AEC Tech News #91 (Feb. 13, 2003)

12 Feb, 2003 By: Lachmi Khemlani

The second week of 2003 saw Mac devotees make their semi-annual pilgrimage to Macworld to check out the latest and greatest for their platform of choice. Although the number of booths on the Expo floor was smaller than previous years'--this came as no surprise with the economy being what it was--the crowds were still very much in evidence. The first machine that I owned was a Mac, all my Ph.D. work was done on a Mac, and, while I was forced to make the switch to the PC subsequently, I continue to remain a huge Mac fan. So it's always a pleasure to go to Macworld, marvel at the innovativeness of both the hardware and the operating system, and mingle with the creative crowds of graphic designers, digital artists, and multimedia and DTP professionals that the Mac platform traditionally caters to.

What's New from Apple?

At this Macworld, Apple unveiled two new laptops, both PowerBook G4s: the world's first 17-inch notebook, measuring only 1-inch thick, with super-fast data transfer and wireless networking, built-in Bluetooth, and a keyboard that lights up in the dark; as well as Apple's smallest PowerBook, a full-featured but lightweight (4.6 lbs) 12-inch laptop computer that also includes a DVD burner. Apple also showcased a number of new software applications: Safari, a fast and easy to use Web browser for the Mac OS X that features integrated Google search capabilities, SnapBack for retracing Web paths, improved bookmark management, and automatic pop-up ad blocking; Keynote, a fabulously slick presentation software (it makes PowerPoint look archaic!) that includes professionally designed themes, beautiful typography, smooth image resizing, animated charts and tables that can be created quickly, and cinematic-quality transitions; iLife, an integrated suite of Apple's popular "digital lifestyle" applications, featuring new versions of iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, and the recently released iTunes 3, working seamlessly together; and Final Cut Express, a video editing application optimized for the DV format that will allow amateurs to edit video like professional editors. The sprawling Apple booth understandably took center stage at Macworld, and was so crowded that it was hard to even get to one of the dozens of computers set up with these applications for attendees to try out.

CAD and 3D Modeling Software

All the familiar CAD products that run on the Mac platform in addition to Windows--ArchiCAD, form•Z, VectorWorks, and SketchUp--were in attendance at Macworld. Graphisoft took the opportunity to demonstrate the highlights of its rnew big release, ArchiCAD 8, that includes a streamlined interface, increased navigation speed, improved layout and drafting techniques, a new Detail tool that expedites 2D work, faster OpenGL rendering, and solid operations based on Boolean geometry that let architects model complex objects more easily than before.

auto*des*sys Inc. continued to preview the new features of form•Z 4.0--its next major release that is currently in the second stage of beta testing and should be out soon--including the first plug-ins for form•Z; new tools for NURBS surface generating and sculpting; sketch rendering; OS X and multi-processing support; lights in symbols; new Loft, Bend, and Fillet tools; and extended operations on parametric curves. I am currently beta-testing form•Z 4.0 and will devote an upcoming issue to a detailed discussion of its features.

Nemetschek North America demonstrated the latest releases of its CAD product lineup: VectorWorks, RenderWorks, ARCHITECT, and LANDMARK 10. These new versions all focus on fundamental drawing efficiency aimed at improving productivity. VectorWorks 10 includes new interface features such as dynamic zooming and scrolling, customizable context menus, a double click to edit objects, more flexible keyboard shortcuts, and palette docking improvements; new presentation features such as gradients and image fills; an integrated 3D Power Pack that affords advanced solids, surface, and solid/surface modeling capabilities, as well as enhanced NURBS curve and surface manipulation; improved import and export options providing better compatibility with other CAD/CAM programs; and other enhancements, including batch file conversion, improved auto saving, expanded SmartCursor behavior, a Preference reset option, improved sheets, and clip surface improvements. All the enhancements in VectorWorks 10 are reflected in the ARCHITECT 10 (for architectural design) and LANDMARK 10 (for landscape design) products; additionally, they also include various discipline-specific enhancements of their own.

At the last Macworld, held in July 2002 in New York, @Last Software announced the availability of SketchUp for Mac OS X and came away with Macworld's "Best of Show" award. At this show, the company announced the release of SketchUp 2.2 for Mac OS X, the latest version of the company's intuitive and fun-to-use 3D design software. It features tighter integration with graphic design programs and with OS X; drag and drop support for a wide range of image files, including the ability to drag and drop images right from iPhoto into a SketchUp model for use as backgrounds or textures; a new texture palette added to the Apple Color Picker for creation and management of custom material libraries; SketchUp (SKM) file format support for cross-platform sharing of material libraries; customizable keyboard shortcuts; export options for DWG, DXF, and 3DS formats; vector printing and PDF output from wire frame and hidden-line display modes; a plug-in for RIB (RenderMan Interface Bytestream) export; and other enhancements.

Other Highlights of the Show

Next to Apple, the largest presences at the show were multimedia and graphic design software companies such as Macromedia, Adobe, and Corel, all showcasing their latest offerings. Also very visible were digital camera and camcorder vendors, including Canon, Nikon, and Olympus, and color printer vendors such as Epson, Canon, HP, Lexmark, and Xerox. Color printing has come a long way, and the quality of the prints has to be seen to be believed! As printers become much more affordable and can print in large paper sizes, color printing might soon become the norm rather than the exception for both professional and home use. Microsoft was a relatively small presence at Macworld, naturally. The company demonstrated the latest versions of its Mac OS X applications, Office V. X, and Entourage X (an email and scheduling application which is the equivalent of Outlook Express for Windows).

Other product categories reflecting the core strengths of the Mac platform included 3D, animation, graphic design, illustration, and effects applications from vendors such as Discreet, Eovia, Creation Engine, Hash, and Pixologic. In fact, if I had to pick the "coolest" application of the show, Pixologic's Zbrush would beat all the applications coming from larger and more established vendors. This is a unique painting tool that integrates both 2D and 3D effects in real-time, allowing you to paint an image with color, material, texture, and depth; push and pull your canvas; and even sculpt and texture 3D models. I sat through a demo of its features, literally dumbstruck with amazement, and, from what I could see around me, other people were having a similar reaction. Priced at $399, the program is relatively inexpensive (compared to AEC software)--even if you are not a graphic design professional, you can buy a copy just for some creative fun and use it to explore and create intriguing images of computer artwork. What's more, it's available for the Windows platform as well.

Watch out for more on Zbrush in a future issue of this newsletter.

Relevant Links

Apple's products showcased at Macworld: