.dwg is post-proprietary

Graebert Ares Touch is a .dwg viewer and editor for tablets and smartphones. It works with Graebert Kudo Hub, a .dwg-based cloud file management service. Touch and Kudo Hub are two of hundreds of examples of how software vendors are taking advantage of post-proprietary .dwg to create new products not found in the Autodesk catalog. (Source: Graebert GmbH)

Design-based industries still depend on drafting software; .dwg has become the common denominator of technical communication.

Last month I attended the annual development conference of the Open Design Alliance (ODA), the non-profit software company tasked with building and delivering a non-proprietary version of the world’s most common file format for drafting data. This week I attended the Graebert Annual Meeting, where companies including Dassault Systemès and Onshape come for the latest information on the Graebert-built software they use to create drafting tools. Next week I will attend Bricsys Conference 2017, where more than 1,500 small developers of technical software will gather to learn what’s new with the BricsCAD platform, an increasingly popular design ecosystem. Next month at Autodesk University thousands of end users and developers will gather, with a majority of them interested primarily in drafting, not modeling.

The common element is .dwg, the data format popularized by Autodesk AutoCAD but now recognized as the de facto standard for drafting software. The majority of technical communications today is based in .dwg. Graebert and Bricsys are growing because they — and many other companies — realize they are not in the business of making products compatible with AutoCAD. They are in the business of creating excellent design tools and whole design ecosystems using a post-proprietary data format, .dwg.

“Post-proprietary” turns up zilch on a Google search, but it is the best way to describe the rare class of software file formats which have become bigger than their proprietary roots. The three most common are .doc, .pdf, and .dwg. These three-letter acronyms have become shorthand names: the words “PDF attached” must appear in 100 million emails a day. Ditto “DOC” and “DWG.”

Combined, these three post-proprietary file formats contain a significant percentage of the information that fuels global commerce. And they all share the common bond have having been elevated from being the digital container for one product to becoming global standards.

Autodesk still decides what happens to .dwg from one version of AutoCAD to the next. But they can’t change it radically; the company has become a victim of its own success. .Dwg must always be able to work with older version of the software, with billions of existing drawings, and with a wide variety of other products. Realistically, today the ODA is the industry thought leader when it comes to .dwg. Not only do they create a very good reverse-engineered version of .dwg, but they are adding new features to it, features ODA members use to competitive advantage. The original version of .dwg was brilliant software engineering for its day; it was made to be extensible when there was generally limited vision for such a capability.

I am a strong advocate of the “digitalization“ revolution now taking place in industry. Design-based industries are front and center in the transition. All of the current attention on design data in manufacturing and digitalized construction focuses on 3D design. I am convinced there is a role for .dwg in the digitalization revolution; and I intend to report on how it evolves.

Randall S. Newton is Managing Director of Consilia Vektor, and a Contributing Editor for Digital Engineering, Cadalyst, and AEC Magazine.

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