A year ago, Graebert was an obscure CAD vendor based in Germany, not far from the famous Kudamm shopping street. I was the only journalist covering them. Then they got lucky: they caught the attention of SolidWorks, who was looking for a replacement to DWGEditor, an AutoCAD workalike. DWGEditor had two big problems: (a) it was based on IntelliCAD, whose development had stalled, and (b) it attracted a law suit from Autodesk because of the "DWG" in its name.
As it turned out, parent company Dassault Systemes took over the marketing and support of what it called DraftSight, a rebadging of Graebert's ARES software. To irritate Autodesk, DraftSight is free, although it is also free of any APIs, even LISP (kind of like AutoCAD LT). If you want to write code for DraftSight, you need to sign up for the $250 a year maintenance contract.
During the keynote address yesterday at SolidWorks World, DraftSight was cited as being the fastest growing CAD system ever, with some 300,000 downloads to date. Later that day, Graebert told me about their plans to make the Graebert name better known, and to have people consider the free DraftSight as a more serious CAD program -- to distinguish it from the likes of AutoCAD LT. The plan is called, "Graebert Market For DraftSight."
The idea is that Graebert will host a site to sell add-ons for DraftSight, and they way they have implemented it is quite clever, DRM-wise:
- This site is meant for DraftSight only; if this one works out, then there may markets for other ARES-based products.
- Add-ons are locked to specific editions of ARES, initially DraftSight.
- The locking mechanism is called "Connect."
- Connect allows the free version of DraftSight, which has no API, to run add-ons. It also handles licensing, updates, version matching, 30-day trials, and so on.
- When customers make a purchase (initially with MasterCard and Visa), they are sent the license number by email in a PDF file.- The customer can run multiple add-ons in DraftSight, and can even temporarily turn some off, through the new Plugins command.
For the third-party developer, the process works like this:
- They sign up to a Graebert Developer Account.
- They get access to Graebert Developer Studio, the Windows and OS X SDKs (DRX and LISP for now, others to come in the future, perhaps), documentation, and support at developer.graebertmarket.com.
- Graebert Developer Studio is a customized version of ARES that lets developers test their add-ons.
- Registration is free right now; the later cost is not clear to me, but sounds like it might be something like $99 a year for the first two add-ons.
- The developer sends the plug-in to Graebert for testing and approval. (No source code need be submitted.) Graebert adds the Connector, and then places it on the Market, as well as sending a copy back to the developer for him to sell on his own site.
- Graebert also checks that the add-on is written correctly, so that it does not clash with other add-ons.
The Market is scheduled to open to the public in early April; Graebert is currently stocking the store. Add-ons can be for any traditional vertical, such as electrical, civil, and mechanical. They can consist of toolbars, application documentation, support videos, free user aids, symbol libraries, and so on.
Graebert Market for DraftSight announces that DraftSight is more than just for geometry creation; indeed, Mr Graebert told me that many apps written for other DWG-based CAD programs are easily ported.
I asked him why SolidWorks is not doing the market. SolidWorks will focus strictly on the MCAD market; however, that does not prevent SolidWorks' own third-party developers from adopting their SolidWorks add-ons for DraftSight.
(The links in this article might not be operational, yet.)
[Disclosure: SolidWorks provided me with airfare, hotel accommodation, and some meals.]