Autodesk’s Chris Bradshaw on Tux

By Adena Schutzberg

Author's note: At Autodesk University, members of the Infrastructure Solutions Division staff and users were introduced to MapServer Enterprise, the next generation, open source version of MapGuide.The name was to distinguish the offering from the "original" open source MapServer, which was to be called MapServer Cheetah.Since the announcement of the MapServer Foundation last week, Autodesk has responded to requests from the MapServer community to leave the MapServer name exclusively with MapServer and find a new name for its offering.Autodesk has agreed to do just that.So, until the new name is announced, its original code name, Tux, can stand in.The company shared some screenshots of the authoring package "Autodesk MapServer Studio" and the AJAX client, highlighting new features.

After much technology-oriented discussion about Autodesk's new open source Web mapping technology, Tux, I was pleased to talk with Autodesk Infrastructure Solutions Division Vice President Chris Bradshaw to ask about the positioning and marketing of the upcoming offering and its impact on the existing MapGuide users.

Bradshaw drew the line between "anarchist open source" and "business friendly open source," placing Autodesk's offerings in the second group, along with Red Hat and IBM offerings.He noted that many, many MapGuide users are public entities that have significant pressure to be open and flexible.Some want to avoid the appearance of endorsing or being restricted to a single vendor.Tux (Autodesk's or the open source version) provides them "a credible way to be open." On the other hand, he notes, these same organizations are squeezed in terms of resources and will find a packaged, supported version a real value.

Bradshaw also shared the subtle difference regarding how an open source solution makes competitions more, well, competitive.He noted that with a proprietary solution, most users go right back to the original vendor for add-on work.ESRI users contract with ESRI, for example.When an open source solution is chosen, he argued, more potential bidders are likely to participate.He also noted the link between open source and open systems, suggesting that using an open source solution opens up data in a way not generally available using proprietary solutions.

I don't necessarily agree with all those statements, when we have reached the point where nearly all vendors can access other vendors' proprietary formats either with built-in tools or add-ons from the likes of Safe Software.The real "open" that makes this playing field level, frankly, is open standards such as SQL, Web Map Service, etc.

Bradshaw admitted that while there are valid reasons for information technologists to push for open systems, much of the push in public organizations (and some private ones) is "how things look." "Perception is reality," he noted.So, it's best if solutions appear open and are "credibly" open.Tux, he feels, will fit the bill.

I asked Bradshaw to speculate about what the next year will look like for existing MapGuide users.We agreed it would look very much like the past.They'd "upgrade" to the new version, Autodesk Tux, rewrite their applications for the new code base and continue paying Autodesk for support.Their relationship with Autodesk will be very much the same as it has been.Non-MapGuide users, that is users of other Web mapping solutions, have already perhaps run into MapServer.The current and future buzz will hopefully prompt them to "have a second look." Bradshaw noted that Autodesk was speaking to more and more potential MapGuide customers who were aware of MapServer.

We wrapped up with the money question: how will Autodesk make money from Autodesk MapServer Enterprise? Bradshaw listed five ways:

Sales of Autodesk Tux "" Most likely there will be a nominal license fee, with a recurring subscription fee, though details are to be worked out in the next few months.This is more like "software as a service" than the old "buy a box" model, a change Autodesk has been pushing across the company.It's also not so different from how ESRI and other vendors currently "sell" software.

Applications for Autodesk Tux "" In time, Autodesk will build and sell vertical apps on top of Tux.These will bundle, for example, a utilities app with Tux as a complete solution.

Sales of Autodesk Tux Studio "" Autodesk Tux Studio will be sold as a stand alone product (which will work with Autodesk and the open source versions of Tux).It will be "in the desktop price range" but likely less than Map3D.

Pull along sales "" Autodesk Tux and open source Tux will have some impact (upward) on sales of Map3D and other desktop products.Bradshaw noted that the "frosting" on the cake -- the pretty end user maps of Tux, MapServer (and Google Maps, etc.) -- will widen the end-user base (it already has) and further drive the need for data creation and applications.Said another way, the widest part of the user pyramid is even wider than it's been in the past.

Autodesk Services "" Bradshaw noted that for now the revenue from Autodesk Professional Services, the consulting arm of the company, is quite small.It serves mostly the largest customers, ones that partners cannot support.It is, however, growing, and Tux is another platform which this group can support.

Bradshaw seemed genuinely excited to be leading the group that's the first one at Autodesk to dip its toes in the open source water.He has a lot of faith in the open source process and is confident his division will do well by it.

Published Saturday, December 10th, 2005

Written by Adena Schutzberg



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