(Reproduced from upFront.eZine with permission)
Bricsys Continues on Its Vector
If you develop CAD software, then Bricsys is your competitor. To understand this competitor is to understand that ceo Eric de Keyser has just one aim: third-party development. Let me explain.
Customers need a reason to buy BricsCAD; useful third-party applications provide a reason. By purchasing a solution, like electrical diagramming, the customer also buys BricsCAD. Mr de Keyser told me some years ago that he will have succeeded when there are 1,500 developers; this year's count is 900.
Yes, BricsCAD is like an "AutoCAD clone," but cloning AutoCAD and its APIs is a horrifically complex job. Many have tried; no one has succeeded completely, for commands like Fields, BEdit, and SheetSet require the equivalent of a second, third, and fourth CAD system. The solution: Third-party developers tell Bricsys which API elements they need, and Bricsys ignores the rest.
When third-party developers are paramount, then giving them access to BricsCAD and its APIs (and the annual conference) is free, whereas Autodesk charges a couple of thousand dollars -- kind of like Android APIs are free so that Google can compete against Apple.
In spite of the third-party developer program being in place for many years now, third parties do not always create add-ons considered strategic by Bricsys. Solution: Bricsys writes basic add-ons to prove the capability is possible, and then throw in a bunch of APIs to let third-party developers extend the functions.
Figure 1: Bricsys ceo Eric de Keyser at the opening of Bricsys International Conference 2013
Does It Work?
The Bricsys developer conference is the one event annually where the scrappy software company shows its progress to an invite-only crowd. At this year's conference in Darmstadt, Germany, 165 developers and media saw the results on the first day, which is always dedicated to highlighted third-party applications. The ones shown this year, and the developers making presentations, had matured greatly as compared with previous conferences.
Bricsys is priming the pump for advanced applications through this year's introductions of a sheet metal design module and an alpha of an AEC (BIM) module. (The BIM module was not shown at this year's conference.)
The reliance on third-party developers does, however, have its drawbacks. There is, for instance, no physical presence of an enthusiastic user community, like the groups we see at Autodesk and Solidworks events.
The job of creating an alternative CAD system is a huge job, especially for this company with a small work force. As a result, software announced at one annual conference doesn't necessarily make an appearance at the next one, or ever. Examples include BricsCAD for Mac (announced long ago, but shown finally last week for a brief two minutes) and a viewer for portable devices (shown two years ago but never released).
On the other hand, I'm not sure that there is a market for MacCAD outside of established vendors like Graphisoft and Vectorworks. (I think even mighty Autodesk is struggling here.) There is no need for more DWG file viewers outside of already-available software from Autodesk and IMSI/design.
Perhaps here is the best sign of Bricsys success: when Autodesk buys up a third-party developer, competitors turn to BricsCAD as insurance. This occurred with CAD Systems (Autodesk bought steel-design competitors Robot and Graitec); Transoft Solutions (Autodesk bought vehicle-turn competitor Savoy); and others. In this way, Autodesk drives the success of Bricsys, ironically.
The Future According to Bricsys
So, what can we expect from Bricsys in the next year? After BricsCAD V14 ships (next week), the company will continue to update the release with new commands and APIs, as it has done in previous years. The annual major release is no static release.
MCAD. The growth path for mechanical continues from the base of realtime rendering and X-Solids (V11); variational direct modeling, constraints, and design intent (V12); assemblies, BOM, kinematic analysis, parameters and formulas (V13); and sheet metal, drafting layouts, 3D MCAD import/export, renewed GUI, and 3D mouse (V14).
For next year's V15, the goal is "to create a competitive solution that can replace existing ones." Translated, this means an MCAD add-on that is 100% compatible with MDT's custom entities in two stages: first, display them, then edit them.
In the meantime, during the year of V14, the priorities are to focus on sheet metal modeling by providing more complex bends, as well as on generative drafting, assembly modeling, and more variational direct modeling. A mechanical API will become available for third-party applications. See figure 2.
Figure 2: How BricsCAD generates data from 3D models
AEC/BIM. Here I quote Mr de Keyser:
"Our roots are in AEC: we started in the early '90s to make a BIM product for AEC; the second one was MicroStation TriForma, and it is still the foundation for Bentley's AEC modeling. We started over again [with Architecturals] for IntelliCAD and AutoCAD. Then we re-released the product a few months ago for existing users.
"After all these years, people involved in BIM need more flexible tools. Imagine that we do direct modeling for BIM: we have the basic technology for that. We can produce synchronized plans. SketchUp is easy to use, but it misses the accuracy of a DWG platform. We have the capability to make a DWG product [that works like SketchUp].
"We are going to build a new foundation on these new technologies. In a real building project, how many people are working on it? Hundreds and hundreds of people. When you do it on the cloud, how could you ever go back [to a disconnected desktop]? We want to extend Chapoo [project and data management portal] to become a model server, and connect that to BIM.
"We will not create a final BIM product for the user; we will build the foundation and others will add on to it. We don't want to go into competition [with third-party developers], but convince them to work with us. It will not happen overnight, because there is structural steel design and what not.
"When you have seen all the things we do for MCAD, for the next 12 months we are going to do as much as we can for the AEC market."
What Ralph Grabowski Thinks
Like competitors IntelliCAD Technical Consortium and Graebert Gmbh, Bricsys is walking a tightrope: maintaining compatibility with DWG files, yet extending the functions of BricsCAD beyond what AutoCAD does. This was exemplified by this year's conference theme, "Going beyond the 'alternative'." The word 'alternative' is short for "alternative to AutoCAD."
One area where Bricsys successfully extended BricsCAD independently of DWG is with the user interface. Surveying its third-party developers, the company found that not one wanted Microsoft's inefficient ribbon interface; instead, the company brilliantly enhanced its QuadCursor interface so efficiently that I image Autodesk is today envious.
(Heh: at the conference, a third-party developer showed us how he had nevertheless added a ribbon-like interface to BricsCAD, because some corporate clients demand it.)
I like companies with strong vectors. Vectors consist of two aspects, speed and direction. For instance, Autodesk is very strong in both speed of development and direction of its product line, although I disagree with the direction it's taking. Bricsys sufficiently strong in speed, and I agree with its direction.
(Reproduced from upFront.eZine with permission)
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