Updated: September 8, 2012
I must admit I'm wading uncharted waters here. The fact I have some street credit with 3D design and rendering does not make me an expert on computer-aided design. Still, I probably have a decent sense of understanding how 2D/3D plans and draft should work.
Hence, I was asked by one of my readers, Pedro, to review DraftSight, a free, professional grade CAD software. Some may call this program an AutoCAD alternative, what GIMP is unto Photoshop, only in the space of drafting and design. Well, let's see how it works. Tested on Lucid Lynx, Ubuntu that is.
DraftSight is a cross-platform solution, with a 32-bit RPM or Deb installer, labeled Beta. A shame really, given the fact you would probably want to explore the power and beauty of proper design on multi-core machines with high-end graphics card on 64-bit systems. On my Ubuntu box, I managed to install the program by forcing the architecture flag without any problems. Once you launch the program, you have 30 days to activate it using a mail registration. There's no cost, though.
You can also configure the program to submit performance reports to the company. I guess the anonymous metrics are used to improve the product, as performance can be an issue with huge designs.
Before begin, let's do a quick features overview. DraftSight has a lot to offer, including command-line input, blocks & reference files, polygonal ViewPorts, ViewPort locking, layers management and per-ViewPort layer control, dynamic pan & zoom, command aliases, TrueType fonts, LineStyle files, Hatch pattern files, and templates. Moreover, DraftSight can work with DWG and DXF files, with additional import and export options.
To be able to test the program with any degree of fidelity, I needed a few DWG files. I did not have any ready and didn't want to invest time converting my SketchUp or Blender files to the said format. So I downloaded sample files from the AutoCAD website. I tried both the version 2011 and 2010 files.
DraftSight comes with a very rich and somewhat overwhelming interface with tons of toolbars left and right and top. There's also a property sidebar and buttons for switching layers and tabs for switching between layout views and the model 2D render.
I must admit I found the interface somewhat difficult to work with, especially with so many options and terms that were not really easy to grasp. Layers were simple enough to figure out, but I struggled with simple things like element selection and dimensions change.
After a while, I gained some confidence, but I was still baffled by the sheer number of available features in all the menus and toolbars. I also found the 3D navigation in the plot area rather difficult. You can use your mouse buttons to pane, zoom and rotate the object, but its 2D nature means you can easily lose the perception of depth and position, forcing you to start over.
I am not sure whether DraftSight should support DWG format completely, but while converting one of the sample files, I got a very Windows-related error. I do not know how Windows OLE objects are supposed to look like on Linux, or what was lost while opening the file.
DraftSight supports many export options, including images, eDrawings and multi-page PDF. I tried fiddling with various options. Images worked well. However, for some reason, the final PDF files did show the correct number of pages, but they only read Loading ... in big splash letters without the actual layout or model shown. Not sure if this is a PDF conversion bug or something else.
I guess this article reads as what Dedoimedo managed to do with unfamiliar 2D design software. In a way, it is true. I admit a severe lack of knowledge and skill with the specific topic at hand. That said, I am eligible to judge DraftSight from my one and a half hour experience.
DraftSight seems like a very powerful program, professional in every sense of the way and unforgiving to noobs. It installed and run without any special problems. On the other hand, the 32-bit version only and the Beta status could deter potential users, the PDF support seems vague and embedded Windows OLE objects in DWG files will not display in the Linux version and maybe elsewhere, too.
Regardless, DraftSight works fine. I hope you liked the review. I believe I did not do the program much disservice, and I'm most open to suggestions. Anyhow, it probably deserves something like 8/10. It's not too friendly, and perhaps it does not want to be friendly, as it's geared toward serious users with actual business needs. If you happen to be one and don't feel like spending extra money, you definitely might want to take DraftSight for a tour. And I'll keep exploring.