Google Version of CAD Interoperability Story

I’m going back to talking about the CAD interoperability story, inspired by some interesting experience with Google Apps and Microsoft Word. My previous take on CAD interoperability in <Top Five Disappointing PLM Technologies> follows:

#3 – CAD Interoperability — The inability of CAD vendors to agree on how to exchange models continues to affect people in the industry. You can see people spending their entire lives translating files from one CAD to another. You can still find “translation departments” in organizations. Quite a large amount of companies in our industry still focuses primarily on interoperability. So far, it looks like this problem will still be with us for awhile…

Based on comments and discussion following this post, I got the impression that although there is no agreement on how to resolve this topic by vendors, but there are solutions in the field. There are companies and toolkits providing solutions for converting one CAD format to another.

So, what is the Google story? This is quite simple – Google continues to add format support to their Google Apps. With this announcement, Google is supporting Microsoft Office 2007 formats. So, from now on, docx and xlsx formats are supported. MS PowerPoint 2007 is still on-going. Together with the already supported, range of file formats including .doc, .odt, .xls, .ods, .ppt, .csv, .html, .txt, .rtf, and others,  I can use Google Apps for a wide array of use cases without going to MS Office.

So, why have I decided to come back to this topic? The answer is simple – I was impressed by how Google Apps are solving interoperability problems related to MS office. This is seamless and does not hurt me as a user. Therefore, as I said – we need to learn and reuse this experience. My summary on this isL

  1. Use a seamless way of converting and keeping track of document (and/or models, in the case of CAD)
  2. Focus on the browser as the key tool to deliver user experience. Users love everything that comes in a browser, and we’ll see more examples of user experience dedicated to specific browsers.

I believe that the solution for this problem is also in the hands of companies providing CAD Viewer solutions. I’d be very interesting to learn and hear about your experience in the field of seamless user experience and interoperability in the CAD area.

Just my thoughts,



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  • Roberto Picco

    Oleg, I just think that solving the issue of proprietary file formats would make cad migrations a lot easier. Many companies, mine included, wouldn’t even think of changing a cad system fearing their whole CAD history could became useless junk. If CAD files were readable and editable by any applications the competition among CADs would become very tough. My 2 cents.

  • Except it looks different in Google and Office, from your screenshots?

    The main reason most I know use Office is the sort of translation/layout problems that creep in when sharing documents.

  • Robin, thanks for you comment! Actually, I think Google App improved with quality of Word rendering. For my cases it served 90% of needs. What is good in my view is continues improvement. – Best, Oleg

  • Roberto, I agree with you. I think, interoperability is expensive task, but can be achieved. In competitive word, somebody need to pay for development related to interop. Today, nobody is doing it and we don’t have it. Vendors will do it only in the case they will be interested to acquire competitor’s accounts. -Regards, Oleg

  • yml

    I think this is one of the major lock down that the industry is suffering from. It makes the choice of the PLM system very dependent to the most important CAD vendor in the particular industry.
    I tend to believe that offering a translation web service in the “CLOUD” would be a competitive advantage to a new comer on that market.

  • yml, agree, 100%, but on the other side, I don’t see “translation services” were successful as business for long term in the past. What cloud will change for them? I think they are very vulnerable. Don’t you think so? Best, Oleg/

  • Laurent


    I do not think that 3D interoperability can work 100%.

    There are two aspects of interoperability in CAD files. One aspect is the ability to translate all the entity types in a file, and this is pretty much the same as the problem with Office files. Provided one knows about their existence, if there is a placeholder in the target file, it can usually be translated.

    The other one is 3D geometry. And here, there is a problem, because CAD geometry is not a closed set. The problem can be illustrated by a very simple fact: the intersection curve between 2 cubic patches has a degree equal to 324. Since nobody wants to deal with such equations, (and even worse, since they tend to propagate through geometric operations), each CAD company or kernel has designed its own approach to approximate these data and deal with them decently. This implies approximations and more or less algorithmic fine tuning. In the end, there is no perfect approach to deal with these approximated data.

    I guess that this second point is the “vulnerable” part Oleg is referring to.

    Now, this being said, PLM vendors do not help.

    Translating feature history is yet another problem (because, unlike geometry, CAD vendors do not even comply to a common standard, like STEP for 3D geometry).

    My 2 cents,


  • Laurent, Thanks for your comments! I’d agree 100% of 3D interop is sort of dream. But if we can put practical approach and see different set of apps that involve 3D information – this is something in my view can work for long term. To define these levels and degrees of 3D interop is something customers can drive together with vendors. I think some companies have tried in the past, I’m not sure if it was successful or not. In the end, in each organization there is person who is 3D translation hero… Actually, I think, they can help… Best, Oleg/