The Present and Future of DWG
ralph posted on October 06, 2015 |
With the DWG format's steady popularity, President Neil Peterson sees ODA in a vital role.

The Open Design Alliance (ODA) is best known for providing user access to AutoCAD drawing files without the need for software from Autodesk. The 16-year-old organization provides DWG read-write toolkits to its 1,250 members, updating them twice yearly as Autodesk makes changes to the DWG file format. The ODA's toolkit is named Teigha.

Over the years, ODA expanded to other areas of CAD, officially documenting the DGN design format used by MicroStation from Bentley Systems, Inc., and supporting the PRC format that encapsulates 2D and 3D PDF files. It encourages special interest groups (SIGs) that are tackling the custom objects used by AutoCAD Architecture and AutoCAD Civil. OAD also has agreements with companies like Dassault Systèmes to allow members to add extensions like ACIS solid modeling  or Parasolid.

In this age of mobile and browser-based apps, the ODA early on rewrote all its code to be portable. As a result, much of its software runs on "any" platform. This ranges from the obvious three — Windows, Mac and Linux — to the bright stars of today — Android, iOS and the cloud — and platforms no longer so popular — Windows CE and Unix, which, nevertheless, some members still support. 

Once a year, at the Teigha Developer Conference, the ODA gets its far-flung employees together with interested members for a day-long summary of what's been accomplished and a description of its plans for the future. At the Teigha Developer Conference 2015, for the first time, members of the CAD press were invited to the conference, which took place in early September in Prague. While there, I had the opportunity to interview ODA President Neil Peterson for an hour. Here is some of what he had to say.


ODA President Neil Peterson
ODA President Neil Peterson.

Q: How would you describe the Open Design Alliance to our readers?

A: We are no longer just an import-export library. Today, Teigha is a full development framework upon which CAD systems can be built, including custom objects built on an extensible object model. We provide members with tiered, royalty-free licensing, starting $100 a year for start-ups.

Q: Your predecessor, (former ODA CEO) Arnold van der Weide, thought that Autodesk planned to eliminate DWG files by moving AutoCAD to the cloud and storing all files there. Is DWG going away?

A: I don't think so. But it doesn't matter if Autodesk does away with DWG, because we have so many CAD systems now that are based on [DWG and] Teigha, and they are pretty good. Even if Autodesk did away with it, our 1,250 members and millions of their customers would keep right on using DWG. For instance, Bricsys is extending DWG to include things like sheet metal and BIM.

Q: Is it a big problem for you when Autodesk changes the DWG format every three years?

A: It used to be, but in AutoCAD 2015 Autodesk didn't change the format. I'm not sure why that was; perhaps because they added very few new features.

Q: Autodesk is pinning their future on running all their software on the cloud and licensing only by subscriptions. Will this affect you?

A: Autodesk is leaving a void by doing this. They do not have a cloud offering compatible with their desktop software. We are different in that we are providing a technology, while they are providing a service. People can build on our system; they cannot build on Autodesk's [cloud services].

The ODA's toolkit Teigha makes it easy for members to access AutoCAD and DWG files.

The ODA's toolkit Teigha makes it easy for members to access AutoCAD and DWG files.

In our view, the cloud has to be compatible with the desktop, and so we can reuse all our desktop stuff on the cloud [like civil or architectural custom object support on servers], instead of making an incompatible leap to something else. For some reason, Autodesk is unable to use its own DWG library for [Web and mobile-based] AutoCAD 360, and so has to rewrite it. For us, all that needs to change is the user interface; everything else of ours should work on both the client and the server sides.

Q: Let's talk a bit about what your members are doing with your APIs. In Berlin, Graebert GmbH this summer released a DWG editor that runs in a Web browser. Did they use Teigha for it?

A: Graebert did all their own stuff for the Web-based CAD, except for using our Teigha libraries to read, edit and write DWG files. They can expose as much of our editing capabilities as they want. Graebert did all the interface stuff. It can be tricky to figure out how to make a command work on a mobile device when the mouse and keyboard are no longer available.

In general, we don't do much on the GUI side; we just do some examples for our members of how it could work. The mobile [and Web] interface can be a differentiator for a vendor.

Q: We see Onshape using an OEM program from Graebert that is based on Teigha. It is interesting that there are layers upon layers of software using Teigha as the foundation.

A: This is true. The ODA created an ecosystem, and CAD products using our libraries spawn their own ecosystems through their own network of third-party developers.

While we are not working with Onshape directly, they did become a founding member this summer, I am pleased to say. They want their 2D drawings to work like 3D models, with the history and merging. As a result, we are looking long-term at a multi-user database. This would allow two or more users to do multiple edits on a drawing, kind of like Onshape does with their 3D models.

Q: How would it work?

A: Well, it is not simultaneous editing but extremely quick concurrent processing. This is something that is needed by cloud applications, where many users are accessing DWG files from many locations.

Q: What about virtualization, which is being pushed by big companies like Dell and Microsoft?

A: There would be nothing for us to do. That is all done at their end.

Q: Your newest member is C3D Labs, whose 3D modeling kernel is a lot like ACIS from Dassault Systems. Where do they fit into the ODA?

A: C3D's kernel is less sophisticated than ASIS, and so it is cheaper to license. We used to have a simple 3D modeler, but it was too much for us, so we dropped it. We trust C3D will fill that gap. We try to be neutral, so we don't know if there is a market for C3D.

Q: You support architecture and civil engineering when it comes to disciplines, but not GIS [geographic information systems]. How big is GIS?

A: We don't get much in the way of requests to get involved in GIS.

Q: How popular are mobile apps among your members?

A: It is seen as a necessary component. The problem, however, is that people are not making money from mobile, so it is more of a complement to their desktop software.

Some years ago, some of our members tried to get us to drop all platforms and to concentrate only on Windows, but now I am glad we did not do this. Our code is so portable that we hardly have to do anything to port it to mobile and other platforms.

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