DWGBrowser – Review

By on November 30, 2000

>DWGBrowser is a search and reporting tool for AutoCAD drawing files and operates in conjunction with a Web Browser and word processor. It can produce lists of extracted data, which can include text objects and attribute objects in the drawing.  It can also produce text data about the graphic objects in the drawing and the organization of the drawing environment, such as layers. In addition, it can display the drawing in the form of the small preview image, a large raster image, or the WMF web-oriented vector format. The web Browser display can also have a link to run AutoCAD to edit the drawing.
The main display of DWGBrowser is shown in the illustration. This is really one rather big dialog box, where you fill in information in the various boxes or select from drop-down lists to specify what you want done. Having done that, you click ‘Process’ and it creates a set of web-viewable files and runs the web browser.

Drawing Browsers main dialog panel.On left side is the panel for specifying the files to process. It can process either selected particular files, or can navigate folders and subfolders and process DWG files found there.

The upper middle section is used to specify search parameters. As with several of these dialog regions, the panels for specifying what is wanted are ‘greyed-out’ until the button to enable that function is clicked.

The ‘Find Words’ facility searches for the words you specify in various ‘fields’ of the DWG files. Some of these fields are provided in AutoCAD R14 and 2000 as an aid to indexing and retrieving files. However, many users never enter anything in the user-defined fields, in which case this facility cannot use those fields. But if the facility is used, it can be extremely valuable for finding things in a very large collection of DWG files. Some of AutoCAD’s file data fields are automatically filled in and DWGBrowser can also search those fields. You can enter several words and it will find any file that has at least one of those words in the specified field. Only the fields that you tick are examined when searching.

The bottom center section is used to specify the fields to be exported and included in your extract data file. You can specify which fields you want, in which order, and even details such as justification and title.

Preview Bitmap: This is the small ‘thumbnail’ raster image that AutoCAD stores in the DWG file, giving an indication of the appearance of the drawing when last saved. For display in a browser, if required, these preview images are stored in PNG format, and can be automatically deleted after use if desired.

DWG File: This extracts a link to the actual DWG file, allowing anyone viewing the extract in a web browser to click on the link and launch AutoCAD or VoloView with the drawing.

DWF Link: If a DWF file having the same name as the drawing is found, a link to that file is displayed. This allows you to click on the link in the browser, which brings up the DWF file to full screen in the browser.

DWF Embedded: Instead of providing a link to a found DWF, this option embeds a DWF file in the report table. This (and the link option above) requires that the Autodesk Whip Driver be installed for the browser you are using. That may be downloaded free from the Autodesk website. This (and the DWF Link) option would be valuable for internal office information distribution to staff who do not have AutoCAD.

Image Link: If a raster image having the same name as the drawing is found, a link to that file is displayed. This allows you to click on the link in the browser bringing the raster to full screen in the browser. The routine searches for the following extensions in the order listed: PNG, GIF, BMP, JPG, JPEG. For instance if a JPG and PNG file both exist, the PNG file will be chosen for the link. This form of raster representation of the drawing would need to have been manually generated from AutoCAD, and would usually be of much greater resolution than the automatically created preview image.

Image Embedded: Instead of providing a link to a found raster file, this option embeds a raster image in the report table. DwgBrowser can automatically resize raster images (if set to do so) to limit the stored data size.

The producers of DWGBrowser give some sound advice regarding generating raster images from AutoCAD: “It is important to note that scaling down of raster images representing fine line-work such as drawings can produce very poor results. You should consider the appropriate size when creating bitmaps with AutoCAD’s Plot to Raster File. The PNG format is strongly recommended over JPG as it creates a small file with much cleaner line-work.”

Custom (1-10): The ‘Custom’ properties contained in the AutoCAD drawing properties. These custom properties are stored and reported in the format of “NAME=VALUE”. So, if APPROVED is a name in the custom properties, and YES were a value, then APPROVED=YES would be reported.

TXT Link: If a TXT file having the same name as the drawing is found, a link to that file is displayed. This allows you to click on the link in the browser, bringing the TXT to full screen in the browser. This relates mainly to the use of DWGBrowser’s Capture program described below.

TXT Embedded: Instead of providing a link to a found TXT, this option embeds the text the associated TXT file contains directly in the report table.

The following fields hold data automatically updated by AutoCAD: Version (‘R12’, ‘R14’ etc), Date (last saved), Time, Size, Created (date), LastUpdated, LastSavedBy, Revision, EditingTime.

The following fields hold data optionally entered by the user in AutoCAD’s ‘Drawing Properties’ (a feature in AutoCAD 2000, that was available in the Express Tools of R14) : Title, Subject, Author, Keywords, Comments.

The section in the upper right of the dialog contains controls for various properties of the HTML file that DWGBrowser will create, such as the layout of the tabulation of data.

A simple HTML DWGBrowser report.Once all parameters are set, click the ‘Process’ button in the lower left corner. When finished processing DwgBrowser will automatically launch the default Web Browser to display the generated report.

When you have achieved the report layout desired, a printed copy may be wanted. Web Browsers do not always do this too well, so DWGBrowser supports using Microsoft Word 2000 which can handle the HTML web display file produced by DWGBrowser.

Capture Utility

The DwgBrowser Capture utility runs inside AutoCAD and activates when the drawing is being saved. It then gathers and ‘captures’ the specified information and writes that information to a text file.

The DwgBrowser Capture utility is designed to provide a workaround for a problem regarding the text and other annotation objects inside an AutoCAD drawing. Textual information inside an AutoCAD DWG file is encoded along with the remainder of the information. This becomes readily apparent when the user attempts to use the Windows ‘Find Files & Folders’ tool along with its ‘Containing Text’ option.

Before taking this approach, DotSoft, the developer of DWGBrowser, experimented to see if DwgBrowser could scan the actual DWG using ObjectDBX. But even on a modest collection of small to medium drawings the time needed to scan the drawings was totally unacceptable.

So they decided to capture the textual information from within AutoCAD to an external TXT file with the same name as the DWG file. By default, the Capture utility reacts to the saving of the drawing and automatically updates the external txt file. Even on larger drawings this companion file is quite small.

DwgBrowser Capture for AutoCAD R14 is in the form of an ARX program. DwgBrowser Capture for AutoCAD 2000 is in the form of a VLX program. Both programs need to be loaded manually the first time in AutoCAD’s Appload, and after that, AutoCAD will automatically make the progarm available. Each version of Capture works with all the other variants of R14 or 2000 AutoCAD respectively, such as Map, Mechanical Desktop, Architectural Desktop, Land Development Desktop, etc.

The Capture program’s display is a similar dialog box to that of DWGBrowser, and has various boxes for you to specify what AutoCAD annotation objects you captured. It also has options for having Capture run automatically at every AutoCAD Save, which is the recommended method. If disabled, Capture can be run manually from the AutoCAD Command prompt.

DWGBrowser and its companion Capture program provide an unusual facility. Many AutoCAD users may be puzzled as to why anyone would want it, but people in charge of large AutoCAD design offices will quickly appreciate its utility. As well as assisting in overall drawing management, it can simplify making drawing information available to other staff that do not have full CAD access.

DotSoft Software Development

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