The Open Design Alliance is making the .dwg format relevant to the 21st Century. Two long-time CAD journalists sit down with ODA CEO Neil Peterson at the annual development conference in Prague.
By Ralph Grabowski with Randall S. Newton
[Editor’s Note: This interview was originally published in upFront.eZine.]
“ODA is bidding to become the thought-leader in CAD,” says Randall Newton during our interview with Neil Peterson, CEO of the Open Design Alliance. “Autodesk has slower DWG development, with fewer new functions added each year.”
The ODA sees development in AutoCAD slowing. Proof is that the last change in the DWG format took five years to carry out, and that the feature list for recent releases of AutoCAD is short.
The day following the Teigha conference in Prague, we interviewed Mr. Peterson to get more details on points raised during the conference. Some of his comments are drawn from the keynote address.
Q: What is your vision for DWG?
A: We are looking for new value in the area of DWG, as it is a good platform for development. We have some of the top experts in the world working with us.
Our members want to see innovation in this area. Versioning for DWG is a big one that I think will be adopted. A modern software engineer wouldn’t dream of starting a project without version control, and so our new versioning support will put the same level of tool into the hands of engineers working with DWG. Along with versioning, our members get support for safe and robust multi-user editing, which is particularly important for cloud-based applications.
Q: At one point, your predecessor mused about introducing a new file format to replace DWG. Will this still happen?
A: There was some thinking of a new DWG format from the ODA, but it is a longer-term initiative that will require broad support from the industry, along with careful planning.
Currently we are looking to compliment DWG with functions like the new storage extensions. DWG is a good format that is working well for a massive user base, and it is quite flexible because we can add as much custom data as needed for a particular task.
Q: Adobe and Microsoft made their PDF and DOC formats into ISO [International Organization of Standards] standards. This means the formats are frozen and documented, so anyone can more easily add them to their software. What’s your thought on this?
A: DWG would be good as an ISO standard.
Q: Bricsys is putting everything into DWG — regular drawings, BIM models, sheet metal, 3D constraints — but then the 3D models can be only viewed in AutoCAD, not edited. What is your opinion of what they have done?
A: In my view, Bricsys’ approach is a good one. DWG was designed to be extensible, and they are making good use of this. If they had their own file format, then it would be completely incompatible. With DWG, at least there is some compatibility with AutoCAD.
AutoCAD compatibility isn’t everything. Our new DWG versioning support is a good example of this: a significantly new function that will make life better for millions of users of DWG-based applications. While the DWG data is 100% compatible with AutoCAD, the version history will only be accessible through Teigha-based applications.
Q: Will the ODA get into things like gaming and virtual reality?
A: We are not into gaming or VR.
Q: We notice that you are treating the cloud and the desktop equally. Members can use APIs with the desktop version of their software, or with a cloud-enabled one.
A: There was strong talk a few years ago of the cloud replacing the desktop. We don’t see that happening. There is a healthy market for cloud applications, and a healthy market for the desktop. Interest in the cloud seems to be fluctuating a bit now, and we see things like edge computing being introduced and moving away from the client-server model.
Our view is that decisions about what applications to deploy in the cloud and what applications to deploy on the desktop should be left to our members. We provide technology for doing both, in a way that is as compatible as possible. Let members decide on the best approach for their particular applications and markets.
Q: You have multiple providers, such as three different solid modelers.
A: Competition among API [application programming interface] providers is a good thing. We have had a productive relationship with Spatial for a long time, and a number of our members rely on Spatial technology for solid modeling.
But when C3D approached us about integrating their C3D Modeler with Teigha, it made sense because they were willing to license their technology in a way that was more accessible to some of our smaller members. Now we offer two options for 3D solid modeling integrated into Teigha, and our members can select the option that is best for their particular situation.
Q: Could you give us a bit of background on the new Visualize API?
A: Over the past few years, we had a number of members approach us with questions about how to visualize data that is not part of a file format, for example some custom CAE data.
Teigha Visualize is our solution for this problem. We’ve separated our visualization functionality out from the drawings package, and optimized the API for stand-alone usage. If someone has some CAE data, like points in a text file, then they can render it by passing the data to our Visualize API without having to build a database or do any complicated processing. Visualization results can be saved to a graphics cache file where they can be efficiently retrieved.
Teigha Visualize can be used to display new file formats or any type of custom data. It could even replace some established display systems that have been on the market for a long time, and are a lot more expensive. It’s a flexible, general-purpose toolkit for adding professional visualization to any application.
Q: What’s changing for members of the ODA?
A: Our Associate membership level, which allows companies to develop free applications and use Teigha internally, is being replaced by a new Non-Commercial membership, which is good for up to two years.
After the two years, if a company is getting value from the software, they need to upgrade to a Commercial membership. We made this change because we have a large group of prominent and successful companies among our Associate member ranks, and we would like to see these companies contributing to our development in a more equitable manner with respect to our other membership levels.
So low-end membership numbers are dropping slightly, but we are seeing an increase at the top end that more than compensates.
Q: How long do you see the ODA keeping DWG going into the future?
A: We have been here for 19 years, and we want to keep this data accessible for another 50 or more years. We don’t know what will happen in 50 years. Operating systems might go away, programming languages might go away. But we want to keep up with them.
Keywords: ODA, Open Design Alliance, .dwg, Autodesk, AutoCAD, Teigha