AutoCAD 2004 and LT 2004 – the CAD-Reviews independent review

What’s new for 2D CAD users?

AutoCAD 2004 and LT 2004 review screenshot

AutoCAD 2004 and LT 2004 from Autodesk

In a CAD market becoming increasingly 3D orientated, what’s new for 2D users? Autodesk have released 2004 versions of both LT and full AutoCAD including the Mechanical specific variant.

The overt focus on web based tools of earlier versions has been replaced by more everyday collaboration tools including an enhanced multisheet DWF Design Web Format and digital signatures, plus general improvements such as an updated user interface, tools for presentation graphics and flexible network licensing.

In order to deliver presentation graphics, drawing security and speed enhancements there is a new DWG format, improving file open time by a claimed 30% and save 66% for network data.

Although it is not fully compatible with earlier versions, AutoCAD 2004 is fully compatible with LT 2004.

Files from all previous versions of AutoCAD software can be read but only saved back to releases 2002/2000i/2000 and not beyond, in which case only the Release 12 DXF format can be used.

Tools are available at www.autodesk.com/migrationtools to batch convert files into the latest format.

In a similar way, existing third-party applications may or may not be compatible with AutoCAD 2004.

New presentation functionality includes gradient fill effects and the use of true colour 24 bit colour palettes and Pantone colour books, although representative rendering relies on use of a calibrated monitor.

Autodesk place significant emphasis on the enhanced multi-line mtext command that now offers tabs and indents, carefully avoiding the fact that this is pretty basic text handling that could have been included years ago and still requires a floating text edit box rather than editing in place in the drawing.

Collaboration using XREFS is improved with real time notification and an icon alert in the status bar when an external reference has been changed by another user.

Many of the benefits arising from the new interface and technology are also available in LT2004 but AutoCAD clearly offers additional benefits.

These include layer and attribute management tools to add intelligence, quick dimensioning, additional viewport options, and database connectivity enhancements.

It also enables CAD standards to be administered across the design team.

Multiple design documents, pages, or layouts can be plotted for distribution in a single, compact DWF file allowing viewing and plotting, but not editing by the recipient.

2004 DWF 6 format files can be 50 percent smaller than DWG files created in AutoCAD 2000, 2000i, and 2002.

The free, sub 2Mb Express Viewer can be downloaded or distributed to view and print DWF files to-scale without needing an AutoCAD license.

eTransmit enables multiple files, and editable drawings and Xrefs to be bundled into a folder, Zip file or self extracting exe file for convenient distribution.

Alternatively the Publish to Web wizard steps through the process of selecting files, page layout and style.

By enabling i-drop, copies of the DWG files are created with the images enabling users of the web page to drag and drop files into an open AutoCAD session.

This represents an effective way of publishing block libraries.

DWG or eTransmit files can be password protected to provide control over who can open them.

Significantly in this release, files can also be assigned digital signatures to validate the origin, authenticity, and unaltered state of drawings.

Using a standalone Attach Digital Signatures utility, one or more 2004 format files are selected then Digital IDs applied.

Signed files are automatically set to read only to reduce the risk of inadvertent changes invalidating the signature.

Signatures are issued by the well respected VeriSign Certification Authority.

These cost $14.95 for the basic Class 1 format or $400 – 700 depending on level of protection for the ‘gold standard’ Class 3 for which VeriSign rigorously validate the requesting organisation’s identity before issuing the ID.

Licensing has also been overhauled for this release.

2004 can be installed alongside any previous release of AutoCAD software and the new Autodesk Product Manager tracks the version, serial, and software licenses for any Autodesk product that uses FLEXlm 8.3.

With the advent of significant home working and laptops easily capable of CAD duties, the license borrowing facility is most welcome.

Users can check out a network license from the server, decreasing the number of available network licenses by one and locking the license to an individual workstation or laptop for a period of time up to the limit predetermined by the administrator but not exceeding a maximum of thirty days.

Specific users can be assigned borrowing rights and the total number of licenses that can be borrowed at any one time can be specified.

Each time the borrowed license is run, a notification of expiration is displayed and once a borrowed license has expired, the user can re-borrow by reconnecting to the license server.

The user can also check the license back in to the server without waiting for it to expire if required.

Support for mobile working is also evident in compatibility with the Microsoft Windows XP for Tablet PC operating system, including the ability to specify landscape or portrait orientation with menus and tooltips popping up correctly as well as left or right handedness.

So how does LT compare? It does not offer the advanced network license management features, providing only a tool to help deploy the product in a network environment.

Similarly AutoCAD’s faster file open and save operations, drawing caching for faster switching between tabs and capability to use multiple processors are not included.

As in previous releases LT does not support customisation through Visual LISP, VBA, ActiveX, or ObjectARX nor the creation and rendering of 3D models although true 3D is not likely to be the reason for selecting AutoCAD, particularly with the advent of the Inventor series.

Mechanical specific capabilities in AutoCAD Mechanical 2004 allow entities to be grouped into part and assembly structures that are accessible in a browser similar to history trees found in 3D modellers.

This allows component instances to be created and tracked in a BOM.

Component intelligence enables a 2D hide feature to automatically break and recreate lines for geometry which is partially or completely hidden in drawing views.

Power Pack functionality is fully integrated and provides more than 700,000 standard 2D parts, features, holes, and structural steel shapes.

It can also create machinery components such as shafts, springs, belts, and chains and includes engineering calculation and 2D FEA tools.

3D may have become the flagship market but there remains a substantial 2D user base and enhancements in the 2004 releases will provide reassurance that product development continues.

Multisheet DWF, security and licensing features provide practical solutions for remote and mobile working while the Mechanical version offers many of the drawing layout benefits enjoyed by 3D users.

Few of the new features will radically change the process of day to day design documentation, but for dedicated AutoCAD users the upgrade will bring a variety of subtle benefits.