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.