Issue #274: 4 December, 2001

Inside this Issue

AsmIn; AcisOut

Autodesk vp Robert Kross last week held a conference call to announce his company is replacing the solids modeling kernel in Inventor and AutoCAD. He has begun assembling a programming team to write Autodesk's own kernel, called Autodesk ShapeManager. The new geometric modeler is being written specifically for Inventor, but a subset will find its way into the next major releases of AutoCAD and 3D Studio. ShapeManager [the name reminds me of ShapeWare, the original name for Visio Corp] is based on the ACIS source code, which Autodesk has the rights to modify. Autodesk exercised its option to purchase a perpetual license of Spatial’s ACIS kernel [wasn't Autodesk pushing subscriptions and rentals?]. With 30 members of the media listening in, these were some of the questions asked:

Brad Holtz: How will interoperability work when Autodesk's kernel diverges from ACIS?
Autodesk's kernel will remain compatible with ACIS v7 via SAT (the save-as-text ACIS format). But in the long term, Mr Kross admitted, the two will diverge, and comparability might get broken. Autodesk doesn't see this as a problem, since it will become “the world's most widely-used kernel” naturally. Autodesk will work with D-Cubed, the famed British development house whose software underpins many mechanical CAD packages. From additional material provided by Autodesk, it sounds like ACIS will be frozen at version 7 in AutoCAD and Inventor.

Steven Wolfe: Why the change of heart [from using ACIS]?
Autodesk wants to control the development of the kernel. Mr Kross described how the latest version of ACIS became available one month _after_ Inventor v5 began shipping.

Ray Kurland: Why not sell ShapeManager, just as Dassault sells ACIS?
Autodesk wants to:
- make performance improvements and add enhancements quickly.
- synchronize road maps.
- create a kernel purpose-built for Inventor.

Ralph Grabowski: What was Dassault's reaction to losing their largest ACIS licensee?
You'll have to ask Dassault, but Autodesk have been in communication with them. “I think they understand why,” concluded Mr Kross.

Mark Halpern: Is the relationship with Dassault cut clean, or is there some ongoing maintenance?
The intent is to do it clean and fast.

Steven Wolfe: Did you have to pay Dassault for the source code?
Yes. “This is a big investment that [Autodesk] is making,” said Mr Kross. He would not specify the cost to Autodesk.

Steven Wolfe: “What is wrong with being in the kernel business?”
Mr Kross reiterated that he is not interested in selling the kernel. Third-parties will be able to access the kernel via the Inventor API.

Jeff Rowe: When will the conversion be complete in AutoCAD?
With the next release.

Ray Kurland: Why not just synchronize with ACIS?
Synchronizing product releases between two companies is difficult to manage. Mr Kross needs to take into account shipping dates coinciding with financial quarters.

The following day, there was a conference call with financial analysts, but no new information was revealed.

Q&A: Five Minutes with Robert Kross

Back in July, 2000, Robert Kross pre-empted Dassault's announcement that it planned to purchase Spatial for its ACIS technology. Back then, Mr Kross provided four reasons why the Dassault sale was good news for Autodesk, which you can read at http://www.upfrontezine.com/2000/Upf-209.htm . One reason was that it would become easier for Inventor and Mechanical Desktop to exchange data with CATIA. At the time, he speculated that SolidWorks would be under pressure to switch from ParaSolid to ACIS, and that Autodesk's Inventor might go dual-kernel one day -– with ACIS and ParaSolid -- as had some other CAD packages, such as IronCAD. Now it appears Inventor is going with 1-1/2 kernels: (1) ACIS frozen at v7; and (2) Autodesk's home-grown ShapeManager. Following the press conference, I talked one-on-one with Mr Kross about the day's announcement.

upFront.eZine: Your pr department indicated this was a hurriedly-called press conference. Why so?
Mr. Kross:
This week I'm at Autodesk University with 2,500 attendees. The story might start to leak out. We wanted to make sure everyone heard at the same time.

upFront.eZine: July a year ago, when you beat Dassault to its announcement, you liked the idea of better translation with CATIA. Will this still happen?
Mr Kross:
Exchanging drawings with CATIA is still available through SAT export. And there are third parties making direct Inventor-CATIA translation possible.

upFront.eZine: Was Dassault's purchase of Spatial the genesis for ShapeManager?
Mr Kross
: No.

upFront.eZine: It's not clear to me where this is coming from. How long ago did you start hiring employees, and what does Romuleus have to do with this?
Mr Kross:
Oh, this is just beginning now. We couldn't really start hiring any sooner than today's announcement, because word would leak out. Some of the staff are from Autodesk, some are being hired. Some have worked on Romulus, ParaSolid, and ACIS, and some are personnel provided by D-Cubed's consultancy software development business unit. [Mr Kross would not divulge the size of the ASM development team, but described it as the largest development team within Inventor, and under 100 employees.]

upFront.eZine: The office is located in Cambridge, England?
Mr Kross:
And in Novi, Michigan.

upFront.eZine: Is the ShapeManager product finished? Can you expalin to me how ShapeManager is being developed?
Mr Kross:
We had already been modifying the source code of ACIS. ACIS v7 is the core for ShapeManager. The first release is with the next Inventor early next year, with AutoCAD to follow later in the year. We plan to add enhanced blending and shelling, along with assembly in the kernel.


"So, What Do you Think?"

What do I think about Autodesk's announcement? The problem with ShapeManager is that it will lead to interoperability problems; ACIS compatibility in Autodesk products will be frozen at version 7. On the other hand, it's in Autodesk's interest to be incompatible with competitors. That could lead to companies like Delcam reverse-engineering the format (as they did with the encrypted Pro/E 2000i2).

Autodesk says it wants to focus kernel technology on the needs of its customers. Since Autodesk describes itself as having the largest ACIS customer base, presumably it could influence the direction Dassault/Spatial takes in developing ACIS. By cutting itself off from the Spatial development stream, Autodesk can add features unique to Inventor not readily available to competitors (specifically SolidWorks).

Below the Radar

A summary of CAD industry news you may not have read elsewhere:


CADKEY announced it will release CadKey GraphX Version 20 (US$1,800) in December. Version 20 is based on the GeMS++ object-oriented database and memory management tools from Honeywell. Features will include: generating drawings from solid, surface, and polygon models imported from ACIS and Parasolid models [I guess they're going to have to add ShapeManager soon]; intelligent dimensioning prohibites dimensions that do not match geometry or are not properly constructed; no-charge data translators for DWG, DXF, ACIS-SAT, Parasolid X_T, STEP, IGES, STL, and VRML. e included at no extra charge. http://www.cadkey.com

Actrix Dead (Official). The long-rumored death of Actrix is no longer...a rumor. Autodesk has decided to discontinue sales of Actrix Technical 2000 on Dec 15; tech support will continue for a further six weeks only. ["Discontinue sales" in the formal sense only, since Autodesk had been giving away the software in boxes of AutoCAD LT.] There are no plans to release another version of Actrix, however its technology (which is shared by IronCAD) is apparently being applied to other as-yet-unreleased Autodesk products. [Autodesk had launched Actrix as a "Visio killer" in a tit-for-tat exchange after Visio acquired IntelliCAD, its "AutoCAD killer." Neither killer was successful.]

You can now access The Blue Book from a PalmPilot: download the free search tool from http://www.thebluebook.com/wireless or from the Web Clipping Applications Library at http://my.palm.com . You can then search The Blue Book's 1,000,000 company listings.

Cimmetry Systems is boasting being the first to support MicroStation V8 in its AutoVue file viewer. AutoVue v16 is due to ship shortly. http://www.cimmetry.com

LightWorks Sketch allows applications to create impressionistic, hand-drawn, and stylized design renderings based on 3D models. It outputs in EPix files for use in Piranesi from Informatix Software International. http://www.lightworkdesign.com/products/lightworks/LightWorksSketch.htm

The new OpenCASCADE Certified v4.0 is available for free download from http:// www.opencascade.com . This version has enhancements from OpenCASCADE developers and outside contributors. It runs under Windows 9x/NT/2000, Linux Intel 2.4, SGI IRIX 6.4, and Sun Solaris 2.6.

EMT Software has a new release of its PartsNow v3.3 (US$195) mechanical parts library for AutoCAD and Mechanical Desktop with millions of new mechanical parts, plus a new method for downloading parts from http://www.cadalog.com for use directly in AutoCAD. http://www.emtsoft.com

New Newsletters/Webzines

Cyon Research's CADwire.net Web site has been reworked to segregate news items by industry: all, mech, aec, plant, gis, eda, and other. Cyon plans more features over the next several months. http://www.cadwire.net


People/Companies on the Move

Paul Seletsky is the new director of technology for Davis Brody Bond in New York, a 100-person architectural firm. Mr Seletsky was previously director of information technology with HLW International.


Computer News Summaries

According to MessageLabs, "BadTrans-B has eclipsed SirCam to become the most common email-borne virus on the Internet." [My real-time anti-virus has been doing an valiant job fending off the BadTrans assault of the last few days. I can't believe all the people who haven't updated their anti-virus software, or continue to use Microsoft Outlook. Hello?]

Letters to the Editor

Re: Every important design in the world is DWG or DGN.
“Show me the main spar of a Boeing or Airbus wing, a main structural member of a Rolls Royce jet engine, or a car engine block drawing in DGN or DWG, and I may believe this statement, otherwise this is pure marketing waffle. BTW, I am a MicroStation user for seven years, and I know.
“Keep up the good work! Your eZine is the first item opened on Tuesday morning.”
- Sam McCammond, Galilee Engineering Design Services
South Africa

The editor replies: “I think Bentley may have been referring to just the AEC industry. Autodesk made a similar statement earlier this year, but they left out the DGN part.”


Re: Marketing Numbers
“Working in marketing, I understand the skepticism that surrounds the Large Numbers Syndrome from the likes of Forrester and Gartner. However, you have to remember the audience that the numbers are aimed at: these numbers are for the Wall Street brigade to help puff the prospects of companies that have suddenly transformed from a CAD company to an Internet supply-chain company, or whatever -- 'whatever' being a market that is now 5x bigger than the last one.
“In some ways there is justification for changing the definition; the world moves on, and products have to reflect that change. But mainly, it is a shallow response; the products don't change much, just the hype around them.
“But please don't lay the blame for exaggerated numbers soley at the door of the analysts. Market research is the only role I have come across where the laws of mathematics are broken all the time! When you ask different departments to give you their revenues, the sum is always greater than the whole! To put it bluntly, they don't always tell you the truth.
“The larger companies can be checked, but often they give no breakdown of revenues into different application areas, so it's back to 'digital estimation' (finger-in-the-air) method.
“Smaller (or private) companies are much more difficult to check. Of course, there are a number of triangulation methods to estimate revenues, such as number of users, number of full-time staff, and so on. I find the best method is to estimate a low figure on the basis that people complain when it is too low, but not when it is too high.”
- Name withheld by request.


Re: Our computers are more expensive because they're prettier.
“Maybe Apple computers are more expensive because I can run Win95, Win98, WinNT 4, Win200, MacOS 9, and MacOSX on the same computer at the same time. (Yes, Windows runs very fast.)”
- Ed Hawkins

Re: XP Upgrade Overwrites Master Boot Record
“I recently installed XP Home upgrade on a computer that had Windows ME and XP Home beta dual-boot. Now I have XP Home and ME dual-boot working.”
- Gordon Dass Adams,

The editor replies: “It could be that Microsoft operating systems are able to co-exist.”


"Nice work, Mr. Grabowski. In particular, I enjoy your Below the Radar segment. Thanks for your wonderful service to engineers and all other advocates of CAD.”
- John Wells

"Thanks, as always, for the best CAD newsletter."
- David Cerruti, Perkins & Will

"Thanks for providing continuous news from the world of CAD. You are my best source for knowing what is happening with CAD."
- John Bisschop

Spin Doctor of the Moment

"American flags still available! These colors don't run."
- Pop-up Web ad palced by usaflagsdirect.com

Notable Quotable

"But where Internet Explorer captured the browser market by being, well, free, the chances in this gamebox war aren't so solid for Microsoft, competing on a truly level playing field for the first time in over 15 years."
- Wagner James Au


All contents copyright 2001 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd, and all rights are reserved. No material may be reproduced electronically or in print without written permission from upFront.eZine Publishing, 34486 Donlyn Avenue Abbotsford BC, V2S 4W7, Canada, unless otherwise noted.