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Bentley Systems' recent European symposium introduced both new products and new concepts to the world of computer-aided design Bentley's new dimensions

technical: computing

Early November saw the gathering together of the great and good in the cad industry for the first European Proactive Engineering Symposium in Rome. Organised by Bentley Systems, developer of MicroStation, the event attracted many delegates from around Europe.

It was organised as a forum for the discussion of the future of computer- aided design and modelling. In a keynote speech Keith Bentley, ceo of Bentley Systems, outlined the strategic direction his company is taking, called the 'Bentley Continuum'. This continuum reflects the fact that developing large-scale engineered assets, be they office buildings or a process plant, is a process rather than an event. Bentley is trying to address this process by providing tools to manage information throughout the lifecycle of these assets. Keith Bentley defines the continuum as framed by five key it dimensions.

The first dimension cited is life-cycle continuity, where software is provided to fully model the form and function of an asset over its entire life. User continuity, number two, is achieved by using the Internet as the backbone for information distribution. The web provides a ready-made and easy-to-use infrastructure around which tools can be built to distribute any type of information at any location on any platform.

Information continuity, the third dimension, is achieved by using client server technologies, with desktop machines providing users with the means to access both data and application via a network. Bentley will address number three, computational continuity, by embracing the enterprise it standard of three-tier client server architecture. This allows efficient allocation of computing resources with much of the burden for intensive data manipulation handed centrally. The final dimension is identified as software continuity, for which Bentley cited the Select program offered by his company as a model for software delivery. This subscription-based system allows software to be distributed to users as it becomes available. Not only does this avoid the major learning steps that can be associated with major upgrades, but allows users to budget accurately as they have fixed annual software costs.

The keynote speech was followed by an introduction to the next step by Bentley in the development of MicroStation - MicroStation/J. The J edition will incorporate the Java Virtual Machine from Sun Microsystems. The move to Java as a development platform significantly provides Bentley with a platform-independent application core. Bentley predicts a significant effect on many existing MicroStation users.

'A number of platforms will be dropped from our current range with this move. dos and Clipper will no longer be supported and we are looking hard at the Macos. We currently support 14 platforms - MicroStation and the Macos require the same amount of resources as all the rest put together. The way the Macos works is not really compatible with what we are doing with Java.'

Bentley does hope, however, that Rhapsody, the new Macos under development, will provide developers with a 'real os' to work with, enabling the survival of MicroStation on the Mac platform.

The symposium also had the purpose of launching the latest edition of MicroStation, MicroStation se. Available to select subscribers and new purchasers, se is a major step in MicroStation's evolution. It consolidates many of the enhancements made to MicroStation over the last 18 months, including digital signatures and Autocad R14 file import. Functionality of two other applications has also now been built into MicroStation, aiding high-end visualisation. MicroStation MasterPiece and Image Manager have been rolled into the core application to provide users with the means of visualising their projects and organising their images. This edition also includes enhanced Internet tools, including an integrated Web browser and improved url linking with documents.

Model Server products were also discussed as Bentley moves further into the realms of managing information. A Java-enhanced version of Model Server Publisher is now available, allowing interactive redlining. Introduced this time last year, the Model Server products are dynamic publishing environments which use 'push' technology to provide users with up-to-date project information via the Web. Information is delivered to viewers in a form they request, be it spreadsheets for the qs or drawings for the design team, from a single central data source.

This symposium demonstrated that Bentley has a vision of the future and a means to travel there. It seems clear that the next evolutionary stage of engineering design is already under way. The reaction of other software developers will be interesting, and differing views of the future will no doubt surface in the coming months.

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