This week 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) released Alibre Design 2012, a low-cost productivity software suite that offers professional-grade CAD design and simulation. Check out this awesome review of the new user interface from Randall Newton at GraphicSpeak.
One of the first things you notice in Alibre Design 2012 is the new ribbon interface. The regular toolbars are still present which can now be resized. For those who want to use the old menu all you need to do is press the Alt key and the good old menu temporarily shows up between the ribbon and the toolbars.
If you want to permanently turn the ribbon off and use the menu only the you can choose to do so by unchecking the “Use Ribbon” and “Hide Menu” boxes in System Options -> Display.
A closer look at the files in the Alibre Design installation folder suggests that the folks at Alibre implemented the ribbon user interface by licensing a third party UI library called Elegant Ribbon from Professional UI Solutions, which is actually quite a nice implementation of Microsoft’s ribbon. The advantage of using these professional UI libraries as opposed to developing your own is that they come with all kinds nice stuff like themes.
Alibre had greatly improved sketching in their previous version. In 2012 they have added a new UI feature called In Place Editing for the Part and Sheet Metal workspaces and is available only while you are sketching. In select mode if you left click the mouse anywhere on the graphics screen a small toolbar pops up showing the commands that you can initiate.
This is better then right clicking and searching for the command in the context menu that pops up. The buttons in this toolbar can even expand to expose more commands (see figure above). This toolbar can be also invoked by pressing the space bar or middle mouse button. If the toolbar comes in the way it can be dragged around the screen and placed somewhere else. If you move the mouse away from the toolbar to do something else, the software understands that you don’t want to use the toolbar and automatically closes it.
For people new to this concept, clicking the arrow toward the right of the toolbar expands it and the buttons are expanded to make place for descriptive text.
While all these UI enhancements in Alibre Design are nice and very welcome, my pet peeve about the product is the lack of Direct Modeling capabilities. Especially since the software is being promoted to people in the DIY and Maker space who may not be as “CAD oriented” as we would like them to be. I believe that a traditional history based parametric modeling system may not be the best tool to serve people in that segment. That is where a product like Autodesk’s 123D could be very successful.