December 15, 2015

The Companies That Support Linux: Autodesk

Guy MartinAutodesk, a design and fabrication software company best known for AutoCAD, has more than 150 specialized programs for visual effects, BIM (Building Information Modeling), simulation, 3D printing and subtractive manufacturing. The company is also active in the maker community with its Dynamo project (open source graphical programming for design) and Ember 3D printer.

As the desktop software industry moves to the cloud, Autodesk is in a unique position to bridge the gap between traditional design customers and the growing Maker Movement. 

"Autodesk has been working to democratize access to design and fabrication software as part of our effort to support the newly emerging future of making things," said Guy Martin, Director, Open Source Strategy at Autodesk. "Open source is an important component of this effort, and we're excited to join the Linux Foundation to accelerate our participation in this critical ecosystem."

Autodesk recently joined The Linux Foundation as a new corporate member along with Concurrent Computer Corporation and DataKinetics. Here, Martin tells us more about Autodesk; how and why they use Linux and open source; why they joined The Linux Foundation; and how they are innovating with Linux and open source.

What does Autodesk do?

Guy Martin: Autodesk's mission is to help people imagine, design and create a better world. Our customer base of designers, engineers, architects, visual artists, makers and students use our software to unlock their creativity and solve important challenges. We're probably best known for AutoCAD, which has been a key tool of in all sorts of design professions for 30+ years.

But we now have more than 150 specialized software offerings for visual effects, BIM (Building Information Modeling), simulation, 3D printing and subtractive manufacturing. We also have consumer mobile apps like Sketchbook and Tinkercad. Increasingly, our tools are available as subscription-based cloud and mobile services, and all of our software is free to students, schools and educators worldwide.

How and why do you use Linux and open source?

Martin: We're at an interesting point in our corporate history - a majority of our core products were conceived in the desktop software era for designers, architects and other creative professionals. However, as the entire industry is seeing, the shift to Cloud changes a lot of fundamental assumptions, including those of a traditional desktop software company like Autodesk.

We are seeing the potential for new (and existing) customers to adopt Cloud-based systems to enable new levels of collaboration across the imagine, design, and create/fabricate cycle, as well as solve problems (such as city-scale simulations) that traditional desktop software simply can’t handle. We use Linux in our Cloud infrastructure, but also
rely on (and create) a lot of open source. You can see our projects from across the company at http://autodesk.github.io.

Why did you join the Linux Foundation?

Martin: With the shift to Cloud comes a fundamental dependency on open source. This affects everything from how our software is constructed to the talent pool we need to recruit from. Our domain expertise in architecture, BIM, 3D design/printing, and other product areas needs to be focused on building value, not reinventing infrastructure or other common components. Because of this, there is a renewed interest at Autodesk in being a better open source consumer, collaborator, and creator. We think the Linux Foundation is an excellent avenue for us not only to be part of this critical ecosystem, but also a place for us to share and learn from other member companies.

What interesting or innovative trends in your industry are you witnessing and what role do Linux and open source play in them?

Martin: The whole 'Maker Culture' is a disruptive force in the design and fabrication industry. Open source certainly plays a role here, but the larger collaborative nature of this movement, in everything from hardware to democratization of and access to design tools, is huge! Clearly, the collaborative development model of Linux and open source has sown seeds in these areas, and we are seeing a ton of innovation happening as a result of things like easy access to affordable 3D printing and design tools.

How is your company participating in that innovation?

Martin: Fostering the Maker Community is one of the major ways we participate in the innovation in our industry. We're active participants in this community, and are trying to help stimulate it by open sourcing important pieces of technology such as our Dynamo project (open source graphical programming for design), as well as the mechanical designs, resin formulas and firmware for our Ember 3D printer. We also partner with hardware incubators and have a $100 million Spark Investment Fund to support start-ups that are helping advance the overall 3D printing ecosystem.

That being said, there are still a lot of corporate customers who use our tools, and helping them take advantage of this innovation and collaborative energy is also a priority. We are uniquely positioned to help bridge the gap between traditional design customers and this growing Maker Movement.

What other future technologies or industries do you think Linux and open source will increasingly become important in and why?

Martin: Is there an industry that Linux (or open source for that matter) hasn't already touched? I think that synthetic biology and nano-scale design is probably the next frontier in terms of where the 'open ethos' will become critical. We're already seeing this with the intersection of open source and 3D printing of human tissues, not to mention creating affordable prosthesis for patients in developing nations. Building and designing sustainable products is also another important area where the notions of open and collaborative development need to take off.

The reason why this is important is pretty clear - to quote Kenneth Blanchard: "None of us is as smart as all of us." These are big and important problems, and tackling them will require the kind of collaborative energy that only the open ethos brings to the table.

Anything else important or upcoming that you'd like to share?

Martin: My role at Autodesk is very new (< 6 months) and represents a fundamental shift by the company towards doing a better job of both open and inner source. So, I'd just like to ask folks for some patience and understanding as we become a better open and collaborative citizen of this community. I'm more than happy to discuss our efforts or answer questions, so please feel free to reach out to me directly. Thanks!

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