AutoCAD for Mac : some thoughts

OK. Everybody is talking about it. Many people have been requesting this for over 10 years now. And now Autodesk finally announced the imminent release of the mac-version of their still popular AutoCAD drafting and modeling software.

What it is and what it does, you can read on countless other places. E.g.


http://autodesk.blogs.com/between_the_lines/2010/08/autocad-for-mac-and-autocad-ws-for-ios-devices-announced-by-autodesk.html

What it means to architects and education, is something I want to comment on.

AutoCAD is a generic application. Many architects and engineers use it. You have to deal with DWG files even if you use other software. Offices working on Mac had to use other software (VectorWorks, ArchiCAD, ARES, eDrawings, soon BricsCAD) to load and inspect DWG files on a Mac. Or install Windows in either bootcamp or Parallels and install regular AutoCAD or a competing software. So there is now an (additional) option to load, inspect, edit and print DWGs in the same software as it was created in.

Initially, there were many different opinions about how AutoCAD on Mac should behave. I'm really glad that they did not opt for a limited LT (or even less) version, but chose to create a native OSX version (using the regular Apple libraries such as Cocoa). The look and feel is quite in the same line as the OSX version of Rhino. The integration with Cover Flow (viewing thumbnails for DWG files in the Finder) and Spotlight (the indexing system for text searching) is very welcomed and illustrates their willingness to make a well-behaving Mac-version. This is unfortunately not the case with ARES on Mac. I'm unsure about what BricsCAD on Mac will deliver. Well, even ArchiCAD and VectorWorks on Mac don't do this, so AutoCAD even has an edge (and probably a much larger development team behind it).

I also applaud the availability of most API's they could port (e.g. Lisp). Scripting and programming inside AutoCAD has been one of the major reasons this software got so popular.

The downside: AutoCAD is still as expensive as ever. And many Windows-specific options are not available.

So while DWG compatibility is promised, I do have serious doubts that the MAC is a completely supported environment if you take AutoCAD to the limits. What about .NET support? What about OLE (anybody still using this?)? What about VBA scripts? What about the ARX extensions compiled as Windows-DLLs with an ARX extension?

Well, VBA is on it's way out (http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/index?siteID=123112&id=770215) but VSTA and .NET are there to stay.

So to fully succeed, external parties and developers have to embrace the Mac platform as well and port their plugins, addons to AutoCAD for Mac. But that is highly unlikely if these plugins rely on e.g. MFC (Microsoft Foundation Classes), .NET platform, ActiveX and other Windows-only programming frameworks and libraries. There is some hope for .NET plugins, as the Mono project is a cross-platform implementation of the .NET framework or runtime. Programs such as Unity3D do use it to support C# scripts on OSX and it is said the Rhino for OSX is trying to incorporate such technology too.

So, congratulations to Autodesk to release it (and promising that it will be available in for educational users too on http://students.autodesk.com). I will certainly try it.