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AutoCAD 2000i

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PROS:

AutoCAD 2000 File format Improved Internet connectivity Excellent performance increase

CONS:

Raises some process-management issues Price structure punishes loyal customers who have previously upgraded to 2000 Question: What do you get if you cross the world's largest design software developer, Autodesk, and the world's largest communications network, the Internet?

Answer: The 2000i suite of products.

Yes, for the first time it seems, Autodesk has aligned its applications under one common strategy rather than launching them as individual products. Only last year Autodesk was accused of being an 'old-school technology firm' for its lack of Internet-integration. This criticism may be one of the reasons why it has now added an 'i' to '2000' creating AutoCAD 2000i - Internet-driven design.

Indeed, in keeping with the company's new strategy, there is also an LT 2000i and I am told that we will see other 'i' suffixes appearing soon.

But for now I am taking a quick look at the substance of the 'i' to find out if it delivers more than merely added st'i'le. In the drive to adopt and integrate the Internet within the AutoCAD interface, some new tools have been created to leverage the power of the web. AutoCAD 2000 already had a number of Internet features built into it - direct browser access, object hyperlinks, ePlot, database connectivity and Autodesk's already popular webfriendly vector format (DWF) - but the aim of AutoCAD 2000i is to give more intuitive access to current functionality while at the same time introducing some new stuff.

Each of the new tools addresses a particular area of the workflow process. However, one can see that they may have been included to cover all areas of web browsing rather than being included to integrate well with the Internet.

AutoCAD Today is a web-based window, which opens automatically with each session of AutoCAD. Set to link directly to Point A - Autodesk's new information portal for software upgrades and support - it can also be configured to launch the company Intranet or project-hosting services, improving collaborative team infrastructure.

Meet Now uses Microsoft's NetMeeting technology for hosting meetings on local or wide area networks such as the office network, a virtual private network or the Internet. Enabling consultants to take control of any participating computer, Meet Now can be used for discussions, training and even remote support.

Publish to Web takes DWF a step further, enabling the designer to select the drawing for publishing, selecting the format of the page and adding details and descriptions and choosing the address where the page will be published automatically. DWFs are viewable with either Volo View Express or the WHIP! plug-in, both of which are free to download.

The Hyperlink Dialog has been designed to enable web hyperlinks to be added to objects for jumping around between drawings and productrelated pages. A similar version of this tool was seen in Bentley's MicroStation about three years ago.

The i-drop facility enables drag-and-drop functionality for product and specification data directly from the web to a drawing or model file.

There are many other new features. Digging deeper, one finds that 2000i sports many more improvements independently of the Internetbased functionality. These include; a new file-navigation interface like Windows 2000, drag-anddrop hatching previously only available in LT , True Type font caching revolutionising zoom speeds in font-heavy drawings, new array dialog (again from LT ) and many improved plotting functions.

Another natty new feature includes eTransmit.

This makes sharing model files with a wider and remote audience a lot easier. Like 'Pack and Go', eTransmit takes a DWG file with all of its associated external reference files and zips it up tightly to reduce network transfer times. eTransmit also has integrated e-mail notification which informs recipients when and where a file has been posted and what password they will need to unlock it. Files can be saved as AutoCAD 2000 and R14 for backward compatibility. This is useful as estimates suggest that only about 25 per cent of users have so far upgraded to 2000.

This leads on to the question of file formats. Historically Autodesk has changed the structure of the DWG file format with alarming regularity, but not this time. The 2000i format remains the same as 2000 with bi-directional file integrity. Perhaps the company is learning that changing the file format causes real headaches for tricklethrough upgrades in large practices.

Other enhancements in the 2000i suite include much-improved performance. Early figures supplied by the Autodesk User Group International suggest performance gains for AutoCAD 2000 in the range of 6-38 per cent on identical hardware.

Furthermore, 2000i now supports multiple processors. For pre-2000 users, the gains will be noticeable immediately.

The cost of AutoCAD 2000i stays the same at £3,150. Upgrade pricing is £250 for AutoCAD 2000 customers, £495 for AutoCAD Release 14 customers and £695 for AutoCAD Release 13 customers.

So is 2000i a triumph of style over substance?

Not really. The 2000i product suite does sport some very useful additions even if they are not the ones being promoted in the publicity surrounding Autodesk's attempt to become less of an old-school technology firm. Upgrading to 2000i is a bargain for all R13 users and it is not bad for the majority of R14 users either.

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