The first thing I have to point out regarding VectorWorks 9 is that there really wasn't anything wrong with VectorWorks 8 ( Reviews, June 1999). After a decade of fine-tuning this successor to MiniCAD, you'd think there wouldn't be much left to do. Surprisingly, though, VectorWorks still had room for some serious enhancements, and new owner Nemetschek (which acquired the product from Diehl Graphsoft) has done a fine job of packing them in.
One new feature in VectorWorks 9 is a set of drawing tools modeled on those in far costlier CAD software (such as Ashlar's $5,000 Vellum Solids). Most useful among these are the palettes of parametric and geometric constraints. With a pair of clicks, you can set two line segments at a constrained angle to each other or set two circles at a defined concentricity--in fact, you can define a spatial relationship for almost any objects--and the constraints stay in place when you move or resize the drawing elements. A related new feature is associative dimensioning: VectorWorks automatically adjusts a dimension (distance or angle) associated with a drawing element when you resize it. Together, these two features eliminate many common drawing mistakes and the laborious reentry of dimensions in a complex drawing.
Other new features more common in expensive CAD packages are NURBS, a free-form 3-D spline-based tool for drawing curves; a much-needed spelling checker; and 64-bit accuracy for drawing elements, so you can scale drawings to any size without incurring accuracy problems.
Quicker on the Draw
VectorWorks 9 includes a score of little conveniences that make drawing easier. A new lasso tool allows free-form selection of 2-D or 3-D objects; a new undo tool lets you undo only the last point in polylines and curves. You can also toggle between two tools using the spacebar.
More-important enhancements include an improved Worksheet, with a proper formula bar and the ability to import data from Microsoft Excel and most other database applications. And the program supports native DWG files, so VectorWorks-based shops can exchange files directly with firms using the industry-standard AutoCAD 2000i (though ACIS solids still have import problems).
VectorWorks 9 is Nemetschek's core product, designed to work with add-on libraries for specific applications: VectorWorks Architect, Landmark (for landscaping), and Spotlight (for lighting design). Each is priced at $1,295. It also accepts the new version of RenderWorks ($300) as a plug-in, replacing low-resolution OpenGL rendering with photo-realistic, pixel-by-pixel rendering and detailed lighting control.
Carbonized versions of the programs should be available shortly; VectorWorks 9 works fine in Mac OS X's Classic mode.
Macworld's Buying Advice
VectorWorks has evolved from a capable but idiosyncratic program to one that more than holds its own in today's AutoCAD- and Windows-dominated world. For industrial design involving solid modeling, Ashlar's Vellum Solids might be a better choice, and designers doing purely architectural work might be happier with Graphisoft's ArchiCAD. But for a large range of drafting tasks--from electronic schematics to theatrical set design--it's an obvious choice.Palette Pleasers: Two palettes (right) offer easy access to VectorWorks' latest offerings: associative dimensioning, and geometric and parametric constraints.