Bentley and Autodesk Join Hands to Bridge DGN and DWG

10 Jul, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

Bentley signs agreement with Autodesk, reduces its reliance on ODA's libraries.

Autodesk and Bentley Systems, two CAD giants with architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) software portfolios, are joining forces for mutual benefit. At a joint press conference on July 8, Greg Bentley, CEO of Bentley Systems, and Jay Bhatt, senior vice-president, Autodesk AEC solutions, told reporters their companies would begin exchanging software libraries and application programming interfaces (APIs).

Sharing their vision in an announcement, the companies wrote, "For instance, a design team could use a mixture of Autodesk and Bentley software, such as Autodesk's Revit platform and Bentley's STAAD and RAM structural products, and simulate and analyze their designs or manage project information using Autodesk NavisWorks software or Bentley's ProjectWise."

Though Bentley and Autodesk both market their products to the AEC segment, Bentley is also one of Autodesk's largest development partners. As two rival AEC software merchants take their relationship to a new level, Bentley's commitment to the Open Design Alliance (ODA), a nonprofit industry consortium, is called into question.

Two for One
At the heart of the Bentley-Autodesk agreement is interoperability between Bentley's DGN format and Autodesk's RealDWG format. Greg Bentley revealed that, at present, Bentley products rely on what he might call "best-guess engineering after the fact" to facilitate data exchange between DGN and DWG. The new agreement will let Bentley include Autodesk's RealDWG libraries in Bentley products with Autodesk's blessings, and let Autodesk do the same with Bentley's DGN libraries.

Autodesk's Bhatt expects the collaboration with Bentley would "address the incompatibility issues caused by DWG files created using non-Autodesk technologies."

One of the third-party organizations that facilitate the DGN-DWG exchange is ODA, which promotes the open exchange of CAD data. ODA publishes the OpenDWG specification and allows members to use its DWGdirect software platform to read and write DWG files. DWGdirect is, ODA clarifies in its literature, "based on the DWG format used by many CAD applications, including Autodesk AutoCAD," but not exactly Autodesk's native DWG format. Currently, Bentley is an ODA board member; Autodesk is not.

One Foot in the Sea and One on Shore
During the Q&A session, when Greg Bentley was asked to clarify his company's commitment to the ODA, he replied, "We are a user of ODA's DWGdirect libraries, to which we add a lot of capabilities ourselves, then embed in our products. We expect to use instead Autodesk's DWG libraries in future releases of our products after the release of our [MicroStation] Athens later this year. ... We provide the ODA with documentation and technical support for the [ODA's] DGNdirect libraries. We have no obligation to provide the ODA — and we don't anticipate that we would — with the Bentley DGN libraries, which we will provide to Autodesk."

To put it frankly, Bentley will continue to support the ODA's development of DGNdirect from the sideline, but it won't provide the Bentley DGN libraries to ODA, as it would to Autodesk. Since the relationship between ODA and Autodesk is strained (to put it mildly), Bentley will need to carefully balance its relationships with both.

ODA's president Arnold van der Weide said, "Bentley is still a member. They have not cancelled their membership." He acknowledged Bentley is an important member, but also noted "the ODA has more than 2,000 members. Bentley is one of them."

RealDWG for Everyone?
The agreement is welcome news for AutoCAD, Revit, and MicroStation users, who can now look forward to opening, reading, and writing native DGN and DWG files right from their own preferred applications.

Donald Broussard, CAD manager for Hunsaker and Associates, San Diego, observed, "This is a very big step. I didn't think I'd see the day when Autodesk loosened its grip on the DWG format. I wonder if this is the first step toward open RealDWG for everyone."

But the ODA's Weide expresses concerns. "It's dangerous when two major players sit together and share their file formats between themselves, because it can close those formats off to the world, blocking new players from entering the market," he observed.

Shaun Sewall, Bentley vice-president, platform products and technology, commented, "Interoperability has always been, and will continue to be, a cornerstone of Bentley's technology strategy. We continue to support the ODA, as we have in the past, with DGN documentation and technical support for the DGN libraries that ODA develops. We continue to actively support the development of critical industry standards like the IAI's IFCs for buildings and ISO 15926 for plant design. Our applications already utilize these standards and will continue to do so."

Prior to 2003, ODA was known as OpenDWG Alliance, suggesting its interoperability focus was exclusively on DWG. Since renaming itself as Open Design Alliance, the ODA began pursuing interoperability among all CAD formats.

For more on ODA's exchanges with Autodesk over the years, please see "Autodesk Goes After ODA for Trademark Infringement" (November 29, 2006) and "ODA Moves Forward" (CAD Central, May 2007.)

Editor's Note: To share your thoughts on this topic, go to Cadalyst Discussion Forum / Tech Forum: AEC / Hope for Trouble-Free DGN-DWG Exchange.