Getting serious about CAD on the Mac

Summary:Taking a page from the Apple App Store, German developer Graebert on Tuesday announced an online store and community for DraftSight, its multiplatform CAD platform. The company said acceptance of its recently released CAD software for the Mac had blown away projections.

Taking a page from the Apple App Store, German developer Graebert GmbH on Tuesday announced an online store and community for DraftSight, its multiplatform CAD platform. The company said acceptance of its recently released Mac CAD software had blown away projections.

The Graebert Market for DraftSight will open in April and will let large and small developers as well as customers discover and promote solutions and applications. Currently, there are some 300,000+ worldwide DraftSight users, according to Wilfried Graebert, founder and CEO of Graebert GmbH.

A year ago, Graebert announced its ARES CAD platform for Mac, Windows and Linux, which supports AutoCAD-compatible command line and scripts. In July, the company announced a technology-sharing relationship with French 3D and PLM software company Dassault Systemes for the DraftSight brand.

I spoke with the executive in the week before the SolidWorks World conference in San Antonio, where the marketplace announcement was made. Graebert said that people were looking seriously at CAD on the Mac again.

"From September to December [2010], we gained 30,000 Mac users," he said, adding that this demand blew away their internal sales projections. The Mac was now 10 percent of the DraftSight customer base and growing quickly.

According to Graebert, the sales team had expected that most Mac customers would download the Windows version and run the program in Boot Camp. Instead, they went for the Mac-native version.

"We have many [customers] telling us that they are happy to have all their programs on the same platform," Graebert said.

Any Mac user, newbie or old-timer, could have told the company that this might happen. Who prefers to run a program in a virtualization environment or in the case of Boot Camp, take the time to reboot the machine? No, Mac users want Mac programs.

Check Out: Engineering: The Mac is coming back

Meanwhile, there's Autodesk's AutoCAD 2011 for Mac . It offers 3D visualization and rendering; menu customization; and support for LISP and ObjectARX/DBX apps.

Like DraftSight, there's no support for Windows-specific controls and services.

You can create custom scripts, linetypes, hatch patterns, and command aliases, as well as AutoLISP and ObjectARX applications, in AutoCAD 2011 for Mac; however, there is no support for DCL in AutoLISP, nor is there access to some of the custom AutoCAD user interface controls in ObjectARX. Technologies specific to Windows, such as Visual Basic for Applications, OLE objects, and Windows Media Audio, are not supported in AutoCAD 2011 for Mac.

The most commonly used functionality of AutoCAD is included in AutoCAD for Mac. However, there are a few commands that are not included in this first release, including layer filters, layer groups, and layer states; Sheet Set Manager; and DGN, PDF, and DWF underlay support.

Graebert didn't appear to be sweating. Unlike past competitors that took aim at the entry-level AutoCAD LT, the German company is targeting Autodesk's core business. The simple story may be cost:  DraftSight starts under $1,000 while a comparable AutoCAD package is more than $3,000, he said.

In addition, Graebert is targeting a wide range of CAD tasks, including ray tracing. pointed to the recent integration of Lightworks' Artisan SnapShot Studio 3D rendering technology into ARES for Windows. He said Lightworks was working on a Mac port.

There's a bit of back to the future in this Mac CAD story.

Long ago in a time before Mac OS X and Intel-based Macs, Apple made forays into several technical, architectural and engineering markets. But Windows-centric purchasing policies in government and enterprise stopped the platform's progress. Apple retrenched around more-profitable markets in 2D design and video.

Now, without any help from Cupertino, it appears that the Mac will elbow a place at the engineering and CAD table. Amazing.

[Correction: AutoCAD for Mac came out of beta in Q4 of 2010. ]

Topics: Apple, Enterprise Software, Hardware


David Morgenstern has covered the Mac market and other technology segments for 20 years. In the recent past, he founded Ziff-Davis' Storage Supersite, served as news editor for Ziff Davis Internet and held several executive editorial positions at eWEEK. In the 1990s, David was editor of Ziff Davis' award-winning MacWEEK news publication a... Full Bio

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