MicroStation V8 2004 Edition

30 Jun, 2004 By: Randall S. Newton

Robust tools appeal to large design firms

Bently Systems' newest release of its flagship application, MicroStation V8 2004 Edition, offers a variety of improvements to existing features and many new items of general interest (figure 1). MicroStation continues to be popular with the world's largest AEC firms-47 of the 50 U.S. state transportation departments have standardized on MicroStation, and a majority of the Engineering News-Record Top 150 Global Design Firms rely primarily on MicroStation and other Bentley software for their projects.

Unlike its main competitor, Autodesk, Bentley has changed the internal specifications of the MicroStation file format, DGN, only once, with the release of MicroStation V8 in 2001. One of the primary motivations for the file format rewrite was to implement support for AutoCAD's DWG file format. At the BE Conference 2004, the annual Bentley user conference held in May, company founder Keith Bentley noted at the end of a question-and-answer technical session that there was "not a single DWG question." In past years, he said, participants in such sessions usually had several DWG import and export questions. Bentley uses the OpenDWG code libraries from the Open Design Alliance ( The alliance recently completed a rewrite of the member-shared software, which is included in this release of MicroStation.

Figure 1. MicroStation V8 2004 Edition extends and improves on the substantial changes first introduced in MicroStation V8.
Figure 1. MicroStation V8 2004 Edition extends and improves on the substantial changes first introduced in MicroStation V8.

Design Technologies

To support the variety and vast size of projects designed in MicroStation, Bentley focuses on ten core design technologies.
Figure 2. You can attach both DGN and DWG files as reference files.
Figure 2. You can attach both DGN and DWG files as reference files.

  • 1. Design history. This feature allows change management, design decision tracking, and the ability to record, review, and restore design data. Configuration options are enhanced in this release.
  • 2. References. You can combine MicroStation DGN files and AutoCAD DWG files in one model (a superset of a file). Related to references is new flexibility to compose drawings as sheet models (figure 2).
  • 3. Dynamic navigation. AccuDraw and AccuSnap, cursor-and-fingertip tools for drawing and selecting data, continue to be the most popular MicroStation features (figure 3, p. 28). AccuSnap is now more attentive to snap options, including user-defined snap priorities (called Multi-Snaps).
  • 4. Digital signatures and digital rights. Tools for design accountability and security support industry-standard, third-party signature and verification programs. New features in 2004 include the ability to prevent file encryption.
  • 5. Project management. MicroStation is designed to work with Bentley ProjectWise and related server products for file management on an enterprise scale. In addition, Bentley cooperates with such document management vendors as OpenText and Documentum.
  • 6. DWG support. MicroStation treats DWG as a native file format-most design, reference, and edit functions work equally on both DGN and DWG files. The new release fully supports AutoCAD 2004 DWG. New utilities include DWG Audit and Recover, which may eliminate the need for MicroStation shops to keep a copy of AutoCAD on hand.
  • 7. Visualization. Photorealistic rendering is a built-in feature, so you don't need a separate rendering program (figure 4).
  • 8. Customization. MicroStation supports the ubiquitous VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) as well as its custom language MDL. Support for Java (introduced in 1999) will end with the next version of MicroStation, code-named Mozart.
  • 9. Industry specialization. Bentley offers four specialized extensions of MicroStation for civil design, mapping and geospatial, plant schematics, and 3D building design. Each of these extensions began as a third-party application, then over time blended into the product.
  • 10. Modeling options. MicroStation has always been capable for both 2D and 3D design work. In recent years, it's added feature-based solids modeling and parametric design capabilities to the mix.


MicroStation is all about picking and clicking. The left mouse button says "Yes" to such things as enter data points, select a tool, and accept an option. The right mouse button says "No" to reset focus and cancel commands, for example. The highly recommended middle mouse button says "Maybe" to snap to tentative points or elements, issue a tentative data point, and the like.
Figure 3. AccuDraw settings allow nearly infinite variation.
Figure 3. AccuDraw settings allow nearly infinite variation.

When combined with the 1, 2, 3 methodology of picking a tool, adjusting its settings, and following prompts, the trained MicroStation user wields a sophisticated design engine. But that sophistication comes at a price for users familiar with other drafting paradigms-initial training is essential.

In the past, MicroStation worked with a number of non-Windows operating environments, including various interpretations of UNIX. This heritage means that non-Windows user interface features became central to the program over the years. When Bentley decided to support only Windows, starting with MicroStation/J (Version 7), it began a gradual process of modifying the user interface to become more Windows standard, a process that continues with MicroStation V8 2004 Edition. You now can choose between a Windows-standard user interface or a traditional MicroStation screen presentation. Another new Windows-standard feature is drag and drop for reference file attachments from Windows Explorer to a MicroStation session.

The References dialog box (AutoCAD users, think of xrefs) is updated to be more Windows-like in appearance and use. It offers a nested reference tree that provides a quick view of all nested attachment relationships. In the previous release, nested references were hidden in a drop-down menu at the top of the dialog box.

PopSet, a popular now-you-see-it-now-you-don't tool settings window, extends its functionality with pop-up dialog boxes for tools that don't automatically close after use. Also, the most commonly used dialog boxes are now accessible from a revised primary toolbar.

Figure 4. MicroStation V8 2004's photorealistic rendering tools are built in.
Figure 4. MicroStation V8 2004's photorealistic rendering tools are built in.

The Text Editor now lets you use tab stops and indents when creating blocks of text for a drawing. To edit existing text in a drawing, you now double-click the desired text to open the Text Editor.

New to MicroStation's 3D capabilities is integrated feature modeling, which lets you use parametric definitions to create and modify complex 3D geometry knows as Feature Solids. Based on Parasolid technology, a solid modeling kernel from mechanical CAD vendor UGS, Feature Solids are more flexible than MicroStation's existing solids, SmartSolids. For version compatibility purposes, Feature Solids are recognized as the same data type as SmartSolids. While not yet the ideal tool for creating blobby architecture, Feature Solids are headed in the right direction.

Standards Checker is a new utility that examines files for compliance with predefined drafting standards for levels, dimension styles, text styles, and line styles (figure 5). You can run the utility on individual files or in batch mode to examine multiple files and directories.

Figure 5. The new Standards Checker utility validates drawings based on predefined settings.
Figure 5. The new Standards Checker utility validates drawings based on predefined settings.

One new feature generating quite a bit of attention is MicroStation's support for Adobe PDF. Bentley entered into an alliance with Adobe Systems to help enhance the PDF specification for engineering. MicroStation files published to PDF preserve their reference and level (layer) information and can include hyperlinks, digital signatures, and bookmarks.

Output to PDF format is available either from within MicroStation (PDF.PLT is a new plotting driver) or via MicroStation PDF Composer, a separate free download for Bentley SELECT subscribers. PDF Composer is a Windows application for publishing PDF documents from plots and plot sets composed from MicroStation data (both DGN and DWG). When MicroStation V8 2004 Edition was first available for download, 94% of users also downloaded PDF Composer. Bentley has also added PDF output capabilities to Digital InterPlot and ProjectWise.

The complete list of new features in MicroStation V8 2004 Edition is 106 items long, including a variety of tweaks to text handling, the Layer Manager, visualization, the Raster Manager (for referencing raster files), patterning, and database use. These features won't make or break the sale for a new user, but mean everything to the experienced user.


Bentley's approach to interoperability in recent years has been to develop direct relationships with key vendors whose products are used by Bentley customers. Bentley now has working relationships with Adobe, Microsoft, ESRI, Oracle, Intergraph, MapInfo, OpenGIS, OpenText, and Documentum. Bentley continues to incrementally upgrade interoperability features in conjunction with these vendors as necessary. Moving forward, Bentley will take advantage of Microsoft .NET technology, making it easier to exchange data with other vendors who have also standardized on .NET.

AEC Orchestra

In 2003, Bentley reorganized into four divisions (Building, Civil, Geospatial, and Plant). Though there are sole proprietors who use and love MicroStation, the company long ago set its sights on being the vendor of choice for the world's largest AEC firms.

MicroStation's size and complexity reflect this enterprise approach. Metaphorically speaking, while most CAD products seek to be a specific musical instrument, MicroStation seeks to be an orchestra. That so many orchestra firms continue to standardize on MicroStation in an era when many believe that AutoCAD has monopoly status is testimony to Bentley's relentless commitment to solid code and enterprise-class features.

MicroStation V8 was a major revision when released in 2001. Many of Bentley's largest customers took their sweet time upgrading because of the sweeping scope of the changes. By comparison, V8 2004 is substantial, but not earthshaking. Many MicroStation users compare it to the release of MicroStation SE in 1997, a bug-fix-and-feature-tweak update of MicroStation 95.

CAD or engineering IT managers who have already taken the time to reorganize their workflow issues and recompile their custom applications for MicroStation V8 will find this release much easier to adopt. The variety of user interface improvements and the full support for AutoCAD 2004 should make it a popular upgrade. Highly Recommended.

Randall S. Newton is editor-in-chief of AEC Automation Newsletter ( and the new DesignData News (, which debuts July 1, 2004.

About the Author: Randall S. Newton

Randall S. Newton

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