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Autodesk Review

AutoCAD 2005 Focuses on Drafting

reprinted by permission of Ralph Grabowski, editor

February 17, 2004

        See Also

   Autodesk website
Autodesk Directory - by TenLinks.com
Autodesk Reading Room - by CADdigest.com

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

Sheet Sets

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

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 files.

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!

FieldText

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 background.

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.

Viewports

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.

Markup

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

Layers

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 menus.

Plotting

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 removed.

DrawOrder

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.

Text

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.

Hatches

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.

Tool Palettes

Incorporates the changes provided with last year's extension: Tools, by Example; Command Tools; and Organize Tools.

Views

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 objects.

...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 significant:

  • 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 into drawings.
  • PlotOffset determines whether the plot offset distance is measured from the edge of the paper, or the edge of the plotter’s margin.
  • 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 machines.

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
(3 months)
Sep 2001: 3 extensions
(4 months)
Jan 2002: 2 extensions
(3 months)
Apr 2002: 1 extension
(4 months)
Aug 2002: 1 extensions
(4 months)
Dec 2002: 1 extension
(5 months)
May 2003: AutoCAD 2004 ships
(5 months)
Oct 2003: 1 extension
(5 months)
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.

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