Its tough getting a new type of software established. When I first saw Autodesk Architectural Studio (AAS) on the Autodesk US web site several years ago it looked like potentially revolutionary software. The idea of migrating traditional tools to a digital workplace specifically for those who don't need, can’t or won’t use more complex “full on” CAD applications was a good one. The idea of combining “hard” CAD data, “freehand scribble” and mass modelling in a digital workspace was great. To have a CAD aware application to pull together many resources for presentations was appealing. At the time with Tablet PC's about to hit the market the literal electronic drawing board seemed viable. To take a tablet into meetings for the inevitable "scribble on the plans" that always happens, capture those scribbles, and push them back to the CAD applications was promising.
I never got the chance to try AAS in production and now according to this post on the AAS newsgroup from Jim Flanigan (AAS Development Team) its about to die. I would love to have tried it and maybe even purchased it but it was never offered in our market. I still think AAS addresses an important part of many architectural projects that is not handled well by any other Autodesk BSD product - the conceptual stage of a project that is still largely done by scribbling on paper.
From what I’ve read the eary vision for AAS was remote teams collaborating over the web using AAS and server-based documents. Data transfer rates and a reluctance to rely on Internet connections, which at the time were far from reliable, limited the appeal of a web-based applications. Its ironic that now reliable connections with the capacity for this are common and could work. Later versions of AAS, from what I’ve seen mostly on web demos, emerged to be a useful conceptual tool capable of handling, CAD plans (via DWF), images and 3d mass modelling. This was done with a simple toolset and application interface. AAS broke the mould for Autodesk CAD by taking familiar the pen, pencil, eraser, template, and tracing paper tools used on the traditional drawing board and presenting them in a digital workspace.
I still think this is the most natural way to design. A tablet with pen interface combining the ability to sketch and edit easily with a mix of scans, 2d CAD and 3d massing and modelling tools was where it showed a huge gain over the traditional paper based approach and was its point of difference from other architectural CAD tools. The “tools on tablet” interface seen in AAS, now in Architectural Desktop (ADT), combined with context sensitive menus and “properties bar” is the cleanest way I’ve seen to enable tools, object properties and options to be presented and customised. It seems that the legacy of AAS will be the tool palette system now seen in the AutoCAD, ADT and other Desktop products.
There are other similar products but none offer what I think is needed in a conceptual spatial design tool. SketchUp is closest but its focus is making CAD modelling easier. It does this extremely well but while the modelling tools and output are great I think its user interface still needs a lot of work. For me it hampers conceptual thinking as its still a traditional windows toolbar/button command based interface. There is nowhere near the fluidity of pen on paper although the ability to push/pull and twist geometry to create complex massing is powerful. However, even with the best tools and interface the CAD model is only one aspect of the conceptual design process/meeting.
I hope there is an even better product waiting to be launched. I need a combination of MindManager Tablet, Autodesk Architectural Studio/DWF Composer (or SketchUp) all combined in the same application “space”. This could be the ultimate conceptual design, collaboration & meeting tool. Running on a tablet it could capture & organise brainstorming ideas, freehand sketches, pull in documents, spreadsheets & other files from the network or web, link to audio, maybe video and combine this with the 2d & 3d CAD work that is usually the focus of the design meeting. Afterwards you could review and forward the appropriate parts of this “package” to others in the form they require it to continue working.
Will it happen? I don’t know but I hope it will, soon. Its what I was hoping Autodesk Architectural Studio 4 would be...