April 14, 2008
Evolutionary Enhancements in AutoCAD 2009
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Susan Smith - Managing Editor

by Susan Smith - Managing Editor
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Industry News

Evolutionary Enhancements in AutoCAD 2009

by Susan Smith

Kelly Miller and Heidi Hewitt of the AutoCAD team provided a recent demonstration of features for the new releases of AutoCAD 2009 and AutoCAD LT 2009.

AutoCAD 2009 encompasses much technology found in other Autodesk products. The reason for this is that the company wants users to have a more seamless experience with a common sets of tools, “so that when a customer moves from AutoCAD to Inventor to Maya, it doesn’t feel like you’re working with three different products from three different companies,” explained Miller. “It feels like one set of products from a single company without compromising the tools you need.”

AutoCAD 2009 boasts customizability, in that users can write applications to run on top of AutoCAD, and buy applications that run on top of it. Once again, this product release focuses on improving general workflow. A lot of emphasis is put on publishing and drafting, the essentials of AutoCAD, with enhancements to presentation and visualization such as 3D and photorealistic rendering and modeling capabilities.

AutoCAD LT 2009 is the true 2D drafting application that does not include any 3D or rendering, nor write any VBA, .net or LISP applications.

For some, the annual release cycle that began with AutoCAD 2004 may be a good thing. Autodesk felt it would bring value to subscription customers who wanted a release each year, and it cuts down on the amount of development Autodesk can do for each individual release. Others feel that the release cycle is too short, that they don’t need a new product each year. Most customers, however, adopt AutoCAD based on their own needs and project cycles, and their need for certain new features.

For the typical customer, their entire company is not running on 2008, so the release of 2009 means only that there is a release to look forward to. In many cases, they are still using 2006 as their main product in production. They may be working on some projects in 2008, older projects using 2004, and in addition, may be using Architectural Desktop or Revit, Map 3D and Civil 3D.

Specifics of AutoCAD 2009

AutoCAD users are primarily concerned with productivity, and in 2009 productivity enhancements focused on user interface changes. Autodesk also added value for subscription customers by adding Autodesk Impression as part of the AutoCAD package.

Top new features of AutoCAD 2009 include: a top level user interface and enhanced toolbar and menu system. “Some of the key options you need to make the software work the way you want it to are buried in optioned dialog boxes that are two or three layers deep,” said Miller. “Also because of the structure of toolbar menus, these commands tend to be grouped by function, not based on the way the customer actually uses the software. You have to hop around between edits and inserts and dimensioning commands.”

Miller said that AutoCAD can be user hostile. “It is more difficult for a new user to jump in and learn how to use it. With 2009 we’ve moved to this new task based design, new paradigm in user interfaces, to what Microsoft did with Microsoft Office - the idea of grouping things more by the way customers use them, rather than some command hierarchy that we created 10 or 15 years ago.” The new interface presents information to customers based on the task they’re doing. When you click on Block, for example, the block based commands show up on the top ribbon, when you click on Dimension, dimension based commands come up.

The new command line is much easier for new customers to use and experienced users will also find it familiar. Unlike Microsoft Office, it’s fully customizable and extensible, allowing users to set up their user interface the way they’re comfortable with.

Although users are usually not generally thrilled to hear about a new user interface, this new interface will likely appeal to new users as it has the look and feel of a Microsoft product. It is Autodesk’s hope that established users will find it more productive than the old interface once they get used to it.


The Dashboard and toolbars are somewhat merged into the Ribbon feature in this version of AutoCAD, in fact, the Dashboard has been replaced by this feature. The Quick Access toolbar is familiar to Office 2007 users. By default, this toolbar has only six tools on it but you can customize it easily for more tools.

click to enlarge The new ribbon interface presents command options in a concise visual format.

Ribbon may seem as though it takes up a lot of space, but you can minimize the amount of space that the tools in the Ribbon take up to the space of one button. You can right click over the title bar, or click on a little icon to minimize down to panels. You can customize Ribbon like the Dashboard, anchor palettes, dock it in different areas, undock it and let it float.

Ribbon is completely customizable. You can send tools back to Ribbon. There are two nodes- Ribbon tabs and Ribbon panels (this replaces Dashboard panels). You can drag and drop into Ribbon tabs and place Ribbon panels into those Ribbon tabs, on a per workspace basis. The status bar has changed--it used to be just text but now it has icon options.

Layer Properties Manager

The Layer Properties Manager is one of the key ways users organize information inside AutoCAD.

Experienced AutoCAD users recall in previous versions you would make changes in the Properties Manager, then hit the apply button, then go look at your drawing and realize that wasn’t quite what you wanted. With the new Layer Properties Manager there is no apply button. Now with the new Layer dialog, if you changed the color of a layer, it would immediately show up in the drawing, or if you deleted or turned off a layer, it would immediately show up in the drawing.

Quick Properties

In the past versions of AutoCAD, the Properties menu took up a large portion of the screen when displayed. It also includes huge amounts of information, making it difficult to find and edit key properties. Autodesk has replaced that Properties menu with a Quick Properties menu that can be displayed by selecting the object to be edited. The default information displayed is the most common information needed for that entity. The menu can be easily customized by selecting the button in the upper-right corner of the menu.

Quick View

In past versions of AutoCAD users reviewed open drawings and layouts based on drawing and layout names. Often these names may not clearly identify the content of either the drawing or the layout. In 2009, the new Quick View capability enables users to look at open drawings and their associated layouts by using thumbnail images. The new Quick View Layout tool and Quick View Drawing tool allow you to see all the drawings open in AutoCAD so you can see the layouts within those drawings.

Associated layouts display as a small set of thumbnails right over the larger drawing file thumbnail. The drawing file thumbnails can be increased or decreased in size simply by using the mouse wheel.

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