What’s New in Autodesk 2008 Geospatial Products: My Take on the Experience the Possibilities Tour

By Adena Schutzberg

Autodesk's Experience the Possibilities Tour is the rollout of its 2008 products to its customers. Autodesk is partway through visits to dozens of North American cities which will run through September 2007. The Cambridge, Massachusetts session last week began with a morning of industry breakout sessions and an afternoon of AutoCAD tips and tricks. There was what looked like a healthy turnout at registration but the geospatial session drew only about 40 people. Nearly all of them (I was an exception) use Autodesk tools, but less than one-half use Map. About one-quarter said they use just "vanilla" AutoCAD. Two people raised hands to say they used MapGuide 6.5 (the last of the "old" version) and just one person said he used MapGuide Enterprise (the "new" version, with the same core as MapGuide Open Source).

The themes of the day were two: support for other CAD and GIS formats and "back to the future." I don't believe presenter Peter Southwood (Autodesk's "face" of Map) began any demonstration with AutoCAD data and nearly all used ESRI shape file data. Across demos of Raster Design, AutoCAD Map 3D 2008, MapGuide Enterprise and Design Review he showed importing or connecting to ECW, MrSID, Oracle Spatial, ArcSDE (a server at the University of Wisconsin) and Access data. He noted the availability of a free-to-download FDO (Feature Data Object, the connector to other datasets, akin to an ODBC driver for databases) for ESRI's personal geodatabase.

I use the phrase "back to the future" for two reasons. First, much of what we saw in AutoCAD Map has been in the product for most of its existence. While the interface has changed (for the better), much of the core functionality is the same. Second, several changes made in the past are "unmade" in this release. For example, two releases ago there were tabs in a dialog box. In the last release Autodesk removed them. In this release, they are back. Southwood explained that Autodesk is listening to customers' needs. Another "back to the future" example: Autodesk renamed AutoCAD Map (its original name nearly 11 years ago) to Autodesk Map in the last release. It's AutoCAD Map again at 2008.

It was interesting to me that quite a bit of time was spent on Raster Design's rubber sheeting, raster to vector, line-following and text recognition tools. Clearly, such tools are in demand and several questions were raised about the product's output. Southwood emphasized that the product is complementary to Map in that it works with it, not in the sense that it is free. That term "free" or "the f word" came out quite a bit as Southwood spoke of MapGuide Enterprise (the open source version is available for download at no cost) and Raster Design 2008 (which is a free download).

It's hard to say what struck the audience most as it was very quiet and polite. I believe the output of DWF from AutoCAD Map as a georeferenced file excited some. A GPS emulator apparently confused others who asked about its "accuracy." A GPS emulator typically "plays back" GPS data that are already captured to allow demos of "real time" GPS data indoors.

Another topic that came up now and again in the three hours of the geospatial session was "what was in AutoCAD" vs. "what was in Map." Both can write out DWF, but only Map can write out georeferenced DWFs. Only Map (and Civil Design built on it) can understand and use coordinate systems. That led me to ask if Autodesk is considering putting support for coordinate systems in core AutoCAD, something Bentley has planned for desktop and server products in its next releases of MicroStation and ProjectWise. I noted that "our friends in the architecture session need to share data in real world coordinates with us." Southwood said he didn't know, but acknowledged that might prompt more questions about "Do I need Map or AutoCAD?"


Every attendee I spoke with agreed that the interface of AutoCAD Map has improved significantly. I have to agree. Tying CAD and GIS together is not easy, but Autodesk has, over the years, made the presentation of the tools far more intuitive. That alone should make those who've stayed away from the product take another look.

One final note: I don't believe I heard anyone say "Infrastructure Solutions Division" all morning. (I could not attend the afternoon session). I wonder if there has been a decision to play down that phrase?


Published Friday, May 18th, 2007

Written by Adena Schutzberg



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