AutoCAD 2005: A First Look
By Greg Corke, AEC
February 18, 2004
What more can you add to the industry-leading CAD package? This
was the main topic of conversation before the unveiling of
AutoCAD 2005 to the European press in Barcelona last month. For
a software product that was competing in age with some of the
journalists in attendance, I, too, had my concerns about what
Autodesk could do to AutoCAD that would give its customers
sufficient incentive to upgrade. AutoCAD 2004 was a good
release, well received by press and customers alike, and there
was no doubt in my mind that it would be a tough act to follow.
Furthermore, it didn’t seem that long ago since AutoCAD 2004 was
released, and for those not already on a subscription, you had
to question whether users would be willing to put their hands in
their pockets so soon. In checking my dates, the last release
was over 18 months ago, but we were soon to learn that it won’t
be long before AutoCAD releases are coming around as regularly
AutoCAD 2005 marks the beginning of a yearly release cycle for
Autodesk, which will be supplemented by a SE (Subscription
Edition) of AutoCAD every six months, available only to
subscription customers. To me this yearly revision cycle does
seem a little excessive for a CAD package that already seems to
be bursting at the seams. From a business perspective Autodesk
clearly sees it as a move in the right direction; only time will
tell if its customers, particularly those not on subscription,
will welcome having to pay for frequent updates. This will
become even clearer when Autodesk decides the time is right to
retire previous releases, cutting off the upgrade path from
previous versions of AutoCAD (as Autodesk did this January).
An Emphasis on Workflow
The members of the press in Barcelona were treated to an
hour-long presentation of the new features of AutoCAD 2005 by
John Sanders, Vice President, Design Solutions Group, Platform
Technology Division, and Shawn Gilmour, CAD Product Line
Manager. Since then we’ve not been given the opportunity to look
at a beta copy of the software, so these initial thoughts will
be based on what we saw in the presentation and on the
supporting documentation presented at the event.
From the outset it was clear that Autodesk has been focusing its
development resources in the area of Drawing Management, or as
Autodesk more generically describes it, “workflow.” Central to
this concept is the introduction of Sheet Sets, which are
designed to help users organize their drawing sheets into
subsets that represent different types of drawings and manage
drawings more efficiently.
New workflow capabilities were also highlighted with
enhancements to Autodesk’s DWF (Design Web Format) and the way
the format can be used in the context of a collaborative
design/review process. Non-AutoCAD users can now make use of a
new Autodesk DWF Composer that provides mark-up, measure, and
annotation capabilities that integrate with AutoCAD 2005.
Elsewhere, Autodesk has overhauled the way in which AutoCAD
deals with tables; users now have access to a utility that
pretty much works like an embedded spreadsheet application. This
will make AutoCAD’s handling of data much more capable, and the
physical creation of tables more automated and efficient.
One question on everyone’s lips was what is going happen to the
DWG format? The release of AutoCAD 2004 brought about a
completely new compressed DWG format and with it much
controversy with claims from the OpenDWG consortium that the new
format was encrypted. So would Autodesk change the format yet
again? The general consensus was that Autodesk couldn’t afford
to change it again for fear of a backlash from users on
compatibility issues. True to form, Autodesk announced no change
to the DWG format and compatibility with third-party
So there you have the highlights of the new release. On paper it
doesn’t look like there are many new features, but when you
start to look into exactly what Sheet Sets can do, the potential
benefits are quite far reaching. Before we get into these perks,
let’s first define what a Sheet Set is.
Working with Sheet Sets
The basic concept behind Sheet Sets is to provide users with a
powerful means of managing their drawings more effectively by
project, and providing a deliverable item to communicate project
information. While Autodesk introduced the ability to organize a
Sheet Set as a series of layouts in a DWG file a few releases
ago, this restricted members of a project team from
simultaneously editing different layouts. As a result, the
primary method of managing DWGs is still to group them into
folders and assign appropriate files names, and if users need to
print, archive, or email a complete drawing set or part of set
to a client, they must find, open up and work with each file on
an individual basis.
Sheet Sets in AutoCAD 2005 are managed by the appropriately
named Sheet Set Manager, which resides inside your AutoCAD
session. It displays all your drawing sheets and sheet subsets
in a clear tree structure, and you can see who currently has
drawings open for editing and which drawings are available.
Here’s an example to illustrate exactly how the Sheet Sets are
managed. Suppose a company is designing a building. They might
create a Sheet Set for the entire project and then create
subsets for architectural, electrical, and mechanical drawings.
Within each of those subsets, a subset for details could be
created. Named sheet selection sets could be defined for each
subset (architectural, electrical, mechanical) and one for the
entire project. If a set of drawings had to be produced for the
electrical contractor, you would simply restore the electrical
sheet selection set. If the entire set of drawings had to be
created for the client, you would simply restore the project
sheet selection set.
The benefits here are immediately obvious: the ability to plot
or create an electronic transmittal set of an entire sheet set
or a specified set of sheets, or publish a sheet set to a DWF
(Design Web Format) file with hyperlinks that provide one-click
navigation through the sheets. However, this “packaged drawings”
approach to DWG management offers benefits for the user on a
much finer level.
To help reduce repetition and errors, users can now coordinate
and update title block information, sheet numbering, sheet
names, and detail labels across an entire sheet set. For
example, if you change generic project information, the order of
your sheets, or add a sheet in, the Sheet Manager will
automatically make updates to each sheet in the family and the
corresponding information in the title block. Building on this,
a sheet index can be inserted on the title sheet, which
automatically lists all the sheets in the set and creates
hyperlinks, which you can use to navigate to each drawing.
Hyperlinks are also used to good effect when working with design
details and callouts, where callouts automatically link to the
sheet with the corresponding detail. Again, if sheet numbers or
details names need to change, these changes can me made once in
the Sheet Set Manager and all the drawings callouts and detail
labels will be updated automatically.
Creating and Managing Tables
In AutoCAD 2005, Autodesk has finally enhanced the process of
how tables are created and maintained. Before 2005, tables had
to be drawn and trimmed element by element, and if a new row was
added to a table all the contents had to be manually shifted
down. For the new release, Autodesk has basically embedded a
simple spreadsheet inside AutoCAD and the potential benefits are
You can now create tables via a new Create Table dialogue box
where you can specify the number of columns and rows, enter
specific values for column width and row height. Or you can
define the table size and let AutoCAD 2005 determine the column
width and row height. To populate tables you can enter data by
pressing the tab or arrow keys to move across the cells.
Using grip support, the table location, column width and row
height can be modified. The individual properties of cells can
also be edited in the Properties palette; a context-sensitive
menu enables the insertion and deletion of rows and columns as
well the ability to merge or unmerge adjacent cells.
While the addition of these tools provides the potential to
slash the time spent on creating and editing tables, the new
functionality goes beyond the cosmetic and also focuses on the
ability to share data with other applications.
Table data can now be copied from Microsoft Excel and pasted it
into drawings as AutoCAD entities, and conversely, if tables are
created within AutoCAD, it's now possible to export the table
data as a CSV (Comma Separated Value) format.
Design Review with DWF
Over the past couple of years, there’s been a war raging between
Autodesk and Adobe over the future of CAD document distribution.
The CAD industry has embraced Adobe’s PDF format with very
little push from Adobe; meanwhile, Autodesk has decided that DWG
- despite its stranglehold in the AEC market - is not for
sharing outside of the AutoCAD community and that the future is
with its own DWF (Design Web Format).
For the new release, the DWF format has been much more tightly
integrated with AutoCAD and can now be used as part of a design
review process. Once a Sheet Set has been published as a DWF in
AutoCAD, those in the project who do not have a copy of AutoCAD
can use a new application called DWF Composer, which enables
them to mark up, measure, and annotate each drawing and then
send the DWF file back to the designer.
Once back in AutoCAD 2005, the drafter uses a simple
navigational interface to select a mark-up for review. AutoCAD
finds, opens and overlays the DWF mark-up onto the appropriate
AutoCAD drawing files, and the drafter can review the proposed
design changes in context with the DWG file and make the design
Other Enhancements and New Tools
There’s a lot more to AutoCAD 2005 than Sheet Sets Tables and
DWF. Here are some of the highlights.
Drawing managers can now standardize drawing content and store
customized commands on space-saving, project-specific tool
palettes that you can distribute to the entire project team.
There are additions to AutoCAD’s text tools, with an enhanced
multiline text editor that supports indents and tabs. You can
now add engineering symbols available in AutoCAD 2005, or apply
a background fill (colored or opaque) to multiline text to
improve readability when placed over drawing geometry. Users can
now reuse drawing content by placing it on space-saving tool
palettes; palettes can also be grouped together for added
AutoCAD’s Layer Management dialogue box has been redesigned to
enable layers to be managed more easily, and users can also
group layers using filters to quickly apply properties changes
to all layers in a group.
Aiming ease the pain of upgrading, Autodesk has also supplied a
full set of migration tools that allow you to move customized
files from your old version (as far back as AutoCAD 2000) to
your new version.
Elsewhere, Autodesk has made enhancements to its plotting
utilities, introducing background plotting for large jobs that
frees you to perform other tasks simultaneously at your
computer. And finally, plot logs now can also be created to
support accurate billing.
The introduction of Sheet Sets is by far
the most important and far reaching of the new features in
AutoCAD 2005. However you label it, it’s clear that Autodesk is
laying the foundations for document management in AutoCAD 2005.
The company also revealed it is their intention to incorporate
some basic vaulting technology in the next release.
A recent survey by Autodesk showed that 80 percent of its
customers still use Microsoft Windows Explorer to organize their
projects/products and associated drawings and to view and open
existing drawings, so getting users interested in Document
Management after all these years might still be a major
stumbling block. Indeed, Autodesk admitted that there has
already been some resistance to change in some of their beta
sites but after a week or so, the users and managers really
begin to see the benefits of working with this new methodology.
But what else is there to AutoCAD 2005 if you’re simply not
interested in managing your drawings better?
I think the introduction of new Tables
functionality speaks for itself. It’s remarkable that there
haven’t been tools to deal with this problem before, but from
what I’ve seen the addition is sure to please many users.
And then there is DWF. At the Barcelona
launch, Autodesk proudly announced that it had solved six out of
ten of the items on AUGI’s wish list when it released AutoCAD
2004; now with the release of 2005, three more items are
addressed. The remaining issue involves better integration with
the PDF format. With Autodesk’s current stance on publishing
formats, however, it looks like no amount of wishes over
birthday candles will make this hope come true. Autodesk has
been promising much from its Design Web Format (DWF) and the
introduction of DWF Composer and its tight integration with the
design review process makes much sense. There is no doubt in my
mind that DWF is a powerful format, much more intelligent than
PDF, and this year should be an interesting one in helping to
shape the future for publishing formats.
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