In an earlier article, I compared the functions and user interface of ZWCAD+ 2012 against AutoCAD 2013. Writing a review that is quite straightforward, because there is only one AutoCAD. When it comes to IntelliCAD, however, the comparison is not straightforward, because there is no IntelliCAD.
Let me explain. A group of smaller CAD vendors have banded together as members of the IntelliCAD Technology Consortium. The ITC hires programmers to write the IntelliCAD code, and then distributes the code to member companies. The members further customize the program to their needs, and add their own branding. For this reason, you cannot get IntelliCAD directly; instead, you buy it from member companies, like progeCAD, CADian, BtoCAD, and GStarCAD.
(IntelliCAD itself was launched in the late-1990s by Visio as an AutoCAD "clone," but then the company realized that being a CAD vendor was too tough a job, and so it created ITC and gave the consortium a license to the IntelliCAD 98 code. The consortium over the following years rewrote IntelliCAD and, after delays of several years, last year finally released an all-new version under the name of IntelliCAD 7.)
One of the members of ITC was ZWSOFT, and ZWCAD itself was for a time based on IntelliCAD. Like some other former members, ZWSOFT became wary of the slow progress ITC was making in updating IntelliCAD, and so the company finally embarked on the tough job of rewriting a whole new CAD program from scratch.
In early 2012 they delivered ZWCAD+ -- the '+' indicating the new code base. Through this rewrite, ZWSOFT overcome the limitations on relying on ITC technology.
Now that ZWSOFT has its own CAD engine, it no longer relies (and waits) on ITC for updates and bug fixes. The company can issue updates at its own schedule, fix bugs immediately, directly add enhancements requested by users, and create its own set of APIs (application programming interfaces).
One of the most important results of the new code is that it handles much larger drawings than before. ZWCAD+ opens and edits drawings more than 100MB in size, something that was not possible with the old version of the program based on ITC code. The new ZWCAD+ reduces its memory usage by 50% and does a better job at managing memory.
Users of the previous version might find, however, that some features are missing from this new one. As ZWSOFT CEO Truman Du noted in a recent interview, a brand new code base means that it will take time to bring across all functions. For instance, support for dynamic blocks is planned for ZWCAD+ 2014.
Let's take a look at how ZWCAD+ has gained on IntelliCAD 7 through new commands, a modernized user interface, and expanded API. Remember, though, that it is hard to make a direct comparison, because each competitor's version of IntelliCAD contains slightly different sets of functions. For this article, I used GstarCAD 2012 as the comparison product.
Commands Added to ZWCAD+
With ZWCAD+ 2012, ZWSOFT added a dozen or more commands not found in GSarCAD, such as AttSync for synchronizing attributes. Attribute text now can span multiple lines, which is useful for detailed product descriptions. For better viewing of drawings, the new VpMax command maximizes viewports. There are new controls for handling layers.
When it comes to plotting drawings, they can be plotted to DWF files, which is an alternative to PDF. For plotting drawings, you can now access STB style-based table files, and ZWCAD+ can now publish sets of drawings in PDF or DWF formats.
Some commands in ZWCAD+ operate more smoothly or more quickly with the rewrite, such as drawing regenerations, undoes and redoes, snaps, and offsets. For viewing drawings, there is the 3dOrbit command for rotating views in 3D, and visual styles for changing the look of drawings (see figure 1).
Figure 1: ZWCAD+ 2012 displays 3D drawings with a variety of visual styles
Other commands in ZWCAD have been enhanced with this new plus version, such as field text, properties matching, revision clouds, and tracking object snaps. The Tools palettes are useful for grouping commonly used commands, hatch and gradient patterns, and symbols (blocks) into user-defined palettes.
For instance, ZWCAD's MatchProp command matches plot styles and table styles between entities, something that GstarCAD does not do. Indeed, GStarCAD cannot create or edit tables in drawings, and it lacks visual styles for viewing 3D models realistically during editing.
ZWCAD+ continues to use the DWG read-write technology from Open Design Alliance, and as I reported in the earlier article, entities appear 100% accurate, even for those AutoCAD entities not yet supported. They appear as proxy entities, with which you can perform rudimentary editing, such as changing properties.
ZWCAD+ reads drawing files from AutoCAD as recent as release 2012, and as old as version 2.5.
Modern User Interface
Because ZWCAD+ is no longer based on IntelliCAD, ZWSOFT was free to create a new user interface on its own, and so added the ribbon and the Smartmouse interface. (See figure 2.)
Figure 2: ZWCAD+ 2012 sports the optional ribbon interface, and can execute commands
through mouse movements, such as the green "C" shown here
The ribbon was created by Microsoft for its Office series of software, and then was popularized on a number of CAD programs, including AutoCAD. New users in particular like the ribbon, because it graphically groups related commands together. IntelliCAD does not have the ribbon, although GstarCAD received one from its programmers
But if you prefer menus and toolbars, you can still use them. ZWCAD+ provides two modes: (a) when the user interface is set to use the ribbon, then a special button provides access to the entire menu bar at the edge of the screen; (b) when the UI is switched to classic mode, then the menu bar appears in its usual location, and toolbars are also available.
Smartmouse lets you execute commands without leaving the mouse for the keyboard. To use the feature, you hold down the mouse's right button, and then draw strokes -- either simple motions to the left or down, or letters of the alphabet. So that you can see what is happening, the strokes appear on the screen in green, and then execute the related command, like Copy and Arc.
ZWSOFT thoughtfully included a way to customize Smartmouse actions, so that you can assign just about any command to any mouse motion.
LISP is a very popular way for CAD users to add functions to CAD programs like ZWCAD and IntelliCAD, and so ZWSOFT's programmers added functions to LISP and then made them run faster. While IntelliCAD has 80% of the LISP functions found in AutoCAD, ZWCAD+ leapt ahead with 93%. Depending on the functions, LISP runs 2x to 3x faster in ZWCAD+ than in IntelliCAD.
VBA is popular with users familiar with Microsoft's programming language designed for Office applications, and so it is found in ZWCAD+ and IntelliCAD, and now Autodesk is again supporting it after a period of neglect. Being independent of ITC allowed ZWSOFT is fix nearly all VBA bugs found in the older code, as well as add more functions to VBA. ZWSOFT found that a VBA macro run repeatedly in its older IntelliCAD-based CAD system would run slower each time; in ZWCAD+, the VBA macro maintains its speed.
Professional programmers use an API like ZRX, because it is the fastest way to run third-party apps. The new ZRX provided at no charge with ZWCAD+ is now compatible with ARX in AutoCAD, which means that third-party developers can easily have their AutoCAD and IntellICAD apps running on ZWCAD+.
ZWSOFT's benchmarks show that their new ZRX loads and runs some apps as much as 6.5x faster than before.
ZWSOFT has always emphasized ZWCAD's compatibility with AutoCAD. With the "plus" rewrite, ZWCAD is well placed as a replacement for IntelliCAD-based CAD programs.
ZWSOFT's line of CAD software has 320,000 customers in 80 countries. You can download a 30-day demo of ZWCAD+ 2012 from http://www.zwsoft.com/zwcad/ZWCAD_Overview/