The Future Of The ITC And The AutoCAD Clone Market

This post by Jason Raak pointed me to a post on the blog of CATI, a SolidWorks reseller, announcing that DWGeditor will be put out of its misery after about a year, to “better align” with DraftSight from parent Dassault Systemes. DWGeditor is based on the antiquated IntelliCAD 6 code from the ITC. I presume Dassault Systemes got fed up the ITC not being able to come up with their next generation IntelliCAD 7 based on the ODA platform. Especially since two other ODA members, Bricsys and Graebert, already developed their new platforms based on the new ODA platform, one of them, years ago. In fact, Graebert has come out with platforms for Windows, Mac and Linux whereas Bricsys has their software running on Windows and Linux.

Apparently, Dassault Systemes shopped around for technology to replace the IntelliCAD 6 code that SolidWorks had got from the ITC and eventually selected the ARES platform from Graebert. I believe the choice was a good one because now Dassault Systemes and SolidWorks can offer DraftSight not only for Windows but for Mac and Linux as well. Autodesk is supposed to release AutoCAD for Mac “soon”. But I don’t believe they have anything lined up for Linux as yet.

Just about every ITC member I have spoken to is pissed off with the ITC. In fact, they were pissed off a long time ago. I remember attending the IntelliCAD World Meeting in Athens, Greece, way back in October 2008 where a few members vented out to me exactly how fed up they were that the ITC had not yet come up with IntelliCAD 7. And that’s two years ago. At that time I remember a slide in one of the presentations showing the proposed time line of IntelliCAD 7. One ITC member said to me, “Huh! Lets see“. Turns out he was right because IntelliCAD 7 never showed up as scheduled. On the ITC web site there is a page stating that IntelliCAD 7 Beta 2 has been made available to members, which is good news. I guess the members will have already started the process of porting their applications to the new platform.

However the size of the ITC is dwindling. This page at archive.org indicates that in May 2008, the ITC had 40 commercial members and 2 API members. Today the ITC members page has 30 commercial members and 1 API member. I assume SolidWorks will have no good reason to continue being a member of the ITC after they do away with DWGeditor. According to this ITC presentation a commercial membership cost $25,000 whereas an API membership costs $4,000. The presentation also states that the ITC has 5 developers in the US and 18 in Russia. You do the math. It doesn’t look pretty to me.

With Dassault Systemes turning things upside down in the AutoCAD clone market by launching free DraftSight on Windows and Mac and soon on Linux, I am beginning to wonder what lies in the future of the ITC and the AutoCAD clone market in general. Previously, ITC members used to undercut each other on price. At one point one member was offering IntelliCAD for $50. See “IntelliCAD for $50 Only“. But how in the world are the AutoCAD clone developers going to beat $0 DraftSight, that too when it is backed and marketed by a company as large as Dassault Systemes.

ZWCAD must be thanking their stars that they decided to buy VX because now they have much more than an AutoCAD clone to sell. Especially since the gap between AutoCAD and its clones is increasing in leaps and bounds every time Autodesk comes up with a new release of AutoCAD. Stuff like increased and enhanced 3D features and now surfacing in 2011. Some may argue that most people do not need all that stuff. In fact, the ITC presentation I mentioned above states that IntelliCAD “provides more than 80% of the function of mainstream CAD at less than 20% of the cost“. So if we buy the argument that most people simply want to draw in 2D and nothing else, then the free DraftSight will serve their needs just as well. So as I see it, the AutoCAD clones are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

However, in my opinion there is one thing that can continue to keep the wheels turning in the AutoCAD clone market. These vendors can offer much more than just a 2D CAD system that looks and works like AutoCAD. The good news is that some of them already do that. Over the years some of the AutoCAD clone developers have developed a number of verticals for various industries. 4M from Greece is a glowing example. They have developed an extensive range of verticals for Architectural, Structural, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and even Fire Fighting. Bricsys understood the importance for third party solutions and have left no stone unturned trying to get AutoCAD plug-in developers to port their applications over to Bricscad. I believe these companies have a good chance of taking their technologies and companies further. The thing is a majority of the AutoCAD install base is AutoCAD LT, a product which does not load plug-ins. Which implies that a majority of the AutoCAD customer base does not need verticals. And that makes the job of these clones all the more difficult because the people who do feel the need for verticals are ones that have been paying Autodesk $4000 a seat for AutoCAD. And these people have a high level of expectation for product quality and service from their software vendor and/or reseller. Whether these AutoCAD clone developers will be able to meet those expectations is really the $4000 question.

Having said this, I am a bit concerned about AutoCAD clone developers who offer very little more than just an AutoCAD clone because the free DraftSight from Dassault Systemes eliminates the reason for their existence.