Product Reviews

Beta Preview: AutoCAD 2004

Design tool adds new tool palettes and other UI enhancements.

Autodesk is on the verge of releasing a new version of their flagship drafting and drawing program. I've had the chance to use the new version quite extensively during the beta process. With so many versions in the past, one might think that they'd be running out of innovations, but I'm happy to say that's not the case.

On the user interface side, the biggest change is the new tool palette feature which allows you to keep easy floating access to things like hatches and blocks. This ends up being a much easier way to insert blocks than going through the existing modal dialogs. AutoCAD makes good use of transparency and auto-hide sizing to keep this information handy while not using up precious screen real estate on it. Properties, too, have been moved into a modeless palette. Also new on the UI side is a WYSIWYG editor for MTEXT objects which makes it much easier to get them formatted the way you want.

Even in the beta, performance to me seemed notably faster than AutoCAD 2002. Opening and saving files in particular appears to be much improved. I expect this is the result of changes to the DWG format which have resulted in much smaller files for most drawings.

Those doing 3-D modeling or presentation drawings will appreciate the support for both True (24-bit) color and Pantone colors in all the color dialogs.

There's a new Communication Center which can be used to trickle in product updates, news, and announcements of new subscription content. You don't have to be on the Internet to use AutoCAD 2004, but the Communication Center could make you seriously consider keeping your box hooked up to the net on a regular basis. Of course the Buzzsaw online integration is still there, now displayed as a standard drive letter.

And, yes, the existing drafting core still works as well as ever. I'm no AutoCAD wizard, but I've used the program through quite a few incarnations now and it's nice to see that all of my old skills are still moving seamlessly forward. There are a few tool improvements, of course—notably a much more flexible undo/redo facility.

Overall, this is a good upgrade from AutoCAD 2002, and I'd rate it a must-have if you're on an earlier version. Nothing hugely flashy, but Autodesk appears to be continuing their tradition of high-quality releases at regular intervals.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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