Tuesday, 17 April 2012

2013 and beyond....

The 2013 release has arrived and with it a bunch of new and improved features. These have been covered very well on a number of blogs (see Being Civil for some decent posts). Today was my first real look at 2013 and I got to explore the corridor and subassembly improvements. These are relatively small changes but as I've found with previous releases these are sometimes the ones that will have the biggest impact on your day to day work.

The automatic naming of subassemblies is much improved - they now recognise which side of the assembly they are on when you are inserting them. (sometimes you find yourself asking how this wasn't included earlier). The side is also recorded in the subassembly group name - no more painstaking renaming of subassemblies once created. There is also a new corridor dialog box where you can define all of the corridor elements from a series of drop down menus when you are creating the corridor.

The core functionality and end result are the same but how you get there feels a whole lot smoother. I also like the new surface definition tools - you can now add data to a surface by querying your survey data.

One new feature in 2013 could potentially have a much greater impact on how we use the software in the future compared to any new feature since the birth of Civil 3D. This is the Autodesk Exchange Apps Store. Ok so its not really a new feature. As far as I am aware the apps store was introduced last year but there is now a link that brings you directly to the store from within Civil 3D. 
What is it and why do I think it will change how we use the software? Anybody who owns a smarthpone will be familiar with the concept of Apps. These are small software applications that perform a specific task. (On your phone you may have an app developed by your bank that allows you to perform online banking on the go - in Autodesk's world you may have an app that allows you to do something that would otherwise be impossible, tedious or require a workaround in the software). These can be developed by the parent company or by any third party developer. The App store provides a location for developers to sell their apps and for users to browse and download.

New tools developed for the software by Autodesk may not have to be released or installed as one large upgrade as would traditionally be the case (every year in Autodesk's case). Imagine not having to go through the process of installing a entirely new piece of software each year. A user could choose to download/use the new features they feel would be of use to them and when they choose to. This obviously would not be the case for major changes to the software but I imagine many of the new features could be installed without updating the core product version. The new Autodesk apps may become part of the subscription benefits where only active subscription customers can download them. (similar idea to the subs advantage packs). The Autodesk App store could remain open to all users to access 3rd party apps.  The idea that subscription customers could access new features and choose to download or use them when they see fit might be part of a wider change in how we use software - the shift to software as a service. See more at the following link:

In time users may access new software apps that are stored on an Autodesk server and these may not require any updating to the software on their desktop. Soon possibly the entire package will sit in the cloud. We have already seen the first of the cloud services for Civil 3D in recent moths - Project Silverstar is a cloud based vertical profile optimisation tool. Apps or services on the cloud will also have the benefit of been able to access large amounts of computing resources on Autodesk servers. Try analysing a large surface for watershed areas in Civil 3D. You can usually expect to walk away from your PC and leave it in a state of limbo as it struggles to run through the analysis. Functions like this should be moved to the cloud where there are infinitely (not quite) more resources.

3rd party developers have long been writing add-ons for the software but the App Store will provide a central location where users can access these from (approved by Autodesk). It will also probably allow for greater integration of Autodesk industry partner developed applications into the software. I am thinking of 3rd party developers who already have well established and recognised specialist software that may now well develop apps for Autodesk software. I can think of a couple of tools introduced to Civil 3D in recent years that might have been better had they come from a 3rd party with existing software expertise in this field - roundabout tool, borehole importer come to mind.

Anyway I took a tour of the Apps store in its current state... Accessing from direct within Civil 3D (you need an Autodesk account to login). This brings you to the Civil 3D apps. As with smartphone app. stores there are a selection of free apps.

I downloaded one of the free apps - a tool that places the names of your assemblies beneath them as a piece of text. It took minimal effort to download and install and the tool did exactly what I expected it to do. Its not going to change my world but it is still a useful tool and if it saves me some time then why not. Screen grabs of the tool below in case anyone is wondering....

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