San Rafael, Calif.-based software manufacturer Autodesk announced last month that DWF (Design Web Format), its main collaboration file format, has been incorporated into Microsoft's Windows Vista operating system using XML paper specification (XPS). The move will allow Vista OS users to view DWF files without plug-ins or additional software downloads.
XPS is a platform-neutral format for digital paginated documents, much like Adobe's PDF format. XPS supports only 2-D DWF files in the initial release of Vista, but Autodesk says it plans to add XPS publishing support to its products. The company has yet to offer a timetable for adding 3-D or other changes.
No plug-ins, please
“One of the things we've heard most from the AEC community is they don't want to do another software install or download plug-ins, they want it to work out of the box,” said Jonathan Knowles, director of worldwide market development with Autodesk. “It will give AEC users greater access to CAD data by making it possible for engineers and designers to share the right information with the right people at the right time.”
DWF-based drawings retain intelligent design data, such as installation notes and mark-ups, from CAD, building information modeling, and other software applications as the design drawings are distributed to other engineers, architects, general contractors, and other members of the Building Team.
In the past, Building Team members could only view DWF drawings using Autodesk's DWF Viewer software, which has been available as a free download since the format's creation. Now, thank to the Autodesk/Microsoft linkage, DWF files that are created from Autodesk applications such as Revit and AutoCAD can be viewed freely using Windows Vista OC tools without the need for downloading DWF Viewer.
Vista OS was made available last November to volume-licensing customers (mostly large businesses), and will be broadly available at the end of this month.
Expanding the format
An index of DWF files posted online is available on the Google search engine. Just type a keyword and “filetype:DWF” to see what's posted online for that keyword. Efforts such as placing DWF in Windows Vista and cataloging DWF files with Google are good examples of how serious Autodesk is about expanding the format.
Amar Hanspal, an Autodesk VP, said he envisions the format being used for further automation of downstream tasks, such as approving construction changes.
Knowles adds: “This will effectively do for design data what Vista already does for photos, music, videos, and other files. It's definitely an important step to becoming more accessible for secure team collaboration for all users.”
Making an impression
Autodesk Labs (http://labs.autodesk.com ), is a site where all the divisions of Autodesk can place prototype programs, utilities, and functions for free download, to let anyone test them out.
The site, where users experiment with and give comment on unsupported code, is only a few months old, but it's currently hosting its first full application available for download, Autodesk Impression. Impression is a post-processing application that allows users to create renderings of new projects that look hand-sketched while still using geometry and shapes directly from DWF or DWG files. It uses CAD elements such as blocks, lines, and layers to identify areas to be colored, filled, sketched, and populated with graphical elements.
Impression is the most complete of six products currently available on Autodesk Labs and has registered more than 10,000 downloads to date. Recent enhancements to the program include automatic block styling and scaling to allow users to take advantage of pre-built block content (for common elements such as trees and clouds) for drawings of all scales and a better CAD update feature. As users work on their illustrations in Impression, there's a good chance that they are still editing the original CAD file. The new CAD update allows users to update their illustration with modified CAD geometry so they and other users can work simultaneously on renderings and designs.
“Our customers have said they often need to give an impression of their designs without overloading the image with either technical detail or materials and finishes,” said Lisa Crounse, Autodesk's marketing manager for Impression. “Right now there is no easy way to create these images. That's where Autodesk Impression comes in.”
Crounse said many Autodesk AEC customers use generic graphics applications to create artistic renderings from converted CAD files. She said that the impetus behind Impression was to make an application that could import CAD files directly, so users can quickly create renderings at any point during the design process and still retain the ability to make changes to the original file.
Impression styles can represent standard illustration tools such as pencils, markers, and washes. The program imports a file's underlying CAD geometry and objects. By dragging and dropping styles and fills, users can quickly create an artistic representation, depending, greatly, on their level of artistic talent.
Crounse said Impression will continue to be available as a free download at Autodesk Labs and that it may soon have some company at the Labs site.
“We've been very happy with how the Labs experiment has worked out for Impression, so I think you'll be seeing more content on Labs,” she said.