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reprinted by permission of Ralph Grabowski, editor

September 22, 2004

Last week was the IntelliCAD Technical Consortium's first "user" conference -- meant for members and non-members.

IntelliCAD is a CAD package run by committee. The ITC has members who pay $20,000 a year. That employs programmers to update the mostly-compatible-with-AutoCAD software. In exchange, members get the code and sell it as they wish: as a straight CAD package, as part of a vertical application or used in-house.

IntelliCAD v5, 5.x, and v6

The big announcement was IntelliCAD v5.

And v5.5.

And v6.

Version 5 will ship in the coming weeks. In addition to the seven enhancements listed in ITC's press release, there are these:

  • Support for i-drop.
  • New system variables and updated documentation.
  • Customizable status bar and new toolbars.
  • Improvements to Trim, Extend, and Offset commands.

The ITC confirmed rumors that they purchased code from BricsCAD. The main reason is speed. BricsCAD had already written the code and released it in their variant of IntelliCAD last June. Numerous display functions, like hatch patterns, TrueType font display, and linetypes, are 7-20x faster after BricsCAD programmers examined the code for bottlenecks.

The BricsCAD code will be added to IntelliCAD v5.x, codenamed "Fusion" -- fusing together IntelliCAD and Bricscad. It will be released in 1Q05 with these features:

  • CTB and STB files for standardizing plots.
  • Print styles for consistent plots.
  • Xref manager for handling external references.
  • User profile manager for portability.
  • Alternative font support.
  • SDS/LSP programming improvements.
  • Paper space navigation.
  • Browse command history.

ITC is also working on ICAD v6, but no details on that. A slide gave one
hint: PostScript output. And a presenter strongly hinted he would like to see ObjectARx added.

Not Compatible with AutoCAD

With all those AutoCAD features added to IntelliCAD, you might guess the ITC is attempting to close the gap on AutoCAD. Not at all, says ITC president Arnold van der Weide. "I'm not interested in being 100% compatible with AutoCAD, because then we only ever follow Autodesk."

Instead, the plan to stabilize IntelliCAD as a platform (more speed, fewer bugs, basic commands), and then take IntelliCAD where the ITC members want it to go. Each member gets one vote. This makes for democratic development, which, Mr. van der Weide admits, makes for slow development. (And explains why BricsCAD went ahead with their optimization without the ITC.)

Other thoughts from Mr. van der Weide:

  • Third-party applications tend not to cost more than 20% of AutoCAD's price, because AutoCAD is so expensive at US$3,750. Developers look at IntelliCAD with its base price of $249, and think, I can't live on 20% of $249. On the contrary, says Mr. van der Weide: you can charge far more for your software, because the total cost is less.
  • "Who sets the standard for DWG -- Autodesk or us [non-Autodesk software developers]?" With many non-Autodesk CAD vendors using DWG, maybe "we" should take over, mused Mr. van der Weide. This sentiment was expressed by other attendees; one joked that perhaps one day in the future we'll see error messages that report, "Warning: This drawing was saved by AutoCAD."
  • LT is outselling AutoCAD, according to several speakers at this conference [I doubt it]. LT with no API and a price tag of US$800 -- members of ITC see that a golden opportunity for IntelliCAD to provide a replacement product. There are, apparently, now over one million users of IntelliCAD.

Why Software S*cks

For the second day, the ITC invited several outsiders to present members with a non-members point-of-view on IntelliCAD -- Evan Yares of the Open Design Alliance, Nick Ballard of Cambashi, and myself.

Evan Yares began the day with the unappetizing seminar title of "Why Software S*cks." He explained why software is NOT doing what users want, some of which includes:

  • Users want CAD tools that make their life simpler; CAD vendors make software more complex. [One reason I stick with older versions of software is that they are less complex.]
  • Usually the best CAD user in the office is not the best designer, and vice versa. [Frank Gehry doesn't use CAD, for instance.]

His list of four deadly sins of software:

  1. Inadequate performance (largest DWG file seen by a member of the audience was 180MB and it took four hours to load into AutoCAD. Mr Yares reported on a MicroStation DGN file that was nearly 1GB, including all reference files.)
  2. Poor usability.
  3. Unreliable (crashing, and not doing what the user expects).
  4. Lack of extensibility (users trying to make the software do things that its designers never thought of).

The only products that are well conceived and implemented are database engines, compilers and Google. No CAD products. IntelliCAD has the advantage, he noted, that it doesn't have the problem of overwhelming success that locks it to its market.

An Outsider's View

My presentation was on "an outsider's view into IntelliCAD." I went over the history of IntelliCAD:

Q: Who is the grandfather of IntelliCAD?
A: David C Arnold, founder of DCA Engineering, later SoftDesk.

Q: Where did the name come from?
A: A software company called IntelliCAD in San Diego of the early 1990s.

Q: What was IntelliCAD's other name?
A: Phoenix.

Q: Why is IntelliCAD so cheap (starting at $249)?
A: Visio first sold it for 10% of the price of AutoCAD ($349), and eventually gave it away free in the early days of the ITC.

I reminded members to keep March, 2007 in mind: that's the date when the FTC's consent order expires, and Autodesk is no longer restrained from attempting to acquire IntelliCAD.

I asked the audience who their competitors are. The instant answer was "AutoCAD LT." I found it interesting that they had no other competitors on their mind. After some prodding, I helped them create three lists:

  1. Other products that use DWG as their native file format: AutoCAD LT, AutoCAD, PowerCAD, VDraft, and MicroStation.
  2. Other products in the price range: TurboCAD, DesignCAD, and so on.
  3. Other products that use similar APIs and CAD engines: OpenDWG, CADsoft, ObjectDBx, AutoCAD OEM, and so on.

I asked the ITC to think through their marketing strategy, details of which I won't reveal here.

After lunch, the sessions were closed to non-members, such as myself. And so I cannot share Mr. Ballard's comments.

ArchT for IntelliCAD

Autodsys <http://www.autodsys.com> released ArchT 2004 architectural software for IntelliCAD. Originally developed by Ketiv Technologies, ArchT provides 2D production drafting utilities, style-based design, and customizable records and reports to underlying CAD packages -- IntelliCAD and AutoCAD. It also provides dynamic block and layer control and 3D modeling tools.

During lunch at the conference, Autodsys president Ron Prepchuk showed how he used extended entity data to convert polylines into true complex linetypes, with features not found in AutoCAD or IntelliCAD -- such as filled shapes and start-with-symbols.

The Georgetown Loop

Mr. Ballard and I had all day Saturday before our planes left (his to England, mine to Canada), so we rented a car and drove west on I-70 to the Georgetown Loop railway <http://www.georgetownloop.com>. The train is pulled by a 1916 Class C 60-3 Shay steam locomotive on a narrow gauge (3') track at an elevation of 9,100 feet. A selection of photos here: http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com/photos/georgetown/.

Summing up: After several years of near-invisibility, IntelliCAD is again showing life. I think that the business experience of the ITC's new president, Arnold van der Weide, and the new programming team will have a positive impact on IntelliCAD's future.


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