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Age of collaboration

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architech - AutoCAD 2005, the latest release from Autodesk, has some pleasing enhancements. But is that enough?

It is said that dogs age seven years to each of ours but entire generations of software are born in that time. In January we ran a piece on Autodesk's strategy of retiring its ageing (read four years old) version of AutoCAD 2000 (AJ 22.1.04), and this month we bring you a first glimpse of the freshfaced new kid on the block.

So what is new in the imaginatively named AutoCAD 2005? (Remember, that name will have more resonance in January of next year when you will yet again be forced to upgrade at the risk of being stuck in the land of the incompatible - somewhere in Norfolk, I guess).

In the tradition of themed launches, this release is no exception. If AutoCAD 2005 were a party cake, the occasion would be 'happy collaboration'; the filling would be multi-layered with the top sprinkled with hundreds and thousands to make it look more colourful than it really was.

Many of the tools listed as new have, I think, made a daring leap from AutoCAD's sister applications Architectural Desktop (ADT) or Revit. The first one to stand out is Sheet Sets.

Sheet Sets Mixing Revit-like drawing composition tools within a regular CAD environment, Sheet Sets enables an AutoCAD user to place different drawings by view into a set for issuing or plotting. By taking a plan, section and elevation view and adding callout bubbles with hyper links to other locations/files, Autodesk appears to be executing a cunning plan to 'ready' users for more integrated working.

Why do I say cunning, and why should we care if it is a ruse when ultimately the user benefits from the new functionality?

I believe this could be a new approach to persuading users to change mentality and culture, by giving them some of the tools available in the blue-ribbon application in the hope that they will want the extra toys and pay for the privilege. In the process, Autodesk gets its users to move away psychologically from the AutoCAD digital drawing board towards the integrated model approach, even if it is simply twodimensional.

Transmittal Sheets With this increased focus on collaboration and preparing drawing sets, the addition of Transmittal Sheets is a welcome integration of age-old, tried-and-tested processes. However, those included appear to be a development of the old favourite 'pack and go' or the more recent 'e-transmit'.

Improved DWFs Autodesk collaboration would not be collaboration without DWF, the company believes. The recently (last year) updated drawing rendition format pitched by Autodesk to compete with Adobe's PDF (oh dear! ) benefits from further enhancements for creation and use. Autodesk has also recently launched its Microsoft Certified DWF Windows print driver, so you can now print to DWF from any application. This is the smartest thing Autodesk could have done, with the exception of embracing PDF. But Autodesk never embraces other companies' file formats, a little odd for a tool that is focusing on collaboration.

DWFs also have Sheet Sets for packages of prints being bundled together in a single document. There are additional mark-up tools with enhanced call-out bubbles and revision clouds, with notes all catalogued in a neat tree-structure hierarchy of mark-ups as objects in files.

Additional flavour In addition to the substantial filling, there is also the usual surface decoration to the cake. New additions to the Layer Properties Manager leave it looking like a facsimile of MicroStation V8's Level Manager. Layer Filters also follow the Bentley lead, with quick and easy access via the Layer Manager interface.

Draw order is improved with an Improved WYSIWYG interface, so that when an object is edited and the command is complete, the object returns to its pre-edited state with regard to other geometry on screen. Improved threedimensional working environments include enhanced three-dimensional shaded views for direct object manipulation and creation. Improvements to Tool Palettes allow users to drag and drop Mtext (Multi-line text) objects for easy access and reuse.

A smattering of other new features combine to make 2005 look like a decent prospect. But Autodesk appears to have broken the pattern of alternating good and bad releases of AutoCAD in favour of 'nice' - lacking the kind of passion to be taken as a compliment. It is too insipid, lacking thrust and leaving us feeling that we failed to stimulate something more.

Joe Croser can be contacted via email at joe@croser. net

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