Canadian Consulting Engineer

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What can the new AutoCAD 2004 do for you? It can't shorten your work day, but it might make your work easier. Text improvements, external reference (xref) advancements, and most importantly, smaller f...

July 1, 2003  By Melissa Jerome, Conestoga-Rovers & Associates

What can the new AutoCAD 2004 do for you? It can’t shorten your work day, but it might make your work easier. Text improvements, external reference (xref) advancements, and most importantly, smaller file sizes, are just three advantages we found in reviewing the latest release from Autodesk.

File size and type

Regardless of whether you work on your hard drive or on a network, file size is important. Autodesk has addressed this issue. When tested with existing drawings, improvements in the software decreased file sizes from 25% to 65%.

This decrease in file size means, however, a new drawing format. AutoCAD 2004 maintains compatibility back to AutoCAD 2000 of the DWG format. Saving back as far as AutoCAD R12 is possible, but only in DXF format.

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Xref advancements

Working with xrefs has been much improved. The clunky command, REFEDIT, which allows you to modify the xref in place, is still available, but a new command, XOPEN, should replace it for most users. This convenient Open Xref option gives you the ability to right-click an xref within a drawing and open it in a second window. Once you’ve edited and closed the xref, the host drawing will notify you that the xref has been modified, along with who edited it. If you’re working alone, you’ll find the easy access to your xrefs extremely useful, while for team projects the notification function will be most helpful.

There are new Relative and No Path options for attaching your xrefs. If you share files with clients or offices whose directory structure doesn’t mimic yours (and whose does!), this is a nice feature. Whatever option you choose, there should be fewer of those pesky “not found” messages in the Xref Manager.

Text improvements

Multi-line text works like a typical word processor now, making the creation of notes, lists, and annotation much easier. The frameless editor takes practice, but it contains a ruler to aid in the placement of margins, tabs and indents. And a small but useful change has been made: the MIRRTEXT system variable is now set to a default value of 0, which means your text will remain readable when it’s mirrored.

Other new or improved functions

Drawing Security. You can now assign a password to a drawing, and digitally sign drawings. Once the drawing is saved, the password is required to open it again.

Multiple redos. You can now undo the redos!

True colour. Going from 256 to 16,000,000 colours is a sensory overload, but as someone who’s been asked to colour hatch chartreuse, I will gladly take all 16 million of them!

Tool Palettes. Quicker than image menus, the new tool palettes allow you to drag and drop hatch patterns and blocks into your drawings.

There are numerous other timesaving additions that I have no space to mention in this brief overview of AutoCAD’s latest step in its evolution. Simply, what this version comes down to are the details, and Autodesk has done a good job fine-tuning the details of an already great program.

Melissa Jerome is a draftsperson and work coordinator in the drafting department of Conestoga-Rovers & Associates in Waterloo, Ontario.

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