AutoCAD 2008: What's in It for You?

27 Feb, 2007 By: Robert Green

Some updates and refinements in the 2008 AutoCAD products can save you time and trouble.

Over the past few weeks I've had the opportunity to work with some of Autodesk's new 2008 series products (AutoCAD and the new P&ID application) and would like to give you a quick overview of some things I think will matter most to CAD managers who will be implementing this new software in the coming months.

I realize that not everyone uses AutoCAD or Autodesk products, but the overwhelming market dominance of AutoCAD compels me to at least mention it when a new version is on the horizon. Here goes.

Release Dates

The new AutoCAD and AutoCAD-related applications are slated for a late March release, and non-DWG based products (Revit and Inventor) will come roughly a month later. As usual, these dates could move a little, but at least you now know when to expect your new subscription CDs to start showing up.

Plan your research time accordingly.

Installation Tools and Vista Compliance

The installation wizard tool that is used to install AutoCAD has undergone a few modifications that will make network-version users happy, namely the ability to control which network license support tools to install and the ability to configure AutoCAD prior to creating a network deployment. Now it is possible to set up AutoCAD-based tools with correct profiles and write the settings to the network deployment rather than installing generic AutoCAD and then having to configure later or map to a startup profile. If you use standalone AutoCAD you won't notice much difference, but network users will enjoy the changes.

AutoCAD 2008 products are Vista compliant and the installer routines detect the various flavors of Vista, including 64-bit support for Vista Business and Vista Ultimate. Of course, AutoCAD-based products will continue to run on Windows XP, so you don't have to hurry to go to Vista. But as new hardware with preinstalled Vista shows up, you won't have to worry about AutoCAD being ready.

Note: Autodesk CAD products don't rely solely on OpenGL to display 3D graphics (though there is an OpenGL option in AutoCAD's new Manual Performance Tuning dialog box); instead they favor Microsoft’s Direct3D graphics standard. Therefore, AutoCAD-based products should be more immune to the speed problems that plague OpenGL-based software running on Vista right now. I'm not saying that there won't be Vista-related problems, because I don't have a crystal ball, but the indications are that the new generation of Autodesk CAD products should be up and running on Vista quickly.

Interface Modifications

Both tool palettes and the Dashboard visual interfaces have undergone some changes that allow the CAD manager to more flexibly control how their users interact with AutoCAD-based tools. You'll also notice a few subtle differences in the CUI (customization user interface) editor that streamline the number of options leading to a slightly less cluttered appearance.

All in all, the interface modifications aren't huge, but you'll want to standardize them, therefore they merit some study before you implement AutoCAD 2008 products throughout your company.

Layer Reconciling

CAD managers know that if they can keep people from drawing on the wrong layers, downstream processes such as plotting become easier and more consistent. But when have you been able to keep people from drawing on the wrong layer? Layer reconciliation provides some basic tools and alerts to at least let users know they're drawing on incorrect layers and even to control layers that come in from other objects like xrefs.

The key to layer reconciliation is that it builds a database of layers the first time a drawing is saved and considers those layers to be reconciled. The savvy CAD manager already uses templates to create all correct layers at drawing startup, so unless the user purges, the list of reconciled layers should be correct in the first place. So if you're not using correct templates to start your drawings, or if you haven't updated your templates lately, layer reconciliation will make the task worthwhile.

While layer reconciliation and notification won't stop people from purposely breaking the rules, they will certainly tell everyone if they've made a mistake. And CAD managers will be able to open drawings and see very quickly if any unreconciled layers exist in the drawing.

Annotation Scaling

By far the most exciting feature, in my opinion anyway, of AutoCAD 2008 products is the new Annotative Scale control. By making text annotative you can actually instruct Text and Mtext entities to have a native scale (say 1/4” plotted size) and then have the text annotatively react to the viewport scale in which it appears in the paper space viewport.

The basic concept is that when you create a piece of text in model space, you select any number of annotative scales you'd like the text to work with (say 1/8", 3/16" and 1/4" sizes). Then when that text appears in a viewport with any one of the scales you chose, the text will react and resize so that it will always be plotted at the right scale.

The upside: We'll finally be able to set up our drawings up so they'll scale correctly!

The downside: We'll all have to set up our details and template files to have the correct annotative scales.

If you've been around AutoCAD environments long enough to remember when associative dimensioning started reacting to changes in DIMSCALE parameters, you'll have a great mental reference for how text annotation is changing in AutoCAD 2008. Annotation scaling will require users to think a little differently, but the change will be worth it.

A Smooth Transition

I don't think the AutoCAD 2008 series products are going to be a big problem for CAD managers (as were, say AutoCAD 2000's plotting overhaul or AutoCAD 2006's CUI interface changes), but I do think CAD managers should spend some time thinking about how the prominence of the Dashboard and the new annotation scaling features can affect management tools like templates and usability. As with all new CAD software products, it behooves you to get the new version as soon as you can and test the features I've discussed so you'll know how they run in your environment.

And, by the way, why not get a Vista test machine going at the same time so you can benchmark Vista while checking out the new AutoCAD. That way you will have most of your technology homework for the rest of this year done before April hits.

In the next two editions of CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll walk you through some examples of the capabilities I've outlined in this issue, along with screen captures and deeper explanations of system variables and dialog boxes. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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