The Lowdown on New Autodesk Software

27 Mar, 2007 By: Robert Green

Some key functions in the new software can be a boon to CAD managers who use them to their advantage.

Over the past several weeks I've had a chance to work with AutoCAD 2008, and I've formed some opinions about the program's new functionalities that I think will affect CAD managers the most. In this issue I will share my findings along with several links to Web sites and blogs that can help you learn more about the AutoCAD 2008 product family's new features.

I realize the whole world doesn't use AutoCAD, but many do. Therefore, I think the new release merits some examination. Here goes.

Product Feature Resources

A number of great resources are out there to help you learn about all the new commands and features in AutoCAD 2008. I'm only going to talk about a few of the features that I think will really affect CAD management planning, so I'm leaving it to you to do more detailed homework on all the features you'd like. Here are some of the better resources I've seen so far:

  • Autodesk's Feature Summary. This site provides a good summary of new features with screen captures and brief descriptions of functionalities. Included are white papers and comparative feature matrices contrasting AutoCAD 2008 with older versions.
  • The AutoCAD Insider Blog. As technical marketing manager for the AutoCAD product line, Heidi Hewett prepares a lot of good training materials and Webcasts that you can use to master the new product features.

Interface Modifications

Although there is nothing completely new in the AutoCAD 2008 interface, there is a new workspace environment that highlights 2D and annotative functions (as opposed to 2007's Classic and 3D-only workspaces) that users will certainly start playing around with.

And when users delve into the new workspace, they'll see that the dashboard has been expanded to include a lot of the toolbars we've traditionally known as Draw and Modify. Though not earth shattering, the differences in the interface have changed enough that they will generate questions for CAD managers.

And, finally, what would an AutoCAD interface be without the CUI (customize user interface) editor that allows users to completely scramble their user interfaces? Given that AutoCAD has always provided users with the chance to jumble their toolbars, blow away an MNS file or mess up a CUI, the complexity of the new interface elements only increases the risk of lightning striking.

Action items. Take some time to play with the new workspaces, CUI functions and dashboard so you'll be able to answer the questions you know you'll receive.

Get your standard CUI files and workspaces set up and backed up before you release AutoCAD 2008 for production. You may even want to consider pointing AutoCAD's Enterprise CUI to a network version of the standard that has its read-only attribute set to dissuade accidental scrambling and promote consistency in user interfaces.

Layer Reconciling and State Management

AutoCAD has always used layers to organize the drawing database, and this release is no different in that regard. What is different, though, is the recognition that working with sets of layers (known as layer states) and being able to detect when users deviate from those standard sets is a major CAD management tool.

The new portability of layer states via the Layer States Manager allows you to read stored layer states from other drawings or templates without having to load the drawings into AutoCAD editor or having to use the Layer command as in past releases. Finally, recognition that groups of layers with specific controls for visibility and color aren't just the purview of template files anymore!

And the ability to set up layer reconciliation warns users when they are creating a layer that deviates from the correct set of layers in place when a drawing is first saved. This provides a great way to coax users into following layering standards. If you start drawings using templates or LISP/VBA routines to generate all needed layers, then you're already on your way to using layer reconciliation. Again, recognition that managing layers means managing CAD standards. Bravo!

Action items. For all template or project standard files (DWG or DWT), take the time to create layer states that users can take advantage of. By setting up layer states ahead of time, you'll encourage people to use them and think more about how to really manage layers intelligently instead of one at a time.

Review your template files and make sure they have all the right layers (as well as layer states) in them so that using layer reconciliation will be almost automatic when you roll out AutoCAD 2008.

Annotation Scaling

I think the biggest CAD management impact from AutoCAD 2008 is going to be the annotation scaling feature set. There's a lot of good information on this topic in The AutoCAD Insider Blog (mentioned above) that is worth checking out before you start exploring the features.

Essentially, any textually based object that you create (like text or mtext) can now be set to have an annotative scale (or scales). Then, when the object is shown in a viewport with the scale (remember it could be one of many), the text object will automatically scale up/down to size properly, based on the viewport scale. 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.

What this means for the CAD manager is no more having to explain why text grows or shrinks in different viewport scales. No more explaining what size to make something in model space to have it display correctly in a layout tab. No more creating redundant sets of text on variously scaled layers and manipulating the layers using viewport controls. Finally, the promise of model/paper space scaling that we first heard of in AutoCAD Release 11 has been fulfilled.

Action item. Read up on annotation scaling concepts and experiment a little. When you get really confused, read some more then try again. The second time is the time that you'll actually understand what's going on!

Consider updating some standard details or boilerplate drawings to use annotation scaling, and start showing users what the functionality is all about. You'll find that annotation scaling is a difficult concept to convey because users have been confused about annotation for so long that they'll refuse to believe it can be easy. Focus your demonstrations on ease of use and you'll convert even the biggest doubters in a couple of tries.

Make the Most of the Latest Improvements

I think the biggest improvements in AutoCAD 2008 series are those that refine concepts we've already been introduced to. For example, we've all had to work with scaling annotation between spaces and viewports, but now we've got a better way. And if you've tackled AutoCAD 2006 or 2007, the CUI concepts like workspaces and dashboards shouldn't be too much of a stretch (although users upgrading from AutoCAD 2005 might be in for a shock). What is appealing about AutoCAD 2008 is that it brings good functionality without a killer learning curve for the user. It does, however, require CAD managers to think about how these powerful new features can best be used and therefore how they'll have to be blended into existing standards and practices.

So my advice to you is load up AutoCAD 2008 (you can download the trial version) and have a look at some of the new features I've outlined. As you explore, keep track of which features give you the most benefit and how you can see those features fitting into your design environment. If you accomplish these tasks now, you'll not only have your homework done, but you'll be ready to support your users if you adopt AutoCAD 2008.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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