AutoCAD 2005 Focuses on Drafting
reprinted by permission of Ralph Grabowski, editor
February 17, 2004
Autodesk now positions AutoCAD as:
- "Fully customizable.
- 2D drafting and detailing.
- 3D design tool.
- Supporting workflows and multiple users.
- Across a broad variety of markets and applications."
With that in mind, AutoCAD 2005 focuses on the 2D drafting
process. Releases in the future will concentrate on workflow,
3D, rendering, and additional drafting tools. Here's our
overview of the software code-named "Neo," based on beta 4.
Features New to AutoCAD 2005
The highlight of the next AutoCAD is the "sheet set," a
collection of drawing sheets in a single set. Drawing, layouts,
and views can be sheets; there are many sheets in a set.
You will probably love sheet sets, if you can figure them
out. We worry that sheet sets will become the paper space of
AutoCAD 2005: powerful and underused.
Why? We counted over 100 commands, options, and actions
available from the Sheet Set Manager window -- in shortcut
menus, submenus, buttons, dropdowns, tabs, dialog boxes,
property windows, and other user interface elements. Most
commands are provided through shortcut menus, but their content
varies depending on where you right-click.
The Sheet Set Manager shows sheets in three different views
(Sheet, List, and Drawing Resource). And Autodesk introduces
nearly a dozen new terms, like "nested subsets," "categories,"
and "sheet lists." It adds up to a steep learning curve, and we
see training centers profiting from it.
Tables are straight-forward: a grid of spreadsheet-like rows
and columns that you then fill with text, field text, mtext, and
blocks (or drawings). Tables are edited in many different ways,
formatted with the new TableStyle command, and exported as CSV
Missing is a TableImport command. We understand that Excel XP
spreadsheets can be pasted as table objects; not having that
particular product, we couldn't test it ourselves; other brands
of spreadsheet are pasted as OLE objects.
Tables of Contents
The SheetSet Manager and Table command combine to create
tables of contents, a list of drawings in a sheet set that is
generated automatically for the cover sheet, with hyperlinks
that conveniently jump to the selected sheet. Problem, this
handy feature is well-hidden; best of luck in finding it!
New to AutoCAD is field text, tho' not other applications,
such as Word and Visio. Field text is like "automatic text,"
text that reports information about the drawing, and updates
itself automatically. You identify field text by its gray
Examples of field text are: current date and time, last plot
date, drawing name, radius of circle, Diesel expressions, and so
on. Field text has an entire syntax of its own, which,
fortunately, AutoCAD handles for you.
The new VpMax icon on the status bar maximizes the selected
viewport to the entire drawing window, for easier editing. Arrow
buttons maximize the next and previous viewports.
2005 is the first AutoCAD to read DWF files, albeit in
limited fashion. It reads DWF files that contain markup data
created by the new Composer software (US$99). The Markup command
displays the markups over top the original drawing; press Alt+4
to view the underlying DWF file.
Ch-Ch-Changes in AutoCAD 2005
New support for layer groups, which turns a group of layers
on and off at the same time. The View command allows layer
settings to be changed when a named view is recalled. Each layer
name now has a status icon and room for a description. The new
user interface, written using .Net, "hides" commands in shortcut
New option for background plotting. The new ViewPlotDetails
command displays a report on successful and unsuccessful plots.
A plot balloon appears in the tray. Partial preview has been
The new TextToFront command ensures text and dimensions can
always visually on top of overlapping objects. A new option in
the BHatch command does the same for hatch and fill patterns.
The new DrawOrderCtrl system variable provides greater control
over draw order, including inheritance.
Mtext can have colored backgrounds. There is access to more
symbols, and languages can be selected. Fonts capable of
vertical orientation are prefixed with @. New Japanese fonts are
included. Text is scaled when OLE objects are inserted. The
DdEdit command now handles attribute text.
Hatch boundaries can have gaps of up to 5000 units. Hatch
patterns can be in front or behind their boundary and other
objects. Hatches can be trimmed.
Incorporates the changes provided with last year's extension:
Tools, by Example; Command Tools; and Organize Tools.
Views can be turned into sheets. Layer settings can be
assigned to named views. A preview screen shows windowed views
clearly. The Zoom command now zooms to the extents of selected
...and several dialog boxes have a different user interface.
Some are an improvement over the old, while others have changes
that upgrading users may find painful.
System Variables of Significance
System variables tend to be under-appreciated; some are as
powerful as commands. Here are a few of the ones we consider
- DrawOrderCtl determines how the draworder changes when
objects are edited, and toggles draw order inheritance.
- FieldDisplay toggles (turns on and off) the display of the
gray background to field text.
- FieldEval controls whether fields are updated with the
next drawing open, save, plot, eTransmit, or regeneration.
- MsOleScale scales the height of text in OLE objects pasted
- PlotOffset determines whether the plot offset distance is
measured from the edge of the paper, or the edge of the
- TbCustomize toggles the customizability of toolbars; when
off, toolbars cannot be customized, and the related
customization options are unavailable.
New License Locks Software to Hardware
In 1986, Autodesk first attempted to lock AutoCAD v2.5 using
a hardware lock that programmer John Walker said: (1) was
transparent to hardware peripherals; and (2) could not be
cracked. The serial port device did indeed create problems with
some hardware, and was cracked within months by programmers.
After months of complaints from customers, user groups, and CAD
magazines, Autodesk removed the the lock with AutoCAD v2.52. But
in North America only.
The hardware lock remained on software sold outside of the
USA and Canada, later switching to a software lock. With AutoCAD
2005, Autodesk re-introduces locked software to North America.
This follows several releases of mandatory registration.
Autodesk feels it has sufficient experience with software
locks on international editions of AutoCAD that it can now brave
its home market. Autodesk feels the benefits will be higher
revenue from reduced "casual copying"; and one codestream,
instead of separate locked and unlocked versions.
Customers may not be happy, because the software lock ties
AutoCAD to one machine. When that computer goes down (as they
sometimes do), AutoCAD can't be used. There is a work-around: in
networked environments, licenses can be loaned out to different
The protest in 1986 was huge. Will it repeat itself in 2004,
or do users (as we suspect) no longer care to protest?
Where Are the Extensions?
With subscriptions hovering around 10% of AutoCAD customers
(as guessed by financial analysts), Autodesk is constantly
tweaking its program. AutoCAD 2005 finally delivers on the
promise of a major release every 12 months, and we trust there
will be an AutoCAD 2006 (code named "Rio") in March, 2005.
Yet, AutoCAD 2005 contradicts earlier pronouncements by
Autodesk that there would no longer be any "big-R" releases.
Instead, the plan had been to release "extensions" every three
or four months, followed by a "roll up" release that
incorporates a year's worth of extensions. The theory was that
users don't like a huge change in AutoCAD, but prefer a few new
features every few months.
Last year, subscribers may have noticed, there was exactly
one extension -- not three or four. The Autodesk Web site
helpfully details the history of extension releases, showing how
the number and frequency slows down:
Jun 2001: AutoCAD 2002 ships
Sep 2001: 3 extensions
Jan 2002: 2 extensions
Apr 2002: 1 extension
Aug 2002: 1 extensions
Dec 2002: 1 extension
May 2003: AutoCAD 2004 ships
Oct 2003: 1 extension
March 2004: AutoCAD 2005 ships
Subscribers received one extension in 2003. We asked Autodesk
about the missing extensions. Their response (received just
prior to the Oct'03 extension release) was carefully worded:
"Subscription members received five extensions for the 2002
product family. While they have not yet received extensions for
2004 product, the product has been available for just six
months. They can be assured that Autodesk will continue to
release product extensions via the Subscription Center."
We wonder if the problem is that new features are too tough
to code as extensions. Or if one department thinks extensions
are neat, but another department within Autodesk doesn't get
around to producing them.
We do know that within Autodesk, there is uncertainty over
extensions. At a December press briefing, we were told to expect
AutoCAD 2004SE this summer, SE being short for "subscription
edition," which we took to be the replacement strategy. Just two
months later, Autodesk changed its mind, eliminating SE, and
again talking about extensions. Subscribers need to be on their
toes: when you sign up for a subscription, ask about extensions;
that's what you're paying for.
About the Author
Ralph Grabowski is
an editor at upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. (previously known as
XYZ Publishing, Ltd.). Ralph is the author of 60 books and
several hundred articles for dozens magazines and newsletters
about CAD, graphics, and the Internet.
More Autodesk Select Articles