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Jul 14, 2005


Evan Yares

Ralph says "If you find it hard to imagine not being able to access CAD drawings 20 years in the future, perhaps it might be easier to visualize not being able to view the pictures you took with you camera today."

Let me make it easier for you to imagine. If you're a current AutoCAD user, you can't read your 20 year old DWG files.

Yes, AutoCAD 2006 will read 19 year old drawings (created in AutoCAD verion 2.5, which was released June, 1986) -- but Autodesk does not sell any software that will read drawings from any of the previous six releases of AutoCAD!

How do other CAD programs handle their old data files?

- AnvilExpress, the high-end CAD program from Patrick Hanratty, the father of CAD, can read files from the first verion of ADAM, the program that launched the modern CAD industry in 1972.

- UGS NX is capable of reading files back Version D2 of Unigraphics, the 1980 version of the program which first supported 3D modeling.

- Bentley Microstation is capable of reading files that were written by the earliest versions of Intergraph IGDS, many years before Microstation even existed.

- Dassault CATIA V5 may be unique among major CAD systems, as it cannot even read files from the previous major version, CATIA V4. Yes, many companies offer programs that will translate V4 files to V5, but the fact that this is required is unconscionable.

The only reasonable solution I can think of to the AutoCAD situation would be for Autodesk to publish the file format specifications for the versions of DWG it no longer supports. I find it hard to imagine that they wouldn't have this infomation available. And they can hardly argue that releasing it would compromise their current sales, can they?

Yet, this would be a patch, not be a solution, for the larger problem of long term data usability -- whether that data is from a CAD program, or from a digital camera. The only long term solutions I can envision will come from legislation, or from the courts.

Eecutives at CAD firms should think very hard about the implications here. CAD and digital photography file formats are exactly analogous. The Amercan Society of Media Photographers release on the issue states:

"It is urgent that the manufacturers of digital cameras
look beyond their respective, short-term business plans
and act for the good of future generations."

CAD software vendors would be wise to do so as well. If they don't act for the good of future generations, they may find that judges and legislators will do it for them.

Mr MIke

False statement about CATIA V5 - it can 'read' CATIA V4 - as long as they're not a total mess (same as other CAD systems). There is a limitation of how usable those files are - but the same goes for UGS...

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