Editor’s Forum: Why We Need a Unified CAD File Format

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By John Evens, UK
Firstly, these comments are my own personal views based on 22 years in the construction industry and IT and CAD and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

There may well be a shortage of MicroStation users in the future. If MicroStation has an aging user base, it is probably more due to the fact that Autodesk is better at marketing and promoting their products than Bentley, especially outside the US.

In the UK, for example, many trade publications seem to contain a larger proportion of Autodesk-related advertisements than Bentley advertisements. Also, because more contractors and suppliers use Autodesk products, the demand is much greater for the DWG file format than the DGN.

Those of us who have used both products would mostly agree that MicroStation is a much better product. But the factors an organization uses to determine which product to use are based on market forces, volume sales and what everyone else within the supply chain is using.

These are the factors the decision makers and finance directors use in deciding which product to buy — not what is best for the production teams who have to use the software. This is a major problem because the decision makers never use the applications, so they are in the worst position to make a decision. They are the ones who pay for the product and end up paying more long term as work is produced in less efficient ways than is possible had a more informed decision been made to opt for a better product.

I have long wished for a general-purpose file format that each application developer can hook into and add functionality to using plug-ins. That way the customer base can pick and mix the functionality the customer needs without having to buy into monolithic applications where only 20% of the command set is used by 90% of users. Why should we have to pay for functionality we never use?

MicroStation is in a better position than most to capitalize on transfer of product because of its ability to open and edit AutoCAD files and run in DWG mode. This effectively makes the DWG file format independent of applications; organizations can use both AutoCAD and MicroStation to drive DWG.

This is what I am trying to achieve: DWG becomes the file format to use, but is driven by both AutoCAD and MicroStation. Things like color tables, layers, text styles, dim styles, custom linestyles and multi-lines would be set up based on the lowest common denominator (usually AutoCAD) file format restrictions. This means that the organization can keep MicroStation and the trained user base won’t need to be retrained to use AutoCAD and provides us with a wider selection of staff from the employment marketplace. Also, Bentley does not push Powerdraft hard enough and both MicroStation and Powerdraft are priced above AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT which further deters organizations from investing in Bentley products.

AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT are also marketed towards the personal, home user and can be bought off the shelf in many computer shops. Bentley needs to hit this sector of the market really hard with a version of MicroStation that retails for under £500.

On another point, the issue of people taking up other professions lies in one simple fact. Those “professionals” in the construction industry are simply not as valued and certainly not paid what they are worth in comparison to those in the medical, teaching and legal professions. Those who run down architects and engineers need to realize that the profession does more than they think in terms of the social fabric of our countries. Things won’t get better until this fundamental issue is resolved.

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