- Anthony Frausto-Robledo ([email protected])
- 8 Aug 2001
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
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
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
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.
Besides MacDraft's quite sophisticated drawing and editing featuressuch
as its ability to edit metapolygons by percentages or its ability
to edit the individual vertices of polylines by relative or absolute
valuesthe 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
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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