come.