Death, Taxes, and the Annual Release Cycle

Yep, some things are near certain. It’s February, it’s World Press Day, and it’s release time. Over the next few weeks and months as we get close to the actual release of a Civil 3D 2009 Product, we’ll be bringing you the highs and lows of the 2009 version. We got at least pseudo clearance to WRITE about Civil 3D 2009 today, but I’m still not convinced we’re allowed to TALK about it. Yeah, it’s a confusing mess, but hey, since I have it in writing from someone that should know, we’re rolling with it. Read on past the jump to get the good, the bad, and the ugly highlights of Civil 3D 2009.

The Good

Let’s talk about the big ticket items first; the stuff that I think should drive you to move to C3D, even if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines for years.

Improved Data Shortcuts
The interface in 2006 was wicked, then it went to hell in 2007 and 2008. Now it’s back the way it should have been. There’s essentially no difference between the UI on Vault and Data Shortcuts. You get to pick what works for you! You can work in one drawing, all by yourself; you can work in a team, using Data Shortcuts, just sharing objects and bits between drawings; or you can use Vault and ADMS to solve both the project data problem, and a host of other IT issues. There’s a natural progression here, and it makes sense. How unusual.

Improved Surveying
Easy Point Rotation? Check. Map Checks from Labels? Check. Leading Zeros? Check. Holy cow, what’s left? OK, I’m not a surveyor, but many of the surveyors I’ve talked with regarding the 2009 product really are pleased with the additions. Don’t let your survey department hold you back any more!

Improved Surface Operations
There’s a lot going on here to please the power users. They finally figured out a way to not choke on the large datasets, by pulling some of it back out. There are inherent limits to what a drawing file can store, and what the bloated Acad engine can handle. The gurus in Manchester have tested a few million points in a surface. Once the limit is hit, an external file is creaetd, and C3D only processes what it needs. Additionally, there is a new command, Simply Surfaces. Once you have the data in, you can handle it by using some new functionality to weed out data points and reduce the size. Oh, and you can rearrange the order of build operations. Cool stuff.

Design Criteria
Similar to Pipe Rules and the violations, C3D 2009 includes Design Criteria and check set functionality for Alignments and Profiles. With a good set of rules, your screen will tell you when you’ve put too much bend in the local highway. Not critical, but nifty.

Labels and Xrefs
If you can XREF it, you can label it. Think of the options for labeling in sheets, in exhibits, in any number of ways. While this is going to confuse the workflow issue for a while, this is cool and much requested functionality.

Stacked Profiles
I’ve only seen this requested in a few places, cough, C3, here’s your bone, cough, but it’s a vocal group that keeps asking for it. The ability to create stacked profiles with different displays and profiles shown in each is a big requirement for firms in the Southwest and Cali design regions. Should be interesting to see what other folks do with it.

Dynamic Grading Feature Lines
Yes, you read that right. Pull a feature line from a corridor, grade from it, go to town. In 2008, the link was dead. In 2009, it’s consistent and life is good. Ponder that. Start thinking about use cases. In my opinion, this might be the biggest thing in the application this year.

The Bad

There are a ton of other improvements, I’ll let the marketing PDFs run through the full list. So, what’s the bad? There are still some disappointments, some more major than others.

Bordering on fanatical (and I know fanatics, remember, I run a Mac,) these guys are in for another year of crying and gnashing of teeth. 2009 will install in a 64-Bit OS, but it’s not going anywhere any faster.

Null Nodes in Pipe Networks
Curve and Tangent Pipes are still distinct objects, making it entirely too easy to break them in profile and slope. Null Structures are a poor workaround for what should be a more polished solution.

Pipe Profiles
Getting the pipe flowline in your band still require tracing a pipe. Another soapbox, but a low demand item nationwide, so I’m not losing sleep over it personally. Texas, you’re just out of luck.

Ribbon? What Ribbon?
AutoCAD takes the punishment this year, C3D might get it next. Most of the verticals are letting things shake out before they try to handle the Ribbon. You might be able to CUI it, but there’s nothing in the box. Since we spend most of our time running stock installs, I’m OK with that.

It’s still too shaky. I know, I know, it’s better. But damn, I can still break it with some pretty simple cases. It’s just unreliable, still.

Nothing here gets me going. These are really all a matter of refining what’s in the application.

The Ugly

In my opinion, ugly is being kind. Cali and the Acad team have decided that you don’t know what you want your windows to look like. You don’t pick windows themes and colors because you want to, you just don’t know any better.

Check out the picture above of the full screen. Like the cream background? Me neither, changed in the name of uniformity with Acad. Idiotic, and for the record, this was done against the better judgement of a lot of people in Manchester. Like the grey color? Notice that it doesn’t respect what I selected in my XP display settings? Wait, the dialogs and some toolbars do? WTF? Who comes up with this crap? If you’re going to skin an app, skin it. Skin it right, not this half-ass mix.

Yeah, I’m bitching to bitch, but this is one of my soap boxes, and it’s my post, so…. The point is, you get two options, light and dark, and they’re both UI studies in ignoring user input. Finally, they’re low contrast, so if you’re amped up your display to make life easier, get ready to do it again.

So, there’s the quick version of the good, the bad, and the holy freaking cow ugly. It’s a cliche to say that it’s the best release ever, so I let Lynn do that. 2009 isn’t the revolution, it’s the evolution, and to me that’s a good sign. Now that we’re past new “big” items every year, we’re starting to see the annoyances addressed, and C3D can only get better.


  1. Neil Wilson says:

    No mention of junction/intersection tools. I was told by someone close to development that it was VERY high on the priorities list. Any news on this?

  2. Dustin Manning says:

    The whole dynamic feature line from corridor gave me chills. That has been one of the most annoying things in the past. I’m also interested in the prospect of junction/intersection tools. I’ve checked out those 3rd party apps but have found them to be lacking too much. Maybe Autodesk will come through for us on this?

  3. Jason Hickey says:

    Neil – that’s more of a big ticket item than any James mentioned, and it wasn’t mentioned – you can infer what that means, right? High ona priority list doesn’t always mean “In the next release.”

    “Maybe next year” (TM)

  4. Tony Kinder says:

    I agree with Neil. Intersections, cul-de-sac, and roundabout should have been considered (or at least explained by Autodesk).

    In a similar line of thought, I would also like to see Jason continue his review comparing Civil 3D with Carlson Civil (especially RoadNet and intersection design). Jason’s comments were excellent!

    In regard to Civil 3D, I am also curious about the use of the Hydroflow program that was purchased by Autodesk. Does it work any better with Civil 3D? Specifically, are DXF files still required, etc…?

  5. RC B says:

    Has anyone tested out the way it is with storm to storm sewers calcuations?

  6. RC B says:

    oh… I would like to share… I just recived a demo of Powercivil. Neat… But the one awesome thing about it is the drainage module in it. it updates its calcs while you draw it and move it… If civil could do this… SAVE US GUYS LOTS OF TIME!!!!

  7. Rick Graham says:

    “Now that we’re past new “big” items every year, we’re starting to see the annoyances addressed, and C3D can only get better.” Hmmmm, I thought these were Service Pack-type items and not major release items. Silly me!

    So now we’re through 2-3 versions and still Parcels is left virtually untouched and broke. I had an issue of rotating a site with parcels and all hell broke loose. AD’s answer, don’t use the AutoCAD rotate command. Yeah, right.. good answer. Sorry to b*tch, but I’m generally frustrated.

  8. Scott Duffin says:

    How about parcels as a data reference? Has that been added?

  9. All,
    These are MY highlights, I think they’re the highlights for a large number of folks. There are some other bits that are still to be discussed. I think the feature line, alignment, and profile tools could hypothetically negate the need for many of the intersection workflows to date, depending on how creative you get. We’re still figuring stuff out too.

    Rick, you know what I mean when I say it’s fixing annoyances. Adding a stacked profile is NOT a service pack item, nor is a feature like simplify surface. There’s a difference between service pack and feature refinement.

    Scott, Parcels are NOT a data reference type, but you can XREF and label now. That was a large portion of the use case I’d heard about. While obviously there are others, for now we’ll have to take this and see how far we can push it.

    One final comment to any and all future commentors. You won’t find much sympathy at for complaints about things that aren’t in the product, especially if your name doesn’t show up in the Beta discussion groups. We’re all busy (actually, most of the industry is looking for something to do,) yet we (the Authors here,) managed to get our hands at least a little dirty and spend at least a few sessions exploring and learning about the next release. As my wife tells me, if you don’t tell me what you want for dinner, you don’t get to complain about what you get.

  10. Labeling parcels through the xref is in my mind just a workaround. If a user detaches that xref, say goodbye to your labels. You can tell users not to do it all you want but all CAD Managers know that at least one of them will do it without thinking about the labels.

  11. Jon Duddles says:

    Just like all of us here in Chicago…the olde saying goes “Can’t wait till next year!”

    James you are right on the new interface….and what is with the goofy looking “A”…

  12. Matt Kolberg says:

    I don’t think labelling through XREF’s is a workaround at all. Think of the possibilities. We can now label almost anything through an XREF. if all you are using data shortcuts for is labelilling, you don’t need to use data shortcuts anymore. Just XREF your surface or alignment and add the labels.


  13. Shawn McDonald says:

    Labeling through an XREF is something that’s been on my personal wishlist, right after annotative text, since- I don’t know- the third time I used an XREF maybe. R14 I think. Frankly I was surprised to see them implement both within over release cycle. DREFing parcels and corridors would be cool for the ability to apply styles across sheets (seems like a major step back having to manipulate layers again) but labeling is the bigger hassel.

    Just out of curiosity- what’s the (practical) difference between a user detaching an XREF and deleting a DREF? Won’t you lose the labeling either way? I haven’t known that many users to randomly detatch XREFs- unloading them maybe- people seem fascinated with that (my fault for entering CAD in the post-pentium age I suppose). Will unloading the XREF have the same effect as detatching it? I’m still waiting for a Beta invite- so no chance to test this myself.

  14. Scott Duffin says:

    You indicate that you can label an xref, but what about change the style of an xref without having a data reference? So if I have say a drawing that contains my parcels for the entire project in one drawing, can I then xref this drawing into my Sheet and then change the style of certain lots in a specific phase, while modifying the appearance of all the remaining lots (outside of the current phase) through a different style? Or, will my xref only display parcel styles as per the original xref, while allowing me to label the xref to my heart’s content? (lot dimensions, lot numbers, etc.)?

    Sounds like I need to get a part of the BETA program on the next go around. How does one get involved with this program? I feel I am fairly versed on 3D and spend much time on the web checking out discussion groups, web sites, etc. trying to stay current with what is going on with 3D but am not sure how to get involved. Any suggestions would be great!

    Thanks for the blog

  15. Scott –
    Getting involved is by joining

    As for changing of the styles – no. That’s not possible – its only the labeling that is possible across the Xref.

  16. Jason Hickey says:

    Tony – I will not be continuing my comparison between Carlson Civil and Civil 3D.
    There will always be things we want added. Is 2009 perfect? No. Is it hella better than 2008? Yep. I’ve been using it almost exclusively for about a month now. It hurts me to go back to ’08. Kudos to the team in Manchester for providing me with a better product year after year.

  17. Tony Kinder says:

    Jason – No offence was intended. I am sorry if I came across that way. My intent was to ask about two areas I most wanted to see improved over Civil 3D 2008 (road intersections and hydrology). I had simply hoped that Autodesk was “reviewing” some products from their competition and make similar improvements to their programs. I was not expecting it to be “perfect,” only hoping it was improved in these two areas.

    Again, if I offended anyone, please accept my sincere apology! I appreciate this website, as well as the articles you and others provide. Thank you!

  18. John Mayo says:

    Oh I’m rolling here!!! Ya’ know I just love a good rant. Why?? I don’t want the stockholders happy until I am. Quite egotistical I know, but I’m okay with that under the current EULA.
    Oh please keep going but could you please turn it up a notch? They need to hear you in CA & NH 😉

  19. Trevor Bernhard says:

    I’ve got to admit that since we didn’t upgrade to ’08 I’ve let my eye wander from the Wish List. But the reason we didn’t is this:
    Has Pipes been updated to run from MH edge to MH edge rather than CL to CL? Have any of the umpteen suggestions in Dana’s now-immortal (IMO) thread “Pipe Inverts @ Other…” ( been implented?

    Also, what’s new in Styles management?

    Not in Beta, no right to complain, still going to ask.

  20. Donnie G says:

    […] MS Windows. Just the other day I was reading a post at by James Wedding titled “Death, Taxes, and the Annual Release Cycle“. While his post was mostly about the upcoming AutoCAD Civil 3D 2009, he did make a quote I […]

  21. John Lowe says:

    Anyway we can get more specific about the Survey functionality?
    I have my survey department using 2008 right now. The points rotation was one thing they wanted, but it is one of the more minor things.

    Thanks for the quick summary!

  22. John Lowe says:

    I do like the looks of that snazzy Surface creation wizard though.
    So, am I correct in assuming that Civil 3D gets no ribbon? Also, I agree 100% with the multi-colored window themes. I am a programmer myself and I don’t think I would put out something that looked like that, but to be honest not too many people will probably pick up on that.

  23. Labels have more functions – leading Zero in bearings is one that James covers above – end,start and middle are available as label location parts – think crows feet or another block at those locations…

  24. Jason Hickey says:

    TOny – that wasn’t directed at you (other than the whole “I’m not continuing the Carlson comparison” statement. The rest was really for all the hecklers in the group whining because their wish didn’t make it in. WordPress comment formatting made it seem like that entire thing was directed at you, and for that I apologize.

  25. Tess Gadwa says:

    I’m not a PE, nor do I play one on TV, but reading through this discussion thread, I could not help but notice a certain frustration with what’s ahead in the 2009 release.

    For a completely different approach to CAD in civil engineering, check out this site… Origin Point

  26. John Lowe says:

    Where is the “Create Subdivision from Objects” button?

  27. Tommie Richardson says:

    That “Create Subdivision from Objects” sounds interesting. It should like this with the following pauses for user input:

    1. Highlight all the linework for the boundaries (lines, plines, arcs, etc.) [program converts all to parcel segments].
    2. Of the resulting parcels, select those that will be ROW parcels [computer applies the appropriate parcel style to ROW parcels and site changed to Boundary parcel style].
    3. Select Commercial, Flood Zone, Amenities Lots, etc. (return for none and list with order of selection and parcel style to apply must be created as a command setting)
    3. Select Block A, B, C, etc. [computer moves to separate sites called Block A, Block B, etc. for multiple lot 1, lot 2, etc., you should also have option to use Block 1, Block 2, etc.]
    4. Draw line to show lot numbering order for each block.

    As a bonus, it would automatically determine that if a line is perpendicular to the ROW line, it can be moved with a grip so that it continues to be parallel to the ROW.

  28. Tommie Richardson says:

    Sorry, I’m a surveyor in an engineering world and I’m still learning how to count to five. I guess I just stuttered on that one.

  29. JG Gerth says:

    Has the old bug with C3d and multi-line attributes been resolved with 2009?

  30. Clem Kuns says:

    C3D 09 not addressing 64-bit is not so great. But on a 64-bit platform, you can still address considerably more RAM than on 32-bit. I would presume this benefit would mean C3D on a 64-bit platform, with say 6GB of RAM, would still be faster? Any thoughts on this?

  31. Michael Putnam says:

    Is the cream background changeable or are we stuck with it permanently?

  32. Chad Josewski says:

    I run C3D 2008 running 64-bit on a Quad core 2.4 Ghz with 6 Gigs RAM and it smokes.