Will DraftSight Make A Difference?

Ever since Dassault Systemes released DraftSight, people have been wondering why exactly has the company entered the AutoCAD clone market. One theory is to hurt Autodesk as much as possible. I have been keeping an eye on views expressed by people on blogs and Twitter after the announcement of DraftSight.

There is a view that DraftSight is not very different from DWGeditor, SolidWorks’ existing free 2D CAD offering. Actually I believe DraftSight is quite  different for a couple for reasons. Firstly, it is available to everyone, not just people who have a SolidWorks license. So that spreads its reach a great deal. And secondly, technologically DraftSight is very different from the SolidWorks 2D Editor. The 2D Editor is based upon the hopelessly outdated and antiquated IntelliCAD 6 code. The ITC head of development himself admitted at the ITC World Conference in Athens that the current IntelliCAD 6 code has a thousand line long functions. Mind you, not a thousand line long source files, but a thousand line long functions. Anyone having even a little experience in C or C++ can tell how bad a situation that is. Quality and stability have been a long standing issues with the old IntelliCAD 6 platform. However, the new IntelliCAD 7 (which is not yet released) is based in DWGdirect platform from the ODA which is a clone of ObjectARX, the platform on which the modern day AutoCAD has been built. Bricsys has been using this platform for a while now with Bricsys V8, V9 and V10 all being based on DWGdirect. Graebert has developed ARES using DWGdirect as well and DraftSight is nothing but ARES.

Now I am not suggesting that these second generation of AutoCAD clones (IntelliCAD 7, Bricscad, ARES, DraftSight, etc.) are as good as AutoCAD or even come close to it. My point here is that they don’t have to be. All that their developers need to do is make them acceptable for a large number of AutoCAD users, that’s all. The thing is AutoCAD is a very versatile CAD system and is used for a lot of things. People maintain seats of AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT because they need it now and then, while they work with their main CAD system. In fact, that was the reason SolidWorks offered AutoCAD users the IntelliCAD 6 based DWGeditor for free so that they could continue to work with DWG files. When people moved to SolidWorks, AutoCAD became a secondary CAD system, which was much easier to displace than a primary CAD system. For example, one of the reasons Alibre is having a tough time displacing SolidWorks in companies is because SolidWorks is the primary CAD system there. In the case of a primary CAD system, the price factor does not really matter much because you are really interested in using the best tool for the job. I don’t think many people maintain 5 to 10 licenses of SolidWorks while they do their main work with something like Inventor or Solid Edge. But you can easily find 5 to 10 licenses of AutoCAD LT lying around and used occasionally by people who spend the bulk of their time on something like SolidWorks, Solid Edge or Inventor.

Which begs the question, why is DraftSight any different from any other AutoCAD clone that has been out there for all these years? It is different because it is free. The fact that is is based on a better architecture is an added bonus. Here is the thing. It costs about $200 a year to maintain a seat of AutoCAD LT. If you are thinking of replacing it by a clone, you will still need to shell out some money (the free DoubleCAD XT is an exception). You may be paying a little lesser but the point is that you still need to pay. So you might as well stick to the solution that has worked for you all along. With DraftSight you can still maintain your AutoCAD LT seat and start using DraftSight in your workflow for as long as you like since it does not have a 30 day trial period. Later when the time comes to renew your AutoCAD LT subscription, you can decide whether you want to renew it or not. Frankly, people who maintain seats of LT for occasional use really do not need all the new bells and whistles that are being added to AutoCAD – things like parametrics, constraints, sub-division meshes, surfacing, zebra analysis, etc. They simply want to be able to open DWG files and make minor edits to them. And they simply want a 2D CAD system that is stable enough and which does not create more problems than it solves.

Then there is another side to this argument. There is a view that most people do not consider their 2D documentation system to be secondary. They consider it as complimentary – similar to using Word and Excel. And just like they want to use the best tools for their main 3D work, they want to use the best tools available for 2D and well. And without doubt, the best tool for 2D documentation is, and for the foreseeable future will be, AutoCAD. I don’t believe the majority of people who use AutoCAD as their main CAD system are going to switch to DraftSight or for that matter any other clone. The question really is how many people who use AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT as their secondary CAD system will contemplate switching. There are so many AutoCAD clones out there that people really lump them all in into one basket. And I don’t blame them for doing so. The thing is you get only one chance to make a first impression. Is the DraftSight Beta stable and reliable enough to make that good first impression? Its already out there. People really don’t care if it’s a Beta or not. If they try it today and it does not work as expected, will they even bother to come back and try it after the fixed Release version comes out.

I am not sure what kind of impact the free DoubleCAD XT has had on the sales and subscriptions of AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT. Will DraftSight have a different impact? Will Dassault Systemes put a decent amount of marketing money into DraftSight or neglect it after a while? Is DraftSight part of a larger strategy that involves Live Buildings? Clearly, Dassault Systemes is up to something in that space and I’d be surprised if DraftSight is not connected in some way. Take a look at this video and try convincing yourself that Dassault Systemes is not entering the AEC space.

So after the initial dust settles down do you think DraftSight will make a difference?