AutoCAD in Your Pocket

Life seems to have an increasingly electronic focus. The top movie in the box office is about the founding of Facebook, and, after checking that fact through Google, I’m writing a web log at work while listening to Pandora. Now, I’m not just trying to rattle off a bunch of big names, but rather point out that one of the big changes taking place in our society is the move toward portable, collaborative, and electronic communities.

In keeping with this trend Autodesk is rolling out some new stuff to put itself ahead of the curve. One huge announcement is AutoCAD for Mac. Any day now, those of us who are both CAD and Apple users will have access to software that will run natively on Intel based Macs, but I’ll leave that for another post.

The other big announcement, and one we don’t have to wait for tangible evidence of, is called AutoCAD WS. WS offers both mobile device and web interfaces for storing, editing and sharing .dwg files—and best of all it’s free! At this point the mobile app can only run on an iPad, iPod touch, or iPhone, though it looks like Android development is in the works for a future release. Since my cell phone is only slightly more intelligent than a pager, I’ll focus on the web application.

If you’re familiar with Google Docs or Microsoft Sky Drive, then you’ll probably understand the way WS works. The first order of business is to download the WS plugin for AutoCAD. The plugin will add a new ribbon tab called Online and allow you to upload .dwg or .dxf files to your WS account. Then the magic happens. You can log in to your WS account from any computer with an internet connection and Flash Player, to navigate, review, and edit those drawings. Functionality is definitely limited in comparison with the full blown AutoCAD you run on your desktop. Nonetheless, you’ll be able to run AutoCAD for free and on the run. When you’re done using your drawing out in the real world, you can come back to your workstation and download the file, updates and all.

The other big benefit of WS is the ability to collaborate. You can send out links and invites to other people that need to view, edit, and download the file. You set their privileges and they log in to WS to collaborate. Collaborative editing is also real-time. So, if you and I are editing the same drawing simultaneously, you’ll see it on your screen when I change the color of the door from red to green. It could be great for meetings or clarification for people in the field.

Finally, WS has some other fun features. For instance, you can easily and quickly locate your drawing on a Google map. Below I’ve got a quick example where I took a CAD drawing of our building and put it in its proper location in the world.

I think it’s easy to see the novelty of WS. I can also see how it might be increase productivity in the right environment. I think if Autodesk listens to the users in future releases, they’ll have a successful product. Now it’s just up to you to give it a try and see what you think. Let us know.

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