BricsCAD V17 – the best AutoCAD upgrade in years?

I’ve been evaluating BricsCAD for a few years now, and have been looking at it pretty seriously as a DWG-based LISP-compatible AutoCAD alternative for a year or so. A couple of weeks ago, I flew to Munich for the Bricsys International Conference (at Bricsys’ expense – see the Legal page for disclosure) where I learned quite a few things I had failed to notice during my own evaluation of V17. As you may have noticed, I can be pretty hard-bitten and cynical about what CAD companies have to say about their products, but I came back impressed.

The conference and the product itself are not free of flaws, but I have to say the progress Bricsys has shown in developing the BricsCAD product is really quite astonishing. The rate at which serious, worthwhile-to-customers improvements have been made to BricsCAD over the last few releases is huge. Some of it’s just catching up with existing AutoCAD features, but most of it is going beyond what Autodesk has done. Overall, Bricsys lately has outstripped Autodesk’s efforts in improving its DWG-based flagship CAD product to such a degree that it’s frankly embarrassing for the much larger corporation.

I grabbed Bricsys CEO Erik De Keyser for a brief chat at the end of the conference. I told him that while there were still important areas that need addressing, nevertheless if Autodesk had shipped a new release with a quarter of the improvements that Bricsys managed with V17, it would still have been the best AutoCAD upgrade in fifteen years. Yes, the gap in progress from Autodesk to Bricsys really is that big.

The difference appears to be one of attitude. The Bricsys development team (many were there in Munich to speak to) is focused, motivated and enabled. For Bricsys, BricsCAD really is the flagship product. That’s where all the effort goes; everything goes into the DWG-based product. High-performance 2D drafting, user interface innovation, parametric 3D models, IFC-certified BIM, sheet metal, everything. You would think this would lead to massive bloat, but somehow it doesn’t; the product remains small and fast.

For Autodesk, the emphasis has been elsewhere for some years now. The rate per release of worthwhile AutoCAD improvements, never stellar since the 12-month release cycle was adopted, has been trending downwards since AutoCAD 2010 and has slowed to a trickle. Autodesk is happy to accept the income from AutoCAD customers and use it to develop a hundred trendier products, neglecting the foundation on which the company was built. That’s relying on inertia, and there’s a big question mark over how sustainable that is.

Here’s a 5-minute YouTube marketing video outlining some of the changes. If you have a bit longer, here’s a 37-minute YouTube video of the new features from head of development Hans de Backer. The presentation lacks sparkle (no insult to Hans, but he’s no Lynn Allen) but the substance is there. Note that Hans was demonstrating live to the full conference using a pre-release product, including opening a huge drawing, which surely deserves marks for bravery! As a bonus, you can just about see Owen Wengerd and myself in the bottom left corner.

I’ll be going into more detail on BricsCAD V17 pros and cons later (yes, there are cons), but for now here’s the press release and here’s where you can download the product for evaluation. It’s a straightforward download of a 234 MB MSI file and the install takes just over a minute. That in itself is a breath of fresh air for people who are used to hanging around, waiting for AutoCAD downloads and installs to finish.

9 Comments:

  1. Apparently I was the only one in the room who thought the “head” of development joke was funny (beginning of the video).

  2. I watched the video, and I laughed. I guess it was just over peoples “heads” 🙂

  3. BTW, welcome to the Rebel Alliance Steve, may the force be with you.

    • Just in case anyone takes this light-hearted comment seriously, I should point out that I remain a fiercely independent customer/user advocate rather than being on anyone’s side.

      Above all, I aim to be fair. CAD companies that do things that are good for customers/users can expect praise, those that don’t can expect a roasting.

  4. “It’s a straightforward download of a 234 MB MSI file and the install takes just over a minute.”

    Wait…what? No download manager?
    And how can the AutoCAD download be over 2GB (even AutoCAD LT is 1.5GB), and this only be 234MB?

    • Clean, Modern Efficient code written by some of the worlds best (Bricsys) Engineers!

    • R.K., I didn’t believe what I was seeing either. I assumed the download was some kind of stub, but it was the whole product. Startup times and general responsiveness are similarly impressive.

      You can download BricsCAD, install it, import your own custom CUIx, open a couple of large drawings, edit them a bit using some custom LISP, save them and close the product, and all that will take less time than it takes to just download AutoCAD.

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