POWER USER

AutoCAD 2000 makes up for slow file loading with user-friendliness

John McCormick

Can 1 million users be wrong? Autodesk Inc. is betting the answer's no and anteing up an upgrade of AutoCAD Release 14 for Microsoft Windows 9x and Windows NT 4.0.

Most new products are adopting 2000-style names these days, but the new AutoCAD 2000 is in fact more like 4000'though its $3,750 retail price is probably worthwhile for many AutoCAD users.

AutoCAD 2000 from the San Rafael, Calif., company has a new Multiple Design Interface that lets you open several computer-aided design drawings and edit back and forth by simple drag and drop or more sophisticated exchanges.

The new DesignCenter, which resembles Windows Explorer, lets you view and copy blocks, layers and external references from an existing drawing without opening the file. It works locally, on a network or over the Internet.

DesignCenter's Find tool can locate drawings by layer or drawing name, key words, date modified, file size or wild cards. This is almost the CAD equivalent of reusing pieces of programming code.

My only complaint about AutoCAD 2000 is how slowly files load. A Partial Load option can open a previously named view or piece of a large drawing. Most times you only want to edit or view small portions, and Partial Load saves time.

The real deal

The 3DOrbit feature lets you view wireframe or rendered drawings almost in real time, even on relatively slow computers. I could manipulate a rendered drawing with only about a half-second delay on a low-end 200-MHz Pentium clone system.

When you start to rotate an image, it switches to a wireframe for real-time display. As soon as you release the mouse button, the rendered view quickly reassembles.

AutoCAD 2000 incorporates more than 400 changes from Release 14, which means a new learning curve. But I found the new version much easier to learn than earlier ones. AutoCAD has always been massive, standard, expensive and powerful. Now it finally is becoming more user-friendly.

Last year I reviewed Canvas 5 from Deneba Software Inc. of Miami. The multifaceted, vector-based digital editing package can produce illustrations, edit photographs, generate technical drawings and do desktop publishing. It does a good job of integrating its capabilities.

Its impressive successor, Canvas 6, is a graphics suite in the same sense as an office suite. It forces you to make a project decision at the beginning'illustration, presentation or publication'just as an office suite forces you to first open a word processor or spreadsheet and so on.

Some users dislike the restriction, but I consider it valuable. Once you make a selection, you see a predefined set of tools that emphasize the chosen task.

No limits now

In Canvas 5, if you selected an illustration project, you could build multiple layers but only on one page. If you selected a publication, you could build a long document but only in one layer.

That limit is gone in Canvas 6. And its new support for International Color Consortium standards will assist high-end publishing jobs.

I didn't mind Canvas 5's interface, but I applaud the new interface for its ability to build custom toolbars, create command macros and add a custom floating menu.

Canvas 6's image editing capabilities are almost as strong as those of programs costing many times more. The image tools have expanded; the publishing tools remain about the same. At $375, or about $200 to upgraders, the package is good value for Mac OS and Microsoft Windows users.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.

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