AutoCAD 2004 Preview
by Terry Dotson,
March 12, 2003
Welcome to our
preview of the next version of AutoCAD, Version 2004, due to
ship on March 17th, 2003. It is not our intention to provide an
exhaustive review of the application, that will come later in
the print publications like CADENCE and Cadalyst. Instead, it's
our intention to provide an overview and our opinion, enough
information to tide you over until more becomes available.
DWG Format Changed:
AutoCAD 2004 introduces a new default drawing format which of
course is not compatible with anything else in the industry.
Unlike the good old days when AutoCAD would save back to 2-3
previous versions, this time they elected to only allow the save
back to 2000 format. We must stress, there is NO SAVEASR14.
As part of the
change they are using a built-in compression. Out of curiosity
we compacted a 2004 drawing in WinZip using maximum compression
and it only shrank 13%, as opposed to the same 2000 drawing that
shrank 49%. To test the speed we did some tests with a 21mb file
(2000) that went down to 12mb (2004). The question is: does the
compression speed up the process? In our experience, while
writing a smaller file takes less disk access time, the CPU time
to compress balances it out. Some numbers followed by an
We threw out
the first number because it was typically higher (file caching,
etc.) and averaged the last two. The checkmark indicates the
better performance. This shows that while 2004 is slightly
faster in network file access, 2000 was faster on a local drive.
There have been some changes in
this area. On the definitely positive side is the support for
tabs and indents (still no tables). While it's not perfect, we
found pastes from Word to look much better. Full display text
drag is now available for subtle positioning, and a right click
menu has more controls.
The jury is
still out on the new frameless editor. Unlike the old dialog
mtext editor, it now attempts to give the appearance of in place
editing, with the editor box in the same position and size as
the mtext object. Some may like this, but we found it annoying
in the fact that the editor appears at random locations and
sizes. The MTEXTFIXED variable somewhat restores the previous
behavior, but without a resizable dialog.
in a multi page document, consider the fact that it's still
limited to 32k.
This long-time wish list item has arrived. In 2000i/2002 there
was a 'fairly hidden' option to map the standard colors to true
color and see the results in drawing preview. But now you can
assign a true color to any objects in model or paper space.
Support is still included for the old 256 colors, with the
addition of RGB, HSL, and even Pantone color books. This will be
a big plus for presentation, visualization, and mapping.
A welcome addition. After several undo's you can issue redo's to
"undo the undo's." A history of commands is kept in a list next
the toolbar icons (undo & redo), allowing you to quickly return
to a given state.
Shaded Viewport Plotting:
In previous versions you had to render to a file, then attach
that image to show a shaded/rendered object in a plot. Now you
can plot shaded/rendered models directly in paper or model
space. Additional controls for this show up in a new section on
the right side of the plot dialog.
Allows you to transition color (or two colors) to solid hatching
in a paint program fashion. Sadly this is not the 'bleed
through' fill I was hoping for, which would allow a percent
gradient. Limited usefulness.
OLE Page Size:
If you are running Windows & Office XP, you can paste large
spreadsheets into the drawing without truncation. All other OLE
problems remain, and you still cannot paste multi-page Word
Now built into the core, including more options.
CAD Manager Tools:
Includes these tools:
Manager: Inventory Autodesk software on a PC, LAN, or WAN.
Script Generator: Use scripts to install products without
Control Utility: Restrict user access to Internet based
Network Install: Provides more flexibility for managing
License Borrowing: Time limited portable license, up to 30
This former extension is rolled in. It allows you check drawings
for variations in dimension and text styles, layers, linetypes,
etc. Can run in the background to inform users of violations as
Acquiring the live update functionality of the AutoCAD Today
window (without the in-your-face attitude), it provides
notification of updates and other useful information. There when
you want it (in a small icon on the lower right) and never in
your face, this is what Today should have been to start with.
You can now assign a password on a per-drawing basis, and
digitally sign drawings. The password prevents the drawing from
being opened without the password. It does not prevent
others from changing your drawing once it's open. Our wish list
system would have allowed you to password protect the entire
drawing, or better yet on a layer/object basis. Look at
CADLock for more
protection could also have severe negative effects. Imagine an
employee who (suspecting they will soon be let go) password
protects all the files on a major project. Of course this
capability has been available with Microsoft Office documents
for a long time and hasn't been noted as a problem.
AutoCAD 2004 is now Windows XP certified, and runs fine on
Windows 2000 as well. Power user privileges are no longer
required. Operating systems such as Windows 95/98/Me are not
supported. In our opinion these operating systems were never
stable enough to be considered for AutoCAD anyway.
Much better than the old PublishToWeb tool introduced in 2000i.
You quickly and easy select multiple drawings, which layouts to
process, and the output. Output can be to the plotters defined
in the drawings or the new multi-sheet dwf files. Combined with
Viewer the recipient can even print the DWF files to scale.
DWF is looking better all the time.
This former extension has been rolled in, allowing you to select
all drawings relative to a project and see all items referenced.
Quickly see all fonts, plot configurations & styles, shapes,
standards and xrefs related to the collection.
AutoCAD 2004 can be installed and
run on the same machine containing previous product releases
File Open Dialog:
Looks and behaves much like the one in previous versions.
Thankfully now icons like Buzzsaw can be removed with a simple
Right Click > Remove. Unlike previous versions, if you choose a
different view (like details) it is remembered the next time the
dialog is displayed. A nice addition for Win2000/XP users is the
thumbnails view that displays the drawing preview of all files
in the folder along with the name. A small complaint is that
when in the thumbnail mode, the preview area of the dialog
should hide to maximize the dialog space.
By default the NEW command brings up a dialog to select a
template, as opposed to the old prompt. To use the old method,
you'll need to train yourself to issue the QNEW command, and set
the default. Under Options, Files Tab, Drawing Template
Settings, Filename for QNEW, choose your file.
Wishes do come true. Most people deemed the AutoCAD Today window
annoying at best. It's been removed from the startup. Some of
its functionality was moved to the Communications Center (listed
in General Management).
color depth has been increased to make 'prettier' icons. An
example is below. To address the problem of long layer names
becoming unreadable, the width of the layer popdown was roughly
doubled in size, but still cannot be resized. Roughly 30 upper
case characters now, look for a new QuikPik from
Several changes were made to modeless dialogs like Properties,
Design Center, etc.
Since the introduction of the properties dialog, we really liked
the extended capabilities, but really disliked the fact that it
consumed precious screen space. Sure you could toggle its
visibility with ctrl+1, 2, etc., but it still required constant
attention. Now with the auto hide feature, it takes up a thin
slice of space (equivalent to the dark blue caption area). When
your cursor passes over the bar, it expands and lets you use the
dialog. After your cursor moves away, it shrinks back.
You can vary the amount of transparency so that you can actually
see the drawing behind the dialog when it's full. We found this
visually confusing and not nearly as useful as the Auto Hide.
You can make the command line (if floating) transparent also.
These are user customizable and allow you to add frequently used
blocks and hatches to tool palettes, which can have tabs for
logical groups. In our opinion these would appeal more to new
users (with its drag & drop execution), with less appeal to
older power users.
Categories (such as general and geometry shown in the above
screenshot) can be rolled up to get them out of the way, and the
program remembers your settings on a per object group basis. You
can now edit the attributes of an insert in properties.
The status bar at the bottom is now configurable. So if you
don't need buttons for items like lineweight you can remove them
from the list.
Now you can use Ctrl+PageUp and Ctrl+PageDown to flip through
the pages. The tab strip is still limited to a single row. As an
aside, there's still no tab strip to switch between drawings.
Usable Full Screen:
A toggle using Ctrl+0 immediately removes all toolbars,
palettes, even the Windows taskbar and AutoCAD window caption.
This leaves only the AutoCAD pulldown and command prompt, a
pleasant reminder of the fullscreen usability of AutoCAD DOS.
While I wouldn't guarantee draworder to be trouble free,
drawings to be xrefed should show the same as they do when
opened in the editor.
Quickly open an xref in a new drawing window by picking it in
It's now resizable (a welcome change). You can select multiple
xrefs on the list and open them in separate drawing windows.
Also, the dialog displayed with the attach option allows you to
select multiple files.
The Attach dialog now allows options of full path, relative
path, or no path.
If you have a project open that contains references to other
drawings, and those drawings change, a bubble appears informing
you of the change, along with the user who changed it.
raster files from drawings with the option to include all
objects and viewports. TIFOUT and JPGOUT commands is also
included, but we don't consider JPG to be an acceptable format
for the representation of vectors.
set to 1000, which means less confusion for new users when they
exceed the old value of 200 for layers, etc.
Express Tools Included
collection of functionality is now included, but is not included
in the core install. You will need to return to the install
panel and choose this as an option. Of course at this point most
of the functionality of these have been included in the core
product. In previous releases Layer Save/Restore was built into
the Layer dialog, etc. In this release the WIPEOUT is now a core
command/object type, FULLSCREEN is core as ctrl+0, also the
REVCLOUD is a core command creating a resulting polyline object.
Compiled Menu Files:
To accommodate the true color icons, AutoCAD 2004 will recompile
your menu files MNC, MNR (even if you have no icons defined). If
AutoCAD 2004 is the only AutoCAD on your system it's not an
issue. But if you have a partial menu that's shared with
previous versions, after 2004 recompiles them, the older version
won't load them.
This has changed. This means that most add-ons built for AutoCAD
2000 will not work in 2004. You will need to contact the add-on
developer for a 2004-compatible version of the add-on. Simple
LISP routines should run without any problems.
AutoCAD 2004 to be the most significant new release since 2000,
and definitely worth consideration for an upgrade. If you don't
need to save drawings in an R14 format, it's a big thumbs up.
About the Author
Terry W. Dotson is the principal of
leading developer of AutoCAD productivity add-ons. Terry has an
18-year history with AutoCAD, starting as a user, then working
at a reseller in training/sales, and now programming AutoCAD to
maximize its capabilities.