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Autodesk launches free DWG viewer

Computer-aided design (CAD) specialist Autodesk late last week reversed a long-standing policy and released free viewing software for its proprietary DWG file format, which has long been the standard for CAD applications. "You can now view DWG files 100 percent just like AutoCAD can, for free," wrote AutoDesk's Shaan Hurley on his blog on Thursday in the United States.

Computer-aided design (CAD) specialist Autodesk late last week reversed a long-standing policy and released free viewing software for its proprietary DWG file format, which has long been the standard for CAD applications.

"You can now view DWG files 100 percent just like AutoCAD can, for free," wrote AutoDesk's Shaan Hurley on his blog on Thursday in the United States. Hurley is the company's technical marketing manager for its Platform Technologies group -- which includes AutoDesk's flagship AutoCAD product.

"This will be the first incarnation, with some more updates coming in the future," he wrote. "It is available in English only right now, but in the coming days/weeks there will be localised versions available."

Previous to the release of the new software, dubbed 'DWG TrueView', users would have had to buy the full AutoCAD suite or a competing product in order to read DWG files. However, AutoCAD has never published the internals of the file format, which would force the company's competitors to reverse-engineer the format order to utilise it in their own products.

The DWG format has also changed greatly over the 20-plus years over which it has been used.

The release of TrueView, comes as for some time, competing software makers such as Bentley Systems and SolidWorks have been making free DWG viewers available alongside their commercial offerings. A number of other software manufacturers also sell commercial DWG readers. AutoDesk's own offering is similarly named to Bentley's, which is dubbed 'Bentley View'.

In addition, AutoDesk has long faced criticism from some sections of the CAD community, who would like to see the proprietary DWG format turned into an open standard. This would aid interoperability between CAD suites.

One particular critic is the Open Design Alliance (ODA), which was formed in 1998 to promote an open standard, dubbed OpenDWG, as a direct reaction to the proprietary nature of the DWG format. According to the ODA's Web site, AutoDesk has not joined the organisation, despite several invitations. Both Bentley and SolidWorks are members of ODA, along with a long list of other organisations utilising or creating CAD applications.

"Despite the common availability of neutral file formats ... the vast majority of CAD drawings are stored in proprietary formats," the ODA's Web site states.

"The best-known of these is Autodesk's DWG file format. DWG has, for many years, been far and away the world's most popular format for the storage and exchange of 2D and 3D CAD drawings, with billions of important drawings in this format around the world."

"With an estimated 5 million seats of AutoCAD sold throughout the world, AutoCAD is in a monopoly position within its market segment, where no competing product could be successful without the ability to read and write DWG files."

TrueView allows users to view and plot files in the DWG format, as well as those in the DXF format which AutoDesk recommends for interoperability (but which is less feature-rich than DWG). It also allows users to publish files using the DWF format, a compressed file type which is designed for Internet publishing.

"You'll always get full drawing fidelity because the DWG viewer is built on the same viewing technology as AutoCAD 2006 software," the company's Web site states.

DWG TrueView can be downloaded from AutoDesk's Web site. The file is around 100Mb in size.