CAD to Paper – Do You Still Print?

What makes engineers or AutoCAD users print their drawings?

When communicating a design to a client or colleague, you want them to have an easy, clear and smooth experience. You don’t want to waste valuable time, and you don’t want them to not see the design exactly the way you intended. And if you’re getting input from them, you don’t want to redraw them later on your file – that’s more time wasted.

When we set to design Butterfly, we wanted to create a tool which enables users to communicate digitally without printing to paper or file. And still, there are some who prefer to print their drawings or export PDF files. For them we also included a very basic printing function. The printing function only prints to the page what’s visible on the editor screen. It will print:

  • The drawing that is visible in the screen boundaries. If your browser window is small, it will affect the output of the print.
  • The current layout.
  • In the currently selected  plot style.

We want to hear your thoughts on printing:

What would you like to see as part of the printing function in Project Butterfly? Does it have to be a fully-featured plotter or could it be more basic?

Post your comments here or send email us to feedback@autodeskbutterfly.com. We’re listening.


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Check Your SPAM Folders No More

This week we completed our integration with the Autodesk mailing system. This integration will make sure your  invitations arrive to your recipients’ inbox. Prior to the integration, some invitations were marked as SPAM or moved to the junk mail folder.

Starting this week,  invitations, reviews and transcripts will be coming from butterfly.autodesk.com. We believe you’ll have a much smoother experience getting your colleagues and clients to use Butterfly

If you still encounter any problems, please let us know through the Feedback link, or send us an email to feedback@autodeskbutterfly.com.

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10 Things you can do with Butterfly

Thought you knew everything about Project Butterfly?
Here’s 10 things Butterfly does you might not have been aware of:
  1. Share a drawing in a plot style. Use the plot display to let others view the drawing just as if it was plotted. There’s no need to export your drawings to a PDF when sharing a drawing with  colleagues or clients.
  2. Working in a foreign language? Share drawings with texts in Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Russian and other languages. As long as you’ve imported your font to Butterfly, the people you share with don’t need to have the fonts, and you don’t need to send them.
  3. Send only a selected part of the drawing. If you don’t want to share your entire drawing, you can share only a part of it in a review using the crop feature. You can keep working on the entire drawing while your reviewers only view and comment on a selected part of it.
  4. You can also collaborate on pure raster images, PNG, JPG, TIF and other GIS image formats. We know you don’t design only on drawings.
  5. Use Project Butterfly to convert between different AutoCAD versions. Just import your drawing and then download it in the desired AutoCAD version. The same goes for people you share with. Now you don’t have to be concerned which version of AutoCAD they’re using.
  6. Use AutoCAD command line shortcuts. Butterfly supports most common keyboard commands. View the full list of available commands.
  7. Working with non-AutoCAD users? Butterfly is an easy way to share DWG files with users which don’t have AutoCAD. The simple interface allows even users unfamiliar with CAD software to view drawings, add markups and even make simple changes.
  8. Share folders in Project Butterfly instead of FTP. Every update to the contents of a folder is immediately accessible to all the people sharing it. In other words, this could be a good substitute for an FTP – files can be shared, downloaded, viewed and edited in one place.
  9. View your original design at any time. Project butterfly automatically saves all previous drawings versions you upload, so there’s no need to manually backup drawing files.
  10. You can influence the next versions. Send us feedback using the “Feedback” link just above the ribbon. We answer every feedback we receive, so drop us a message with a compliment, suggestion or question.

So go ahead, try Project Butterfly and don’t forget to be our fans on Facebook.

Cheers,

The Project Butterfly team.

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The Pros and Cons of Cloud Storage

We’ve discussed cloud computing and Web-based applications in this post. What we haven’t really talked about yet is “cloud storage” or online storage.

Most of you probably had, at least at one time, to choose whether you’re going to put your data or files on the cloud or use local storage.

Nowadays there is a strong shift to using Web-based applications, and with those applications comes storage. Services like Gmail, Dropbox, Flickr and many more offer users an incredible amount of storage – usually for free or very cheaply (including upgrades). For example, I ran out of my 7GB free storage in Gmail. An upgrade of an additional 20GB cost me merely 5$. Cloud storage is very tempting, and it can solve many day-to-day problems we face. But cloud storage can also be risky. In this post I’ll point out some of the benefits that cloud storage has to offer, and the risks that come along with it.

Security is an issue in question. On one hand, services that offer cloud storage use the most high-end security measures. On the other hand, they are a challenge and target to hackers.

Capacity is usually not a problem when storing files and data on the internet. Good services provide good capacity, and you can always upgrade it with a relatively low cost.

Availability of your data is a definite plus. You can have access to your data as long as you have an internet connection. That means from anywhere and using any internet-enabled device. That means work, home, laptop and even mobile phone. The risk is not being able to access data when you can’t find a wireless network or when you have an internet outage. However, services like Gmail and Remember The Milk provide an “offline” feature, that lets you work offline on your data and when you find internet, it will sync with the live data on the cloud.

Get-away options are an important factor in choosing between hosting services. You must find out how easy it is to get your data out of the service if you ever need to. It could happen for a number of reasons – change of pricing plans, dissatisfaction with the service, migration, if the service should go out of business, and if you want to back your data up locally.

Collaboration is made possible in cloud storage. It helps to have one file available throughout an organization, and having multiple people working on it in stead of synchronizing between different versions of the same file. It also eliminates the fear of not obtaining the latest revision of a document or datum.

Pricing of cloud storage is almost always lower than setting up your own IT infrastructure and internet connectivity.

It’s clear to see that cloud storage can be an economic and powerful solution to a lot of businesses and purposes. However, when deciding on whether to take it to the cloud – you should always remember the risks that come along with the benefits, and find a solution that suits your needs.


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Google Maps – Behind the scenes

When we first started working on Project Butterfly, we set a goal to revolutionize the way CAD / GIS users create and collaborate. Integrating Google Maps into Project Butterfly is just one of those new capabilities and possibilities an online CAD platform such as ours can offer.

The integration of Google Maps became possible due to Google Maps API for Flash. Flash is the platform behind Project Butterfly’s client as Jonathan Seroussi recently wrote about in his blog post.

In this post I will provide some technical information regarding the implementation and use of Project Butterfly with Google maps.

We chose Google Maps over other map providers because it has the most comprehensive and documented API, as well as an active community. Having said that, we’ve designed the feature with the flexibility that would allow us to switch to a different map provider easily, if we ever find a service that provides a better map experience.

When you turn on Google Maps, Butterfly places a map under your model. After you place your drawing on a certain location, Butterfly saves that position. The next time you turn on the map, it will return to that location.

Once a map has been underlaid, it moves in sync with your drawing. To achieve this sync we had to strip Google Maps from all of its controls, keyboard hooks and mouse events so we will be in full control on the panning and zooming. This enables you to keep using our zoom slider, buttons, zoom window, etc.

To enable contextual search we used Google Geocoding API to transform your text queries into coordinates on the map. We even match the appropriate zoom level to your location. Searching for Asia will give a full view of the continent whereas searching for “Golden Gate Bridge” will allow you to almost touch the suspenders.

Many users are probably wondering how the widget enables move and scale of entire drawings, whereas the box selection of Project Butterfly only allows selection of 30 objects at a time. This is made possible do to a trick we do. Moving or scaling the drawing in place drawing mode doesn’t actually changes anything in the drawing. It is simply a mix of viewports changing that creates the illusion that we are scaling and moving the entire drawing.

The “2 points” mechanism allows you to place your model very easily. With 2 points you mark two corresponding lines – one on the map and one on the model. Butterfly then calculates the scale, rotation angle and the distance between the two lines and overlays them one on the other.

We hope you will enjoy this latest addition to our features list.

Chen Harel,
Sr Software Engineer

New Version of Butterfly – Google Maps and more

Project Butterfly has gone through a major upgrade last week. We have released a new version with new features and tweaks:

  • Large raster support
  • Google Maps integration
  • New Collaboration widget
  • Measure tools

Project Butterfly, Meet Google Maps

You can now overlay your design on a Google Map from within Butterfly, and you can use this to present your plans and to make drafting on terrain much easier.

Using maps in Butterfly can be useful to a variety of fields, such as residential, environmental and governmental. A few examples include planning infrastructure design, urban planning, or just placing your house plans on the site.

More than a drafting tool, overlaying designs on maps makes a powerful presentation tool. Drawings come to life, and can be understood in the context of their surroundings.

With the map in the background of your drawing, you can collaborate on the drawing. Share it, review it, co-edit it, or even publish a link to it – it all works with the map or image that you’ve chosen.

Large Raster Image Support

You can now import a drawing with a large raster image background that you setup in AutoCAD.

Butterfly now supports over 20 popular image formats to serve as background to your drawing. We support all formats natively interpreted by the GDAL library.

Project Butterfly’s support of large images enables drawing over older drawings which are only available in printed or scanned form or over satellite and aerial imagery of the site.

Just like with Google Maps in Butterfly, you can share and collaborate on drawings with raster underlays.

Streamlining the Collaboration Process

We have made it easier for users to start collaborating on their drawings. Starting now, you only have one place to look for if you want to collaborate – whather its sharing your drawing, co-editing, or starting a design review. Each collaboration option has description text next to it, so you can easily find the right option for the task at hand.

You can find this window by clicking the large “Share and Collaborate” button.

Measurement Tools Added

Another addition to the latest version of Butterfly is the Measure tool also found in AutoCAD.You can now measure distances and areas in addition to drawing persistent dimensions.

We’d love to hear feedback from you. Write to us in the comments below, or use the Feedback link in the application.

Campus map courtesy of Duke University. There is no affiliation or endorsement between Autodesk and Duke University.

The Code Behind Project Butterfly and a Word About Flexibility

I’m sure some of you are interested in knowing a bit more about the insides of Project Butterfly. Some users have asked me how do we keep up the fast release rate. This post will try to answer both questions by providing background details of the technology behind the project with emphasis on how the system might be extended in the future.

Beginning at the top – the first thing a user sees when entering the system using the Try Now button is one of our sample drawings. The drawing is streamed to the client directly from the cloud (Amazon S3), and then rendered by the user’s computer. This is made possible by the data structures used by butterfly which are specially designed to stream vector data from the cloud service directly to the client front end. There are different types of online CAD editing tools in the market where in most cases, the user views server rendered images that are streamed to the client. In Butterfly, the rendering is done by the user’s computer (like it does when you use AutoCAD or other CAD software), allowing for a smoother navigation experience and client side editing.

When uploading a drawing, the system uses RealDWG to prepare the drawing for streaming. RealDWG provides exact information of the DWG file, which is an important part in the process of calculating the streaming method. The drawing is then stored securely on Amazon S3. Meeting user demands for DXF support a couple a weeks ago was rather smooth thanks to the flexibility of the  streaming module.

This architecture also answers a lot of scalability issues as it requires almost no server-side processing for the purpose of editing a file. In fact, the only server-side processing performed when opening a drawing is security related – making sure the drawing is delivered only to authenticated users that have access to the drawing.

We chose Adobe Flash as the client runtime environment. We can write a lot about Flash issues we had to overcame: memory usage, performance and so on, but that’s a topic for a different post. Flash is deployed on 99% of internet connected computers, allowing Butterfly to run on almost any Internet-connected machine. It was surprising to see a remarkable amount of Linux users logging in to the system. Although we’re currently pleased with our choice of Flash, it is worth mentioning that the dependency between Butterfly and Flash is intentionally modest.

The Flash application is built out of decoupled modules which are streamed to the client as the application loads. Different modules interact through a set of interfaces designed to provide support for manipulating and editing the drawing model. We recently used these interfaces to create the new Match Properties tool that was published a couple of weeks ago. The ribbon component has an interface that allows adding new buttons and tabs onto it, making adding a new feature to the UI a simple task. The underlying idea is to enable integration of 3rd party enhancements and tools in the future, as we also have the ability to load modules while the application is running.

The Project Butterfly development team is always on the look for new technologies and new features to develop especially those coming from users feedbacks. Keeping our code flexible and extensible makes it easier deploying these features.

Jonathan Seroussi

Control at Your Hands

Permissions are what makes Project Butterfly’s collaboration flexible and fit for any task. There are two kinds of permissions in Butterfly:

  • Edit – Your collaborator can edit the drawing, draw new objects, and edit annotations.
  • Download – Your collaborator can save the DWG file to his computer, and save a copy of the drawing to his own Butterfly account.

You can set permissions to shares, co-edit sessions and reviews. Permissions are set per recipient, and you can change them at any time.

When to use permissions?

If you’re collaborating with a person you totally trust, there’s no problem leaving the default permissions – allow edit and allow download. However, if you’re collaborating with a colleague or someone less experienced, consider setting permissions.

Let’s say you want to show your client some progress on a particular design. The best choice is to start a co-edit session with your client. Seeing as the client does not have previous CAD experience, you might want to restrict him from editing the drawing. This way the co-edit session goes on smoothly and with no damage to the drawing.

Another common scenario is when professionals from different firms and fields collaborate. Let’s say you’re sharing or reviewing the drawing with an engineer from a different firm. You probably want to protect your intellectual property from being copied. You can easily restrict your collaborator from downloading the drawing – even if you granted him editing permissions. That’s an advantage Project Butterfly has over sending DWG files over e-mail – your collaborator does not retain a copy of the drawing after the collaboration has ended.

These days we are considering to add markup ability to the read-only permission, so that your collaborators can always add their input without messing with your geometry.

What do you think? Vote in the poll:

Web-Based Applications for Daily Use

This post will not be about Butterfly, but rather on the way our team works with different applications. We want to share with you our passion towards Web-based applications.

We love using cloud computing, Web-based applications, SaaS. Call it however you like.

The Internet provides us with some powerful applications and services.

A few years ago, some of the most obvious services were unthinkable. Looking up any music video on YouTube, have two people work on a document at the same time, share calendars, upload photos to the Internet instantly from anywhere, and the list goes on.

The Web offers a unique advantage over desktop applications. The Web allows users to share and collaborate, together or separately on the same item or information. With desktop applications, that would require a lot of setting up to get a connection. The Web, however, makes that as easy as a click. Another advantage is that you always use the newest version of the service, without installing or updating anything.

The idea for Project Butterfly was inspired by services like Google Docs, and as a team that develops a Web-based application for CAD editing – we have a strong belief in Web applications. When we started out we decided that for the first month we would use nothing but a Web browser – no desktop applications what-so-ever. We wanted to see what issues come up when you use nothing but Web-based applications.

Like in any company, we needed to make use of E-Mail, documents, storage and more. The Internet provided us with next-to-free solutions for our needs – and they serve us loyally to this day. We do use some desktop software, though. Apart from the development workspace and vector graphics design there’s still no online tool that can totally replace its desktop equivalent.

I will admit that there are some setbacks for using Web-based applications, mostly the missing features in the application. For example, we are having a hard time creating rich graphs in Google Spreadsheets, and it’s almost impossible to create print-ready documents.

The Web allows people all over the world share their photos, music, videos, blog posts and documents. We hope that with Project Butterfly, professionals around the globe will work and collaborate on CAD drawings within their Web browser.

Here are some of the Web-based applications that we’re making use of:

  • Gmail, Google docs, Google calendar – For all our communication needs, meetings and documents in the office.
  • Bugzilla – Our software development and bug-tracking tool. While this is not exactly SaaS (because we installed it on a server of our own), it’s still an important tool for us.
  • WordPress.com – Running this blog. We could install a WordPress application of our own, but why do that when we can host it on dedicated, stable servers?
  • DropBox – Backing up files and synchronizing our home and office computers.
  • Remember The Milk – Managing and sharing work tasks as well as personal tasks.
  • Grooveshark – Our way of listening to music during the day.
  • And more…

How do you use Web-based applications for productivity?

Keyboard Shortcuts in Butterfly

We’ve discussed the command line before, and people wanted a faster way to access commands.

Truth is, Project Butterfly had several keyboard shortcuts since the beginning – the same commands from AutoCAD. When you type a command in Butterfly you don’t have have to press Enter, the command will execute automatically.

We’ve prepared a quick reference of our commands that you can use with your keyboard:

Move: m / move
Rotate: ro / rotate
Scale: sc / scale
Mirror: mi / mirror
Offset: o / offset
Trim: tr / trim
Edit text: tedit
Explode: x / explode
Match Properties: ma / matchprop

Line: l / line
Polyline: pl / pline
Circle: c / circle
Rectangle: rec / rectangle
Ellipse: el / ellipse
Cloud: revcloud
Leader: le / leader
Arc: a / arc
Insert block: i / insert
Insert text: dt / dtext / text / mt / t
Linear dimension: dimlin / dimlinear
Aligned dimension: dal / dimali
Angular dimension: dimang / dimangular

Copy: cp / copy / co / CTRL+C
Cut: cutclip / CTRL+X
Paste: pasteclip / CTRL+V
Undo: u / undo / CTRL+Z
Redo: redo / CTRL+Y
Erase: e / erase / DEL key
Zoom window: z / zoom
Pan: p / pan
Ortho mode: ortho / F8
Snap mode: snap / os / F3
Line weight mode: F4

Color: col / color
Layers: la / layer
Linetype: lt / linetype

Layouts: lo / layout
Xrefs: er / xref

So start typing, and have fun with your commands.

Tell us what you think, we’d love to know.