Autodesk has announced a collaboration with Microsoft to integrate DWF technology with the Windows Vista operating system (released to business customers today – see BBC news story). Vista users will be able to view and manage DWFs without additional downloads of plug-ins or special viewing software.
Viewers are a feature of all construction collaboration technologies, or ‘project extranets’ at present, with third-party viewers such as Cimmetry’s AutoVue and Informative Graphics’ Brava!, or integrated viewers such as BIW’s own, widely used – at least in the UK AEC market – in addition to those produced by the CAD vendors.
DWF files published to Microsoft’s XPS specification can now apparently be automatically opened and viewed using the XPS viewer built into Windows Vista. XPS is an open, platform-neutral format for digital paginated documents, much like Adobe’s PDF format (Microsoft will also release a stand-alone viewer for use in Windows 2000 through Vista, and for Mac, Linux and Unix platforms). XPS supports only 2D DWF files in the initial release of Vista, according to Autodesk. (For more information from an Autodesk insider, see Scott Sheppard’s Beyond the Paper blog).
Quotes and extracts from the Autodesk release
“Together with Autodesk, we are bringing the powerful capabilities of Windows Vista and XPS to the CAD software space, expanding our customers’ horizons when it comes to sharing and collaborating on design information,” said Microsoft’s Sanjay Parthasarathy, corporate vice president, Developer and Platform Evangelism Group.
According to Gisela D. Wilson, director of IDC’s Product, Project and Portfolio Management Solutions service: “This is a significant development for the manufacturing, engineering and construction industries’ supply chains. No doubt, DWF is emerging as an important standard for new product development and introduction workflows. With today’s announcement, the DWF platform will become more accessible for secure team collaboration among globally dispersed manufacturers, suppliers and customers.”
“Working with Microsoft, we’re liberating our customers from paper-based sharing and proprietary software that might otherwise limit use and cause costly project or product delays due to lack of clarity or insight,” said Amar Hanspal, vice president, Autodesk Collaboration Solutions. “In effect, Windows Vista and XPS’s integration in DWF technology democratizes access to CAD data, by making it possible for engineers and designers to share the right information with the right people at the right time.”
In addition to automatic DWF file viewing, the Windows Vista desktop search function will make it easier and faster for customers to find relevant design files with Live Icons and Preview Pane features. For example, a product designer can search for files based on specifications, designs, or any piece of related data such as an address or supplier’s name. Regardless of where the information is stored, Windows Vista returns Live Icons — thumbnail images of files retrieved — that let the designer see files’ general content at a glance and choose the right one, without scrolling through a conventional text directory and checking large files that can take as much as several minutes to open. The designer might choose to search for meta-data tags instead, and use the search function’s preview pane to confirm which file is the one sought.
At AECnews.com, Randall Newton opines:
“Autodesk has scored a coup by becoming the native design file technology in Windows Vista. This puts 2D DWF on a part with JPG or TIFF or the other graphics file formats supported by Windows. … This development gives DWF a big boost in its rivalry with Adobe PDF. With no need for a downloaded viewer or driver, it becomes much simpler to share drawings and models saved to the DWF format. But it doesn’t need to stop with designs. DWF can store text documents as well as graphics. Microsoft now has a digital publishing technology inside Windows that can—to some degree—replace Adobe PDF.”
At WorldCADAccess.com, Ralph Grabowski says:
“A coup for Autodesk? No, a PR blunder. Because until now, the company could always boast about the number of downloads (10, 12, whatever million) of its DWF viewer. Now it won’t be able to, anymore. Sure, they’ll boast that DWF is now pervasive because it’s in the OS, and so “everyone” has access to it . But we all know the truth: few will run Vista, and even fewer will use DWF because it’s in Vista.”
To some extent, Ralph’s final comment reflects my own initial reaction. Thinking back to the last major launch of a Microsoft OS, there was a time lag before many users switched to the latest Windows platform so that any major bugs could be identified and fixed first (and AEC firms are perhaps even more likely to adopt such a conservative approach to upgrading their systems). It may, therefore, be a few years before Vista is the default operating system (admission: one of my home PCs is still Windows 98!).