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Drawing in the cloud; why you shouldn't do it
Cloud services are all around us now; for a long time its been possible to use mainstream software like word processing remotely, and Google for one has been targeting the Microsoft Office market for years with a whole suite of free internet based applications that you can just log into, working remotely on the files you create, all of this on their servers and not on your desktop PC or Mac. For something like a word document, I think this can make a lot of sense; the file sizes are very small, it keeps your files safely stored and it makes collaboration and sharing just that bit easier. The technology is (or should be) fairly static as well; there really isn't any good reason why a word processing program, for example, needs any development or changes, as the software reached maturity years ago, and already does all of the things that you are ever likely to need it to. Changes to these types of programs are driven by marketing instead of need.
Increasingly cloud based drawing and modelling applications are popping up. Autodesk, one of the giants in the CAD and 3D world, now offers a range of internet based services and applications, from Fusion 360 which is focused on industrial and mechanical design, through to Tinkercad which is an entry level 3D modeller aimed at the hobby end of the 3D printing world. Some of these applications are free to use, some subscription based, and that brings me immediately to what I see as the biggest issue. If you need to pay someone a subscription to get access to drawing tools that you use, then it just underlines that you are putting far too much power in their hands. At the very least you won't have any control over changes that the program designer decides to make to the software, and I can say from a couple of decades of using drawing software that updates or new versions are not always an improvement on the original. Moreover, what if they suddenly decide on a big hike to the subscriptions you are paying? Its going to be tricky to say the least to walk away and use another program. Of course, all of this is in the minds of the companies pushing these services, along with the possibility of selling you additional stuff whilst you are logged into their website, and the total elimination of piracy copies has to be a factor as well.
The fact is, I'm faced with hardly any of these dilemmas if I simply install drawing software on my desktop in the standard way, something I've been doing for a couple of decades, something that has worked for me increasingly well during this period as computers have gained in power and the programs have become more stable.
So if its a straight choice, why would anyone use cloud based applications? There is a significant and telling quote on the overview page for Fusion 360; "Access your designs almost anytime, anywhere, from your Mac, PC or mobile device". For me, this really sums up the strengths and weaknesses of the whole idea. On the one hand, that idea that you can be anywhere and get access to important work files, especially in an increasingly mobile world, and a world dominated by mobile devices, is a very attractive one. But just notice that liitle word "almost". That small fly in the ointment. What this is saying is that some of the time, you can't access that important drawing file!
This also doesn't allow for slow or inadequate internet connections, and bear in mind that drawing, and 3D drawing in parrticular, needs a fair amount of computing power, and can generate fairly large files. I'm afraid that the idea of trying to work on some important models through a small screen whilst connected to a remote server via a dodgy internet connection fills me with a sense of foreboding, and summons up memories of the darker days when PC's had 8MB of RAM and you had to save things every 5 minutes in case the 3D software crashed under the strain.
All of this isn't to say, at the end of the day, don't ever do it. There may be situations where its fine, especially if your livelihood doesn't depend on the outcome. For me however, it will always be an option that I would use sparingly and in the knowledge that when it comes to the crunch, I'm totally in someone elses hands.