The Secret War on DWG

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There is a secret war over DWG, a war whose battle has been waging for over 10 years…

Most customers believe that when they sit down and create a design that they can count on their CAD software to provide the ability to open, save, and edit their investments of time, money, sweat and tears. However, many may not understand that there has been a war being battled by Autodesk, and those who provide applications which can read and write the DWG “standard”.

If you are one of thousands who have trusted your designs to AutoCAD, you may feel comfortable continuing to use the software, placing trust in one of the largest software companies in the world. You have come to expect big brother of protecting your investment in data, and many of you have no need to consider that you may be causing yourself long term roadblocks to owning what is rightly yours, the DWG files you build each day. Yet most may not really understand what the software is doing under the covers that may cause major headaches for them in the future.

Since AutoCAD’s first release, native DWG objects have been just that, native to the DWG format. These objects such as lines, arcs, and circles, were identifiable and replicable through their mathematical formulas, available to anyone who has the wherewithal to research what these formulas are. Even third parties who originally created the wealth of add-ons to AutoCAD which improved the productivity of base CAD design were by nature made up of these base mathematical objects (often combined together as a group in container entity type called Blocks, easily exploded back to their origin types). That is to say, by combining these primitives into a group they could then be identified by the nature of the group rather than its original entities, however it wasn’t difficult to distill them back to their original entity types, after all, the groups were also defined inside the DWG file.

However, something changed around the turn of the millennium. Autodesk decided they could not get fat enough just supplying the base CAD system. They saw the incomes of their partners, the third party developers, as income they could use to further their quest for dominance, and thus decided to enter their “partners” ecosystem. This move caused a rapid decline in the number and strength of those involved with creating vertical applications using AutoCAD Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

About this same time, however, a new threat popped up in the CAD Market threatening the monopoly Autodesk had built in the CAD Market. A product called IntelliCAD which could read and write the same file format as AutoCAD, with several of the same APIs, using the same menu and command structure, was released at a fraction of AutoCAD’s bloated pricing.

Autodesk needed a way to keep competition from selling compatible CAD software that easily replaced AutoCAD. Unless they did so, they would not be able to continue their monopoly and charge ten times as much as the software should cost.

So Autodesk built a new API into AutoCAD, ostensibly to allow those third party developers to be able to create more powerful applications, but in reality to allow Autodesk to create interoperability problems which could be used to squeeze out competition. This new API was called ARX, and while this new way of developing software did lead to a more powerful ability to create designs, it also had a side effect, a side effect which very few understood. This new API, mostly used in Autodesk vertical products, allowed them to stray away from the AutoCAD primitive entity types standard in the DWG format, and by creating objects obfuscated as brand new entity types, so called “Custom Objects”, they would again control who could read and write to DWG files.

These new object types allowed Autodesk to obfuscate and hide the objects so that no one but those using Autodesk products could re-create or edit them. Which could have been fine for their customer’s, except, Autodesk refuses to share the formulas that these objects are using, and without the ability to re-create and edit these objects they have effectively kept all others from the ability to work with these objects.

Originally these blank slate objects were defined in the vertical applications I touched on previously. However, several releases back they started to mix in these custom objects with the base AutoCAD design program effectively creating new entity types without the descriptive mathematical formulas behind them. What was once straightforward was starting to become prohibitive.

What does this mean for customers? DWG data is becoming more and more inoperable with competing software packages due to the lack of concern fueled by Autodesk’s quest for market dominance. Thus the drawings you create everyday will be incompatible with anything other than AutoCAD in the near future unless something is done to regulate or modify current practices. 

progeCAD has a partial solution, by exploding proxies and converting them back to their original entity types, you’ll be able to see, change, and save these entities. However, doing so loses their grouping and specialty data, and as the number of proxy entities increases and becomes more complex in definition it becomes an uphill battle to stay in front of the creation of more and more proxy entities. But for many a partial solution is better than no solution.

 Lets be clear on who the villain is causing this interoperability. It isn’t the company who provides a great CAD value for a fair price which works with the DWG standard, and it isn’t the company that attempts to circumvent this secret strategy by attempting to replicate and replace these undefined proxy hell objects. 

The villain is the corporation who is happy to charge you a fortune for their software while hiding the true nature of their interoperability strategy. This isn’t some random occurrence that just happened, but a well thought out corporate strategy to lock in customers and “encourage” them to stay invested in the overpriced pig at the trough, Autodesk AutoCAD. 

Many users over the years have begun to explore other alternatives that give their data a future of freedom. For those still on the AutoCAD Army, we challenge you to vote with your feet, abandon the big corporate pig and march to a vendor with whom you can place your trust, and ensuring the long term viability of your CAD DWG data.

Thanks for your time!
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