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Wise move from Bentley

At its user conference, the software vendor talked about integration and made some predictions It baffles me how software vendors manage to design and deliver new technology with what seems like only a few months between each major user conference. In reality, of course, they don't, it's just that the conferences come around quickly.

Just 12 months after I visited that classy location, Atlantic City, I found myself whizzing off to Baltimore for Bentley's BIUC 2003 event.

Last year we were promised a complete re-architecting of software release cycles where all versions of software would be aligned and released on the same day for compatibility reasons.We were told to expect a major release every 12 months starting in February 2003 and, surprisingly (for a software vendor), the 'V8.1 generation' of products was released on time.

Consequently, hosting BIUC just three months after the release of 8.1 left Bentley with a slight hole - what would it have to shout about? In previous years I have joined others in criticising the Bentley marketing machine for excessive use of jargon and presentations focusing on 'futures'. It was, therefore, refreshing to be reminded of what was previously promised, when it had been delivered, and the features and benefits inherent in the new releases.

However, Bentley's competition does not stand still and so neither can Bentley. The company therefore also treated us to a smattering of 'futures', some imminent and others slightly farther off.

Many of the presentations demonstrated the power of the V8.1 generation of products and highlighted why upgrading older versions of the same software could deliver real productivity gains to the users. One example that caught my eye was the integrationof MicroStation data with ProjectWise. While it has been a tool in the Bentley armoury for some years, applying the word 'tool' in the vernacular sense to ProjectWise would in the past have been a fair description. But following its complete re-architecting for the 8.1 releases, ProjectWise is now a different proposition. Building on the new V8.1 file format and its ability to access information in different 'tranches' within a DGN file, ProjectWise can now provide a 'windowslike' interface to the content stored within the MicroStation File.

An example of this incredible functionality showed a ProjectWise user (with no CAD skills) searching the database of drawings and retrieving a complete door schedule from the numerous CAD files. This schedule was then 'dropped' into an Excel file and formatted as required. Furthermore, should the door count or specification change then the Excel file would be updated accordingly to reflect the changes - a great example of Bentley's 'Managed Environment'.

When deployed on large projects, this kind of organisation and coordination could deliver measurable gains to the design team and project owners alike. It must surely be a QS's dream solution to counting doors.

Of the 'imminent' futures, Bentley demonstrated the ability in V8.1.2 to read and reference AutoCAD 2004 files for collaborative working within the MicroStation DGN. Keith Bentley, the co-chief technical officer, continued with the AutoCAD theme by saving some files back to AutoCAD release 14 and joked that it was not possible within AutoCAD 2004!

He continued to win laughs at the expense of Autodesk with his attempt - as an Autodesk user - to view AutoCAD files with the AutoCAD free viewer. The laughs came when he pointed out that the free Autodesk viewer does not open AutoCAD's DWG CAD file format (it is only intended for viewing DWF files), so with his Autodesk user hat on he turned to the free Bentley viewer to open, view and print the AutoCAD 2004 files.

MicroStation 8.1.2 was released on 22 July and is freely available for download by existing users.

Looking a bit further into the future, Bentley introduced the concept of 'Mozart' - the next generation of MicroStation, which is not likely to hit the streets for a couple of years.

Sporting a revolutionary new look, Mozart looks and feels far more graphical, with a more design-friendly interface than MicroStation users are accustomed to. I expect it to require some serious Video RAM, not to mention the more conventional memory, but from what I saw it looked great. Fortunately Bentley does not need to change the file format to embrace many of the intended new features due to the expandibility engineered into the V8.1 file format.

The conference was a well-balanced mixture of delivered promises and demonstrations, insights into the near future and a brief glimpse of bigger and better things to come.

Pondering the 'Mozart' name, I wonder if dot releases of Mozart will be known as symphonies? Mozart's fifth symphony could be the fifth revision to the new software.

Joe Croser can be contacted at joe@croser. net

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