Goose: meet gander
The CAD work-alike wars just went up a notch.
The ITC (IntelliCAD Technical Consortium) has a working DGN editor. As they put it, now there's two of them in the world -- the other one being MicroStation from Bentley Systems.
Admittedly, the initial offering is basic in its functionality. According to the ITC, the DGN editor does the following tasks, and more:
- Draws lines, polylines, circles, arcs, rectangles, text, blocks, leaders, revision clouds, and boundaries
- Applies grips and snaps
- Assigns colors and layers (called "levels" in Microstaion)
- Attaches xrefs
- Edits through, copying, moving, exploding, erasing, arraying, offsetting, trimming, and filleting
The ITC itself does not sell or distribute the editor. It is a technology developer for its members. So their member companies decide whether to sell, distribute, name, and market a DGN editor. The ITC says it should be easy for its members who decide to take the plunge: "Take your existing code that runs and customizes IntelliCAD for DWG files and have that same code work for DGN files."
History Bites Back
MicroStation itself got its start as a low-priced Intergraph workalike, originally called PsudeoStation -- because it was a pseudo copy of Intergraph that ran on a terminal (station) -- just a file viewer at first. Intergraph sued the Bentley brothers, but then settled by buying a majority interest in Bentley Systems.
Back then, Intergraph ran its CAD software on its self-designed hardware, typically costing $100,000 a seat. It was the #1 vendor in the CAD industry. But AutoCAD had arrived as a $,1000-disrupter, and by the end of the 1980s Intergraph realized they needed a low-price product to complete. It wasn't sufficient for Intergraph to run "Follow the Leader" ads in CADalyst magazine.
With the money from Intergraph, the Bentley brothers developed MicroStation into a CAD editor that ran on personal computers. Intergraph handled the marketing and sales.
In its eagerness to take down the new #1, AutoCAD, Intergraph began a technical and marketing war against Autodesk. On the technical side, MicroStation became the very first CAD program to read (and then later, write) DWG files -- the Nexus add-on. (I was the consultant to BS, and had suggested the name "Links"; Nexus is the Latin version.) Later, with V8, BS encapsulated DWG inside DGN.
Nexus included a workspace that mimicked the AutoCAD user interface. For a while, BS even tried writing a LISP interpreter, but gave up after they realized that to be compatible with AutoLISP, the (command) function would have to replicate every single command from AutoCAD.
On the marketing front, Intergraph instigated the "MicroStation for AutoCAD Users" campaign. They sponsored a book by the same name (which I co-wrote), and ran non-stop seminars at A/E/C Systems in 1991, pitting a MicroStation operator against an AutoCAD operator (which was me).
The overall theme was to be fair (and it was), but to show AutoCAD users that (1) MicroStation existed and (2) MicroStation was clearly superior. It wasn't; it was different. It was s-o-o-o different from AutoCAD, in how drawings (designs) were set up, commands (key-ins) were entered, entities placed (objects drawn) -- MicroStation's everyday terminology sounded like alien jargon to AutoCAD users.
Why Not? Why, ITC?
The ITC blog cheekily announced the news by asking, "DGN: Why Not?" But the ITC is not the first with a MicroStation workalike. DualCAD from Pangaea CAD Solutions is what I would describe as LanguishWare -- the DGN editor was last updated in 2009. (You still can download it free from http://dualcad.com/index.html.)
DualCAD DGN editor from Pangaea CAD Solutions
MicroStation clones have been possible for a long time, as the Open Design Alliance is the official maintainer of the DGN format. This is unlike the adversarial position Autodesk takes against the ODA over the documenting of the DWG format. (Bentley Systems also has an agreement with Autodesk that allows both CAD vendors to use each other's file formats -- DGN and DWG.) In fact, the name of the organization changed from OpenDWG to Open Design the day that the Bentley-ODA cooperation was announced.
When an ODA member supports DGN, it usually only includes DGN-read (and maybe DGN underlays) with their CAD system's Import command. Any ODA member who wanted to write a DGN editor, could have, by now. But they haven't. There is no market.
AutoCAD workalikes survive because DWG is the universal design language, just as English is the universal human language. DGN is a niche file format from a mid-sized CAD vendor. It makes no more sense to spend programming time and dollars on cloning a DGN editor than to learn to speak Swiss-German.
So while the news today from the ITC is exciting for a CAD business-history obsessive like me, it is my opinion that there is no business case for for a DGN editor. Despite my negative outlook, some ITC member may launch DGN editors as a way of distinguishing themselves.
The ITC just took a bold move.