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Bentley Unveils MicroStation V8: Number 2 Tries Harder

V8 Reads and Writes Native DWG Format

Roopinder Tara, Editor, TenLinks.com
(revised 10/26/01)

See Also

  MicroStation V8 download page
  MicroStation V8 - official Bentley site
  TopTen MicroStation V8 Sites - by TenLinks
  MicroStation Reading Room - by CADdigest.com

On Tuesday, October 16, the assembled industry press was introduced to the next MicroStation: V8. Apart from making sure it won’t be confused with a vegetable juice or an automobile engine, V8 faces an even more formidable challenge: trying to catch up to Autodesk, whose AutoCAD is the undisputed market leader.

Although it's a powerful and robust CAD program, MicroStation has long endured second place. But while MicroStation's legion of 300,000 users may pale compared to AutoCAD’s 4 million, even Autodesk must envy Bentley's strengths:

  • A cachet in certain industries: civil engineering, process and plant design and larger architectural firms
  • A subscription-based clientele that already generates half the company’s revenues
  • A loyal following among users who have made a conscious choice in software rather than accepting the industry’s ipso facto standard


MicroStation V8, showing the model management
(click for larger image)

As a parade of Bentley execs extolled the virtues of their revamped flagship, it became apparent that there were indeed significant and important changes. Chief among them was that -- for the first time -- MicroStation reads and writes native AutoCAD files.

Whoa! If you just read that fast, you may not have understood the enormity of this pronouncement. That’s reading and writing AutoCAD files - not simply translating or converting them, but treating them as if they were its own files. DWG, DGN - what the heck’s the difference? says MicroStation V8.

What’s next, Apple implementing the Windows operating system? The Taliban admitting that Western ways aren’t so bad after all? Gone is Bentley’s “smaller-yet-superior” attitude. The company has finally embraced what the rest of the world had accepted as fact: that DWG is the language in which design is spoken. Bentley brothers Greg and Keith Bentley got religion with V8. “We MUST exchange data," says Keith Bentley, Bentley’s CTO.

Embracing DWG

So what does this mean? Most likely, a huge sigh will be heard from the collective MicroStation user community, many of whom have endured demoralizing dumps of AutoCAD drawing files to be used as input or required as output. Count Steve Gilberti of Foster Wheeler USA as an avid V8 fan, as he has to handle 20,000 to 30,000 drawing conversions a year and now finds his job much easier. With V8, MicroStation-based design teams may no longer need to keep copies of AutoCAD in house just for drawing translation.

“This will save us resources,” says Jeff Larrick, of Burt Hill architects. “Before, we not only had to buy AutoCAD software, we also had to invest in AutoCAD training.” Liberated from these thankless and expensive necessities, MicroStation users can now focus on the more creative and rewarding aspects of their profession. This should also act to reduce defections to AutoCAD for many who have tired of being second-class citizens in a DWG world. Bentley hopes that the tide will now turn the other way – wooing users to MicroStation from AutoCAD (more on that later).

How was this done?

Bentley is a member of the OpenDWG Alliance. In joining it, they were able to access the DWG toolkit – a series of routines that allow access to the ubiquitous AutoCAD native file format DWG. For the past few releases, determined code crackers from members of the OpenDWG Alliance have painstakingly unraveled the unpublished and proprietary DWG file (no doubt to the chagrin of Autodesk). Bentley says they’ve even improved on the OpenDWG toolkit, citing their own expertise in conversions.

As Autodesk is loathe to publish the DWG format as well as prone to make alterations in it, the potential for an unending cat and mouse game certainly exists. If it wanted to, Autodesk could throw all DWG-dependent CAD vendors into a tizzy by making extensive changes.  A scramble to reverse engineer the latest version would follow. And no one, including Bentley, can say how long it will take to catch up. In a worst-case scenario – we're talking the stuff of nightmares – Autodesk would encrypt the file so that it only made sense if used with AutoCAD.

The Proof Is in the Pudding

So how good is MicroStation's ability to read and write DWG files? Pretty damn good, say the users assembled for our benefit. For Foster Wheeler, it has been a godsend – easily worth the price of upgrades. Foster Wheeler IT team had worked hand in hand with Bentley developers, translating thousands of Foster Wheeler drawings. You could say that the conversion was 100 percent effective for Foster Wheeler because it was customized for them. But other users told a similar story.

What We Didn’t See

Unlike the launching of MicroStation/J, with the last major release of MicroStation we didn’t hear the usual refrain of “Internet, Internet, Internet.” Bentley, like most other companies, has gotten off the Internet bandwagon even though it is working on beefing its website with tools, resources and information to support users. Many of the changes in V8 seem to have come from the requests and suggestions of users. Chief among these are the DWG support and the design history management (which allows selective rollback of changes). However, Bentley did see fit to throw in features that implement their own  vision of what users SHOULD want, such as in areas of 3D and the “single building model.”

More Improvements

V8 also overhauls the DGN format. Constraining size limitations are eliminated. There are no more precision limits. Gone is the ridiculous 63 layer limit as well as restrictions on file size and file size names. While most of these changes were dictated by AutoCAD conversion needs, it nevertheless does allow MicroStation users to enter the new millennia.

Other enhancements include:

  • Volume clipping – a rectangular volume can be selected from a larger model for viewing, eliminating clutter
  • Design history - undo changes within a region, users can roll back changes in a selected region
  • See also "MicroStation V8 - Some of What's New/Changed" from the Bentley website

Other Highlights

Finally, here are some other Bentley updates:

  • The Bentley user meeting will now be a spring event.
  • Bentley employs 1,100 people and its quarterly revenues are over $50 million.
  • About half of the ENR500 companies primarily use MicroStation, according to Bentley.
  • Bentley will introduce industry-specific “portfolios” – bundled software suites for:
    • Building design
    • Plant space
    • Civil design
    • Municipal
    • Monthly subscriptions - costs range from $550 to $675.

Bentley will offer completive upgrades, allowing AutoCAD users to purchase MicroStation V8 for $888.

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