A Conversation With Aaron Kelley On DraftSight

On the sidelines of DSCC 2010 I had the opportunity to talk to Aaron Kelly, the Director of DraftSight, about issues surrounding the product. In the past we have discussed DraftSight over email and phone. But this was the first time I was meeting Aaron in person.

Deelip: Can you tell me something more about the API for DraftSight?

Aaron: The DraftSight that you now download for free does not have the API access. But in the product that we are selling with the DraftSight Premium Service priced at $250 a year, one of the things included is access to the API. We have a LISP API today and we have a COM API that’s coming out with our GA version, which will be released by the end of the year.

Deelip: But the COM API will only run on Windows. What about DraftSight for Mac and Linux?

Aaron: There is a C++ interface as well which you will be able to use to extend DraftSight for Mac and Linux.

Deelip: Previously SolidWorks was dependent on the ITC for DWGeditor and that didn’t turn out fine. Now again Dassault Systemes is depending on Graebert for DraftSight. I am curious to know what kind of an arrangement you have with Graebert? Do you have adequate control over the IP of DraftSight or an option to purchase it at a later date if necessary?

Aaron: As you can understand, I can’t get into this at that level. I can tell you that we have a really good relationship with Graebert.

Deelip: The reason I am asking is because before DraftSight I don’t believe you have ever shipped a product where you did not have completely control over its IP.

Aaron: No, that’s not true. SolidWorks uses a number of components from third parties vendors.

Deelip: I get that. Components are fine. DraftSight is not a component. It’s a full blown product that you have OEM’ed from Graebert.

Aaron: Yeah, I guess you are right. I can’t think of another product like that.

Deelip: Looking at this from your customer’s point of view, considering what happened to DWGeditor, some might think that history may repeat itself.

Aaron: I understand. I think we had a good relationship with the ITC. But then we needed to go down our own path. We also needed more control over the development process and the direction of the product. So we talked to the ITC as well as other companies that had similar products. We had an option to either build our own product or license. But then we had time to market issues as well as resources. So build wasn’t really an option. Buy was also an option. We could have bought something. But if you partner, you kind of have the best of both worlds. So you can walk away from a partner if you need to or you can marry the partner. I think partnership works when both sides get what they are looking for. What we were looking for was a branded product where we could have a say in its direction and we could help out as well. Everyone benefits.

Deelip: Well, I can see how DS may benefit. But looking at it from Graebert’s point of view you are now offering a free product that you are going to enhance over time depending upon what your customers are asking for. And those customers happen to be the same people who may also be interested in ARES, may not be the Commander Edition. Moreover you are going to release an API as well. So you really don’t have control on how third party developers like myself will extend DraftSight. I am curious to know your views on the conflict of interest that Graebert may be facing.

Aaron: I understand. Here’s the thing. Graebert’s direction does not in conflict with ours. They really don’t want to go around the world, hire resellers and sell CAD products. They prefer to add value by doing OEM’s. Moreover there is also a big difference in their product and ours. DraftSight does not have any 3D.

Deelip: Yes, but most of the people around the world use these products for 2D. And moreover, they have a base version of ARES does not do 3D either.

Aaron: True. But we are providing just two API’s. Graebert has multiple API’s. Our primary goal right now is to get users to use the product. Lets worry about customization later through partnerships.

Deelip: So are you saying that you will never put 3D into DraftSight?

Aaron: I’m not sure if I’ll use the word “never”. But I will say that there is no intention to add 3D to DraftSight. We have much better products that do 3D.

Deelip: The reason I ask is that DS is making a lot of noise about DraftSight being a community driven product. So if the community asks for 3D, won’t you add it?

Aaron: That’s why I didn’t use the word “never”. However, for us to do that would be a big task and I just don’t see it happening. I really don’t see users of DraftSight ask for 3D. And if they do I would invite them to take a look at SolidWorks or CATIA. I just don’t see the point in creating another 3D application.

Deelip: Can you give me a sense of the kind of resources that you have invested in DraftSight in terms of manpower?

Aaron: We have a person who works full time on creating training materials. We have nine people spread all across the world that work full time offering support for DraftSight. We have overflow capacity from DS as well. We have five people working on QA and seven developers.

Deelip: How many downloads have you had for DraftSight for Mac?

Aaron: We have had around 13,000 downloads in a little over a month, which actually shocked us because we don’t talk to Mac users a lot.

Deelip: What is your view on what DraftSight is going to do to the AutoCAD clone market? Do you even care?

Aaron: We really do not care about what happens around us. I mean, I know that there are a lot of smaller companies. They have expertise. But what this does is it forces people to innovate. And that is definitely doing to help the community of CAD users.

Deelip: I am curious about the name DraftSight. Is there a reason why it was chosen? I mean the “D” and “S”.

Aaron: Yes, there was. Actually the final name came from Bernard Charles.

Deelip: And I guess that is also the reason why it is branded as a Dassault Systemes product although it is a replacement for DWGeditor which was a SolidWorks product.

Aaron: Actually, we wanted to make DraftSight a product cutting across all brands. Moreover, it will also give some kind of a brand recognition to Dassault Systemes, which is really not widely known to the broad CAD market. So if DraftSight can be an introduction and it can open the doors to other Dassault Systemes products, then that will be great.

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So I guess I was right when I called DraftSight a trojan horse.