It must be March, because another AutoCAD has just been launched. Despite this one being codenamed Omega, I’ve been assured it’s not the final AutoCAD release. The good news is that AutoCAD 2018 is twice the upgrade that 2017 was. But hold your excitement, because the bad news is that 2017 was only a 1/10 upgrade.
Autodesk has continued the well-established tradition of acting like a low-quality sausage machine, reliably popping out consistently unexciting products at regular intervals.
Here’s what’s in this year’s underwhelming sausage:
- Xrefs now default to relative path attachment and there are a few associated tweaks including find/replace path
- You can select objects off-screen (handier than it sounds)
- File dialogs remember settings
- A couple more dialogs can be resized
- There are a couple more tiny user interface tweaks
- The stuff from 2017.1 is included, of course, some seeing minor improvements since then
- iDrop support is gone (will anybody miss this?)
Thrilled? Me neither. The xref stuff is worthwhile, and Autodesk does deserve credit for not adding any seriously undercooked “headline” features or pointless eye candy. That, along with the 2017.1 stuff, quietly fixing some old bugs, sorting out a few old feature issues and some unsung but worthy API documentation improvements, is just about enough to make this a 3/10 upgrade.
But wait! Autodesk earned itself a minus point to take it from 3 to 2 by inconveniencing customers with yet another API change (so your 3rd party stuff will need updating), and most unfortunate of all, a DWG format change. We had grown used to enjoying a lack of compatibility issues (with plain AutoCAD, anyway – don’t get me started on the verticals), thanks to the 2013 format surviving five releases rather than the traditional three. Now that’s over.
Why does AutoCAD 2018 need a new DWG format? It probably doesn’t. The 2013 DWG format is capable of holding pretty much anything you want, as Bricsys has shown with BricsCAD V17’s ability to compatibly store 3D parametrics and (optional) BIM and sheet metal features within that format. The changes to AutoCAD 2018 don’t come anywhere near that level of complexity. Although Autodesk cites performance reasons with certain drawings, I strongly suspect the new DWG format was introduced purely to make life difficult for competitors, and to encourage wavering customers to stay with Autodesk for fear of losing compatibility. In other words, it seems likely this is an anti-competitive change rather than a technical one.
Oh, and the desktop icon is the same as 2017, so if you run both releases side by side while you’re waiting for your add-ons to be updated, you’ll find it difficult to see at a glance which shortcut is which and what’s already running. Minor irritant, but an unnecessary cheapskate move.
There are alleged to be performance improvements; probably true in places. I did notice a slight improvement in 3D Orbit performance, with AutoCAD 2018 now about up to BricsCAD standards. However, this aspect of AutoCAD 2017 performance wasn’t a problem with the sub-20 MB drawings anyway, so you may not notice a difference.
In my experience with the Beta, AutoCAD 2018 was frequently appallingly slow, particularly start-up time, which was atrocious. Those 14 million lines of code have added up over the years, and AutoCAD 2018 is bloatware; literally ten times the size of the more fully-featured BricsCAD V17 Platinum, which starts up in the blink of an eye. However, I will reserve final judgement on AutoCAD 2018 performance until I have had chance to properly test the production version. I have not factored performance in to my overall mark.
There’s nothing in this release that comes close to justifying the annual maintenance fees, let alone throwing away your perpetual license and signing up for subscription. If Autodesk wants customers to think it will be worthwhile signing up for a lifetime of rental fees in the hope that substantial improvements will result, this weak release represents a singularly unconvincing argument.
Overall, 2/10. This is a sub-mediocre release that shows once again that AutoCAD is in maintenance mode. Autodesk appears completely disinterested in AutoCAD other than as a cash cow, and severely lacking in imagination about ways of seriously improving it. Omega might not be the final AutoCAD release, but given the glacial level of improvement being shown, it might as well be.