Issue #138: 23 January, 1999

Stay or Switch?

In upFront.eZine #135, I noted how there always seem to be several CAD packages trying to lure AutoCAD users with some sort of switch-over marketing. Specifically, I noted that SofTech was offering its CADRA software to AutoCAD users for US$2,199 (regular US$3,995), while SolidWorks is currently running large ads targeting AutoCAD users and offering "free AutoCAD migration tools." I asked readers, "Would you actually pay -- whether $2,199, or $495, or even nothing -- to try out a different CAD package?" Some readers refer to these two items in their letters below.
In this issue, I present most of the responses I received from readers. I also received several longer letters that muse more extensively on the issue of Stay or Switch. I'll present those next week. Letters have been edited for clarity and brevity; some readers requested to remain anonymous.


"To switch in a business from a know, proven program with reasonable compatibility and support to an unknown product is not a prudent decision. There is the cost of retraining, lost time, and new add-on programs to purchase and learn. A thousand dollars does not near cover these problems."
     -- Earl Bosl

"I like to keep my eyes open and read about other CAD packages out there.  I have seen some nice features and later on have seen some similar or better enhancements come along in the next release of AutoCAD.  I have yet to find an altogether better package than AutoCAD near the same cost and functionality on my PC.
     "Without regard to legacy data, I would not and will not support going to another software unless it is a quantum leap better than AutoCAD and will save me tons of time and increase my productivity by a factor of 2 or better. Bottom line, as long as AutoCAD continues to upgrade and better their product, I am with them."
     -- Richard C. Cote

"'How long is a piece of string?' CAD users who are familiar with AutoCAD and/or have seen it grow from 2D to -- dare I say 3D -- are surely entrenched into it and will show very little signs of changing, especially for further thousands of dollars. Why pay more or crossgrade for something equal to what you've already got: I don't think so.
     "CAD software, no matter what, will always be compared to AutoCAD, even if it's a bad comparison. New users however will relish the abundance of CAD software and undoubtedly select the right tool for their application. CAD software -- like Visio's IntelliCAD -- that mimic AutoCAD will take a large slice of the 'crossgrade' market but will largely run in parallel with AutoCAD. Buying software for $500 that's almost a duplicate of AutoCAD will entice many customers, but having to shell out $2,000 for much the same just doesn't quite gel. Caddra software must offer a lot more to justify the extra."
     -- Andrew Shaw

"Financial incentives aside, very few companies (or individual users) seriously consider changing CAD packages because of two major factors:  (1) proprietary archival drawings; and (2) cost of re-training. Besides, it just isn't fun or productive to give up all the little things a person learns from years of daily software use just to try a few new features.
     "Primarily, these financial offers from CAD companies are successful with users of illegal licenses who see this as a way to get legal at a much lower cost, even though they face the two negative (and costly) issues noted above.  The 22,000 seats that SolidWorks has sold have come at an incredible cost in promotion and other advertising costs.  Certainly they have not made a dent in any major CAD company user base despite the most massive PR campaign in PC CAD history."
     --Richard Price

"The answer to your question, 'Would you actually pay -- whether $2,199, or $495, or even nothing -- to try out a different CAD package?' For nothing -- maybe, otherwise - NO! I've used AutoCAD since v.2.0. I'm not saying its the best and it's definitely not the worst!
     "I know what it's like trying to marry-up two2 different CAD packages (SolidWorks and AutoCAD) and it's no joy ride! The numbers that all these vendors are throwing around are nothing more than marketing hype.
     "One thing I think people overlook when thinking of switching software is all of their legacy data. What will be the ROI [return on investment] on converting that data. When it comes to AutoCAD think about the lines of code that have been written for custom applications. Then, will the results be the same? In my opinion and circumstance, there's just to many dollars out for too long to consider switching!
     -- Bill Farmer

"i am a cad administrator in an office for architecture and we have 12 seats of autocad and our own architectual add-on (can be seen at -> nmutils). we often get offers from other cad architecture vendors, like nemetschek allplan and archicad (all stand-alone software), which are big in the german architecture market.
     "they often showed us their products in our office and made us offers to change to them, including update prices from autocad to their package. but we never changed to them because we really never had the time to change. it would take too much time to learn another cad system.
     "another very important point is, that all have limitations and cannot do everything we need. autocad is an open base to draw plans for building and for drawing plans for space planning of cities and towns. because we have an add-on for that work, our drafters don't need to know two cad systems.
     -- ing. marty nigg

"architect, stevensville, maryland. PowerCADD, DesignWorkshop, etc. NO! ($2000+ for CADD)."
     -- ray strang

"The answer is obvious, most users prefer NOTHING! AutoCAD would never had reached its dominance in the CAD market if it had not been "pirated" or -- more correctly -- been available for free evaluation. All engineering students I know have at least one copy legal or illegal of AutoCAD. The hardware lock on MicroStation v2,v3,v4 may have been Intergraph/Bentley's biggest mistake."
     --  O. H. Ystanes


And on the other side, here are letters from readers who might switch (under the right conditions), have tried switching (but went back), or successfully switched:

"As a long time user of AutoCAD, I was surprised to find how easy it was to switch. It is due to my years of experience and extreme comfort with AutoCAD that I thought it would be hard.
     "For 2D I am now using IntelliCAD, which I find slightly better than AutoCAD and it fits my new consulting business budget. For 3D design, I have found IronCAD from VDS to be very easy to learn and become productive with. I did have to dispel many of my ideas about how to build objects based on AutoCAD processes that I thought were difficult to begin with.
     "Overall though, there is a learning curve, and thus some expense, in taking on a new system. This is, however, well justified if you find yourself productive in short order as I have with both of the above packages."
     -- Hank Head

"I would only try a different CAD package if I could get a fully functional program for a year for free. And then, if I was interested in switching, would get the program for a large reduction in the sales price (under $1,000)."
     -- Paul Miller

"I bought IMSI TurboCAD Pro 5 but don't have time to use it. Looked at MiniCAD -- don't have time. Looked at you-name-it architectural 3D modeling -- just don't have time.
     "AutoCAD LT has replaced AutoCAD for us. I have been slowly integrating ART's Chief Architect into my CAD room for five years now; I use it to about 60 % of completion. I use Chief Architect for 3D, AutoCAD for final drafting/plotting.  I may look at Autodesk's Architectural Desktop."
     -- Matt

"I tried the IntelliCAD beta when it was being offered a year ago.  It had some promise in my eyes but I could not justify my time investment in AutoCAD to switch to something that may/may not be around next year.
     "Unless I am going to be working in an area where many others with whom I collaborate are going to be using xCAD, I must stay with the package I am versed in -- AutoCAD.  I am interested in the Linux-based GCAD, but first gotta get knowledge of how to get Linux up an running with existing equipment -- reliably, then become a hacker, then learn GCAD and hack it with others.  I don't know what all this means, but I'm game for excitement, I think."
     -- Dan Gordon

"It is very difficult, I had it make three of four attempts to upgrade from the Generic CADD  DOS system to the VisualCADD (Windows version) and this is the same product line. I can't imagine what switching to another system all together would be like."
     -- Ted Stever

"As you might know, Visio is providing grant copies of IntelliCAD to colleges through a grant application process.  We applied for and obtained a site license at Lorain County Community College for developing 2-1/2D toolpath in our computer-aided machining lab. Let me tell you, Autodesk has something to be worried about. This package does everything Visio claim it does. It's not a high-end modeler, but that's not what we want for this application.  It's an excellent tool for doing 2D or 2-1/2D.  Product support is excellent and they even respond to bugs posted on their Web site.  The price is right for most small shops and for departments looking to increase the number of full-featured CAD seats.  It's not a "light" version stripped of AutoLISP.  I had no problems dealing with authorization codes since IntelliCAD doesn't require them!
     "I've been an AutoCAD fan for a long time, but I'm really glad to see some significant competition.  This package is an unbelievable bargain. Autodesk needs to wake up and smell the coffee, cause Visio's cookin'! They're about to carve a huge piece of the CAD market."
     -- Roger Diamond, asst. professor CAM/CNC

"I've tried other CAD programs, only to go back to AutoCAD. None seem to have the ease of use that AutoCAD has, nor are they as user friendly (maybe just my opinion). I've been using AutoCAD since Autodesk was putting black and white ads in small magazines (early 80's), and plan to stay right with it."
    -- Steve Cherry

"I have been using CAD for over 10 years now and have used just about everything out there, from MicroStation to CadKey to VersaCAD to AutoCAD. Of course, I'm a long standing AutoCAD user and am quite fluent in its use. I try and keep an open mind about additional programs that could be beneficial.
     "Currently, I am using AutoCAD and SolidWorks side by side.  It is my opinion that the SolidWorks is an excellent 3D modeling package. AutoCAD is an excellent 2D drafting package.  If there ever could be a marriage among the two, it would produce a world-class package.  The only light on the horizon (hope it isn't an oncoming train) is that it is rumored that SolidWorks has hired an AutoCAD guru to beef up their 2D performance. Otherwise, I would prefer to stick with the AutoCAD and forgo using 3D to its fullest potential.  A 3D model of a fully assembled project does the shop absolutely no good if there are no drawings to relate the project."
     -- Matt Ernst

"We are looking at Actrix, Visio 5.0 Tech, and IntelliCAD as a replacement for full-blown AutoCAD in our facilities work. For what we do, in some instances, either Actrix or Visio 5.0 Tech will work just fine and we can save some serious money.
 "Other applications, especially those that rely on AutoLISP, have to be further evaluated. We have over a quarter-million lines of LISP that would have to be re-written in VB or VBA, and that ain't gonna be cheap. So we're in no real hurry to just change for change sake. That is some of the 'stickiness' you mention.
     -- John

CAD and Computer News Summaries

Shockwave 7, the latest version of its multimedia player for the Web, is now available free from 

"The Monkey Wrench Conspiracy tutorial puts the student in the role of an intergalactic secret agent on a rescue mission against alien hijackers. The two-hour tutorial plays like the popular Doom game, but with a twist. When players pick up a weapon, for example, they discover the trigger is broken and the only way to learn how to fix it is to complete a section of the  CAD program's tutorial. " The tutorial ships in March with Think3's next mechanical CAD program.

You might think that Think3's (formerly known as Cad.Lab) Web site would be . Oops -- slight slip-up in the naming contest. That Web site belongs to a Canadian web design company, which calls itself "think3 (the original)." The CAD-oriented Think3's Web site continues to use the old name of . The introductions to both Web sites look impressive (make sure your Web browser has the ShockWave plug-in).

Market News

PTC  now owns  approximately 51.4 percent of Division Group plc shares.

Visio share prices fell from the low 40s to the mid 20s on news that the corporation  will grow only half as fast as it did last year, due to sluggish international sales and the gap in new product releases. Last year, Visio grew 66%.


All contents copyright XYZ Publishing, Ltd. Inc., 1999 and all rights are reserved. No material may be reproduced electronically or in print without written permission from XYZ Publishing, PO Box 3053, Sumas WA, 98295-3053, unless otherwise noted.