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AutoCAD Review

Red Deer = AutoCAD 2004

reprinted by permission of Ralph Grabowski, editor

March 3, 2003

         See Also

 ·  TopTen AutoCAD 2004 Sites - by TenLinks
· Autodesk Directory - by TenLinks.com

Twenty-one months after 2002 ships, AutoCAD 2004 is due. The software does well compared to its internal competitors: the Platform Technology Division (code for AutoCAD, LT, and similar) brings in 57% of Autodesk's CAD revenues. The vertical markets are split three ways between MCAD (17%), GIS (15%), and AEC (11%). It's going to be a long time before an Inventor or a Revit replaces AutoCAD as Autodesk's #1.

So, what's new for AutoCAD 2004 (formerlly Red Deer)? Or, more succinctly, what's compelling enough for the estimated 90% of AutoCAD users not on subscription to shell out US$495 (or more) x # of seats to upgrade? I first learned of details in "Red Deer" [a town in Alberta, Canada] last December, and worked with several betas over the last two months. I group the changes into three:

  • User Interface Changes
  • New and Improved Commands
  • Publishing Support

User Interface Changes

Upon initial inspection, AutoCAD 2004 looks identical to previous releases. A closer look shows that the icons have been updated to mimic Windows XP. And the non-modal windows -- dbConnect, Properties, DesignCenter, and the new Tool Palettes -- sport a softer look.

The Communications Center displays balloons reporting news, such as downloadable updates, changes to xrefs, and problems with CAD standards.

The MText interface changes radically, with features similar to Visio 2002's text command. AutoCAD is no longer limited to importing ASCII text; it now understands and retains the formatting of Word-style documents.

The GUI biggie is the Tool Palette, a tabbed window storing symbols and patterns of your choosing. Palettes are meant to be project-specific, and shared with others.

New and Improved Commands

The on-again and off-again Express Tools are on again. With 2004, Autodesk includes a bonus collection of 80 commands; if you can't find them, you forgot to install them separately. Other changes include:

  • HLSettings - easier to control the look of hidden lines created with the Hide command, plus a couple of new options.
  • JpgOut, PngOut, and TifOut - export selected objects and viewports in popular raster formats.
  • MRedo - AutoCAD LT had it for years; AutoCAD finally gets multiple redoes.
  • RevCloud - draws revision clouds, or converts objects into clouds.
  • SecurityOptions and SigValidate - applies passwords and digital signatures to drawings.
  • WipeOut - overdraws with a polygon filled with the background color; meant to help make text stand out.
  • XOpen - opens a selected xref [externally referenced drawing] in its own window for editing.
  • But the new QNew command seems identical to old New command.

Improved commands include:

  • DesignCenter - accesses symbols from Autodesk's Web site.
  • DrawOrder - finally fixed.
  • PEditAccept - turns off PEdit's "not a polyline" prompt.
  • QDdim - finally truly associative.

Publishing Support

Substantial effort was made to let users make prettier drawings. Features include:

  • True Color - drawings can have 16.7 million colors, up from 255.
  • Color Books - support for PANTONE and RAL named color specs.
  • Gradient Fill - via the BHatch command, supports one- and two-color gradients in a variety of patterns.
  • Plot - now plots rendered drawings.
  • DWF - now contain multiple pages (sheets or layouts) from a selection of drawings.

I find the emphasis on publishing puzzling, because Autodesk makes it hard to get out these fine-looking drawings digitally. AutoCAD exports drawings in PostScipt, but fails to document the PsOut command. And the lack of EMFout (enhanced metafile) command makes these features meaningless for me as a technical documentation specialist (the Clipboard, however, appears to support EMF). TifOut just isn't good enough, and a vector-based corporation should know that.

Removed Features

It seems that any new software release these days also loses features. Politically, the most significant loss is DesignXML import and export (a feature hidden deep in AutoCAD 2002's Insert and WBlock commands). "DesignXML is the first phase of Autodesk’s comprehensive strategy for representing DWG drawing data in XML channels," reads an Autodesk document archived by Google. XML is still used, however, in minor areas, such as importing RML (redline markup) files and storing tool palette and CAD standards configurations. But, no support for LandXML, aecXML, and so on -- all of which Autodesk has a hand in.

Also removed is the Today window, which I had found annoying. It's replaced by the less-intrusive Communications Center. MeetNow is gone. Volo View Express has been replaced with the DWF-only Express Viewer.

Undocumented Features

There are many undocumented commands, including:

  • Ai_Product_Support accesses the support.autodesk.com Web site.
  • Browser2 puzzles me, but seems to handles two URLs.
  • HPConfig appears to link incorrectly to the help files.
  • AiDimPrec changes the precision displayed by dimension text.

If you want to know about the others, you'll have to buy my book, "The Illustrated AutoCAD 2004 Quick Reference" (Autodesk Press), which should be out in a couple of months :)

The DWG format has changed, so the OpenDWG Alliance will soon be at work figuring out what's new. Hints include: 40% smaller file size due to compression, and the use of binary data for AutoCAD ShapeManager (3D solid) replacement of ACIS (which had been encrypted, anyhow).

Other Items

When Autodesk flew the CAD media to Las Vegas last December to show us Red Deer, they also gave us a preview of AutoCAD Mechanical 2004, the 2D mechanical drafting add-on. Some editors were harsh in their opinion, but my thought was, "Why isn't this stuff in the base AutoCAD product?" Things like intelligent hidden line removal, associative drafting, and workflows could be made generic, would benefit all users -- architectural, general, and mechanical.

DWF, which Autodesk'ers pronounce "dwif,' will eventually contain 3D and metadata. Developers can use ink in AutoCAD 2004 from TabletPCs. No more "Can't quit AutoCAD" during a command. No limit on OLE objects if using Office XP with latest service patch.

Shipping at the same time as AutoCAD 2004 are:

  • AutoCAD LT 2004
  • Architectural Desktop 2004 with VIZRender
  • AutoCAD Mechanical 2004
  • Map 2004
  • Civil Series 2004.

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