A Conversation with Sana Abou-Haidar

Enterprise-level CAD software comes to Linux.

Sana Abou-Haidar is a Marketing Manager at Matra DataVision, a company with a middle- to high-end CASE CAD product. This product is a set of components for the development of trade-specific technical and scientific modeling applications ranging from CAD/CAM/CAE to metrology and measuring machines, biomedical software, 3-D geological mapping, optical simulation, product design and styling. Matra is releasing the Linux version of this product as open source on December 20, and will also be open sourcing the software for other platforms as well. I talked to Sana by phone on December 10.

Margie: Why don't you begin by telling me a bit about the product?

Sana: Okay; the product is Open CASCADE, and basically, Open CASCADE is open source for CAS.CADE. CAS.CADE is Case for CAD computer-aided software engineering for computer-aided applications and is made up of a number of software components dedicated to the development to scientific and technical applications. You know, graphic applications. They deal with geometric modeling with visualization, data exchange between a number of different graphic applications, etc.

Now, to give you just an idea about this CASCADE product, it's been marketed by Matra DataVision since 1995. So this product is not coming straight out of research or anything—it's market-tested since 1995. Our customer base today is made up of industrials with specific developments of ISVs (independent software vendors) and a number of research and education institutes in Europe and the United States. CASCADE generates a yearly revenue for Matra-DataVision of about 3.5 million dollars in a market that is about 24-25 million dollars. So it's a bit more than 10% of that market.

Margie: It sounds like it is a very high-end product.

Sana: Well, it is medium- and high-end. CASCADE has a number of classes, because it is in C++ and object technology dealing with basic graphics and geometry, but also with very high-end classes that deal with complicated modeling algorithms.

Margie: How did y'all decide to go about becoming open source?

Sana: Well, first of all, as I mentioned, the yearly revenue generated by CASCADE was 3.5 million dollars in an already-limited market. We have estimated that our going into open source would enable to us to go outside this market into a much bigger one and into a very innovated business model much more oriented to our services. Let me explain a bit about the market perspective, the new market perspectives, and then about the service business model.

First of all, the market perspective. Today, we estimate the market of services around technical applications, CAD, CAM and general scientific and technical applications at six billion dollars. That is Dataquest information. In that six billion dollars, we estimate you have one billion for the market of specific technical application development. In those services, you see the development is about one billion dollars. Now, that market consists of about half the Matra's extensions of CAD, CAM and half generally available commercial applications, which can be customized if you wish. The other half is taken up mostly by technical, specific development based totally on proprietary information. There is one small part of that market, about 25 million dollars, which is technical application development; based on components—commercial components like CASCADE. By going open source, we feel we will be able to extend our component sale business model into the proprietary development section of that market which is much bigger—about 450 million dollars. I told you it is about half, the total market of specific technical application development, because people are not buying components on which they are basing their development; they are using a tool that becomes their own tool. Since it is available as open source and they can go into it, debug it, use it, they don't have to pay runtime licenses, etc.

Margie: How do you make money, then?

Sana: The business we are hoping to catch is the service and support part of that business. Meaning, those people with needs for the development of technical applications who will require support for use of Open CASCADE, and those who need training. Since it's a development product, you have to master a number of things: how to use it, how to use it best, etc. Many industrial companies will be attracted to it and understand its potential, but will not want to do their own development, as development is not their core business. These companies will ask us to do the specific development for them. Our business model is based on support and specific development around Open CASCADE.

Margie: Has CASCADE always supported UNIX and Linux, or is this new?

Sana: CASCADE has supported UNIX for the past six years and is now available on Linux. On December 20, 1999, Open CASCADE will be published on the Linux platform.

Margie: So Open CASCADE will be Linux only?

Sana: No, that is only part of our publication plan. Our first publication on December 20 will be on the Linux platform, then at the end of January we are publishing the Windows NT and Sun platforms, then later we will be publishing Silicon Graphics, IBM, AIX, etc. We are having a frequent and regular publication plan.

Margie: Okay, well that sounds like you are truly supportive of open source—that you are going all the way with it. Some companies in the past have stuck to the “we are open for Linux but not for the Windows and everything else” model.

Sana: We thought about that, but no, no, no, no! We decided the Open CASCADE product would be total open source, and our whole function. This is the ideal moment to tell you we have a web site at http://www.opencascade.org/ that is basically our open-source web site. This is where we are going to contribute by putting the developments to the Open CASCADE product. This is where we are going to create a whole community of people using and contributing to Open CASCADE. This is where we are going to establish a core team (50 people) of project leaders who are going to push the projects they are interested in. You see, it is very oriented toward open source; it is true open source. We have decided to base the business model on the service part, so the development part can be true open source. The license is completely LGPL-compliant.

Margie: That will please everyone.

Sana: It is completely LGPL, meaning all debugs and modifications to existing code must be published as open source. However, today we have an install base of independent software vendors and industrial people using that software, so in our license, we say developers of new components or applications which we call “derived works” have the choice to publish or not publish as they wish. This is exactly LGPL-compliant. What we develop, we are going to publish.

Margie: You keep referring to Open CASCADE; is it a different product from the one you sold?

Sana: No, it is exactly the same product in terms of functionality. It is just that we have made it more modular. We have established quality criteria to make it easily downloadable, etc. But in terms of functionality of parameters, you have the basic geometry, the high-end topology, the high-end algorithms, and the visualization. We also have a very interesting feature that is quite innovative and it is not available in any of our competitor's products. It is called the Open CASCADE Application Framework. Basically, it is a rapid application development framework which gives you a ready-made template for your application, and all the objects you create will be automatically stored in the template. You can assign non-geometric attributes to the application object. You can undo or redo all the operations on the object; you can store the modifications to the data models. So it is a very high-end feature and it will also be open source, even though it has cost us a lot of money to develop it. I'm sure in the end, it will bring in a lot of money and resources.

Margie: It sounds like Matra is truly committed to everything the open-source people have been advocating—the idea that people can develop high-quality source, give it away, and still be able to make money. Y'all seem to have a very good working model going here, and I'm sure it will be very welcome in the Linux community.

Sana: In addition to the service and specific development business model, we will also have a component gallery which we will be exhibiting on the http://www.opencascade.com/ site. This component gallery will be like a portal and will include all kinds of components which can be used to develop technical applications. They can be created by us or our partners; they don't have to be open source, but they can be. It will be the ideal place—the reference place—to find everything you need in terms of technical application development, graphics, etc.

Margie: Thanks very much for talking to us.

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