Friday, July 11, 2008

Bentley-Autodesk Interoperability

In a recent joint press event (Google it), Bentley and Autodesk announced the exchange of their file format libraries in an effort to spur greater interoperability between their competing products.  Such a move is undoubtedly related to the NIST report on the lack of interoperability in the AEC industry, however there will be many discussions (AECBytes, AECNews) for and against this cooperation - watch for the latter coming from the BuildingSmart Alliance over the future of Industry Foundation Classes (IFC).

While I (and many of my colleagues) applaud this news, one can only wonder how this will translate into future product enhancements.  In the short term, I hope we will see support for the latest DGN formats within Revit (currently it only supports V7 format).  In AutoCAD 2008 and 2009, DGN files can be XREF'd into a DWG file.  We have even used this technique to convert DGN files to DWG for continued use...which brings me back to the subtle, yet concerning part of this new found romance.

In my last post, I had promised a follow up rant on Autodesk-Bentley interoperability - at the time, I was unaware of the planned announcement.  Nonetheless, I am still concerned about the impact this exchange will have on the real world AEC practitioners.  On just about every project I've worked or supported that involved a consultant or client using Microstation, the burden was on us to convert the incoming DGN files to DWG and vice-versa for outgoing files.  It was quite sickening to attend Bentley events and hear them bashing Autodesk products and touting universal interoperability when I can't even get a DWG file from a Bentley-using firm, nor would they accept a DWG file from us!  At one BE Conference, I noticed how long it would be from the time I arrived until the first time I heard, "But Autodesk can't do..." - 10 minutes!

So, how does this rant relate to the 'good news'?  I'm not too concerned about Autodesk receiving the DGN code; however, there are reasons to be worried about Bentley's use of RealDWG.  I know that the managers, developers, and product designers at Bentley are top notch, but they have a system of licensing - known as Bentley Select - which allows companies to use any version of their software without any sort of upgrade charge for newer versions.  Check out this Powerpoint presentation which compares the Select experience to trading in your 10 year old Porche Carrera for a brand new Cayenne - for FREE.  Sounds great until you throw in the human psychological factor - fear of change.  Perhaps that's why we can't work well with any of our constituents on Microstation...they haven't upgraded in 10 years because there's no compelling financial reason and Bentley's providing the safety net.


  1. I just read the Bentley/Autodesk announcement. One of the main peices of information seemed to be missing though...WHEN?

  2. I find your comment on the BE Conference funny, because that's exactly what most Autodsesk or Revit users say about Revit or Autodesk products.

    On your upgrade discussion: I have found that most Bentley Building users are farther ahead of the SELECT subscription curve, and the Civil users are behind. Most civil users are bound by a client (like a DOT) which is a beheamoth to upgrade...and THEY are the ones not upgrading.

  3. I work at a company where we use mostly MicroStation but also have projects using ACAD. I am an expert user in both CAD systems and have programmed in VB as well as AutoLisp. Most MicroStation for us is very, very large and complex projects where AutoCAD has difficulty. The projects are BIM oriented stuff (sometimes mixed with some older Intergraph PDS). However we work with 2D as well 3D ACAD imports quite a bit since most folks use it or can cross convert to it from Pro Engineer, etc. Most all DWG files seem to come into V8, V8XM, and V8i quite well with few problems. Referencing DWG files is simply great. Working on them is not problem, but file references pose some problems going back from V8 to AutoCAD.

    However, based on long experience, we have noted two things: 1) In general, the users of ACAD are do not work at companies where they develop high skill level and so the quality of DWG files suffer somewhat -- the quality just isn't as good in general. Not that we don't see poor files in both formats, its just more frequent in ACAD. Thankfully the gap is narrowing. 2) AutoCAD does not have the rich set of 3D solid elements found in MicroStation and so many times 3D files come across with lots of mesh elements that cannot be edited easily in MicroStation. So, when a project is MicroStation based we too prefer DGN format over DWG, but unfortunately most of the world in building construction uses AutoCAD. We cope and sometimes that means re-entering data, something you’d hope you could avoid in CAD.

    I imagine the folks you are dealing with are forcing the overhead of bringing the file into MicroStation from AutoCAD on your organization. No matter how well MicroStation translates AutoCAD files and no matter how much AutoCAD and MicroStation stand side by side in press conferences, there still exist file incompatibilities. On the bright side it does seem to get better – but most of that has been the Consortium forced on AutoDesk by the DOJ.

    So the short and simple explanation is: reason #1) is trash in/trash out and #2) there is file translatability, but not element compatibility.

    As far as upgrades are concerned, I haven’t seen any more laggards in upgrading MicroStation than AutoCAD, so I don’t know where this comment comes from. Most users of CAD on either side of what I’ll term the CAD battlefield (AutoCAD vs. MicroStation) seem quite eager to move to the next level. However, from a licensing point of view, the Bentley Select program works great, especially for large architectural and engineering firms. Even for mid-sized firms starting at say 12 seat, this greatly eases the licensing nightmare. One license for both the legacy project running an older version and the project that just hit the boards (so to speak). From what I have seen, Select actually encourages moving your latest project in the door up to that newest version.

    Microstation has gotten much better since the V8 family of products. Its not just AutoCAD files. Especially in the realm of models. I can now pull in all sorts of models from just about every source imaginable: SketchUp, WaveFront, Vanishing Point, 3D Studio to name a few.

    Regardless, years from now we will look back on this the way we look back on Eastman’s BDM. When we the software we use has multi-format interoperability across platforms including not only IFC, but also parametric object portability. I’m an OOP guy and I’ve seen what it has done in the world of Programming. The BIM, Parametric, IFC thing are just harbingers of what is to come.