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Monday, February 23, 2009
Proxy Hell Objects
Scenario: Working on a large design project for a swimming pool complex and tasked with defining the locker rooms layout. Working with a large AEC firm with requirements t
o use AutoCAD drawings to complete the project. AEC firm agrees to supply base drawings showing walls, doors, plumbing, etc. for the design (this arcticle demonstrates how important the PDF to DWG converter built into progeCAD can be). Monday morning, ready to tackle the job and get rolling, expected to have the design finalized by Friday. Project is tight but we think we can get it done with the help of the original design drawings. until we try and open them using AutoCAD. The drawings load fine but there are no walls, doors, or anything we can use to complete our design. What is going on? A call to the AEC firm tells us that they are not using AutoCAD but one of the vertical products Autodesk sells. A check on pricing shows us that the $4000 we already paid for each license of AutoCAD is not going to cover, no even close, the extra we will need to pay to be able to even view these drawings. ARGH. Only choice is to request an extension from the design group and redraw the walls, doors, plumbing, etc. from scratch adding about a week onto the length of our job and eating all our profits.
What this company just discovered is the little known secret Autodesk has been sliding under the carpet as they are out promoting their wiz bang vertical applications and their API's such as ARX and Virtual LISP. Now, with the release of AutoCAD 2010, the problem is not isolated to those using their vertical applications such as MDT, ADT, or Civil 3D but the problem of proxy hell obects (what Autodesk benignly calls "Custom Objects") has crept into the main stream. Many entity types you can define now in 2010 are now custom objects and subject to the non-display on product other than those they were created with.
Why do you think Autodesk has taken this route of requiring the original application be installed to be able to view and work with these proxy objects? They had every opportunity to create their API in a way that did not create anything custom but worked with original AutoCAD entities as defined in the DWG drawing file. Evidence of this is available in third party applications developed before ARX was released. See Ketiv's ARCHT product created before ARX was invented. It had the ability to define a wall as a wall, to allow you to stretch, copy, move, etc every entity it created without the need to worry about vendors and customers downstream being able to open, edit, and save the drawings it created as everything was a standard AutoCAD entity. Why indeed...
Only one reason comes to mind when explaining the need for proxy hell objects... Greed. The ability to lock all your customers into using your products, and your products alone. By not publishing the underlying code to your custom objects you can essentially lock any ve
ndors out of displaying those objects and require all your customers to come to you, regardless of price, and sell them your solution without any other source of software. Brilliant marketing, and really, not a bad gamble considering NO ONE talks about it. I have seen little or no information at all from our vaunted CAD press that addresses this problem.
So is it just a problem for me? Apparently not, as there are those out there who have come to us for a solution. progeSOFT built converters into progeCAD starting with the 2007 version which will convert the proxy hell objects for MDT and ADT. Thus, those opening one of these mutated DWGs will see the proxies converted to blocks so you can at least see the objects albeit not edit them natively unless you wish to explode the blocks.
So, three cheers for Autodesk on their quest to force their customers on the continuous upgrade to oblivion path. What was once a minor problem for some has become a major problem for almost all with the release of 2010 and guess what, the only way to change the non-competitive behavior is with your feet. Walk away and find a compatible solution from a vendor who still looks out after customers first, the stock holders never.
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