AEC Tech News #99 (June 12, 2003)

11 Jun, 2003 By: Lachmi Khemlani

Despite the aggressive push by software vendors to promote BIM in the AEC industry, there still seems to be no topic that generates as much passionate reader response at my end as a write-up on AutoCAD. I was deluged with emails in response to my review of AutoCAD 2002 in the December 2001 issue of CADENCE, which resulted in an intense debate on the merits and demerits of AutoCAD's command-line interface in Issues #63 and #64 of the AEC Tech newsletter. History has repeated itself with the recent publication of my review of AutoCAD 2004 in the June 2003 issue of CADENCE . The current issue summarizes the highlights of the new release and features selected reader responses that include feedback that could be useful to all AutoCAD users.

Highlights of AutoCAD 2004

Compared to earlier releases, AutoCAD 2004 has a lot more grist for the reviewer's mill, with a significant number of enhancements and new features. Topping the list is the revamped DWG file format, which has resulted in many benefits: smaller file size, faster speed, true color, higher resolution, and better drawing security. The interface has been redesigned to make it more contemporary and pleasing, with better-looking tool icons, and auto-hide and transparency abilities for dialogs such as Command Line, DesignCenter, and Properties, helping to free up screen real estate. The Multiline Text tool is now easier to use with a transparent frameless editor, the ability to specify tabs and indentations for the text, and actual text rubber-banding when it's moved. Critical xref enhancements include the ability to separately open and edit xrefed files, facilitating collaborative work on the same drawing set, and automatic notification when an xref has changed. Accessing and working with block libraries is made easier through enhancements to the DesignCenter feature and the introduction of customizable tool palettes that can contain frequently used blocks. There is better drawing security with the ability to attach a digital ID to a drawing file, as well as a password that encrypts it and prevents unauthorized viewing. Multiple drawing sheets can now be published into a single DWF (Drawing Web Format) file, which can be viewed by the new and free Autodesk Express Viewer, making electronic distribution of drawings easier. You can now perform multiple Redos in addition to multiple Undos. Various other features have been enhanced as well.

On the downside, the system requirements have been upped to Windows 2000/NT 4.0 or later. Also, features needing improvement on the 3D side--such as modeling, texture-mapping, lighting, and rendering--have been completely untouched in this release. Rubber-banding is still poor, making it difficult to see what you are modeling until you finish the operation. Heights of 3D objects cannot be interactively indicated in the vertical direction; instead, they have to be typed in or graphically indicated by drawing a line on the base plane.

Since the DWG file format has changed, it has resulted in some changes in backward compatibility as well. Not surprisingly, AutoCAD 2004 DWG files cannot be opened with older versions of AutoCAD. You can save the file in AutoCAD 2004 to an AutoCAD 2000 DWG file, which can be read by AutoCAD 2000 and later versions. There is no option to directly save the DWG file to AutoCAD R14 or below; however, there is an option to save to AutoCAD R12 DXF, so you could transfer data to older versions, if necessary, through that route. There will some losses, though, in this kind of translation, most notably in xref information.

Selected Reader Responses

Several readers wrote to me in response to my review--either to agree, disagree, or point out a feature that they felt was important but hadn't been mentioned. The following are a few responses that bring to focus critical aspects of the application, which should be useful to the AutoCAD community at large.

This comment is related to xrefs and was in response to my statement that in earlier versions of AutoCAD, when a file that used xrefs was open, those individual xref files could only be separately opened in read-only mode, therefore could not be edited by another member of the design team. AutoCAD 2004, on the other hand, allows the files that have been xrefed to be separately opened and edited. One reader wrote in to share a workaround to this problem in earlier versions: In the Open and Save tab of the Options dialog, accessible from the Tools menu, change the value of "Demand load Xrefs" to "Enabled with copy" instead of the default value of "Enabled." This will permit demand loading, using a copy of the reference drawing so that others may still edit the original source file. Therefore, users can in fact work concurrently, eliminating the read-only error message.

To one reader, the inability to directly save the DWG file to AutoCAD R14 was a serious limitation of AutoCAD 2004 because, "Many shops I know of still need this capability to be able to swap drawings with customers that either have not upgraded since R14, or have competing products that do not read 2004 drawings (yet). AutoCAD 2004 is a very nice product and does indeed provide a great number of improvements over 2002, but this limitation has prevented our company from upgrading across all of our 470 users. Autodesk recommends we retain a few seats of 2002 to perform R14 conversions, but this isn't practical in a production environment. It creates a bottleneck in the production process we cannot absorb. We are on VIP so the upgrade is not a cost issue--it is a technical issue for us and many others I know of."

One reader wrote in to report that they had installed AutoCAD 2004 on a Windows 98 Version 2 operating system and it was working fine. They were not aware of the Windows 2000/NT 4.0 or higher requirement; otherwise, they would not have purchased the new release. This calls for a clarification. The system requirements stated by a software vendor for a product (such as Windows 2000/NT 4.0 or higher for AutoCAD 2004) does not necessarily mean that the software will not run on older operating systems. However, in general, the vendor will not claim responsibility for problems that might arise from installing the software on older systems, and will provide support only for those systems stated in the system requirements. Users installing AutoCAD 2004 on older systems should keep this in mind.

If you have any other comments or feedback to share on AutoCAD 2004, please send them to me, and I can devote another issue of the newsletter to discussing them.

Relevant Links

AutoCAD 2004: