The Business of CAD   >   Issue #981   >   May 21, 2018

Alibre Lives

by Ralph Grabowski with Max Freeman
(This issue is online at WWW XXX.)
Alibre Design was one of several new programs showcased by Microsoft to show off the power of the Internet. Does any of the following sound familiar? Alibre Design was a 3D parametric modeler that ran in the Web browser and could handle more than one user working on a design at the same time. But that took place w-a-a-y back in 1999, when Alibre burst onto the scene with the launch of Windows 2000. 

Like Fusion today, the original Alibre Design ran primarily on the desktop, sending changes in the design to the server, allowing online collaboration and project management. The company even patented the technology to generates 3D geometry across a network and through a design application, a design server, and a repository server. ("The multi-tiered architecture separates the CAD application's user interface from its core modeling engine, or design server, and data storage, facilitating the computing of intensive 3D CAD tasks on a series of servers" -- USPTO 674 841 9B2.) The price was $100/user/month.

Looking back, the Internet of 2000 did not have the infrastructure to handle heavy duty data streams, as permitted by today's CDNs. (Content delivery networks are localized servers that repeat data from geographic region to geographic region, making activities possible like watching high-definition Netflix videos.) In any case, CAD software linked to Microsoft did not do better, as Intergraph found with SmartSketch parametric sketcher (included with a Windows 2000 bonus CD) and Visio with IntelliCAD. (forced to sell it off before Microsoft's Visio acquisition).

All three programs survived. (See figure 1.) For its part, Alibre survived by shutting down its servers and selling the desktop software with a permanent license. The company subsequently entertained the CAD world with its marketing efforts like the hoopla preceding the launch of free Design Xpress. With the introduction of a $99 version, it expanded into the maker market. 

Figure 1: Alibre Design today in 2018, here doing sheet metal design

A Detour to 3D Systems

But about a decade ago, 3D Systems went on an acquisitions spree. Then-ceo Avi Reichental wanted the brand to go global, and provide all the software and services needed to increase sales and use of its 3D printers. One of the 16 companies he bought in 2011-2012 was Alibre for the software arm of 3D Systems; there was hope that Alibre’s customers and 3D Systems’ customers would have synergy. 

Later, when 3D Systems acquired Geomagic for its scan-to-CAD software, Alibre Design was renamed Geomagic Design -- the $2,000 CAD component to a $20,000 conversion package.

As Max Freeman, now ceo of a newly-liberated Alibre LLC, tells it, "For about the first year we continued business as usual." Eventually the planned closure of the Richardson office took place, and Alibre employees were relocated to the primary 3D Systems development facility. For a while, things hummed along and improvements were made to the software, but then resources were prioritized elsewhere and updates became few and far between. 

Eventually, 3D Systems evaluated its software portfolio and determined that Alibre Design no longer had a place, given the rest of its premium-priced software. In May 2017, an arrangement finalized the ownership back to Alibre employees.

Alibre Design 2018

Since then, Alibre Design has had several releases to change branding and licensing, fix bugs, and introduce new features. And last month, Alibre Design 2018 became the first major release since going indie:
  • Technology components, such as ACIS modeling and D-Cubed constraints, were updated, following several years of laying fallow
  • A new Introduction window greets users (see figure 2)
  • Mitre flanges were added to sheet metal design
  • Even touches were added, like being able to reverse the mouse wheel's direction

Figure 2: Alibre Design's new startup dialog box

See for the complete list. There are two products in the line-up:
  • Alibre Design Professional -- $1,000 to $1,600
  • Alibre Design Expert -- $2,000 to $3,100
Alibre Design Professional offers 3D part and assembly modeling, drawings, and basic import and export. 

Alibre Design Expert adds more import/export formats, sheet metal design, design configurations, photorealistic rendering, surfaces, push/pull modeling, and global parameters.

"Alibre Design 2018 clearly demonstrates that we are back, we are passionate about the software, we are shipping it, and we are communicating to users," said Mr Freeman. “Now that the updates are complete, we’re ready to kick our new-feature development into high gear, with input from customers and partners.” 

Most of Alibre’s previous reseller network has come back to join the new Alibre, and even contribute to its development plans. "We are tackling a deep feature list," promises Mr Freeman.

Future of Alibre Design

The company now aims its software at individuals, SMBs [small and medium-size businesses] and small groups inside large corporations. For instance, one guy is in his garage making geodesic domes, while the division of a big company in Europe uses Alibre Design for 20-ton farm equipment. “We target what businesses need to make mechanical designs, and so we don’t focus on ECAD [electrical CAD], architecture, complex surfacing, or things like that," says Mr Freeman. “There are, however, add-on partners who make these functions available.”

Figure 3: Alibre Design generating drawings from a 3D model

"The old Alibre really kickstarted the CAD market for Makers by being the first to offer a real design solution at the sub-$100 price point many years ago,” he says. “We have plans to re-enter that market and provide excellent solutions for hobbyists and makers.” Maker users tend to start at a low tier, and then move up to more capable software once they become successful.

What about the two most controversial topics in CAD today – cloud and related subscription fees? "The cloud is not in our immediate future," emphasizes Mr Freeman. “Our customers have fairly strong opinions on cloud-only options -- they’ve indicated they want full control of their software and store data locally. So we may bring some offering to the cloud in the future, but it likely won't be our core design software.” 

As for subscriptions, "We want to give our customers options, not force them," he says. "We already have payment options, like paying over time. If we go to subscriptions, they will be optional." 

"Our customer base was unbelievable," he concludes. “They stuck with Alibre because they loved the product, and we’re happy to be back at the helm to continue its great trajectory and make our customers’ experience even better.”

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The Rest of the News

German-owned Siemens PLM Software estimates that it will attain gross revenues of €3.4 billion in fiscal 2018. That's about US$4.5 billion, making it a close second to France's Dassault Systemes, with double the revenues of of third-place Autodesk and triple those of 4th place PTC.
- - -
CADopia 18 features PDF-to-DWG conversion, path arrays, multi-functional grips, centerline styles, power trim for hatches and gradients, interactive polyline editing, split dimension lines, and more. Download the trial version from

CADopia reminds you that "all licenses are perpetual, they don't expire. You can upgrade your purchased software at your convenience based on your 
requirements." #PermanentSecurity
- - -
Canada’s privacy commissioner likens modern vehicles to smartphones on wheels.Users will need to start becoming aware of what data these vehicles gather about drivers and passengers.
- - -
ZwSoft releases ZWCAD 2018 SP2 with DWG 2018, dynamic input, point filters, plot to HOGL, EPS, and SVG file, grips for hatch boundaries, and more.
- - -
Oh, oh, technophrase alert: "Understanding the Digital Thread is key to accomplishing this while battling the inadequacies of legacy systems and ."eliminating information silos."
- - -
Monica Schnitgern relays financial information from privately-held Bentley Systems
  • Siemens owns 9% of Bentley shares (non-voting)
  • Employees own 30%
  • "We can infer that the Bentley family owns the rest."
Bentley expects revenues of $700 million in 2018. The long-planned IPO [initial public offering] is still dead, which must be frustrating to its employees.
- - -
For late-breaking CAD news, follow upFront.eZine on Twitter at @upfrontezine.

Letters to the Editor

Re: Will automation crash democracy?

The statement is a straw man. Of course automation will not crash democracy. Anyone who has ever studied any history can extrapolate to that conclusion. No, this is not the real issue, as this is simply a fabricated opportunity for a fabricated group (self-anointed as “intelligence squared”!) to propose that “The us-versus-them populism sweeping the Western world today is fueled by technological advancement”

This is not the truth, not even remotely. Today’s populism is caused by the tension between the drive for ever-more socialism, versus actual democracy, economic freedom, and individual liberty.  Even the “against” actors in this staged debate were proposing Universal Basic Income, a stupid idea that Finland has recently abandoned.
     - Peter Lawton

The editor replies: It is amusing to watch and hear the elite thrashing about for who to blame as they worry about losing their status.

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Spin Doctor of the Moment

"Single devices will remain important, but this meta-orchestration is what we need to do. We need to up-level even our concept of what an operating system is."
    - Satya Nadella, ceo, Microsoft 


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Editor: Ralph Grabowski 
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