Future of PDM with Dropbox Datastore API

Every software application developer has a dream. This dream is to become a "platform". This is such a sweet moment – everybody wants you, everybody needs you, everybody wants to develop on top of your API. However, to become a true platform is a really tricky thing.

I’ve been reading readwriteweb article –Thinking Outside The Dropbox: The Cloud Company Straps On Its Platform Shoes. The article is describing last big news – Dropbox wants to become a platform to disrupt future virtual data storage and get rid of reasonable user of hard discs. Started as 2GB free storage back in 2007, Dropbox grew up to 175 million users according to rww article. I found platform play of Dropbox interesting. Here is the passage talking about Dropbox grand plans:

Dropbox has ambitious plans to expand that simple setup into a much bigger, if still somewhat vague, ecosystem of apps and services. One goal is to let users sync and share a broader range of data—your contacts, say, or playlists, or game saves—in order to, in effect, kill off the hard drive altogether. It’s a big vision, even if it remains a bit hazy. In effect, Dropbox wants more app makers to adopt its cloud storage for their needs, which is presumably how your contacts or playlists or photos or whatever would end up in its cloud to begin with. Then, the company figures, it should be possible to build meta-services that can benefit from all that data stored in Dropbox.

I found Dropbox platform ambitions interesting in the context of current and past development trends for PDM and PLM vendors. The cloud appetite of manufacturing companies are growing. The usage of Dropbox in engineering departments is growing – Dropbox reality for engineers. One of the biggest challenges with cloud storages like Dropbox is to support structured way to keep referenced design information (think about AutoCAD XRefs, SolidWorks and Inventor assemblies and parts, etc.). It looks like Dropbox engineers are going to provide new tools that will make development of PDM services on top of Dropbox easier.

Dropbox’s Datastore API, for instance, lets developers store and sync any type of application data to Dropbox (i.e., those game saves and to-do lists and whatnot). This is very different from today’s commonly Dropboxed documents, spreadsheets and PDFs, since end users would never directly edit the raw structured data.

What is my conclusion? 10 years ago, developers used Windows file explorer to develop successful PDM tools. Familiarity of users with Windows UI as well as easy development practices, made PDM tools like Autodesk Vault, SolidWorks Workgroup PDM, Conisio, etc. very successful. New PDM tools can use Dropbox Datastore API to manage the information. New cloud design and analyzes tools can use the same Dropbox APIs to save data directly to the cloud. My old SmarTeam colleagues should remember "TDM in a Box" marketing slogan back in 1998. Maybe we will discover "PDM in Dropbox" as a new one? Who knows. These are just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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