UGS Gives Away 2D to Win 3D

28 Sep, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Free Solid Edge offer beckons AutoCAD users.

The trouble with being Autodesk: Every 3D CAD vendor is trying to invade its 2D AutoCAD empire. The latest one to launch an assault is UGS. Early this month, the company fired off an enticement squarely aimed at the AutoCAD horde. It's giving away Solid Edge 2D -- for free!

The announcement states, "UGS customers who are paying for AutoCAD or other 2D drafting tools can now use free Solid Edge 2D Drafting. ..." Should you miss this not-so-subtle cue, the Solid Edge Free 2D Drafting Web page will nudge you with, "Solid Edge 2D Drafting includes a wealth of tools designed to ease the transition of 2D AutoCAD users updating to Solid Edge, including import wizards, WYSIWYG of imported files (matching of AutoCAD fonts and color schemes) and many other capabilities that make it a compelling application for AutoCAD 2D users. ..."

Catch 'Em While They're Still in 2D
"We're after people who're still stuck in the 2D mode," says Bruce Boes, vice-president of UGS Velocity Series marketing. "AutoCAD users are certainly a big part of it -- no question about that. We've done a lot in the product to facilitate AutoCAD users specifically ... but the ones we're most interested in are those who have plans to move beyond 2D and go into 3D, data management, machining or FEA [finite-element analysis]."

The announcement states that Solid Edge 2D Drafting is a $995 value, but the truth is, UGS has never marketed it as a standalone product. It's usually included with Solid Edge 3D, priced at approximately $5,000. So UGS has nothing to lose.

Yet the company has everything to gain. If AutoCAD users take the bait, these 2D converts move one step closer to 3D Solid Edge.

UGS anticipates AutoCAD users will put up a fight. "They'll say, 'We understand the product we have. Why should we switch?'" Boes predicts. "So we invested a lot in Solid Edge to make the product emulate [AutoCAD users'] environment. For instance, there's model space and paper space, the product can read in AutoCAD blocks ... those types of changes make it adaptable for AutoCAD users."

The Empire Strikes Back
But don't expect Autodesk to sit by idly as others scale its walls. To defend its historical territory, the company is preparing to introduce a series of DWG-interoperability functions sometime in the future, it reports. The ambiguous time frame aside, these new functions, previewed to the press at the recent Autodesk Manufacturing Solutions Summit, will essentially enable Autodesk Inventor to natively read and write two formats: IDW and DWG.

Andrew Anagnost, Autodesk's senior director of CAD/CAE products, Manufacturing Solutions Division, explains, "We already read and write DWG, but as a translation. The change is that we will natively support DWG data with Inventor without any translation. So the data can be used seamlessly in AutoCAD, modified, and read back in Inventor with 0% loss in intelligence or fidelity."

This will let users directly open AutoCAD data from Inventor, use AutoCAD objects in Inventor projects, save DWG files out of 3D Inventor files and generally use the two programs in a much more integrated fashion.

Anagnost says, "It's a move to enable a hybrid 3D and 2D design environment that respects the legacy 2D data and processes of our user." This interoperability will also make AutoCAD users think twice before defecting to another 3D program.

What the Numbers Say
Soon after the UGS announcement, market research firm Aberdeen Group surveyed more than 320 manufacturers to determine their interest in the free offer. Responses revealed that 64% plan to download the Solid Edge 2D software, and 48%, or nearly half of those paying for a 2D drafting program, are willing to switch if the Solid Edge 2D Drafting?s capabilities are robust.

Aberdeen also queried participants on the criteria they use for selecting free CAD software. The majority, or 61%, responded that the deciding factor is direct capability comparison. A mere 25% cited vendor reputation -- in fact, that was the lowest-rated criteria, suggesting these users are willing to take a chance on relatively unknown vendors, provided the free software rivals big-name vendors' products.

A number of exclusive 2D product vendors and hybrid 2D-3D product vendors "are perhaps best positioned to respond to the UGS strategy," Aberdeen observes in its September 2006 Market Alert. "Most of these providers charge license fees or maintenance for the 2D drafting application," it also points out. That means they'll feel a pinch from the Solid Edge 2D giveaway -- some than others.

The Real Battlefront
In the same Market Alert, Aberdeen concludes, "Vendors that only offer a 3D modeling tool may find themselves at a disadvantage in the competition to migrate users from 2D drafting to 3D modeling. Aberdeen Group's yet-to-be-published Evolution from 2D Drafting to 3D Modeling Report finds that fully 77% of those that migrate to 3D modeling continue to use 2D drafting applications."

Chad Jackson, Aberdeen's director of Product Innovation and Engineering, explains, "They're not just creating 3D models and extracting 2D drawings from them; they're actually using applications that have 2D drafting capabilities for orthogonal views and so on."

The war for 3D dominance rages on, but some of the fiercest battles will probably be fought in 2D terrain.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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