AutoCAD is perhaps the ultimate multi-purpose design application packed with tools to create pretty much any geometry. Sure, industry specific applications excel in their niche but AutoCAD is the great all-rounder. Need a solid modeller, or maybe a mesh modeller, perhaps some surfacing? I suppose at some stage you may need to document it and AutoCAD can do that too. There are lots of tools but what if you want to do more, easier, faster?
Consider “AutoCAD the platform” able to be extended, programmed, pushed into all sorts of roles with scripting, programming interfaces & developer tools. Drawing that polyline, right, would be challenging in plain AutoCAD but the platform is perfectly capable of doing it, with a bit of help, in a few clicks. The downside is you have to dedicate time to learning & creating those tools and it’s quite likely someone has already done it!
Before you can even consider acquiring a solution the author has to publish, market it and you have to find it. Where do they do that, where do you look?
Once found you still have the hassle of installing and validating the application. Will it do what it claims and not impact any other aspect of AutoCAD? If nothing else, is it safe?
Recently all this became a whole lot simpler with the arrival of the AutoCAD Companion Apps.
Find AutoCAD Companion Apps via the Exchange App Tab
AutoCAD now has an in application store accessed via the AutoCAD Exchange App tab. The App tab is the window to a new way of finding, installing and maintaining your AutoCAD add-ons.
At this stage “Apps” is only for “vanilla” AutoCAD, not LT or AutoCAD based verticals, but I suspect that will change. The key is your Autodesk ID (it uses Autodesk’s Single Sign On system) which is used to record your purchases, even reinstall them. This limits the App Tab to those who have install and purchase permission. In a corporate environment that means it is probably best suited for a CAD Manager to find & evaluate applications. It would be nice to see this extended to allow corporate apps in a private store, maybe something for the future.
Find & Evaluate
The App tab allows you to search and preview applications. They are catalogued by type, industry and a selection are featured on the front page. Don’t think this is just about code! The store already has applications offering content, learning tools & resources and even drawing text translation tools!
In addition to details on the application, developer, requirements, size and price you can see ratings & reviews from other AutoCAD Exchange users. If you want to see more there is also a link to view the full Help Information with detail like: Getting Started | Install/Uninstall | Additional Information | Contact | Version History. All this is presented in a consistent user interface within the AutoCAD Autodesk Exchange Window.
Purchase, if not free, & install
Apps can be purchased and installed direct from AutoCAD Exchange. There are also many useful free ones to try and it’s a good way to experience how the App tab works. I’ve used Kean Walmsley's cool free “Spiro” add-in as the example App for this post. Revisit your youth creating “Spiro graph (TM)-like patterns” with no danger of ink smudges, the pen or that cog thing slipping!
If required the financial transaction is handled by PayPal (with the payment options/territories it supports) but you do not need a PayPal account for free applications. You will be prompted to log into your Autodesk ID account, if not already, before the download proceeds.
An Exchange App package includes a simple dialog based install. The days of putting lisps in special folders, dealing with appload and fiddling with the CUI to add controls are gone!
Once installed you’ll generally find the application on the Ribbon under “Plug-ins” although this may vary depending on the complexity, type & function of application installed.
Confidence & Support
Apps are validated by Autodesk before being packaged & published on the App Tab. This is to ensure they do what is claimed, install/uninstall safely and won’t impact your existing AutoCAD install. It also means you get a consistent install, help, contact and support interface.
Review Apps & maybe add your own?
If you have an application, or content, to share with other users consider becoming a publisher. You do not have to be part of the Autodesk Developer Network although plenty of ADN members are in there! Look for the Sign Up button, which details the application process & requirements, on the App tab.
Go to the Apps tap and try a few of the freebie apps or go shopping. You’ll see how easy it is to enhance your AutoCAD experience with the help of a few companions.
UPDATE 2011-07-20: Twitter about the Apps Tab:
There is an #AutoCADLive Twitter Chat on Thursday, July 21 from 10-11 a.m. US Pacific Time
- Micah Dickerson, Adam Perry and Jun Shim will be leading a Twitter Chat (from the @autocad handle) all about the Apps Tab.
- We are encouraging people to Tweet their questions about the Apps Tab, with the hashtag #AutoCADLive during the hour.
- The team will then respond to as many questions as possible during the hour.
Disclosure: I first heard of the App store during the AutoCAD 2012 beta. I first saw it in action in June during an AutoCAD Blogger Council web meeting. It was worth waking up at 4am to see even if it takes me weeks to try, then post about it!