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AutoCAD Review

AutoCAD 2004 - A Worthy Upgrade, Page 2

Vertical Applications

At the 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.

Architectural Desktop
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 to ADT.

AutoCAD Mechanical
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.

Express Tools

After many customer requests, Autodesk has included the Express Tools in AutoCAD. Its 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.

Digital Signatures

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.

Passwords

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.

Updated Features

Properties Palette

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

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 at once.

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Conclusion

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 Autodesks business tactics and the big issue of version migration, Id 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 CADserver website.

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