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Harry Potter Goes To AutoDesk

By Terry Baker - August 2003

AutoCAD was shown to the public at a computer show in the USA, in an early form, for the first time in October 1982 and bore the name of MicroCAD, so the story goes. The name was changed to AutoCAD after it was found that another company was already using the name MicroCAD.

I had started off on my own in 1979 doing designs and drawings for other people that needed this service and was soon joined by my brother, and shortly thereafter by 2 young guys who joined as apprentice draftsmen. As business blossomed, more staff joined and among the contractors that we hired was one young guy with the name of Kenny. Yes, the very same Kenny Ramage who today runs the Afralisp and AUGAfrica web sites.

Around about 1982 I was asked by one of my regular clients, Kevin Eaton, if I had seen drawings being produced on computer. I think I burst out laughing at the suggestion, but agreed to go to a demonstration on a SKOK system. The demo of drawing a gearwheel, complete with teeth and spokes in just a few minutes so impressed me that I started shopping around and looked at another system, Calcomp, costing a whopping R500 000 [~US$70 000]. By this time I was completely sold on CAD. All I had to do now was to find a CAD system
I could afford. (The SKOK system cost R120 000) [~US$16 500] I also took a keen interest in computers and started shopping around for one for myself. There were about 10 different makes of PC on the market and not one of them compatible with the next.

The colour and resolution of the NCR DM5 looked the best to me and I bought it, never for one minute doubting that I would find a CAD system to run on it. The operating system was called CPM-80, I think.

Shortly after that, in June 1986, I took my first trip overseas to the UK for a month, with my friend Hilary. What an experience! Whilst traveling around the UK I visited every bookshop we came across, and any other shop that looked as though it may sell computers, but they were far and few between. I ended up buying a computer magazine in which there was a full page advert for AutoCAD. After making enquiries I was directed to the distributor of AutoCAD in the UK. 

Enter Harry Potter.
At this stage I must mentioned that I have just recently read the first Harry Potter book by J. C. Rowling called "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone". 
I encourage you, if you have not as yet read this book to do so. It will make my story a lot more interesting. Whilst reading this book I had this very strong feeling of deja vu. 

Hogarth is taking Harry Potter to London to do shopping for his kit before he is sent off to Hogwarts, a boarding school for witches & wizards. Whilst walking through London they reach their destination, a door, which is the entrance to the place where they need to purchase the kit. The only problem is that it appears to Harry that he and Hogarth are the only ones who are able to see the door, which is the entrance to the shops.

Back to my story.
After speaking to the distributor of AutoCAD, I was instructed to visit Stage One, which is what the distributor was called.

Hilary and I set off by Underground to Waterloo Station, and map in hand, headed for the address give us, of Stage One.

Now, for such a full-page advert of a software package that every designer would "kill" for, I thought we should see the shop, with neon lights blazing, from at least a block or possible even two blocks away. When we reached the address I looked at the map, re-looked at the address, twice, then went to closest door to the address and asked the "Indian" gentleman if he knew where Stage One, or AutoCAD, could be found. He had never heard of either but 
suggested that we try the shop next door. That we did, with the same results. 
In desperation, we tried the single door between both the aforementioned shops and hey presto!, some large fellow by the name of Richard Handyside introduced himself as the manager. Once inside, and having carefully to negotiate piles of boxes, manuals, and 5-inch floppy disks, the shop seemed to open up after a few meters of passage. Was this it? AutoCAD? Autodesk? I don't think "Autodesk" had yet been born at this stage.

After a brief discussion with Richard and one of his colleagues, we left with "Demo Copy" of AutoCAD 1.3 under arm, very happy to now return to South Africa and get stuck into the CAD drawing business. I had a lot more long distance chats to Richard Handyside, most went something like "how do you draw a line an exact length and an exact angle?" and "How do 
you snap to a line". "Snap! What's that?"

I remember buying an IBM PC when I returned from the UK because AutoCAD only became available on the NCR DM5 a few months later and I could not wait. 
I also remember that version 1.4 arrived on 2 floppy disks, one for the program, and one for the drivers. Sample drawings were also on one of the 2 disks.

However, it was not long after this that my business changed from doing drawings, to selling AutoCAD. (Sorry Kenny) My first customer was a Mr. Gerald Gordon who was a lecturer in Architecture at the University of Witwatersrand, and who was referred to me by Richard Handyside.

A few years later my company Infosoft merged with two other dealers, CadArt and TechnoCAD, to form Afracad, the largest Autodesk dealer in Africa at that stage. Does Afracad ring a bell? (think Afralisp?)

A few years later Autodesk's founder John Walker came to visit us in South Africa. (Remind me to tell you about that one.)
P.S. If you old enough to remember any of this, or even if you're not, drop me a line on :
tb@caesol.co.za.

Terry Baker

 
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