Sunday, September 12, 2010

Changing Focus Until the Software Patches are Delivered.

If I thought it would help the software development effort, I would continue to test why an SVG does or does not render correctly with eCraftShop Pro.  (I am using the term 'RENDER" to include either drawing or cutting.  If a shape will not draw, it certainly will not cut.)  But, the SVG import and rendering functionality is SO dysfunctional  that it's probably best to just add it to the top of our triaged fix list and get on to other discoveries.  So, here it is:


Now, let's move on....

In my mind, the product that you and I downloaded and have been trying to get to work has enough designed functionality to be the product that is delivered freely with every eCraft.  My strategy at this point would be to take a step backwards and say to my customers...
"You will still get a free copy of eCraftShop Pro when it is ready... But, it is NOT this product.  It will be MUCH more than this product.  So, for now, what you have will be called eCraftShop Home Designer.  And, it will be the basic foundation upon which our professional product will be built. We ask you to bear with us for while as we first work to stabilize the features in the product you now have and then begin to the work to complete the full eCraftShop Pro package.  And, we promise you that the final eCraftShop Pro that is delivered to you will outperform any other digital die cutting software on the market today. "
Now, I'm not eCraft, so I don't know how they plan to move forward.  I DO know that they have had the wake-up call that EVERY individual and company needs to have before than can be truly successful.  I know a LOT of successful people and very few of them got to where they are without some real setbacks that forged the foundations of their ultimate success.  One of my favorite sermons was titled, "Your Failures are NOT Final."

Few things have been as successful as the lightbulb.  And, few inventors will ever be as famous as Thomas Edison.  And there have been few inventors that endured more failures.  It is estimated that he tried more than 10,000 materials before he found the one that worked.   Each failure propelled him in a new, more promising direction until he created something that few of us would be willing to do without today.  The Lightbulb.  And, don't forget that phonograph he invented.  It took him TEN YEARS to bring that to market!

Fortunately, I don't think eCraft will have 10,000 failures before they have the best digital die cutting machine in the marketplace.  And, hopefully, their biggest failures are behind them with their maiden attempt at delivering eCraftShop software.  I hope they are using the term FIASCO in their internal memos.  Because FIASCOS spur us on to do things RADICALLY differently.

So, I would like to see us explore what we have and come up with fixes and minor changes that would suffice for now as the larger, long term effort for a spectacular eCraftShop Pro is fully developed.  If we can accept that the product we have now could be the "LITE" version, whatever it would be called. then we can concentrate on getting this feature set rock solid and functioning smoothly.  Period. 


Of course, SVG Import is a must, even for a "Lite" product.  A "Pro" product should go well beyond simply importing and rendering SVG files.  The 'Pro' product should permit extensive modification of SVG files.


Even at the basic level some changes will have to be addressed with the LINE TOOL.  The only time we want to draw without closing a path is in the PEN mode.  So, how the LINE TOOL behaves should be determined by the current CUT LINE / DRAW LINE selection.  The end of a line must be able to be snapped to close a path when in CUT LINE mode.


The current behavior of the CURVED LINE tool invokes a "What in the world were they THINKING???" response.  Again, a curved line, by itelf might be useful to draw.  But, it is NOT going to be useful to CUT.  The ends of the curved line should be anchored in a path meant to cut.  And, currently, the CURVED LINE tool is far too primitive to be of much use and it is VERY difficult to bring the ends together with other curved lines to form a real path.


One of the reasons why I would support trying to make our primary immediate goal that of stabilizing the product we've downloaded is that I am not all that confident that the language or foundation underneath the current product is robust enough to support a full set of 'PRO' features.  I am using a computer with Windows 7, 64-bit and an i5 -750 processor with 6 GB of RAM.  When I import a large SVG, it seems to choke more than one would think it should.  So, it seems wise, to me, to maximize performance at this level of functionality before adding more.  Even if C++ is used, there are two styles available to the programmers.  The easiest is called "Managed Code" where the C++ run-time manages the use of memory.  But, it may be that a truly blazing digital die cutter application requires compiling in an "Un-Managed Code" environment.  Being able to observe the current product for a while will help determine if the underlying assumptions upon with the product is based are correct.

Foundations and assumptions should be based on the performance expected under the maximum specifications and functionality that can be reasonably predicted at full maturity of the product.  So, the performance under the current feature load needs to assessed before moving forward.  Otherwise,Craftwell could find itself in the same position down the road.

Let me give an example very near and dear to me.  As some may know, I have a real interest in making 3D modeling much, much easier because I think that in the not-to-distant future we will have 3D printers in our homes and businesses.  I published two blogs on two related products, Cosmic Blobs and CB Model Pro  that had a marvelously simple user interface for creating 3D objects.   But, unfortunately, Dessault was forced to abandon both because the underlying engine simply could not be expanded without slowing to a crawl.  They started from ground zero, using what they'd learned from these two products and created 3DVIA, built on a new engine that COULD be expanded.  They now have more than 500 million users!!!

So, as you can see, it is very, very important to get the basic engine right.  If we can accept the current eCraftShop version for a while, to allow for complete stabilization and optimization, the development of the final eCraftShop Pro will have better legs on which to stand.  Craftwell and the software developers will have time to evaluate the basic engine before proceeding.

It will also allow Craftwell to put a more comprehensive user input and beta testing structure into place before finalizing the eCraftShop Pro feature set for the final design specifications.

Frankly, if Craftwell or Digital Avenues thought the current feature set comprised a 'Pro' product then they really do need our input.  I, for one, will not be satisfied with the moniker of 'Pro' until the feature set is BETTER and MORE ROBUST than any and all digital die cutter applications out there.  And, that includes Make the Cut, Sure Cuts A Lot and Funtime 2010!  

The marvelous eCraft hardware design deserves nothing less.

So, what am I saying... bottom line...

I'm asking the eCraft community to focus on what needs to be done to make the feature set of the product we've downloaded into a mature product distinct from eCraftShop Pro.  The need to fix the SVG and cutting problems are a given.  But, beyond those, what needs to be done to THIS feature set to make it USEFUL to you NOW.  So, let's turn our attention on the LINE TOOL, the CURVED LINE tool and the other tools in the current product and suggest how these basic tools need to be improved until they meet your complete  satisfaction.

Then, and only then. at least in my opinion, is Craftwell ready to move on to a true Pro product.  Obviously, we need to hear what YOU think on this subject.


vcat2k said...

When I first looked at this cutter being the most innovative out there, I wondered if it would cut around printed images or if there was something in the software that would let us print to our regular printers and then align and cut on the ecraft. Before my purchase I sent an email to ecraft and asked if it was capable of doing that. Hearing that it can I decided to go with this instead of the silhouette cutter. I am worried now that it will not do what I had hoped for. Can anyone answer the question of whether I can cut around my printed image with this cutter and software???

Tom Meeks said...

I wish I could simply say, "Yes" to your question. But, until I see the patch that is due in a week or so, I can not, honestly, say WHAT it is capable of doing.

One I get the software update, I will begin testing that very thing. What we have going for us is that there are two switches on either side of the trolley that can be used to calibrate the left/right alignment. And, we can use our own marks to align the paper position in the rollers.

So, I have to believe that it is doable. How soon is the question.

Syllie said...

Hi Tom,

I found your blog shortly after you started it as I was very interested in obtaining a cutter that can be used to cut SVG files.

A bit of a background: I am a software developer (even tho I build just websites nowadays) and I run a tutorial blog for Inkscape. My aim was to use the cutter to create stencils from my SVG files to use for fabric printing - which I do as a hobby.

After reading about the eCrafts possibilities I decided to pre-order the device and after a long wait it finally arrived last Friday. Over the weekend we experimented a bit with it and I can only confirm the findings that you and others have posted sofar - the software is not even past alpha stage and no where near the predicate pro. I assume eCraft is fully aware of this, as they originally were planning to sell this product.

We ran immediately into the stuttering problem trying to cut one of our own designs. And user friendliness of the software... pffft.. I know I will not use it to DESIGN things - I just want the import of SVG to work and print my design accordingly.

What I cannot understand is why eCraft is even trying to re-build a drawing product. A proper interface to "print" (render) a well defined SVG to the device would have been sufficient. It could have been provided as a plugin for the common vector programs (where of course I fully support Inkscape as being a free and open source product, but any other free vector program could be a suggested combo).

I had a look at the files of the eCraft software installation, which show that it is build in J# (a .Net java variant) and depends on external libraries, in this case the ReaderSVG component from The library version used in the software dates from 2009 whilst the latest version has been released in Aug 2010. The developer's blog suggests a lot of improvements on how the svg paths are read and translated in applications that make use of this component.

All this shows that the cutter is unable to process svg directly and depends on implementation of the svg specification in an external library (and of course the vector software that we use ourselves, neither CorelDraw, AI or Inkscape are able to produce full svg compliant files). I make use of all these programs.

At this stage I am very disappointed in the product and my partner called the printer already a pricey paperweight. I really hope that eCraft gets their act together quickly (no matter who develops the software - it is their name on the product) as I truly believe that the success of this cutter is made or broken by the success of the software.

I will continue to experiment and if I find things to contribute I sure will.


Tom Meeks said...

Thanks, Syllie.

Your post is very important for Craftwell and the eCraft community.

As you know, I feel that Craftwell's development vendor has not done Craftwell any favors. While one could argue that the design of the machine was in flux, anyone with any knowledge and experience with software realizes that would only effect a tiny aspect of the product.

It cannot explain, for instance, the complete lack of a usable user interface or controls that only halfway work. You don't need a cutter to design and implement those elements.

Everything you point out is true except that this particular paperweight is well designed from a structural engineering point of view. And, that means somebody, sooner or later, will come up with the software that will turn this paperweight into exactly what we expect it to be.

It remains to be seen if that somebody is Craftwell or Digital Avenues. If it is not you can count on me to not be so nice until they open up the driver architecture to 3rd party developers.

Great info and a spot-on comment!