—Gene Best, systems administrator, Marine
Design Center, Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia

“When AutoCAD went
from Version 12 to 14, they changed all the icons to something different. They do the same
thing, but they’re different.’’

—Louis Ackerman,
electrical engineer, Marine Corps, Parris Island, S.C.

None of this no pain, no gain nonsense for feds who use computer-aided design software:
They must produce complex engineering and scientific diagrams, and they want using the
programs to be as painless as possible.

“I’ve been drafting for about 38 years, so I’m sort of a dinosaur,”
said Louis Ackerman, an electrical engineer at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in Parris
Island, S.C., about AutoCAD from AutoDesk Inc. of San Rafael, Calif. “If I can learn
it, anybody can.”

AutoCAD was by leaps and bounds the most widely used CAD software among feds GCN
surveyed, also reflecting its position as the top seller in the commercial sector.

AutoCAD captured 67 percent of the small federal CAD software market that GCN
canvassed. In terms of overall-quality rankings, however, AutoCAD was rated No. 2 behind
CorelCAD from Corel Corp. MicroStation 95 from Bentley Systems Inc. of Exton, Pa., came in
at No. 3.

Readers should bear in mind that CorelCAD and MicroStation 95 held a modest
share—6 percent each—of the market. Far fewer users were evaluating CorelCAD and
MicroStation 95 features than AutoCAD.

The survey rankings are based on the number of attributes rated excellent or good for
each product. Thus, when the number of users of a product is small, some scores might be
misleading. For example, MicroStation 95 received a zero rating in the documentation and
help category in our chart because none of the handful of users rated the software better
than average. In fact, MicroStation 95 users in our survey all rated the program’s
help and documentation as average.

In addition, Corel is no longer a player in CAD marketplace. Last September, the
company sold its line of CAD products to International Microcomputer Software Inc. of San
Raphael, Calif., whose flagship CAD software is TurboCAD.

Unranked in our results shown here, TurboCAD is used by 3 percent of feds in our
survey. IMSI’s recently released TurboCAD Solid Modeler, TurboCAD 3D Modeler and IMSI
Visual CADD are based on programs acquired from Corel.

Ronald Phelps, a program manager at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida,
acquired CorelCAD last year to create 3-D drawings of the center’s trade show
displays and post them on the center’s Web pages.

A CorelDraw user for many years, Phelps said he figured it would be easier to learn a
Corel CAD program than CAD software by another maker.

At Parris Island, Ackerman uses AutoCAD 14 to create plans and specifications for
construction contracts. Version 14 is a recent upgrade from Version 12, which he liked

“I had gotten proficient with 12,” he said. “Version 14 has a lot of
good bells and whistles, but I don’t know how to use them all yet.”

Version 12, he said, “has some features that to me were a lot handier. There was a
feature in 12 called Aerial View, a real handy tool for zooming in and out. They still
have the Aerial View in 14, but it’s not as handy. It takes a couple of clicks to do
the same thing.”

He also said that 12’s screen layout provides more drawing space than 14.

Ackerman said he likes AutoCAD’s import and export capabilities. “Most of the
contractors we deal with use AutoCAD,” he said. “It’s good for us to be
able to convert their drawings so that we can use them. That’s a big thing for

In Philadelphia, at the Army Corps of Engineers’ Marine Design Center, systems
administrator Gene Best and a 30-person design staff find AutoCAD 14 just right for
generating concept drawings of dredges, tugboats, survey boats and barges.

Best agreed that the program is more sophisticated and trickier to learn than earlier

“We found it to be a different product,” he said. “It wasn’t like a
revision. We’ve been able to use Version 14 from the knowledge we got from 9 and 10.
It’s more difficult only because it’s feature-rich and has the advanced type of
features that make the difficulty level higher.”

Best particularly likes AutoCAD’s 3-D modeling capabilities. “We’re
trying to get into 3-D here,” he said.

At the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., Jim
Scott, program manger for radio frequency systems, has been using AutoCAD since Version 2
to make electronic schematic drawings.

“I found it very user-friendly when I first started,” said Scott, who now
uses Version 13. “Of course, the program I had used prior to that was a bear, but
once you learned it, you could learn about anything.”

Scott’s lone complaint was that he once lost data when moving files from one
version of AutoCAD to another. “I was working on a project in New Mexico, and we had
an older version out there than the one we had here,” he said. “When we brought
the drawings back here, we lost some detail. That was a couple of years ago, so I’m
sure [AutoDesk] has corrected that, but I had some draftsmen screaming at me.”

MicroStation 95 is the CAD software of choice for designing roads and interchanges at
the Alabama Transportation Department in Montgomery. Stan Biddick, the preliminary design
section leader, said his staff uses the program in conjunction with InRoads from
Intergraph Corp. of Huntsville, Ala., CAD software that produces 3-D transportation
designs and digital terrain models.   


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