This month, I’ve seen several posts about DraftSight, a free CAD software that support DWG files. I’ve tried it in few minutes, and it’s actually quite nice. For a freeware, it is a good software. For home and students, we can use it as alternative for AutoCAD. It looks like it, and feels like it. Well… older AutoCAD.
Although it is a nice alternative to have, but honestly I’m quite disappointed. We know that there are many drafting software that look and feel like AutoCAD. It is normal to see a community trying to provide cheaper or even free alternative for well known software. But I expect a well known company like Dassault Systemes will release their own solution.
I want to share my opinion on this. This is purely my personal opinion, not reflects any organization or company that I’m involved.
It will Never be Better
This is a conversation between Dre Parker and mr Han in Karate Kid movie. They look down to Dragon’s well and see their reflection.
“What do you see Shao Dre?”
Jacky Chan wave his hand over the water.
“Now what do you see?”
“Now it’s blurry”
One thing we realize when we release a software that mimic a well known application is, it will never be bigger than the original. I have seen how some sales person trying hard to convince people that they can directly use it like AutoCAD, they can open their DWG files, AutoCAD this, AutoCAD that… Probably they mention it even more than mentioning their own product, more than Autodesk partner sales. Free promotion for Autodesk. At the best shot, it will only as good as AutoCAD is.
If it works like AutoCAD, then it has all it’s flaws. And their own flaws. They probably don’t bother to try creating a better software. As long as it works close to the original, that’s the purpose. Even if they add more functionalities that work better than AutoCAD, their users will never use it anyway. Why should they? They are looking for AutoCAD, not other CAD software. The only thing that can make the users happy is it works like it.
It will Not Encourage Software Development
If every software just trying to look like and feel like AutoCAD (or other well known software), then what good can it brings? Autodesk can be lazy developing it, and people still want to buy it.
I remember when the first time SketchUp was introduced. I think it was quite revolutionary, many people like it. Autodesk and Bentley Systems quickly add the SketchUp like features to AutoCAD and MicroStation. And we can see now many CAD software support importing SketchUp files.
I really wish to see something new like SketchUp, so we can have revolutionary features. Applications like that will keep CAD vendors busy to catch up with new features.
To be Different is Good
Bentley has MicroStation, their flagship product. It can do almost everything AutoCAD can do, but it’s not the same. Some features are better than AutoCAD. I’m not saying MicroStation is better, because sometimes it doesn’t. AutoCAD is better in some area, but MicroStation can be better in other area.
When I use AutoCAD, sometimes I wish it has MicroStation way. And when I use MicroStation, I wish it can be done like in AutoCAD. For short, it offers an alternative as solution when working with the other is harder.
Do you think Apple will have a big brand and loyal customers if Mac OS looks and feels like Windows? If the only thing the application can do is close to AutoCAD, I believe they are hardly can get loyal users. Except for open source community. They are different types of users :) they are geeks…
While alternative is good, I really expect something that can give a difference. Not just about low price or free. In my opinion, the ‘AutoCAD wanna be’ can be alternative until we can afford it. But I will not use them if I depends on AutoCAD in my office.
What about you? What do you think about these applications? Do you have any experience using them?
I agree the part about Autocad vs Microstaton each has their advantages and disadvantages. What's always bother me about the knockoff vs the original debate is that what tool you use really shouldn't matter. For the large percentage of CADD users the cheaper and simpler products on the market more than fill the bill. Unfortunately CADD companies are in the business to make money not provide the best products in a given price range for a job. I just wish my data wasn't dependent on my product and add ons. If it wasn't then I think the CADD world would be a very different place.
Cheaper products can work if they only need to produce small number of drawings, and only for internal use. But if they rely heavily on CADD drawings, and need to share it to other companies… it's bad.
I've seen that the knockoffs can take a long time to load drawings, easily freeze on complex drawings, and some other problems. I saw that a DWG from one of the knockoffs can't be opened in AutoCAD… you know, from untrusted DWG :) I know that there is a work around to open it anyway, but if you send such a drawing to other companies, that could be the last project you have from them. But look at SketchUp, they are going crazy adding the file support quickly. Not trying blocking it ;)
I don't expect such CADD companies will be a big company, probably some of them can't even survive the next decade. But yes, they can get some quick cash from their products.