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November 22, 2004
Microsoft and Dassault Systèmes Forge Strategic Alliance
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Microsoft and Dassault Systèmes Forge Strategic Alliance

Microsoft Corp. and Dassault Systèmes have announced a multiyear, global strategic alliance to deliver Dassault Systèmes' product lifecycle management (V5 PLM) and 3D design solutions to companies of all sizes taking advantage of the Microsoft software platform.

Dassault Systèmes' software enables companies to simulate products virtually in 3D from conception to maintenance across the extended enterprise, reducing the time and cost to develop products and increasing innovation. By capitalizing on the Microsoft platform, the companies intend to deliver greater customer value through solutions that are easy to use, deploy and maintain with reduced ownership and integration costs. This alliance enables a far broader set of customers to realize the benefits of 3D collaboration and PLM.

The alliance brings together Dassault Systèmes' strength in 3D software with Microsoft's platform, which includes Web services development via Microsoft .NET, real-time collaboration, and both the Windows client and Windows Server operating systems. Dassault Systèmes' V5 PLM and 3D collaborative solutions, which currently run on both the Windows client and Windows Server platforms, will leverage the Microsoft platform across a broad range of current and future Microsoft products.

"Microsoft and Dassault Systèmes share a common vision of democratizing 3D and making PLM more pervasive," said Bernard Charles, president and CEO of Dassault Systèmes. "This alliance focuses on innovation to deliver an easy-to-use 3D global collaborative environment to create, simulate, manufacture and service any physical goods."

Dassault Systèmes' PLM solutions include CATIA, DELMIA, ENOVIA, and SMARTEAM; its 3D design solutions include the SolidWorks product line. The alliance will result in the integration of these solutions with Microsoft .NET, SQL Server, BizTalk Server, SharePoint Portal Server, Windows "Longhorn" and Windows XP 64-bit Edition.

"We are delighted to bring together the full power and reach of the Microsoft platform with Dassault Systèmes' collaborative solutions," said Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect at Microsoft. "The winning combination of Microsoft .NET and Dassault Systèmes promises to make product lifecycle management accessible and affordable to a whole new set of customers in the manufacturing value chain."

Microsoft and Dassault Systèmes have also agreed to explore opportunities to work together to encourage broad market adoption of XML for 3D applications across the design and graphics industry. The two companies will work with industry associations, other PLM software vendors, and 3D graphics technology companies to advance interoperability using common XML-based technologies.

The companies will also explore opportunities to work toward delivering fully integrated products in the field of automation. Through its DELMIA Automation product line, Dassault Systèmes enables companies to digitally define, control, and monitor the automated systems that control the factory floor.

We listened in on a press conference that took place in Paris about the five-year agreement for joint development and marketing between Microsoft and Dassault Systèmes. It featured questions posed to and comments from the top executives at each company - Bill Gates for Microsoft and Bernard Charles for Dassault Systèmes. Although several CAD and engineering software companies do have relationships with Microsoft, few appear to be as strong as this new alliance with Dassault Systèmes. Both executives stressed that the partnership agreement was not exclusive and both parties are free to partner with whomever they wish. This relationship actually began several years ago and
makes a lot of business sense for both of the global companies.

Historically, most engineering software (including Dassault's) was UNIX-based and in the late 1980s/early 1990s, many engineers used two operating systems - UNIX for engineering applications and Windows for office applications. As Windows moved up to the 32-bit level, along with associated performance increases in Intel processors, engineers shifted to the Windows environment. Although UNIX is still used for engineering applications, Dassault says that today they are used primarily for very specialized purposes.

Microsoft's goal is to get the .NET platform and SharePoint optimized for collaboration and to become more pervasive in Dassault's PLM world, while Dassault's goal is to make PLM itself more pervasive in companies of all scales. Regardless of goals, both companies are intent on taking advantage of the world's most pervasive computing platform - the Windows-based PC.

While it was somewhat glossed over in the alliance announcement (Dassault had originally introduced it in October), Microsoft and Dassault are working on what they hope will become the 3D standard - 3D XML for PLM (Extensible Markup Language for Product Lifecycle Management), a universal, lightweight XML-based format for capturing and sharing live, accurate 3D data.

3D XML compresses highly complex data, with file sizes up to 99 percent smaller than those of existing formats. It provides for more rapid file transmission and shorter load times while maintaining the exact geometry of the files exchanged. Using 3D XML, users can drag and drop files into other applications such as e-mail or office applications. Unlike many existing formats, 3D XML is fully based on standard XML. Therefore, any software program will be able to read, write, and enrich 3D XML content using standard tools. This capability could facilitate broad adoption by other software developers and minimize the cost of converting files from existing 3D formats.

3D XML leverages and extends Lattice Technology's XVL technologies as part of a partnership announced in July. Lattice Technology's advanced XVL solutions compress highly complex data accurately and Dassault Systèmes' mathematical strengths and extensive suite of collaborative products are combined in this format for exchanging 3D information.

Dassault Systèmes introduced this collaborative, open 3D format for PLM to its customers based on Version 5, Release 14 (V5R14) of its PLM products. The company has incorporated the 3D XML format throughout its entire line of products - CATIA, DELMIA, ENOVIA, SMARTEAM, SolidWorks, and Spatial.

All in all, this was a an interesting announcement on several different levels, and one that should mutually benefit both companies.

Jeffrey Rowe is the editor and publisher of MCADCafé and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached here or 408.850.9230.

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    -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.