Event Report: Autodesk University 2006, Part 3

3 Dec, 2006

Expo spotlights new hardware and software tools

A welcome trend this year and last at Autodesk University has been the increase in new third-party software developers. For a few years, it seemed as though the developer corps would dwindle away as AutoCAD implemented more and more of the functionality originated in third-party add-ons. But now a new wave of add-ons is emerging to work with Autodesk's next-generation products: Inventor, Revit and Civil 3D. More on the vertical markets tomorrow. Today I'll recap what I saw on the show floor in the hardware and general-interest categories.

AU 2007: Back to Vegas
Autodesk event planner Joseph Wurcher notes in his AU Blog that Autodesk University will return to the Venetian in Las Vegas next year. Assuming the traditional week-after-Thanksgiving scheduling, the 2007 edition would run from Nov. 26-30. To cut down on the hallway congestion between sessions, he says "we are requesting more space for next year -- and very likely we will have [to] change schedules so that BSD (Building Solutions Division) folks get out of their classes at a different time than ISD (Infrastructure Solutions Division) classes."
One side effect of Autodesk's yearly release cycle is that relatively few new products were announced at Autodesk University—and most of those were brand-new products, not upgrades to existing applications. Keep an eye on the new products section of this newsletter in the coming months for details on products that aren't now ready for prime time.

Hardware highlights
3Dconnexion's new motion-control devices drew an appreciative audience. Also on display were workstations featuring Intel's new quad-core processors, which are available from Dell and HP. HP also showed off its new Blade Workstation, a product so new that no brochures or marketing materials were available at the show. It combines the security of a data center with workstation-class performance. Based on HP BladeSystem infrastructure, the HP ProLiant Blade Workstation Solution lets users access the data center via thin-client devices or regular Windows-based computers. In addition to the security and management features of a data center infrastructure, other benefits cited by HP include cost savings in system maintenance, power and cooling, as well as remote site operation. HP's Remote Graphics Software ensures that the desktop monitors receive data from the data center in a timely fashion. Pricing for the blade hardware starts at $6,400, and the equipment on the client desktop starts at $600.

Not quite so new but impressive nonetheless was NextCom's NextDimension FlexTop computer, basically a cross between a workstation and a laptop computer. The system weighs between 14-18lb and incorporates one or two dual-core AMD Opteron processors and up to 16GB RAM (up to 8GB with a single processor). A built-in 17" LCD display is optional, as are additional LCD displays (4lb each) that clip on to the chassis for transportation. The system features PCI-X and PCI Express x16 expansion slots, and NextCom offers the full lineup of NVIDIA graphics cards. Pricing starts at $6,000.

Training tidbits
Many training resources were on display, ranging from books to CD-ROMs to Internet videos. Several companies are capitalizing on their Internet expertise to offer learning management systems that evaluate user skills and track their training progress. Knowledge Trax from L.A. CAD helps customers target training through use of pre- and post-training assessment quizzes. The online system supports all Autodesk products and can expand beyond that, though L.A. CAD has no plans to do so at this time. The assessments identify knowledge gaps, which can then be plugged with L.A. CAD's training modules. The Knowledge Trax administrator can set a time limit for completion of each test, and those taking the test can also indicate their level of confidence in each answer, which helps minimize the effect of guesswork on the test results.

4D Technologies offers hosted e-learning sites customized for individual companies. The sites combine 4D Learning's video tutorials with learning management tools. Customers can add their own videos as well.

4D Technologies sets up custom in-house training Web sites for clients such as Weyerhauser.

General-interest goodies
Docupoint launched Discovery 2007, a document search tool for AutoCAD. This server-based product includes a search engine that indexes all text and number strings from drawings and documents stored in user-designated directories. It also automatically converts DWG and DXF files to a PNG preview image and a DWF for viewing and printing, which the company says reduces file size and provides protection from unauthorized editing. Optional modules are available to support Adobe PDF and Microsoft Word and Excel documents.

Docupoint's Discovery 2007 server-based product indexes AutoCAD files to facilitate searching. Users can specify what type of drawing content is indexed.

CADzation released AcroPlot Pro 2007, the latest version of its tool for converting DWG files to PDF and DWF formats. It creates PDFs with true WSIWYP (what you see is what you print) capability, says CADzation, with line merge support that enables linework with overlapping intersections to be printer transparently. The new version includes 64-bit support for Windows XP/Vista and adds the ability to add text and image stamps to DWF files. It also comes with a Windows print driver that creates PDF files from any application, including MicroStation, Pro/ENGINEER, SolidWorks and CATIA.

Of particular interest to those in the mapping and GIS field is Safe Software's FME (feature manipulation engine) Feature Data Source for Map 3D and the various editions of MapGuide. FME Feature Source provides access to a multitude of file formats using FDO (feature data objects) technology. The application is more than just a file translator—users can set up a sequence of processing instructions to transform the incoming data into a format more usable in the receiving application. Fil Vera demonstrated how to set up a simple sequence to convert a CSV file of x,y coordinates into a set of points in a Map 3D DWG file, and then into polylines representing roads. The sequence is set up graphically by dragging in functions from an extensive library and linking them to the desired inputs and outputs. Users can test and view the results of each step in the process to make sure it's what they want.

Another product developed for a particular niche application (asset management) but with broader appeal is the DWF On-Demand Server from This product publishes DWF files when requested by a user, ensuring that the data in the DWF is current. It also eliminates the need to batch process or manually convert DWG files to DWF. Multiple drawings and layouts can be published to a single DWF. For the facilities management folks, the server can run a full set of queries, such as highlight by owner and occupancy plans, based on active ARCHIBUS/FM asset data.