DraftSight – A Trojan Horse

There is a view that anyone who wants or needs 3D already has it. The premise for this line of thinking is that people already jumped from AutoCAD to SolidWorks years ago and that exodus has ended for the most part. I don’t subscribe to that view. One of the reasons for that is the pretty decent number of sales of our 3D import and export plug-ins for AutoCAD. Prospects and customers often send me files that they are having trouble importing or exporting, due to which I get a pretty good idea of the kind of stuff they are working on. And trust me, its very much 3D. The IGES and STEP files they send me are almost always MCAD.

While reporting from the SolidWorks press event Ralph Grabowski mentioned something that one of the SolidWorks executives said:

“Some 2/3 of new license sales come from 2D; 1/3 from other 3D, mainly Pro/E but also more Inventor seats converting now.”

Actually, I’m not having a hard time believing that SolidWorks gets about two third’s of its new license sales from 2D. I believe there are still a lot of people out there who can or want to but haven’t made the switch to 3D.

Years ago, SolidWorks did something very shrewd which yielded it great results. They offered an AutoCAD clone called DWGeditor based on IntelliCAD 6 from the ITC as a bridge for AutoCAD users to move to SolidWorks. These users simply needed a program to view and edit their existing DWG files. And DWGeditor, in spite of all its issues, did that job fine most of the time. But now SolidWorks appears to have had enough of the ITC. The IntelliCAD 6 code is more than a decade old and extremely buggy by the ITC’s own admission. The organization’s inability to come up with the completely rewritten IntelliCAD 7 in time (it’s been delayed by years, not months) has cast huge doubts on whether it will be able to continue development and keep pace with AutoCAD. Moreover, the fact that the ITC is an organization of business rivals and not a company complicates things even further. Dassault Systemes shopped around to find a replacement for DWGeditor and finally selected ARES from Graebert to free themselves from the ITC. The result was DraftSight, which is nothing but a stripped down version of ARES.

For the past five years Graebert has been developing their ARES CAD engine. I met Wilfried Graebert and his son Robert at the ODA Conference at Leiden in Holland last year. We discussed at length about what their company was doing. Now we can all see the fruits of those efforts – ARES for Windows, Mac and Linux. Pretty soon there will be DraftSight for Windows, Mac and Linux.

As I was typing this I received this comment to my post “$0 DraftSight For Mac To Be Released Before $4000 AutoCAD For Mac“:

“I’ve looked at Draftsight as a replacement for AutoCAD LT specifically. It is an awesome product and works well. Draftsight is 2D only, but that is all we use AutoCAD for, and I’m assuming 80% of the world as well.”

I have no doubts that DraftSight will continue where DWGeditor left off. But I believe Dassault Systems has larger plans here. From this video of Live Buildings it has become quite clear to me that Dassault Systems is getting into the AEC segment in a big way. Now AEC is a segment where Autodesk has a very firm grip with AutoCAD, Revit and their verticals. For people in this segment DWG is everything and will continue to be for some time to come. Something like DWGeditor will not work for them. You need to give them something far more robust and scalable. More importantly, you need to have greater control on the technology itself and not rely on an organization with conflicting interests.

I believe that Dassault Systemes’ strategy with DraftSight is two fold. Firstly, to continue to help AutoCAD users to move to SolidWorks. Secondly, and more importantly, to infiltrate the AEC segment and slowly build a name for itself there. That’s why DraftSight is a Dassault Systems brand and not a SolidWorks one like DWGeditor was. Dassault Systemes is the one that has aspirations in AEC, not SolidWorks.

I believe just like how SolidWorks used DWGeditor to relieve Autodesk of its AutoCAD customers, Dassault Systemes will use DraftSight as a trojan horse to get into the work flow of professionals and companies in the AEC segment. And what better way than to offer it for free. What does it cost someone to have DraftSight sitting besides his AutoCAD installation? Absolutely nothing. If it sits there long enough people will start using it for real work and if it does the job then they will use it some more.

Graebert is already taking care of development. Dassault Systemes has a team doing some other parallel development like creating an API for DraftSight. All that is now needed is for Dassault Systemes to throw its money and name behind DraftSight and market the crap out of it to AEC.

Who knows, history may repeat itself once again, this time in AEC.