The last release of Diehl Graphsoft's MiniCAD was version 7, but the latest release isn't called MiniCAD 8. With enough new content to merit a bump to version 10, the program has been reincarnated as VectorWorks 1.0–and there's nothing "mini" about its scope. Redesigned as a collection of modular objects rather than a single, monolithic block, this excellent program can tackle everything from architecture to theatrical lighting, with very modest hardware demands.

Updating the MiniCAD environment for the Web-aware, workgroup-oriented world of VectorWorks called for some big changes and a host of smaller tweaks. A major structural change is a redesign to accommodate plug-ins for special CAD functions. For example, although rendering–specifically, photo-realistic rendering with advanced lighting and display options–is crucial to presenting architectural designs to clients, it doesn't do much in HVAC or mechanical-parts design except take up disk space. Those who need it can add Diehl Graphsoft's $299 RenderWorks, a separate plug-in that functions inside VectorWorks.

Another important change is the addition of workgroup CAD, with a reference- or target-document-handling scheme that benefits from Diehl's observation of what didn't work smoothly in other CAD products' first-generation workgroup implementations. Unlike the latest versions of most other professional CAD programs, which want 96MB of RAM and the latest G3, VectorWorks–thanks to its careful modular design–fits into a mere 24MB of RAM and about 60MB of hard-disk space, with full libraries for everything from electronic design to landscaping. And the program is delightfully quick, even on older Macs. If you're stuck trying to do real CAD on a laptop, VectorWorks' humble demands make it your best bet.

Other improvements enhance VectorWorks' ease of use. For example, the Resource palette–a convenient window that holds frequently used objects–now has a Replicate button, so you can quickly generate and edit a family of similar objects (see "Pumpin'"). The program handles multiple undo's and redo's, and the new plug-in architecture lets you add curved walls, assorted building elements, and basic solid forms. A greater selection of graphic input and output formats, including JPEG and Windows BMP, makes life simpler in cross-platform environments, and DXG/DWF file translation has been updated for version 14 of these AutoDesk formats.

But several dozen menu-item and feature-name changes scattered throughout the program can cause annoying moments of head-scratching for longtime MiniCAD users. Some features simply have new names; for example, MiniPascal–an unhip name these days–reappears here as VectorScript, with unaltered Pascal syntax.

Comparable to industry heavyweights (such as Bentley Systems' MicroStation) costing up to $4,000, the $795 VectorWorks is fast, compact, and the best value in professional CAD software for the Macintosh.


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PROS: Libraries and tools for every CAD purpose; modest hardware demands. CONS: Requires some reorientation effort for MiniCAD users. COMPANY: Diehl Graphsoft (888/646-4223, ). LIST PRICE: $795 (direct price, $595; upgrade from MiniCAD, $195).

June 1999 page: 47

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