15 July 2008

Autodesk Escalates War on "Open DWG" File Technology

progeCAD and similar products continue to win user confidence as low cost substitutes for overpriced CAD. And American corporation "Autodesk" is getting mad. Passive resistance to DWG clone technologies has developed into all out war, both in the court room and in the board room.

The Open Design Alliance (ODA) is a nonprofit consortium of CAD companies cooperating in a rare way to clone one of the few major reasons people still pay Autodesk prices - the binary DWG AutoCAD file format. The ODA posts regular updates of their robust DWG and DGN libraries on a website for member use in their own software - software like progeCAD.

When Autodesk itself was invited to join the ODA, the company declined. Gradually Autodesk began a long series of legal attacks on the ODA. On November 13 2006 they officially filed suit for their "Trusted DWG technology" which superficially warns users about opening DWG files that didn't come from their own AUD$6000 CAD system. They are also litigating for ownership of the letters DWG as a trademark belonging to Autodesk. The problem is that the USA trademark office doesn't recognise file extensions as "trademarkable". DWG is really just another file extension like ".doc" or ".txt".

Meanwhile, Autodesk finally realeased their own "RealDWG" toolkit to compete with the ODA, the caveat being that any applicant must meet with Autodesk's approval as a developer that will not compete with any of the Autodesk high-priced product line. It was quite an effective move to begin cherry-picking "realDWG" converts from important ODA contributors, undermining it. ODA gets its funding from its members.

Autodesk has quickly made their next move in this apperantly two-prong gambit to weaken the ODA. Following at the heals of the completed million-dollar Autodesk assimilation of Moldflow, Autodesk has announced a new "cooperation" with their next unlikely target, Bentley Systems(Microstation). At one time, Bentley was a serious AEC market competitor. Then, in February 2008, a key Bentley developer changed sides to Autodesk. Strangley, Bentley Systems has now been approved for use of the Autodesk "RealDWG" toolkit. A press release was posted celebrating this "Advance in AEC Software Interoperability". Now think, would you let your worst enemy watch your house while you were away? The truth is that Autodesk is as unconcerned in promoting real file interoperability as they have ever been. The endgame in this gambit really stood later in Bentley's own reaction, stating that their ODA was "now irrelevant". There is further speculation that Bentley Systems is next in line for Autodesk assimilation.

progeCAD is a product that reads, writes, edits and converts Autodesk DWG format files in a CAD interface very similar to AutoCAD 2002. Some consider it a clone. Recently this product has become very stable and robust so that even large companies are saving thousands by replacing expensive AutoCAD installations with progeCAD.

It is obvious that Autodesk is now at a de facto state of all out war against such products. Should they win, businesses will have no choice but to pay big AutoCAD prices. My gut tells me that Autodesk is scheming something parallel to their 2010 release to finish the ODA for good. Is the world's best hope is that the EU will take the same anti-trust motions against Autodesk as they have against Microsoft? Maybe the ODA needs to move to Europe?


Abid Shahzad said...

great work b ODA.

Unknown said...

I just noticed that the most recent versions of Autodesk AutoCAD are refusing to open .dwg not generated by them. Earlier versions were just warning that the file was "not genuine" .dwg. This is bad because most companies uses AutoCAD and a small Engineering company that used ProgeCAD will not be able to work for those companies. Please tell me that there is a hope against this. May be something like a converter that makeup the .dwg file and make it acceptable by AutoCAD.

Siem said...

In Holland the central government is prescribing Open Standards to be used when exchanging documents. This will most likely lead to the ban on the exchange of DWG files in the propietary AutoCAD 2010 DWG format. I expect more governments to follow this example!