Editor's Window30 Jun, 2005 By: Sara Ferris
Getting real: Is Autodesk trying to undermine the Open Design Alliance?
Autodesk's New Real Dwg Program Will Offer ObjectDBX libraries for reading and writing the DWG format at roughly the same price point as the libraries maintained by the Open Design Alliance (details in CAD Central). That's just to make the price appealing to third-party developers, Autodesk says. Its goal is to promote CAD software interoperability by making the authentic DWG format available to more people.
For a few months now, Autodesk has been insinuating that a non-Autodesk DWG is a bad DWG, but has been slow to produce specific examples of these rotten-egg files. Mark Strassman, senior director of marketing for Autodesk's Platform Technology division, says that AutoCAD's fairly new error-reporting capabilities revealed to them that problem DWGs by and large come from products not developed by Autodesk. However, he notes that it's impossible to determine the specific authoring application from the bad DWG files that Autodesk receives.
I'd be interested in hearing your experiences, good or bad, with DWG files that come from non-Autodesk applications. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with any examples you've come across. We're trying to gauge whether these rogue DWG files are a real concern.
The Open Design Alliance should weather this challenge. Its membership is an impressive roster of both Autodesk competitors and partners, and its libraries still offer compelling advantages compared with Real DWG, especially to Autodesk competitors, who won't be accepted into the Real DWG program. In addition, Open Design Alliance libraries also include the MicroStation DGN format.
We can't, and shouldn't, expect CAD vendors to lead the way in promoting interoperability. From a business standpoint, it doesn't make sense. To help ensure better DWGs, Autodesk could easily work with the Open Design Alliance to improve its libraries. That would benefit end users, but would also benefit the competition.
Though I'm picking on Autodesk here, it's certainly not the only CAD software developer that's uneasy with the idea of openness, despite all the current talk about document sharing and collaboration. Deep down your CAD vendor wants nothing more than to lock your company into its own file format for perpetuity. You wouldn't have data exchange problems if you'd just do the sensible thing and use the current version of its product, and nothing else.
So we find ourselves in an Orwellian kind of world with many different degrees of openness. There's the open that means free access to anyone, the open that requires royalties, and the open that contains proprietary parts (see Dassault's 3D XML kickoff, also in CAD Central). Down the road, I expect that vendors, at least any vendor that has an "open" format to promote, will derive increasing benefit from cooperating with competitors, which in turn should ease interoperability pains.