PC Week Review of DRAWING Librarian Note: You can skip ahead to the section specifically dealing with DRAWING Librarian.


SoftSource Inc.

Drawing Librarian Professional

The diversity among the five reviewed drawing viewers for CAD might make it seem that there is no clear-cut choice for best product. Each of the programs provides capabilities that make it better for some users than others.

SoftSource Inc.'s Drawing Librarian Professional 1991.7 stands out from the crowd, however, because it displays drawings with total accuracy. None of the other evaluated programs could do this during PC Week Labs' tests.

And it's no simple feat. If it were, general purpose programs such as Central Point Software's PC Tools Deluxe and Lotus Development Corp.'s Magellan would be able to display drawings with total accuracy.

Drawing Librarian Professional 1991.7 provides a solid foundation of other useful capabilities such as output options and advanced features, as well as a friendly user interface, making it the top choice in this review. --E.Y.

Drawing Viewers Lack Accuracy

SoftSource's Program Is Only One To Display with Total Accuracy

By Evan Yares

Drawing files created by CAD programs are probably among a corporation's most valuable electronic assets. It's important to keep track of these files because they can literally require hundreds of hours to produce and might be used for many years.

Drawing viewers, or librarians, serve a valuable purpose by allowing users to quickly browse through a large number of files.

Full-featured CAD programs can basically accomplish the same objective, but drawing viewers incorporate important CAD file-management features.

Drawing viewers, which generally cost less than $500, are well-suited to a variety of applications, including management review, redlining, shop-floor reference and cataloging. A bonus to using drawing viewers is that a user can't damage an expensive drawing file because drawing viewers only read the original file; they cannot write to it.

PC Week Labs evaluated five drawing-viewer programs: AutoSight Inc.'s Access 3.0, Cimmetry Systems Inc.'s AutoVue RedLine 11.2, Kamel Software Inc.'s FastLook Plus 5.0, Sirlin Computer Corp.'s SirlinView/Plus 1.1 and SoftSource Inc.'s Drawing Librarian Professional 1991.7.

Each of the reviewed programs can view AutoCAD DWG and DXF files, as well as HPGL plotter files. Only Sirlin Computer's SirlinView/Plus is limited to those file types, however; the other programs support additional file types, such as AutoCAD Slide (SLD) and PCX files.

Of the five software packages, Cimmetry Systems' AutoVue RedLine is the most flexible because it supports the largest variety of vector (line-oriented) and raster (dot image) formats.

Since Kamel Software's FastLook Plus is based on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 3.0, it reads and writes Windows Meta File (WMF) format.

AutoSight's Access can display and create PCX raster files. And AutoVue RedLine, FastLook Plus and SoftSource's Drawing Librarian Professional support AutoCAD SLD files.

The most basic and at the same time the most important function of a drawing viewer is to quickly and accurately display drawings.

In this respect, each of the reviewed programs -- with the exception of SoftSource's Drawing Librarian Professional 1991.7 -- failed to a certain degree during PC Week Labs' benchmark tests.

Although they each handled HPGL files easily, most had problems displaying the test file, an AutoCAD release 11 test drawing called PCW2-11.DWG (see Testing Methodology, Page 127).

These problems, in most cases, were minor inconsistencies that wouldn't affect everyday use. Still, the ability to display AutoCAD drawings is essential for any drawing viewer.

SoftSource's Drawing Librarian Professional was the only program of the five that accurately displayed the PC Week Labs test drawing. The program also accurately displayed the binary and ASCII DXF versions of the same drawing.

Although it appeared deceptively simple, the drawing was designed to foul up all but the most astute programs. It includes 3-D entities, variable-width and curved polylines (a number of lines joined end-to-end) and strangely aligned text. It is much harder to display accurately than typical AutoCAD drawings.

AutoVue RedLine came close to displaying PCW2-11.DWG correctly, but it slightly mangled a nested block (a block within a block) and misinterpreted a complex variable-width polyline.

The program also had difficulty aligning text and performing multiple inserts in the ASCII DXF files, and could not display the binary DXF file.

AutoSight's Access did not even attempt to display PCW2-11.DWG with total accuracy, using simplified representations of AutoCAD fonts and line styles. It handled nested blocks just fine and was able to correctly decipher a complex variable-width polyline. Access displayed aligned text and variable-width curved polylines incorrectly, however. The program displayed both the DWG and ACSII DXF versions of PCW2-11, but could not handle the binary DXF version.

SirlinView/Plus showed several flaws when displaying PCW2-11.DWG. The program did not represent variable-width polylines correctly and experienced difficulty with a complex text font. It also could not handle externally referenced blocks correctly.

The most obvious problem was the program's inability to correctly project the position of 3-D entities to their correct location in the X-Y plane.

Kamel Software's FastLook could not correctly display the nested block in PCW2-11.DWG. It also intentionally compromised in displaying variable-width polylines, representing them as their minimum width. In displaying the DXF files, it was confused by a wide spline curve and showed the control path as well as the curve.

AutoVue RedLine supports other plotters via the Autodesk Device Interface (ADI), which many manufacturers support. Although Kamel Software's documentation does not specify which plotters FastLook Plus supports, because the program works through Windows Hewlett-Packard Co. plotters are among them.

In addition, each of the five programs supports some method of redlining, or annotating, drawings.

Drawing Librarian Professional, AutoVue RedLine, Access and FastLook allow the user to draw lines and circles, and print text on a special redline layer, which can be added to the drawing in AutoCAD.

SirlinView/Plus, by contrast, lets the user attach text notes to any location in the drawing. These notes can be translated to a DXF file, which can be attached to the drawing via AutoCAD.

None of the reviewed programs allows the original drawing to be altered in any way.

Of the tested programs, Drawing Librarian Professional, AutoVue RedLine and Access support DWG-to-DXF translation with a reasonable degree of success, although AutoVue RedLine and Access had some minor problems with line types. Access also supports translation of HPGL and DXF files to the DWG format.

The ability to create DXF files outside of AutoCAD can be valuable for users of other CAD programs, which generally can read DXF files but not DWG files.


SoftSource Inc.
Drawing Librarian Professional holds the distinction of being the only program tested that accurately displayed PCW2-11.DWG. Since this drawing was constructed purely to confound drawing viewers, this is a significant feat.

Drawing Librarian can read or create DWG, DXF (binary and ASCII), SLD and HPGL files.

DXF files can be created in ASCII or binary, and in AutoCAD release 9, 10 or 11 format. This is particularly valuable for users running AutoCAD release 10 who must receive drawings from AutoCAD release 11 users.

AutoCAD makes no provision for reading higher revision drawings. Other utilities can translate a DXF file from release 11 to release 10, but those utilities do not help if only a DWG file is available.

Drawing Librarian Professional supports HPGL plotters and several hundred commonly used printers, either in a screen-dump format or in high resolution. The program displays drawings with great accuracy, and it does the same for plotting and printing.

The SoftSource program was among the fastest of those tested, both at loading and zooming drawing files.

It loaded PC Week Labs' M-2.DWG, a complicated mechanical drawing that consists of 11,759 drawing entities, in 10.1 seconds, more than twice as fast as AutoCAD release 11.

The redlining capabilities of Drawing Librarian are similar to those of the other programs.

Drawing Librarian can generate lines, arcs, circles, text and leaders, and these are placed in a redline file that can be inserted into the original drawing in AutoCAD. It's painless and practical, and it works.

Drawing Librarian Professional includes a very basic project-management capability. Essentially, it allows drawings to be grouped together and displayed at the same time.

The program can display as many as 10 drawings concurrently in tiled view ports. This project system does not provide much management information, but it is useful.

More interesting, however, is Drawing Librarian Professional's link system. This is similar in concept to SirlinView/Plus' hyperlink system.

With the SoftSource link system, users can define rectangular areas on a drawing that, when chosen, will display other drawings and text messages, or will run script commands.

This capability works nicely and is very useful for disciplines such as facilities management. Links in a site plan can be directed to detailed drawings of each section.

Drawing Librarian Professional is about as easy to use as the four other programs reviewed; most users might have to refer to the manual once or twice, but not much more than that.

In its simplest form, SoftSource's Drawing Librarian Professional is an excellent drawing viewer.

Given its accurate display and conversion capabilities, it is also appropriate for users of other CAD programs who need to view DWG files or who need to generate DXF files.

Ease of Use, Speed Lure Buyers to CAD Drawing Librarians

By Cara Cunningham

Buyers of CAD drawing viewers agree on the programs' ease of use, and so they base their purchases on other factors that meet their individual needs.

The reasons for their choices run the gamut from accuracy to speed in viewing drawings. Features such as file-conversion and Windows compatibility are also prompting buyers to purchase software packages that provide the same general functions but fulfill specific needs.

Shaun Brachmann, for example, chose SoftSource Inc.'s Drawing version 1990.11 because he can use it to convert files to DXF format and bring them into Autodesk Inc.'s AutoCAD.

"We have several offices and vendors giving us DXF and HPGL files," said Brachmann, a CAD engineering analyst in the plumbing and specialty-products of Kohler Co., in Kohler, Wis. "Sometimes we get 30 files at a time, so we do a mass conversion to DXF format and bring the files right into AutoCAD."

Brachmann said he considers the DXF converter the product's biggest asset. "It correctly writes AutoCAD release 10 and 11 files with no bugs," he said. However, in the future he would like to see support for IGES file conversion.

Brachmann, who plans to purchase Drawing Librarian Professional 1991.7 because it has editing capabilities, also values Drawing Librarian's accuracy displaying AutoCAD drawings.

"This is a major issue at our firm," he said. "Operators who have not seen files in AutoCAD are doing first-time viewing with Drawing Librarian. It's important that the file be represented correctly."

For Mario Pedraza, a computer systems administrator at Marathon Letourneau Marine Co., a Houston manufacturer of offshore drilling rigs, accuracy of display is essential. He chose Cimmetry Systems Inc.'s 11.2, a subset of AutoVue RedLine 11.2, because it is compatible with the Autodesk Interface (ADI) drivers he uses in AutoCAD.

"We use a (Headland Technology VRAMVGA) video card with 1,024-by-768-pixel resolution," said. "Most of the other viewing tools we looked were based on VGA technology, which offers only 640-by-480-pixel resolution. When we viewed an AutoCAD drawing with the other viewing tools, it gave us a coarser resolution, and we couldn't see the details."

Pedraza sought accuracy in viewing AutoCAD files because many of the drawings his company uses have the same outline, but differ in minute details, he said. "With AutoVue, we can do a quick zoom to determine which drawing we want to pull up," he said. "And once we find it, we can go straight into AutoCAD."

Testing Methodology

PC Week Labs evaluated the five drawing viewers using two test drawings: PCW2-11 and M-2.

PCW2-11 is an Autodesk Inc. AutoCAD release 11 drawing that contains a variety of difficult-to-display geometric objects.

PC Week Labs used it to check the accuracy of each drawing viewer's display and conversion capabilities. ASCII DXF, binary DXF and HPGL versions of PCW2-11 were displayed with AutoCAD for comparison against the versions generated.

M-2, on the other hand, is a complicated mechanical drawing that consists of 11,759 drawing entities. It was used to check the speed of each program's display. PC Week Labs tested the software on a DTK Computer Inc. FEAT-2502, a 25MHz 486-based computer equipped with 8M bytes of RAM, a 330M-byte hard disk, an STB Systems Inc. PowerGraph VGA board running at 640-by-480-pixel resolution and a Microsoft Corp. mouse.

Output from the tests was examined using a Hewlett-Packard Co. LaserJet III printer and, for plotting, the same printer with Pacific Data Products Inc.'s Plotter in a Cartridge PE. -- E.Y.

PC WEEK, June 17, 1991, pp. 125-133.

Related pages...
*Info on DRAWING Librarian
*Info on DXE
*Return to Softsource Home Page