Cool Software Utilities for Your Job (CAD Manager Column)

29 Feb, 2008 By: Robert Green

Better management comes from the right tools.

CAD managers are responsible for so many tasks that they seem overwhelming at times. With managing workflows, hardware and software, composing standards and training materials, and everything else, CAD management isn't merely a CAD-related job. As years have passed, I've researched a lot of software utilities and have come to rely on several as key weapons in my CAD management arsenal. In this month's "CAD Manager," I'll share these utilities with you and give you my reasoning for using each.

In this article
In this article

I've organized the utilities into logical groups. Most have free trial versions, so please check the companies' Web sites as listed below.

Testing and Evaluation

Ever wish you had an easy way to deliver multiple-choice tests to check user expertise or verify the completion of training exercises? AutoTest Pro is the answer. All you need are the test questions you want to ask, the correct answers, and a copy of Microsoft Access. You can use AutoTest Pro to deliver, time, score, and report the results. It's a steal at $39.99.

Machine and Software Configuration

How many times a year do you install or uninstall software? Have you ever had registry conflicts or trouble duplicating user problems on your machine? Do you ever wish it were easier to keep your test machines or personal laptop clean throughout all the file swapping? Most CAD managers answer "Yes" to all these questions, so I'd like to give you two utilities I've used for years to deal with these problems.

Registry Booster 2. This software is a powerful registry analyzer, cleaner, and restoring tool that makes it very easy to completely uninstall software and eliminate pesky registry conflicts. I use this program often for my test and development machines to eliminate all the digital garbage that stacks up during test installations, and I haven't had a problem with it yet. As it cleans, it also creates a registry backup so the machine can be restored to its prior state. It is very flexible, intuitive software at a bargain price of $29.

Ghost 12. A more thorough machine-backup and restoration tool, Ghost allows to you make a complete ghosted (thus the name) copy of your machine that can be used to not only restore files but to completely reinstall your machine to its prior state. It's great for training labs or test beds where machines must often be wiped clean. For user machines with lots of unpreserved sensitive data, I usually prefer the somewhat less-involved process of uninstalling and using Registry Booster. For $69.99, you may want to have a copy on hand, just in case.

Graphics, Video, and Audio Capture

If you need to create training materials or standards guides for your users, you'll invariably have to capture screen graphics and integrate them into written documentation. And if you conduct user training, why not record those sessions into audio/video lessons that users can replay any time they'd like? Capturing graphics-rich media such as CAD programs into written and video documentation is the best way to reduce questions because users will actually see what you're talking about, and they can review your training sessions and materials at any time.

Capturing the graphical content isn't always that easy because CAD programs have lots of cascading menus, tool tips, and cursor motions that Windows PrintScreen command can't capture. And there really is no workable way to record computer-based video without some utility software. I've come to rely on the utilities below for these pesky tasks.

Snag It 8.2. This software is the best screen-capture tool I've ever used. It captures all sorts of menus, dialog boxes, and cursor motions either via entire screen capture or selectable region. It supports multiple hot-key assignments and is a steal at $39.

Camtasia Studio 5. This program is the best audio/video capture tool I've found thus far. Recording with Camtasia is no harder than using a standard video camera. For Microsoft operating systems, I recommend rendering all video output to Windows Media Viewer format (WMV) because most users already have Windows Media Player on their machines, so there will be no need to install custom video players. If you have to stream your training sessions via low-bandwidth Internet connections, you may want to consider using the Flash output format, which is optimized for such environments. But be aware that all users will have to install the latest version of Flash Player before they can use your materials. Camtasia isn't free — or even cheap — but the variety of audio/video formats supported and its substantial editing functionality make it well worth $299.

Personal Backup

Given how often CAD managers juggle programming, configurations, CAD files, and everything else, it's easy to lose valuable files. Of course, your IT department (or perhaps you) backup the network periodically, but that doesn't help with key files on your laptop, and it may not backup your own office workstation. To solve these problems, I've begun using a Web-based backup service called Carbonite, which performs an encrypted backup of any amount of data you designate on your machine to a remote Web site. Retrieval of data is then performed from any Internet browser–based machine using your Carbonite user account. Carbonite uses a background software utility to perform backups incrementally when idle system time is detected. I'm no longer messing with backup disks, tapes, or portable hard drives. At $50 per year, Carbonite pays for itself almost immediately in time savings and gets your backups off site.

File Security and Encoding

I've seen so much written about file-security complexities that it seems as if vendors are trying to make security appear more complicated than it is. Not everybody needs multilayered security; most of us just need the basics. To that end, a very commonly used product — WinZip Pro — combined with your CAD application or Adobe Acrobat can create a very secure control methodology.

Never send native files out if you don't have to. Instead, use your CAD application to create DWF (Autodesk users) or eDrawings (SolidWorks users). For written documentation, use Adobe's Acrobat. When you've compiled your file set, use WinZip to create a password-encoded ZIP file and send the ZIP file to the recipient. Send the password in a separate e-mail message, and your ZIP file can be opened by only those who know the password. This method also works great for those who retrieve ZIP files from FTP drop boxes or collaborative Web sites. Acrobat 8 is approximately $250, and WinZip Pro is $49.

Web Conferencing

If you've ever attended a Web meeting session, then you've likely experienced tools such as LiveMeeting or Webex. But what if you'd like to host those sorts of meetings and don't want to pay a fortune to do so? I've pondered the same question and have found two viable solutions that any CAD manager should be able to convince his or her management to buy without much effort.

The applications are GoToMeeting and BeamYourScreen. GoToMeeting is a Citrix-based solution that has an entry-level price of $49 per month for as many as 15 conference attendees. BeamYourScreen's entry-level price is $40 per month for as many as five attendees. Both applications include a toll-based phone-conferencing solution. I find GoToMeeting's setup to be a little more complex for both host and attendee, and BeamYourScreen is more Web based. Both tools work well and enable remote control of users' desktops for CAD-support applications.

Summing Up

I hope you'll find some of these utilities and Web resources useful in reducing the drudgery of your day-to-day CAD management workload. If you know of any other cool utilities, please e-mail me and tell me about them.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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