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Anthony Frausto-Robledo (afrausto@architosh.com)
8 Aug 2001


Product Review: MacDraft 5 by Microspot Ltd.

Before we begin this review something needs to be said. Simply, Microspot UK is one superb devotee of the Apple Macintosh platform. This not only comes off in its software but it comes off even in its manuals...which read like the good old Apple manuals of the past. You know, the ones you can just sit on the couch with...and read because they flow like books. Learning about and how to use MacDraft 5 was a real pleasure, something that is getting harder to say about software these days.

As in introduction to the firm, Microspot Limited is a United Kingdom-based developer and one of the oldest Apple developers in existence. They started with the Apple II. And they are one of the first CAD and 3D developers on the Mac. To learn more you can read our interview with Robert Coulling, Managing Director of Microspot UK.

Getting To Know It

Microspot makes getting to know MacDraft 5 enjoyable with a simple tutorial manual and a superbly written user manual that is every bit as thick as a manual for other more costly CAD applications.

While lacking some of the features of more costly CAD apps, MacDraft 5 packs a lot of bang for the buck. To get hold of that power the Microspot folks have also provided a full version of that same manual in Adobe PDF format with interactive links. This enables quicker learning because you can easily go back and forth from major topic to minor topic, expanding or contracting on information as necessary.

What's In An Interface?

There is something to be said about an application that can manage to keep all of its key tools limited to just two columns of tool bar buttons and a couple thin palettes. MacDraft 5's interface may lack all of the 'gee-wiz trickery' of some of the latest apps but that is a real blessing in the CAD world where precious screen real estate matters much more than it does in programs like Web browsers. For CAD newbies, be warned now, zooming in and out of drawings is a major part of any CAD users' experience and with MacDraft's generous main drawing window you won't be needing to do that quite so much.

MacDraft 5's minimalist UI gives the user lots of working room

Besides its nice sparse design (which we admit some users don't fully appreciate) MacDraft 5's only other special UI feature is its ability to tile windows or stack them for you by selecting an option in the Windows menu. This essentially allows you to neatly view multiple documents at the same time without the headache of constantly moving windows around the screen. This power feature is actually not present in some more costly Mac CAD apps which shall, here, go unnamed.

One last feature that is handy is MacDraft 5's ability to save a particular zoomed in view to a keyboard shortcut. This is done very efficiently via the menu system and once set is a great time saver.

Starting To Draw

You draw in this program similarly to how you draw in say, the drawing module of AppleWorks or Illustrator or in most other Mac CAD programs. Most of the drawing tools are similar to other drawing and CAD programs and consist of lines, arcs, polys, rectangles and so forth. Closed shapes can all be filled with color, textures or hatches and individually edited and moved. And the editing of drawn elements is all handled consistently.

One nice feature is that the program supports almost a dozen line weight settings simultaneously and 16 line styles. Editing your drawn objects is extremely easy via a Resize palette, though there are some ways this palette could work more powerfully (see below "Making It Better") while maintaning its simplicity.

Power Features

Besides MacDraft's quite sophisticated drawing and editing features—such as its ability to edit metapolygons by percentages or its ability to edit the individual vertices of polylines by relative or absolute values—the program features a number of heavy power features uncommon in CAD programs at this low price point. For example, MacDraft 5 features true-associative dimensioning. Change a 'dimension object' and the object it is linked to will change its size and vice versa.

MacDraft also features something called Word Services which will link spelling and grammar checking from third-party programs into MacDraft. The program also features extensive vector-based Symbol libraries, symbol editing abilities, and integration with the Microspot Media Assistant program. MacDraft ships with Media Assistant Lite.

One of MacDraft 5's most delightful and unexpected features is its built-in Slide Show presentation function. The program allows you to use individual layers as "slides" in a slide show. While it may not be clear at first what you might do with this feature, for starters a great thing to do is to present design options on different layers. This can be especially useful for 'building design' options and urban and landscape design studies.

MacDraft 5's hany Save View feature, saves time with preset zoomed views

MacDraft 5 is also capable of doing sophisticated reporting. It is capable of the assignment of data to drawn objects and then automatically extracting that data into reports such as "bill of materials" or area analyses. Report data can include such items as area, x Dim, and y Dim data (to name just a few) so that as objects are redrawn report data are updated automatically.

Lastly, MacDraft 5 has the ability to work with Autocad files using both the DWG and DXF formats. While not as powerful as other more costly CAD programs MacDraft 5 is capable or exchanging round trip data with Autocad or other CAD programs using DXF as a standard file exchange format.

In using these features there are clearly some limitations; however, in a number of basic tests MacDraft 5 performed as expected opening and saving to both DXF and DWG format. But like all CAD programs interoperability between them is less than perfect and knowing how to prepare CAD files for transport to other formats is vital. In this Microspot does a decent job of providing detailed instructions, especially considering that MacDraft's native format is more capable and sophisticated than Autocad's.

Conclusion: Making It Better

For the price MacDraft 5 packs a lot of power and panache. Still there is always room for improvement. One improvement that affects drawing could be made easily (it seems), and that is the way the Resize palette works. Instead of radio buttons for 'absolute' versus 'relative' x and y values it would be quicker to have four corresponding value fields (in lieu of two) in which to place new values, to tab quickly to the next field and hit the return button as a default apply.

The Resize palette doesn't let you enter mathematical statements to the end of dimension values either (eg. 2"-2" + 4"). Instead you select the Relative button first and then place positive or negative numbers. For all drafting purposes this is the one feature I would add for the next major version.

It is hard to complain about missing functionality in MacDraft 5. Dollar for dollar MacDraft 5 definitely packs more power than any CAD program on the market. Geared towards general use MacDraft 5 seems ideal for building contractors, manufacturers, interior designers or decorators, technical illustrators or the high school CAD class room. For such folks where CAD is a major but not over dominating part of their daily duties MacDraft 5 will fit the bill nicely. Additionally the cross-platform component of this is Microspot's PC Draft which is file compatible with MacDraft 5.

Lastly, we must not forget that MacDraft will be coming to Mac OS X very shortly. The company has a useable beta for OS X now, downloadable from the Apple OS X Website.

Company: Microspot Ltd. Price: $299US. Available Online. Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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