the business of CAD


Issue #813 |  April 8, 2014
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In This Issue


1. 30 Years of DataCAD: A Tumultuous History

   Part 1


2. Heard on Twitter and on the Blog

  The secret trial of Autodesk vs ZWSOFT


30 Years of DataCAD: A Tumultuous History

Part 1


During April, DataCAD LLC is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its namesake software. A lot of CAD programs are turning 30 this decade, and they all have their stories. History is important, because it helps us understand the present, and be better at interpreting knowing how the future might unfold.

DataCAD had a particularly tumultuous history, and it is one that is fascinating to read. In this two-party series, I interview Mark Madura, architect and ceo of DataCAD LLC.


Ralph Grabowski: I first became aware of DataCAD when it got the distinction of being endorsed by the American Institute of Architects for direct distribution to its members around 1987.
Mark Madura:
That happened just before I started using DataCAD in 1989, and so I don't know exactly how that came about. DataCAD was probably the first PC-based CADD software that was developed "By architects for architects," so I'm sure that appealed to AIA members at the time.

[Later, Mr. Madura found this reference In 'A Brief History of the American Institute of Architecture Students': "The AIAS also partners with Microtecture Corporation to initiate a computer software grants program providing 56 schools of architecture with DataCAD computer software with an estimated retail value of $1,000,000." See http://www.aias.org/website/article.asp?id=51.]


RG: There were all kinds of CAD programs popping up in the early days of Apple and IBM-clone personal computers. DataCAD was one of them. How did it come about?
The origin of DataCAD began in 1981 with a program called Apple Draw written on an Apple IIe by Eric Smith while he was a student at University of Virginia. He recalled that "The only thing I remember about Apple Draw is that the BASIC interpreter would load the program over the framebuffer and I had some horrible hack to switch to an alternate framebuffer after loading. It somehow involved copying the framebuffer out to a floppy, then loading it back in. Needless to say, program startup was not very impressive!"

He was later hired by an architect, Stuart 'Griff' Burgh from Charlottesville VA to develop a full-fledged CADD program specifically for architects. The name DataCAD seems to stem from the first company they formed in 1983, DataGraphic Systems, which later became Microtecture.

At first, DataCAD was called Archcon, and was written for the Corvus Concept computer [a computer before its time; see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corvus_Systems#Corvus_Concept]. Only one commercial license was ever sold for this platform, before the CAD program was ported to IBM's new PC. At this point, the software became known as DataCAD (see figure 1). It still only did 2D drafting when version 1.2 was introduced in April 1985, but by 1988 provided real 3D.


Figure 1: Early release of DataCAD (version 2) looking like most other DOS-based CAD software of the time


It gained a lot of momentum, with a dedicated newsletter called WindowIn on DataCAD first published in July 1987, and user groups forming around the country. One of the oldest is DBUG (DataCAD Boston Users' Group). It formed in December of 1987, and is still going strong, meeting on a monthly basis.


RG: You weren't involved until later; tell me about how you began with DataCAD.
I myself began using DataCAD in 1989 with version 3.6e rev. 1 on a 16MHz Compaq 386, at the time considered the most powerful desktop computer. When the recession hit in 1990, I was laid off from my job, and so I started my own consulting business -- Madura Studios. I taught architects how to make the transition to CADD using DataCAD running on custom-built PCs.

It was an exciting time at the beginning of my new career. I remember attending COMDEX in 1989 and being blown away by the endless displays of new computer technology. This was the era of OS/2, the very beginning of Windows, and the switch from 16- to 32-bit programming. The developers of DataCAD were also looking forward and so began a complete re-write of the program, from 16-bit Pascal to 32-bit C. So a lot of changes were happening at once.


RG: So DataCAD was one of the first desktop CAD packages with real 3D, even beating out AutoCAD?
When Ken Parrish joined Microtecture as a programmer in 1985, he was hired to develop a vector-based hidden-line removal (HLR) system. DataCAD already had 2-1/2D [elements could be drawn in the z direction, but not at an angle] and a capable perspective viewing facility developed by Eric Smith.

When Ken finished his work, the vector-based HLR system provided crisp output on the pen plotters of the day. For small objects, it removed hidden lines in a few minutes; like other hidden-line processes of the day, it was slow with complex drawings, and could take overnight to finish. This led to Ken's development of DC Modeler, a standalone 3D module at first, it was later merged into DataCAD.


RG: There were some buyouts, and some mergers along the way, as I recall.
Indeed. At the beginning of 1989, Microtecture entered discussions with Sigma Design, the developer of Arris [architectural CAD], about a possible merger. DataCAD had such a loyal following that a big uproar ensued. A petition from users was submitted to request that Microtecture remain independent. Ultimately, the deal did not go through.

(Much later, in 1996, at about the same time Dave and I took DataCAD back from CADKEY, Charlie White and Mort Olshan purchased Arris.)

Later that year at A/E/C Systems '89 in Anaheim CA, Microtecture announced that DataCAD had been acquired by CADKEY. I think DataCAD users saw more potential in this deal because Cadkey, as MCAD software, was not a direct competitor to DataCAD, the AEC software.

After the merger with CADKEY, there were high hopes of collaboration between the MEC and AEC programmers. Perhaps DataCAD would benefit from the advanced modeling capabilities of Cadkey. Unfortunately, DataCAD was, and remained, the red-headed stepchild and so there was never any cooperation between the MCAD and AEC development teams.




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Graphisoft Readies ArchiCAD for the Enterprise, continues...

RG: I still have a developer copy of CODe sent to me by Cadkey. (I tried today installing the software from the CD, but Windows 7 would not run it, because it was a 16-bit version, the first release.)
I mentioned that work began on a C version of DataCAD. Well, this was eventually abandoned in favor of new object-oriented technology developed in parallel with the continued Pascal-based DataCAD, version 4. This all-new C++-based core technology eventually became known as CODe (Cadkey Object Developer), but was originally introduced as Parthenon at A/E/C Systems '91 in Washington DC.

At the time, WindowIn reported, "CADKEY is obviously doing something unusual in the software world in talking openly about a future product. They are opening themselves to a tremendous amount of criticism if they do not deliver the product by next year's A/E/C Systems show. They recognize this and it is reasonable to expect that the DataCAD user should see something from them a year from now." It was to become DataCAD 5 running on Windows 3.x sometime in 1992.

CODe was an idea that originally came from the DataCAD side and was to be the new platform on which the next generation of Cadkey and DataCAD would be built for the 1990s. CODe was impressive, but it was also a monumental undertaking. CADKEY did not have a booth at A/E/C Systems '92 in Dallas, TX and did not deliver the long-awaited DataCAD for Windows that was promised a year earlier.

There was, however, growing doubt that CODe would ever result in a commercially available product and it had been more than two years since DataCAD 4 was released.


RG: The CODe effort failed. The next effort was to inject some new, old blood into the firm, through Malcolm Davies as I recall.
I think the co-founders of CADKEY, Livingston Davies and Peter Smith, wanted to try and "shake things up" amid growing customer frustration over the lack of progress with new products. I'd say they got what they asked for, though probably not what they intended.

In October 1992, Malcolm Davies and other ex-Autodesk employees took over CADKEY. [Mr Davies had left Autodesk after he was not appointed CEO; outsider Carol Bartz got the job.] By December, they dropped the price of DataCAD from $2,995 to $1,995. Parthenon (a.k.a. Cadkey Architect; see figure 2) was downgraded to a less ambitious "concept modeler," and would be presented as such at A/E/C Systems '93 in Anaheim, CA.

Figure 2: Mockup of what Cadkey Architect (code-named Parthenon) was to look like


The Pascal-based DataCAD 4 needed to become DataCAD 5 in a hurry, so CADKEY looked to SOFT-TECH. They were marketing and developing DataCAD as SPIRIT in Germany. The co-founder of SOFT-TECH, Dieter Heimlich, had licensed DataCAD from Microtecture, and then added enhancements.

Next week in upFront.eZine: Part 2


And One More Thing...

Russian translation of "What Autodesk accomplishes by suing a Chinese company" on isicad: http://isicad.ru/ru/articles.php?article_num=16888 .



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Heard on Twitter and On the Blog

upFront.eZine (@upFronteZine): ZWSOFT: "We have found out about this [lawsuit] news in the same way as you, through various internet blogs and news outlets."


upFront.eZine: ZWSOFT press release admits court action began in Holland 7 Feb. Court to announce decision April 7.


upFront.eZine: ZWSOFT: We agreed with Autodesk to keep Dutch lawsuit quiet until the verdict, but then Autodesk preemptively launched a lawsuit in the USA.


upFront.eZine: ZWSOFT accuses Autodesk of a "vicious market competition plan," involving 80% price cuts in China and multiple law suits.

upFront.eZine: It was Autodesk's second lawsuit that ZWCAD did not know about -- until they read about it my WorldCAD Access blog.


upFront.eZine: Today's statement by ZWSOFT about Autodesk's lawsuits here -> http://finance.yahoo.com/news/zwcad-design-declaration-intellectual-property-130000495.html


upFront.eZine: I'm getting word that an international distributor folded (shutting down their ZWCAD sales) just by Autodesk threatening a law suit.


upFront.eZine: Two country distributors stopped sales of ZWCAD in January. That's what we've counted so far; checking others...


upFront.eZine: Country distributors protest: we only resell software, we don't touch the code. Therefore: not guilty, Autodesk!


Alex Bausk (@bauskas): zwCAD should try hiring companies named somewhat less menacing than "Global Force Direct".


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Rakesh Rao (@rakesh_rao): BricsCAD changes tag-line, It is now the 'REAL Choice': http://rakeshrao.typepad.com/work_smarter_geotools/2014/04/real-choice-the-new-bricscad-tag-line.html



On the Blog

Here are items that appeared on the WorldCAD Access blog recently at http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com:

Letters to the Editor

Re: Graphisoft Readies ArchiCAD for the Enterprise

"My 2 cents: perhaps Graphisoft is a little sour grapes regarding the fortunes of Revit. What your synopsis doesn't mention is the huge momentum Revit obtained by being assimilated into the Autodesk camp. I have to believe, personally, that that is the main reason that Revit eventually swept the Americas market off its feet.


"ArchiCAD, though much older and more mature in the early going, had a great opportunity to be the market leader here, but I wonder if they came off as too European, and not really suited for the American markets? I wonder if they saw the acquisition of Revit coming back in (what was it, 2002)? With the appropriate effort at the time, they might have seized the market share, or did the market play out the way it did simply because Autodesk was pushing BIM?


"As the wise Tootsie-Roll Pop owl used to say, 'One, Two, Three, (crunch)-- the world may never know'."
      - Ron Pachis


"Notable Quotable for next week below: 'If BIM is closed, it disturbs our work, because Japanese standards are unique in the world'."
      - Jim Martin


Re: AutoCAD 2015

"In AutoCAD 2014 and earlier, you can turn off the icons for the Ortho, Polar, Osnap, etc buttons and replace them with text simply by right-clicking any button. 2015 seems to be locked to icons only, but there must be a sysvar somewhere from earlier releases. Any thoughts?"
      - Bill Fane


The editor replies: "Change for the sake of change?"


Mr Fane replies: "I hate icons. I figure that if God had intended us to use icons then we would all have been born Chinese. Traditional Chinese has over 450,000 icons. Chairman Mao decided this was ridiculous and ordained current 'simplified' Chinese with only 4,500 icons. What he should have done was to adopt the Korean written language that only has 22 letters, no upper/lower case, and no punctuation.


"AutoCAD currently has over 1,600 icons. I seem to spend half my time hovering the cursor over icons, waiting for the tooltip to appear, until finally I find the command I want. A problem is that actions can wander away from their icons. My students didn't have a clue as to why the 'Save' icon looks like it does. They have never heard of a 3.5" floppy disk."


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"Thanks for your great upFront.eZine, keep up the great work."
       - Phillip Reeves


Notable Quotable

"It accelerates and innovates your catch-phrase generation. In the cloud."
      - Caleb Crome


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Entire contents copyright 2014 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $840. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "WorldCAD Access" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.


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