AutoCAD 2007 for CAD Managers, Part 1

22 Mar, 2006 By: Robert Green

Get ready to help your staff transition to a new interface and 3D command set

In the last edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter (click here for archives), I promised that I’d look at the new AutoCAD 2007 product suite from a CAD manager’s perspective. My hope is to bring you the highlights of the new version, what to look out for, what to get on top of now and which new features can bring you some great functionality.

Here goes.

Wow, This is Different!

If you attend a demo for AutoCAD 2007 or spend any amount of time poking around in it, you’ll see that the main changes are a big difference in the interface and a substantial new 3D command set.

A totally new 3D command set and interface are the main changes you’ll notice in AutoCAD 2007. Note the Performance Tuner display at lower right.

A totally new 3D command set and interface are the main changes you’ll notice in AutoCAD 2007. Note the Performance Tuner display at lower right.

It’s kind of ironic that after years of touting the 3D benefits of its other software platforms -- Revit, Inventor, Land Development Desktop, Architectural Desktop and Building Systems -- Autodesk would go to such great lengths to put 3D into its flagship 2D product. I draw a couple of preliminary conclusions about this, based on what I see in the new 3D feature set and interface:

  • This substantial 3D upgrade portends a 3D future for AutoCAD that we probably wouldn’t have guessed a few years back, which means AutoCAD will be a vibrant tool for years to come.
  • The visualization differences (some are apparent in the previous figure) also show that Autodesk realizes that what matters isn’t just the design, but how you show off the design.

Getting Started: Dude, Where’s My Model Space?

After you fumble around for a while with the new coordinate display system and Dashboard interface, you’ll realize you probably need to do a little homework via the New Features Workshop and/or Help system. It’ll take a little doing, but you’re a CAD manager and you know you’ll prevail, right? Of course you will, because you’re a motivated self-learner who’s always trying to figure out the latest version of your company’s design software.

The question now is, How will your users fare with the interface changes they’ll see?

After honestly assessing the interface changes, not to mention the new 3D command set, I’m led to believe that CAD managers and their core AutoCAD users will have to negotiate a notable learning curve with this new version. Let’s dig into these questions and try to come up with some answers that will assist you in managing this transition.

The Interface Change

Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of CAD software packages and a variety of different interfaces, but the one thing I’ve consistently observed is that long-term users of a software product usually freak out when major interface changes occur. This is not an AutoCAD phenomenon, but a simple statement that human beings seem to recoil from change, at least initially.

The good news is that if you put AutoCAD back into a classic interface mode, old users can still use AutoCAD in the same way they always have, to continue cranking out 2D in the same way they always have.

The classic AutoCAD interface is still available in AutoCAD 2007, mitigating learning curves by putting users in a familiar environment.

Of course, fading back to the old interface and using AutoCAD the same way you always have ignores the 3D feature set and visualization advances in AutoCAD 2007, should you wish to use them. I recommend using the older interface as a bridge to new technology that can keep the CAD manager sane. By using a combination of old and new interfaces throughout your installation, you can train people on 3D features as needed, while leaving other users in an environment where they can be immediately productive with 2D tasks.

When using AutoCAD 2007 in classic AutoCAD mode, there’s essentially zero learning curve.

Hardware Demands

When you give people usable 3D, they tend to judge the 3D functionality in terms of how easily they can visualize the output. Therefore, the ability to provide on-screen rendering and shaded imaging is key to making users feel at home with 3D authoring. As you may guess, doing 3D visualization requires some heavy lifting at the graphics card level, and this is why you’ll see AutoCAD 2007 configuring itself based on an automated audit of your graphics hardware.

The Performance Tuner automates configuration adjustments of AutoCAD 2007 based on internal hardware auditing.

The results of the Performance Tuner can be viewed by clicking the link shown above and will look similar to the following display, which was the result of the initial audit on my Toshiba laptop.

Performance tuner results on my fast laptop indicated a lack of graphics resources for 3D viewing.

Machines that have historically run AutoCAD well will still run AutoCAD 2D very nicely, but CAD managers might be surprised to find that the 3D visualization functions require some pretty substantial graphics firepower if you want to take advantage of advanced shading, shadowing and photorealistic visualization.

CAD managers take note: If you want to run AutoCAD 2007 to its full 3D potential, it’s time to start thinking about graphics and computer upgrades along the lines of a solids modeler or 3D desktop workstation setup. Budget accordingly!

Summing Up

You should now have a grasp of the features and hardware requirements that could most profoundly affect your training, budgeting and implementation of AutoCAD 2007. Before you draw your final conclusions about the new software, I encourage you to go see a demonstration of AutoCAD 2007 on a machine that has a graphics processor that can really deliver the full 3D feature set now available. Seeing AutoCAD 2007 on a low-end machine does not do the product justice.

In the next few issues of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll examine additional AutoCAD 2007 features from a CAD manager’s perspective. Until then.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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