Yesterday the PLM world finally got a look at what PTC has been teasing for months.  The good: PTC focused attention on CAD and articulated the problems many users have with traditional tools.  The bad: PTC had hyped this launch to such an extent that nothing short of a totally new approach to product design would have satisfied skeptics.  The bottom line, in my opinion:  Creo mixes together Pro/E, ProductView and CoCreate to deliver product design apps to a world that’s looking for a reason to be excited by CAD again.  Is it completely, 100% new?  No.  Is it new enough?  Yes.  Did it live up to its hype?  No.  (But it couldn’t have — I’m one of the harder-to-convince skeptics.)

Here’s what PTC says about Creo:

“Creo will be a scalable suite of right-sized, interoperable, integrated design applications (apps for short) that spans the entire spectrum of product development. By addressing the big unsolved problems in design software, Creo enables companies to unlock potential within their organizations by unleashing creativity, facilitating teamwork, increasing efficiency and ultimately realizing value. Built from the elements of Pro/ENGINEER, CoCreate and ProductView, Creo also includes new breakthrough, patent-pending technology. Creo delivers a common user experience across apps and leverages a common data model and a common PLM backbone. While Creo offers a fresh new approach, it respects and protects existing investments in data, workflows, methodologies, and applications. The power of Creo will also be extended by a broad range of complementary applications, which will be developed by PTC software partners.”

It’s hard to comment on the specifics after seeing demos of a product that won’t even hit Beta for 6 months, but here’s what I like about Creo:

•PTC started saying around 10 years ago that CAD was dead.  We all knew it wasn’t but it didn’t help the market that the #1 or #2 vendor at the time said that there was nothing new to be done for these users.  I’m hopeful that Creo (and the hype leading up to its launch) will spur innovation across the industry.  Where’s the next solids modeler?  Why aren’t we using touchscreens for everything?  Why is the UI still so complicated?

•PTC (and others, to be fair) talked a lot in the early days of PLM about moving engineering information around the enterprise because of its intrinsic value.  Creo, as presented yesterday, takes that vision one step further and encourages people outside of the typical CAD world to interact with CAD models in ways that make that data even more valuable, not by transforming it into something else but by enabling these users to see subsets of “live” data that are meaningful to them. Creating purpose-built apps with UIs customized to the needs of the user (and vastly simplified) should propagate PTC’s tools throughout the enterprise — the question is, how far? How many? How soon?

•Creo’s weaving together of 2D, 3D, direct and parametric modeling techniques acknowledges that very few companies create products working only in 3D parametric modeling.  Unique?  No.  But the ease with which one can apparently switch between environments recognizes the fact that some concepts come to designers fully realized, ready to go in a parametric framework, while other elements of the same design are more conceptual, like lines on a napkin.  Both are important and must be captured for an efficient workflow.  I don’t yet understand enough about Creo’s direct/parametric to know how “revolutionary” it is, but appreciate the realization that it must be made much more intuitive.

•Interoperability seems to be a buzzword for Creo to a level that I haven’t from PTC until now.  Too few details were presented to know exactly what “interoperability” means in the Creo context, but the idea seems to be that PTC wants to build out a partner network, with a potential Apple app store-like approach.  This would signal a new understanding that PTC can’t create everything its users need (nor should it) and that the majority of users live in a heterogenous CAD world. Too much use of the term “Common Data Model”, though — what does that really mean? Is Creo’s data model in an open format?

What I’m not sure about:

•How will this resonate with users?  About halfway through the unveiling, someone tweeted: “This is cool stuff but will it make me use PTC products[?]”.  That’s really the question, isn’t it?  Creo will be the forward path for PTC’s existing users; PTC’s Analyst Relations guru Mark Levitt told me that customers on maintenance will see next month’s scheduled maintenance release of Pro/E branded as Creo Elements/Pro.  But will Creo get users of competitors’ systems to switch?  That depends, to some extent, on the answers to questions about data formats and interoperability.  If the switching cost is too high, the “coolness” of Creo won’t matter as much.

•Where does the rest of PTC’s portfolio fit into this new scheme (MathCAD, anyone?)? What is PTC’s intention around simulation?  Simulation was mentioned as a Creo app; does this mean PTC is reinvigorating its Mechanica offerings?  Or will this be a set of partner apps?

•Is retiring the Pro/E name is a good idea?  PTC’s catchphrases are very … catchy: AnyRole (right tool at the right time), AnyMode (2D, 3D, direct, parametric), AnyData (interoperability) and AnyBOM (configuration management).  The products are being rebranded as Creo Elements/Pro (aka Pro/E), Creo Elements/Direct (CoCreate) and Creo Elements/View (ProductView).  It’s hard to know when and how to retire a brand but I think there’s still tremendous value in the brands that PTC is obliterating.

•How, really, is PTC is merging old and new in Creo?  Pro/E and CoCreate have been around a long time, use different kernels and file formats … How easily can they combine?  Is PTC addressing its own or a broader interoperability issue?  Don’t get me wrong: I like adding together and then slicing up Pro/E, CoCreate and ProductView to be more usable but question how easily this can be done with such well-established products.

Any way you look at it, skeptic or not, PTC laid out an ambitious vision yesterday.  Creo demos showed  that PTC has a solid start; now can they deliver on the totality?  The first Beta for Creo should be available in the spring of 2011, with a 1.0 release in the summer and a 2.0 release to coincide with Windchill 10.x (for AnyBOM).  I’m excited to see what users have to say once they actually get to try it.  Will it, as CEO Jim Heppelmann teased, make CAD easier to use, remove barriers created by lack of interoperability, and create a deeper integration between PLM and CAD for configuration modeling?  Customers will let us know.

Note: PTC supplied venue parking, coffee and snacks and a nifty notebook and pens but otherwise no compensation for this blog post.