AutoCAD 2004 - A Worthy Upgrade, Page 2
same time it launched AutoCAD 2004, Autodesk simultaneously
announced the following products: AutoCAD LT 2004, Architectural
Desktop 2004 with VIZRender, AutoCAD Mechanical 2004, Map 2004
and the Civil Series 2004. The two most popular applications are
Architectural Desktop and AutoCAD Mechanical, both of which have
seen some extensive reworking in 2004. Space is too short to
review them here in any real depth.
ADT has had a radical
reworking and now comes with a “lite” version of Autodesk
VIZ. Because the upgrade was developed before Autodesk
purchased Revit, ADT now boasts many Revit-like features
designed to compete against its former rival. There's a new
content browser for catalogues and a drape function that
converts polylines into a mass element that can represent
terrain. It appears that there has been a lot of work done
This time around there's a big
buzz around AutoCAD Mechanical, the long-forgotten brother of
Mechanical Desktop. A powerful new component tree is now
included, along with filters to hide views, features, and 2D
hides. Components can be reordered and organized into
assemblies. This is combined with a powerful bill of materials (BOM).
There have been enhancements to annotations, hide, clean-up,
sections and layout. It looks to be a really comprehensive 2D
mechanical design solution.
- Martyn Day
being developed and intermittently streamed to subscription
customers. It seems that with each subsequent 'big release' of
AutoCAD, these applications are added to the core AutoCAD,
together with some new stuff. Obviously subscribers get the new
release as part of their program.
AutoCAD 2004 now contains
the following applications that were only available to
subscribers last year.
After many customer requests, Autodesk has included the
Express Tools in AutoCAD. It’s a collection of over 100 small
commands and routines developed over the years in response to
customer needs. My favorite is the Ctrl+0 and Ctrl+1 shortcut,
which maximizes the drawing space and then returns you to the
standard palette interface.
Describing this feature would require an entire article in
itself! Suffice it to say that it's now possible to add
certificates to drawings, to indicate they have been 'signed
off.' This can be used as part of your approval process or as a
mark to indicate a controlled drawing. If the drawing is
changed, the certificate becomes invalid. You can add many
levels of control.
2004 now allows users to save AutoCAD DWG files encrypted
with a password. To gain access to the file (i.e. open it), the
person you send it to must know the password it was encrypted
with. This is a powerful feature, useful to many but nonetheless
potentially dangerous. A disgruntled employee, for instance,
could password protect all your company's files from within
AutoCAD without sharing the password with anyone. And without
the password, your drawings are rendered useless.
Associative QDIM - QDIM was a great little feature in one of
the 2002 extensions to create quick simple dimensions. This has
now been updated to include support for associativity - a small
but useful addition.
Gone now is the old Properties window. It's been resurrected
as the Properties Palette, which is much more flexible and
omnipresent. It can be hidden and kept open all the time.
Enhanced to allow editing of blocks and Mtext features, it will
seriously speed up any editing.
Grips now change color when you place the cursor over them.
It's also possible to numerically control circle and radius
changes by clicking on the grip and typing in a number.
Multiple fillet & chamfer
A small but useful change now enables you to quickly edit
chamfer and fillet objects on a selection of multiple entities
Shaded viewport plotting
It's possible now to plot exactly what you see, mixing
shaded, rendered and line views. This avoids a lot of hassle
with screen grabbing and laying out pages.
It's worth noting
that all those once heavily marketed Internet-based features
Autodesk told us we needed have disappeared from AutoCAD 2004;
the 'Meet Now' Net Meeting-like function, Design XML, the Web
replacement for DXF, and AutoCAD Today - all are gone.
Users who fear that a lot of retraining may be necessary
should rest easy. Once the basic concept of the tool palette
interface is grasped, there are no major surprises and only a
slight learning curve. The moving target that is DWG, however,
remains a subject of concern. Bentley Systems, developers of
MicroStation, has only changed DGN once in over 19 years;
compare this with Autodesk's inclination to change DWG every two
and a half years. Up until the recently released MicroStation
V8, DGN was forward and backward compatible and all the while
Bentley continued to add to MicroStation's features. It begs the
question why must Autodesk change the file format so often and
offer only backwards compatibility? If new features are causing
the frequent change why doesn't the company have the vision to
build these in earlier and change DWG less frequently? One could
cynically conclude the byproduct of DWG change is that users
must keep upgrading to remain compatible.
This leads me on to
subscription. For a low yearly fee, one can indemnify the
continual improvement of AutoCAD by getting the streamed
functions that the developers produce. I asked Autodesk if this
meant that there would be yearly wrap-up versions of AutoCAD and
I was told that Autodesk's research identified that users on
subscription would expect to get a new release of AutoCAD within
each subscription year, so I guess that's a yes. With a new
release every year, instead of every 18 to 24 months, this could
mean that Autodesk would obit (i.e. remove upgrade rights and
support for) AutoCAD versions that were three years old, instead
of 4 to 6 years old. The net result could mean that users would
have to upgrade more often.
This is verified on Autodesk's
website, where a questionnaire concerning subscription states,
“To accurately compare the cost of subscription to the purchase
of upgrades, keep in mind that in the future, major releases of
AutoCAD will occur approximately every 12 months at a price of
$495 if you upgrade from the most current version. If you
upgrade from an earlier release the price will be $995 or more.”
So Autodesk is looking to deliver an AutoCAD release every
year and if you miss a release there will be serious financial
implications. Autodesk is looking to make the financial
penalties of being a non-subscriber pretty severe, so much so
that users will be coerced into signing up. If the features of a
new release don't compel you to upgrade, the 'penalty' costs to
your business may persuade you. I can't see this going down too
well with users. Most of those I have talked to would prefer
releases less often, not more often. On average, AutoCAD
customers upgrade only every-other release and that every-other
release came last year, when R14 users had to upgrade to 2002 or
lose the right to upgrade at an incremental price (a tactic that
went down like a lead balloon). I can't image that many of those
who felt forced to upgrade from R14 will want to upgrade again.
In October I received an early developer document
highlighting the features of Red Deer (2004 as we knew it then)
and I must admit that on paper it was less than exciting. But
now having experienced the new version first hand I think that
2004 delivers on its promise of a much-improved product.
Overlooking Autodesk’s business tactics and the big issue of
version migration, I’d say that the AutoCAD development team has
done a really excellent job, providing a broad range of
features, especially in regard to presentation work, speed and
ease of use. The new release is definitely worth trying and once
used, I am sure you will find it difficult to go back.
Weighing the pros and cons of this new release is a difficult
task. There are many great new features and many more useful
enhancements. However, changing DWG and forcing developers to
rework their applications only serves to create new problems for
many users. But all in all, AutoCAD 2004 is the most significant
release since R14.
About the Author
Martyn Day is group editor of MCAD Magazine and AEC
Magazine. For more information, visit the