Review: AutoCAD 200630 Apr, 2005 By: Bill Fane
Autodesk retires the Command line.
The time has come to acknowledge that the Command line is dead. Long live the Command line!
At first glance, the most prominent changes in AutoCAD 2006 involve the appearance of the user interface. Don't panic: everything pretty much still works the same way and can even be set up to look like it used to, although you probably won't want to do that.
The first change to the interface becomes obvious when a command is started. As figure 1 shows, the new Dynamic Interface displays the Command prompt information, plus a bit more, right at the cursor.
Figure 1. AutoCAD 2006's new Dynamic Input shows Command-line information at the cursor, so users dont have to keep looking down to see where they are.
This is dynamic—as the cursor moves, the input information trails along with it, changing as necessary. I started the Line command, so AutoCAD is asking for the first point. In addition, the left window shows the current x coordinate while the right one shows the y coordinate. The coordinate values change dynamically as the cursor moves.
The x-coordinate window is highlighted, indicating that it will accept direct keyboard input of a value. Type a value into the x window and then press Tab. In this case, the entered value becomes locked in and only the value in the y-coordinate window changes. Figure 2 shows this sequence.
Figure 2. When users input dynamic information, tabbing to the next window locks the current one.
Press Tab key again and the focus shifts back to the x-coordinate window, which unlocks. Press Enter or click the mouse button to accept the current values, and the command moves on. This works for polar as well as rectangular input.
Show Me the New StuffI've taught AutoCAD to a great many students over the years. Whenever a student has a problem, the instructor's reply is almost always, "Read the Command prompt!"
It's easy to become so engrossed in what's happening at the cursor that we forget to look down to see what AutoCAD is trying to tell us. Dynamic Input takes care of that. Error messages and other information returned by the command display at the cursor.
I've been an active AutoCAD user since v2.14g in 1986, and I must admit I had an anxiety attack when I first saw Dynamic Input. This was compounded by the fact that the Command line was turned off in the first demo I saw. Where's my security blanket?
I went in with a "show-me" attitude. After about 11 seconds I was convinced that this was a good change. Using AutoCAD is much more productive because I'm not always having to look down at the Command line.
A new DYN button on the status bar turns Dynamic Input on and off on the fly. Another significant point is that users can type in commands and responses even when the Command line is closed and DYN is off—they just can't see what's happening.
This is just a hint of the capabilities that Dynamic Input provides. Someone needs to write a full article on its uses, features and customization. Hmmmm...wonder who that might be?
More Visual CuesAutoCAD 2006 adds several other visual cues to help users. These include rollover highlighting and tinted selection boxes.
Whenever an active command asks the user to select objects, Rollover Highlighting kicks in. As a user moves the cursor around the screen hunting for objects to select, objects are highlighted as the cursor rolls over them—even though no object has been selected yet. The highlighting shows what would be selected if the user were to pick at that point. This virtually eliminates the problem of inadvertently selecting the wrong object in a crowded area of the drawing.
The second visual aid is the shading of Window and Crossing selections. Instead of being simple rectangular frames, they now appear as semitransparent rectangular blocks. Through the magic of cut-and-paste, figure 3 shows all three of the new selection indicators. Of course, they are fully configurable.
Go FigureLate last year I wrote a Learning Curve column about Cal, the little-known calculator that is built into AutoCAD. No sooner was this article posted to the Web (http://management.cadalyst.com/0904lc/) in September when I received a phone call from Mark Fritts at Autodesk. We set up a Web conference and he walked me through a demo of the new, improved calculator that the company planned to include with AutoCAD 2006.
Figure 4. The QuickCalc calculator palette is easy to follow. To bring it up, type in QC or <Ctrl>-8.
Well, the good news is that the new calculator made it in. The really good news is that QuickCalc is much easier to use than Cal. It uses a graphical interface similar to the calculator built into Windows. A few obtuse 3D vector and similar functions did not make it into QuickCalc, but the really, really good news is that Cal still works if you happen to need these rare functions.
QuickCalc is a full-function scientific calculator complete with nested parentheses for complex calculations. It also does units conversions. In addition, its results can be posted to the Command prompt in response to any command that is asking for a value. For example, start the Circle command, place its center, then invoke 'QuickCalc. Now we can perform a calculation to derive the radius of the circle and paste the answer back to the Circle command.
QuickCalc has a built-in quick-access memory, and it can create and access AutoLISP variables. This includes those created by separate AutoLISP programs.
There's a lot more to QuickCalc. Someone needs to write a full article on its uses and features. Hmmmm...
Bunch DynamicsCAD managers everywhere will hail the new dynamic blocks (figure 5) because they will go a long way toward simplifying and controlling block libraries. Instead of needing 20 similar blocks to cover the 20 sizes of an object, now all they need is one definition. As they create the definition, CAD managers can add controlling parameters.
Figure 5. Dynamic Blocks allow users to create parametric block configurations.
Each time a dynamic block is inserted, AutoCAD stops and asks the user to supply appropriate values for those parameters, such as sizes and quantities of an array. Allowable values can be preset to a valid range or to specific values as desired.
When all the information is supplied, the block is inserted as specified. The process can be repeated with a different set of specifications. A single definition thus dynamically replaces a bunch of block definitions.
Grand OpeningThis is such a significant item that it deserves a heading of its own, even though it can be covered in one sentence. AutoCAD 2006 files are the same file format as those in AutoCAD 2004 and 2005. That's right—AutoCAD 2004 can open an AutoCAD 2006 drawing, despite the new features such as dynamic blocks.
The End is NearAs usual, I've run out of room long before I can extol or even list all the new features in AutoCAD 2006. For example, how about the fact that view transitions such as zooming and 3D rotating can now flow smoothly from view to view? This makes it much easier to stay oriented in the drawing.
Another time-saver is the ability for users to have separate entries for each drawing on the Windows taskbar, as with Microsoft Word and Excel. This makes it much faster to jump from drawing to drawing.
I haven't yet hinted at how the new Custom User Interface tool will simplify things (figure 6), especially for CAD managers. All customization of the AutoCAD user interface is now controlled through one function, which handles toolbars, pull-down menus, shortcut menus, keyboard shortcuts, mouse buttons and so on.
Figure 6. The new CUI (Custom User Interface) lets you manage all customization needs through simple one-stop shopping. The CUI allows changes to toolbars, pull-down menus, shortcut menus, keyboard shortcuts and mouse buttons.
The dynamic blocks alone make AutoCAD 2006 worth the price of admission, but there is much more of interest to users and managers. Highly Recommended.
Bill Fane is a Cadalyst contributing editor and a professor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.