My Chromebook Experiment

On June 15, 2011 Google's official Chrome operating system was finally released and hit the market on a couple of models by Samsung and Acer.  ChromeOS is a lightweight operating system built on a striped down version of Linux to run the Chrome browser.

Since I live on Google and our company is also on Google Apps, I wanted to see how feasable it was to function on a device so forward thinking.  Obviously this is not a replacement device for a superuser or someone who has specific needs like running SolidWorks or doing long form video editing.  What it does offer is a sleak device that boots in 8 seconds, (6 to the login screen) from the off state and gets you on the Internet to do what we all do there, browse, research, email, socialize, share...and the list goes on and on.

With so many companies attempting to move today's desktop applications like video editing, engineering tools like CAD and other CAE applications,  even going as far as hosting full sofware developement environments to offload the resources need by the user. 

Personally I have been interested in this for a couple years and had purchased a eee701 on Amazon for about $140 USD and installed ChromiumOS, the open source project of Google's ChromeOS, in order to get a feel for how this could be.  The early days were rough, as many open source tools are at first, but I have to say Google has really moved this product forward and it is a pretty good V1 product.  Don't get me wrong, there is still room for improvement but instead of focusing on what an internet browser only operating system can't do, focus on what it can.  

So over the next month or so I am going to put the 11" Acer Chromebook to the test and see how it stacks up to other secondary computing devices like tablets and smartphones.  I will also be testing a few of the CAD services that are available in the browser to see how many really understand developing for the web, using standard technologies and HTML5, Java and Ajax instead of relying on plugins or embedded viewers. Oh and yes this post was written on my Chromebook! Wish me luck! ~Lou

"SolidWorks V6": The ChromeOS of CAD?

I've been thinking a lot about State-less computing since I recorded Episode 312 on State-less CAD, especially since I have been living in Google Apps, Chrome Browser and Google's Chrome OS for over a year now.  One of the parallels in the CAD market is Cloud-based CAD, which has gotten more press than it deserves at this point in the technology stage but there is an aspect I believe seems to be overlooked.

Let's take Google for example.  They launch a browser that is limited at first but very fast and grows it into a huge player in the browser market.  On the success of the Chrome desktop browser Google announces a new operating system called ChromeOS, which builds on the speed aspect of it's desktop counterpart and positioned as a fast, secure and state-less system that complements your computing needs.  That is the part that some seem to miss, complement.  Google is not trying to get you to ditch your desktop in hopes to only use ChromeOS. I believe they understand there are situations where you will still need the desktop and through sync they can move your settings from ChromeOS to the desktop's Chrome browser and vice versa.  This provides a cheap, lightweight, portable solution to access your data from anywhere you have a connection.  Now this is not to say that 5 years from now when connection speeds are 5 times what they are today and connectivity is ubiquitous that people won't ditch their attachment to desktop applications, although less likely for the masses.  This type of shift will probably be more a generational position as opposed to technological limitation.

Now think about what SolidWorks announced last year at SolidWorks World 2010.  That was a peek of what everyone has collectively nicknamed "SolidWorks V6" which showed a CAD application delivered via the Internet (SaaS).  After first glance the consensus was that this was going to be replacing SolidWorks as we knew it, ditching the locally installed desktop application.  In response, the following week in a blog post, SolidWorks outlined the technology that was previewed and ensured customers that the desktop version of SolidWorks was here to stay for the long haul and there was now two solutions for customers to choose from. 

Personally I think "SolidWorks V6" could follow a roadmap similar to the one Google is taking with ChromeOS. Let's say that SWV6 ships and is offered as a complementary product to the desktop version at first, allowing the early adopters to take hold and see where they need to draw the line for usage. SolidWorks on the desktop can continue to be the place were a majority of time is spent but when collaboration or mobile design is necessary, data could be then accessible from SWV6 for those operations.  This would obviously require the files to be bi-directional or use the same file format so data translation is not an issue for this symbiotic relationship.  As releases go by, features are added to both systems, growing their capability as technology allows and elevating SWV6 to a product that could replace the desktop version of SolidWorks as we know it today.  Jeff Ray had said that "If anyone is going to kill SolidWorks, we should be the ones to do it!"

There are a number of options/features/speculations to how the two platforms could work together for the near term and as connection speeds, performance technology and cloud-based user adoption increases, a decision could be made to pick one platform over another.  Personally this is how I use Microsoft Office and Google Docs.  They both work with each other but I do about 95% of my office documents on Google now and only a very few situations require me to use the desktop versions of Microsoft Office today.  The benefits of having my data centrally located, easily sharable and have the ability to collaborate or publish my content has made the hosted solution a more attraction option for my use case.

Since there seems to still be so many unknowns to all the questions that users will have to the hosted offering, one thing is certain, SolidWorks is not going to throw one platform out to replace it with another.  However, maybe there will come a day when the desktop version is no longer as appealing to the masses and no longer worth supporting but I believe that will also be generational. I am anxious to hear more details outlining "SolidWorks V6" at this year's SolidWorks World 2011. ~Lou

Google Integration with SolidWorks EPDM

This past summer a Google project was released on Google Code called GoogleCL (AKA Google command line), bringing access to some of Google's services to the command line. You may ask yourself, "Why would I want to use a command line interface when I have a WYSIWYG web UI in my browser?". Well we humans like nice UIs but automation systems lend themselves nicely to command line interfaces since options and other settings can be built up with scripts.  GoogleCL essentially brings a handful of Google's services to be used easily with any command line script.

Enter PDM

SolidWorks Enterprise PDM has many front-facing features to document management, however EPDM also provides a number of  "behind the scenes" options to automate actions internally and externally to the EPDM ecosystem.  Various automation can be delivered with programming (Addins), a script building GUI (Dispatch), as well as the out-of-the-box workflow transition actions.

Since I live in Google services professionally (Google Apps) and personally (GMail/Docs/Calendar), anything I can do to integrate these tools into SolidWorks peaks my interest. Google CL (Command Line) currently offers access to the following services:

  • Blogger
  • Calendar
  • Docs
  • Picassa
  • YouTube

For integration purposes I choose Google's Calendar and Docs services since they tend to be common places for design teams to create and sync their design efforts within Google's habitat. How to do it? On Windows it is actually pretty easy since it is all contained in the zip and nothing needs to be built.


  1. Download GoogleCL (make sure to select either the 32 or 64 bit build)
  2. Unzip the download to a folder and run Google.exe
  3. Run a simple test for both Calendar and Docs to generate your user Auth Token. (These are stored in your user directory under a folder called ".googlecl".

    Calendar: calendar add "Test Appointment Today"

    Docs: docs upload c:\test.txt

    Note: Both of the above scripts are run in the google prompt and will launch a web page allowing you to login in and grant access to Google CL.

  5. In the Enterprise PDM Administration tool, log into the vault, edit the workflow and display the properties of the transition where the new Google action will be added.
  6. Add a new Action using the type "Execute Command"
  7. Enter command to execute:
  8. For a Calendar event: C:\URL_to_googlecl_folder\google.exe calendar add "Review of [Filename] Tomorrow"

    For a Doc Upload: C:\URL_to_googlecl_folder\google.exe docs upload [FilePath] --folder "folder_in_Google_Docs" --no-convert

    Note: Both scripts can use the ">" button to add specifics about the file being transitioned such as the filename or file full path. 

There are still a few things to keep in mind when using Google CL when using it with EPDM.

  • Every client must have Google CL installed in the same location so the EPDM action can launch the script.
  • All clients will need to authenticate with their Google Accounts in order to create the Auth Tokens before using their accounts with EPDM.
  • The ability to upload any file, a recent addition to Google Docs, with the script option "--no-convert" only works with Premier Google Accounts, otherwise the upload will automatically be converted.
  • It doesn't seem to be straight forward to use it with Google Apps for Domains but I am continuing to figure out an easy way to do this and will post an update when I get it figured out.


With Google becoming a more common backbone among some companies, GoogleCL is a good start to bring some automation and easy integration to engineering tools like SolidWorks Enterprise PDM. For those that want to get deeper, Google's services do have a full API and can be written to but these script tools make it simple to get the ball rolling.

If you have tried GoogleCL and have interesting way of utilizing these tools, please leave a comment.  I am interested in other use cases to try out as well!~Lou

Taking The 3D SwYm

With the launch of DraftSight, Dassault's community platform, 3D SwYm, also made it's beta debut, bringing a collaborative layer to the table. 3D SwYm, which stands for "See What You Mean", was branded under the name when shown at SolidWorks World Conference 2010 in February.  3DSwYm is currently in a "Technical Preview" and positioned as follows:

3DSwYm is the online service dedicated to the management of online professional communities. Creating online communities enables to gather people from different disciplines, geographies, companies and start networking, sharing information, experiences and ideas. It also allows you to put directly customers needs at the center of your product development activity by involving consumers in your communities. 

3D SwYm is governed by the DS Passport, which essentially acts as the single sign-on service to get to other web-based offerings by the Dassault. Once authenticated, users have the ability to collaborate in a forum-like environment, post rich media iQuestions and thread responses to other community members. The overall feel is very social centric, similar to LinkedIn, since it uses terms like posting your "Status" and searching for members to "Add to Network".

Currently there are 3 communities (DraftSight, SwYmers' Hall, and Building In Life) of which DraftSight and SwYmers' Hall are open, allowing users to be defaulted to "Contributors" in order to post content in the form of questions and answers.  Buildings In Life is a closed community and will prompt enquiring users to fill out a form as to why they want to join.  Buildings In Life, like DraftSight, is a community around an application offered by Dassault, extending this collaborative community around an application, similar to a forum.

In the technical preview of SolidWorks Product Data Sharing (PDS) at SolidWorks World 2010, the R&D team showed this new service running on top of, which was referred to as the "Enovia Framework". Since then, nothing has been mentioned about PDS or "SolidWorks V6" for that matter, despite all the chatter about CAD on the Cloud.  Now that 3D SwYm has gone into beta, I can only hope that this cloud-based, 3D CAD sharing platform is also going to go into beta sooner than later.  (details about PDS in live blog)

SolidWorks users need a service to easily collaborate on designs without complex setup and configuration.  This would not be a replacement for PDM but a collaboration "side car" of comments with access to CAD related information like configurations, assembly hierarchy, file properties, and/or version information.  This would be the first attempt to reenter the SaaS market since 3D TeamWorks launched in February 2002 (and killed shortly there after).  How would you use a tool like this, if at all?  ~Lou

SkyDrive, and WebDAV, and Explorer, OH MY!

Microsoft SkyDrive, a free 25GB cloud storage offering in the Windows Live suite, has two major issues when it comes to mass user adoption:

  1. The file size limit is 50MB per file
  2. No direct integration inside Windows Explorer

Although the 50MB file limit is still a controlling factor, the ability to integrate it into Windows Explorer has finally made it to the scene. There are some third party solutions (Gladinet and SD Explorer) but they come at a price and act as middleware between Windows and your hosted storage.

With the release of Microsoft Office 2010, many beta-testers and early adopters have noticed in the new File Menu (Backstage View) a new option under "Save & Send" called Save to Web.  This new option allows a user to enter their Windows Live ID and connect directly to the SkyDrive storage, revealing the WebDAV address.  This address can then be copied from the "Save As" dialog and used to map a drive to your computer.

With SkyDrive now mapped locally, all of your applications are able to access and save directly to it (as long as your files are smaller than 50MB each!)  There are reports that Microsoft is working on integrating SkyDrive into Windows, along with other offerings within their web strategy (Mesh, Windows Live, Azure).

For detailed instructions on acquiring the WebDAV address from Microsoft Office 2010, visit Paul Thurrott's Supersite for Windows article.  Paul details out a few aspects of other third party tools and how to map SkyDrive and link your Windows 7 login to with your Windows Live ID. 

For those of you who do not have Office 2010 and want to still map to your SkyDrive, you can go to Mike Plate's article who wrote a little application to uncover the WebDAV address directly.  I actually tried it out and it works great!  If you want to avoid the install of his "SkyDrive Simple Viewer" you can build the address from the URL in your browser's address bar once you are logged into SkyDrive by following the steps in this post on the Live community.

This is a lot of free storage and as CAD users we are always looking for ways to store data.  I hope to see Microsoft remove the 50MB file limit since that is easy to breach when working with parametric data! ~Lou

Embed Google Wave In Your Website...FINALLY!

Since the launch of Google Wave's preview, one of the major gripes was the fact that you needed to be invited in or have an account to participate in a Wave discussion.  At the beginning of the month, Google announced an embed API that allows you to embed a Wave into any website and select who can see it.  

It works very similar to acces inside of Wave so if you add only a few participants, they will be the only ones that can see the content.  However, if you make the wave public (hint: add public 'at' everyone will be able to see the wave's content.  Now that you can also control access (read/write), giving the public group (mentioned above) write access will allow anyone to log in with their wave login or login anonymously and participate.

How do you do it?  

  1. Go to your Google Wave account, do you remember what that is? :-) 
  2. Find the wave you want to embed and open it.  
  3. Copy the URL out of your browsers address bar.
  4. Go to the Google Web Elements site for Wave, paste in the URL and follow the instructions.
  5. Copy the embed code and paste it into your site! That's it! 

Below is the wave I took notes in at SolidWorks World 2010 for the SolidWorks 2011 sneak peak, enjoy! ~Lou

Notified By Google Wave?

This past week Google rolled out a few enhancements that I believe will bring this web-based collaborative tool back into focus for some. One of the biggest complaints of Google Wave was it was just another place to check for "stuff" online and without a notification mechanism, the service was not checked regularly. Depending on your preference, you can now specify how frequently you are notified of new Waves in your inbox.

I have been using a third party notification tool in my system tray in Windows called Wave Notifier for Windows and the Unofficial Wave Notifier for Mac, both of which are doing essentially the same thing without me having to look at my email. These solutions work well if they are installed but most people pushed Google Wave off after the first couple of weeks and never went back. Hopefully this is the beginning of features that Google adds to fill in the gaps for people who would like to have a powerful, web-based collaborative tool like Wave.

Wave Notification Setup:

- In Navigation (upper left) click on the Inbox and pull down the arrow icon (right)

- Select Notifications

- Choose notification frequency and email address. (screenshot)

You can add additional email address selections by adding them to your Google Profile associated with the Gmail address your Wave account is associated with.

Extensions Menu:

One of the many powers of Google Wave is it's extension architecture, allowing 3rd parties to build applications to verticals within the platform. This has been accessible since launch but required you to pick from a small subset of extensions within Google Wave's "Settings" wavelet or understand how to add the Developer Extension and plug in either an extensions XML URL or know the Manifest URL to add the extension to your toolbar. This made the functionality only interesting to techs/geeks but not for the user just wanting to use extensions. Google has finally brought the "Extensions" menu that has been in the developers sandbox for a while to the Navigation panel. Clicking on this will display a list of waves of different (more popular) extensions with the ability to get a brief summary and a one click install for that user.

I hope this is the beginning to many more features in Google Wave so a path can be set for this tool. I have started using this for many projects and would hate to see it die on the vine. This is a tool that can be used by engineers and product development to bring a collaborative aspect to every project but without stability and integration to existing tools it is just another silo! So I say with great enthusiasm...."Save Google Wave...Save Google Wave!"

SolidWorks Product Data Sharing

SolidWorks World Conference is never without excitement and new announcements. The General Sessions are always used as the platform to announce exciting future offerings and spark conversation among attendees. This year, SolidWorks ramped up the excitement by kicking off day one with the cloud-based, platform-agnostic SolidWorks version (unsure of the official name or release date), day two with James Cameron and day 3 with the sneak peak of SolidWorks 2011. A final announcement of a new SolidWorks PLM tool called SolidWorks PDS which stands for Product Data Sharing was also debuted with a promise delivery around the time of the 2011 product line.

SolidWorks PDS aims to address a group of users that fall into the category "Version-management challenged", which in my approximation would be about 70% or more of the user base. SolidWorks currently has two products in the PDM space, Workgroup and Enterprise PDM, that give small to large groups a good spread of document and process centric control of engineering project data. I have talked about the importance of data management with parametric CAD before but there are still a very large number of users whose companies do not have a system in place that addresses the issues of references and associativity within the CAD data.

SolidWorks PDS is built on the Enovia V6 cloud framework and brings the benefits of centralized storage, workspace control, sharing access levels, as well as 3 main platforms (SolidWorks TaskPane, web-client, and mobile platforms). PDS utilizes the essential aspects of PDM, simplifing deployment by not requiring any IT infrastructure setup and focuses on automatic version control and data sharing. Files are worked on locally and uploaded/shared to the cloud, enabling users to comment and share files as easy as sharing photos on FaceBook. Users would then have the power to create their own engineering communities, share data quickly and ensure that versions are maintained and backed up off site.

I see this as a tool for those users without a PDM system in place, however SolidWorks PDS might act as the collaboration mechanism for SolidWorks PDM packages in the future. This might be the first step for SolidWorks enterinig back to the 3D TeamWorks days of hosted services (SaaS) and I believe the time is right. ~Lou


SolidWorks World Live Notes in Wave

Unlike most services that were created to solve a specific problem/problems, Google Wave seems to be searching for a problem to solve. In the past few months I have been reading a multitude of sources to see how others have found problems to solve with Google Wave. This year at SolidWorks World, I have been taking notes with my friends and colleagues in order to ensure that the detail accuracy is high. Collaborative notes seems to be one of the many use cases that I think everyone could benefit from.

One of the major problems early on with a public-facing wave was the lack of control a wave creator had for access to the participants. Now that Google has rolled out the abiltiy to control Read/Write acess, now public waves can be controlled and the mess of too many editors can be avoided.

For those of you on Google Wave and want to get some of the notes you can go to the search and type in "with:public + tag:sww10" and see the waves I have started that are public. Finding the waves, as you can see, are not friendly but we are all engineers and so are the designers of Wave. Here are the short links for the waves I have started:

- SolidWorks World 2010 - What Sheet Metal Manufacturers Wish You Knew:

- SolidWorks World 2010 - 10 Administration Essentials for all SolidWorks Users:

- SWW10: SolidWorks 2011 Sneak Peak: (will be only on the notes for 2011 on Wednesday)

- SolidWorks World 2010 - SolidWorks Graphics Performance Analysis & Tuning:

There will be about 5 or 6 of us taking notes and you will all be able to see the notes come together live or come back after and see the results of our madness! ~Lou

3DVIA Meets Google Wave

As the hype dies down around Google Wave and the tinkerers all shake their heads and walk away underwhelmed, the work begins. From the very beginning Google Wave proposed a platform that would allow us to consolidate our communication and collaboration needs into one platform. However, many missed the fact that this platform is in Preview and is just a glimpse of what could be. Many would argue that Google Wave, as it works today, is not worth anything and does nothing but create yet another place that you need to check for "Unread" somethings. I agree it is not ready for the public and has some real missing features and security issues, however developers are making up for many of the lack of features with all types of gadgets.

If you are on Google Wave, a great public resource for how Google Wave works today is at The Complete Guide to Google Wave by Gina Trapani (Founder of LifeHacker). Another great resource is in this public Wave: Google Wave Extenstion List where you can find some of the current development to extend Google Wave beyond what is launched in the Preview.

For those of us in the CAD Industry, we have been trying to find how we can all use this technology to bring collaboration to product development. I wanted to use the resources that are availble now to take a first step in bringing 3D into Google Wave. Since 3dvia is already web-based and has conduits to upload many 3D file formats into their community, I started there. I was able to upload a model from SolidWorks and embed it into Google Wave for others to see and manipulate. How to Embed 3dvia into Google Wave:

1. Go to and find a model (or upload one from your CAD tool of choice)

2. Click on the model and select the "Embed" tab on the right of the site. This will allow you to copy the embed code.

3. Start a new blip (New edit in a wave)

4. Click on the "Add Gadget by URL" button

5. Type in the HTML gadget url: - This will load a gadget window in Google Wave. In the upper left click "Edit" and you can paste in the embed code from

6. Once pasted, click "View" in the upper left of the gadget window and you will see the image of your model with the "Play 3D" on it. Click to start the viewer.

In order to get this to work you will need to have 3dvia Player installed which is supported in both IE (Windows) and Firefox (Mac & Windows). There is no support for Chome, which is my browser of choice, especially with Wave but Firefox works well. The viewer, as far as I can tell, is not collaborative so everyone sees their own instance of it but this is much better than just uploading a file attachment.

I hope to see more true collaborative 3D tools emerge for Google Wave since the framework lends itself nicely to product development and would complement any 3D CAD tool out there. ~Lou