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By Ray Howard, December 4, 2012
Now before I get started with this review of ZWCAD+ 2012, I must freely admit that I am a CAD chauvinist. As an experienced CAD manager in the civil world, I’ve had my fair share of experiences with CAD engines, third-party programs, modules, custom LISP and VBA programs -- from the giants down to the want-to-be programmers. But always I tend to gravitate back to one or two choices from the CAD giants, in order to get projects out the door, on-time and under-budget.
I’ve come to understand that all software, including CAD and BIM, have their shortcomings and I’ve even come to embrace them to some degree. As part of my professional consulting practice, I have found that the "best" CAD solution changes from client to client, project to project, budget to budget, and even from CAD manager to CAD manager.
With this in mind, I'd say it’s fair to say that in today’s CAD and BIM worlds that frequently One CAD Choice isn’t enough. Even the CAD giants now agree, by combining multiple CAD and BIM solutions into a variety of bundles in the hope of preventing buyers from wandering too far from the home camp and logo.
Until this month, I too believed in this mantra: stay with what you know. But this month I had the opportunity to evaluate the latest version of ZWSOFT's CAD program, ZWCAD+ 2012.7 (figure 1). I suspect that many of you may not have heard of this CAD program, but don’t let this deter you from experimenting with it, and even growing as a CAD leader inside your organization. (After all if you want to be expert and a leader then you need to cut trails, instead of simply following the paths of those who went before you.)
|Figure 1: ZWCAD+ 2012 is the latest release from ZWSOFT|
With the new features added to ZWCAD+ 2012, I find that this product now rivals some of those from the CAD giants. This feature-rich product has a very familiar user interface, making it very comfortable to get used to. It’s a transition easy enough to make me believe I simply upgraded my existing software to a new release. I was up and running with this product in no time.
It’s important to note that ZWCAD+ comes in a Standard and Pro version, which are analogous to AutoCAD LT and AutoCAD. Unlike AutoCAD LT (which has much of the AutoCAD's functionality deactivated), ZWCAD+ 2012 Standard is a feature-rich product that offers everything AutoCAD LT has, plus more. I’ve included a comparison chart (figure 2) so that you can see how ZWCAD+ 2012 does a lot of what you probably wished AutoCAD LT would do.
|Figure 2: Feature comparison between ZWCAD and AutoCAD, from ZWSOFT's Web site|
The systems requirements shown by ZWSOFT are the minimum. CAD power users understand that more RAM and faster processor equates to more speed and performance, resulting in a better user experience. You need the following minimum software and hardware to install and run ZWCAD:
Operating system - Microsoft Windows 2003, XP SP2, Vista, or 7
Processor - Pentium III 800MHz or advanced
RAM - 1GB(recommended)
Video - 1024 x 768 VGA with True Color (minimum)
Hard disk - 1.5GB (recommended)
Pointing device - Mouse, trackball or other device
DVD-ROM - Any speed (needed for physical media installation only)
These specs allow us to run ZWCAD on older computers; nevertheless, I would up all these specs for true performance.
So, let's begin digging into this software, taking a look at some of the features and benefits that will pay off in the long run. Here’s a short list to get you thinking, and then later I’ll dig into all of these in greater detail.
ZWSOFT has done a great job with the user interface of ZWCAD+ 2012. Utilizing both ribbon systems and Tool palettes (figure 3), it has the look and feel of AutoCAD. It appears that ZWSOFT has gone out of their way to give users a premium user interface that mimics the CAD giants.
|Figure 3: Ribbon interface is new this year to ZWCAD|
These two, the DWG and DXF file formats, are necessities, because there is no way to compete with the big boys without offering these two formats. Natively, ZWCAD reads and writes the DWG format so most users will find gratification in this alone. No clunky importing or exporting is necessary. Just open the file and start working immediately.
There isn’t, however, DGN compatibility built in to the product, but of course we can always take care of that dilemma on the other side with MicroStation, which reads the DXF and DWG files, and then can save them in DGN.
One of my personal pet peeves is the lack of LISP functionality inside AutoCAD LT. This alone has over the years kept me from recommending it to many employers and clients.
So my personal favorite feature of ZWCAD+ 2012 Standard has to be the full functionality of LISP inside this product. I took the liberty of loading a few LISP programs, some my own and some from others. LISP functionality was executed without a hiccup. (See figure 4.)
|Figure 4: ZWCAD reads custom LISP routines effortlessly|
For the power user, it’s also important to note that I used a simple drag and drop to load the LISP programs. There was no clunky 1980s feel in having to load the programs manually. In addition, I found that I could also add oft-used LISP routines to my Tool palettes for easy accessibility and loading.
I invested some time in trying out the File Comparison tool. I find that a true document management system is the best way to keep up with current versions of drawings, to see what what’s been changed, who changed them, and when were they changed. Since ZWCAD + 2012 doesn’t have a such function in place, it gets around this by giving you options to filter the differences in entity characteristics. (See figure 5.)
Figure 5: Original file (left) and compared result (right)
The program leaves your existing drawing file intact and unchanged, and makes a new drawing file showcasing the entity differences. The differences are shown according to the color preferences you select, as well as the drawing entity filters you would like to compare through the dialog box seen in figure 6.
|Figure 6: The settings for File Compare|
All in all, this gives us the ability to find the differences in files -- if we don’t have the money to invest in a full-blown document management system.
Another new feature of ZWCAD+ 2012 is the SmartMouse gestures function. (See figure 7.) I found this a bit of getting used to, but then liked how it extended my command reach with the mouse: all I needed to do was hold down the right mouse button, and then drag the cursor in the shape of a line or a character.
|Figure 7: Turning on SmartMouse|
For instance, to open a new file, I held down the right mouse button, dragged the cursor upwards, and released. I saw the command name “New” appear on the screen briefly (figure 8). The green text let me know which SmartMouse command was invoked and, Ta-Da, the command takes off (by asking me which template I would like to utilize for my new drawing).
|Figure 8: Starting the New command with SmartMouse|
Fully programmable functionality allowed me to add my favorite and most common commands to the SmartMouse command menu. This much reminds me of the old days when we used 16-button pucks and tablets, which were more versatile than today's mice that have just three buttons.
|Figure 9: Customizing commands for SmartMouse movements|
Power users will surely come to love this feature, as it eliminates running the mouse and cursor back and forth across much of the screen to invoke commands. I can even mimic letters of the alphabet or numbers with SmartMouse, although I found this is a little tougher than simply dragging in one direction or making a simple gesture.
If your company uses external references, then you’ll be happy to know that ZWCAD has this ability as well. They didn’t take a shortcut by leaving it out.
Don’t you hate it when you need to access to an express tool and it's not there? I know this may be a rhetorical question, but it makes us appreciate the fact that ZWSOFT has been including express tools as a part of ZWCAD for several releases now. This is one set of tools that a power user can’t do without.
ZWSOFT has also made sure we have access to the most popular image formats for our CAD use. BMP, JPG, TIFF, and more are available with ZWCAD. There’s no Mr. SID format in this list for GIS users, but let’s face it, this one is generally left out of several of the big boys' systems as well. Most of the formats on the list shown in figure 10 will suffice for the majority of users.
|Figure 10: Raster formats handled by ZWCAD|
All in all, I’m impressed with how far ZWSOFT has come over the years, while still maintaining its affordable price point. In making its software far more affordable than the solutions from the CAD giants, ZWSOFT seems to have developed a good solid product that has the potential of fitting into your portfolio, while not stretching your budget too thin.
With the combination of ease of use, DWG native format, feature rich commands, user interface, and affordable price point, it’s looking like I may of just turned the corner and freed myself from an old way of thinking.
ZWSOFT is putting a lot of effort and R&D into building a premium CAD products at an affordable price point, without compromising features or performance. I noticed they have also invested in a mechanical vertical solution, which tells me they are thinking of the future.
There’s a lot of bang for your buck with this CAD solution, but don’t take my word for it. I would ask anyone who is evaluating an affordable CAD engine to consider ZWCAD+ 2012. You can download a free 30-day trial copy from http://www.zwsoft.com/zwcad+/.
I am impressed with the user interface, and with the ease of use of the product. If I didn’t know better, I would believe I was actually using AutoCAD instead of ZWCAD+ 2012. ZWSOFT and ZWCAD have been around for quite a while now and it looks like they are serious enough to maintain longevity in the CAD arena. With nearly a half a million users now they have a following that is starting to take hold and get noticed.
|Ray Howard is a civil engineer, with 18 years of hands-on technical industry experience working in civil engineering and surveying. More...|