Can Google Sketchup replace AutoCAD?

If you spend any time at all using designing tools or rendering and model software, whether professionally or as a hobby in your free time, you’ve no doubt heard of Google Sketchup by now.

A fast, free, easy to learn designing tool that competes with AutoCAD (or does it?), Google Sketchup offers an extremely friendly user interface and a minimized look and feel that might, at first glance, seem to lack the horsepower of more well-known modeling software. However, like an old-school muscle car that’s been supercharged, the real power can only be seen when you pop the hood. But even though the user interface and capabilities of Sketchup might seem to be giving AutoCAD a run for its money, there are two large limitations that will need to be overcome before Sketchup can hope to take on the big dogs.

Limitation: Compatibility

Sketchup is still wrestling with a few debilitating bugs. At last check, textures imported into Maya 6.0 or 6.5 had a tendency to reverse themselves. Any mesh system being transferred out of Sketchup will need to be recreated on the receiving machine. And if you’re thinking about exporting to Vasari, forget about it – the list of bugs is too long to list here. These issues will need to be addressed and remedied before Sketchup can hope to gain any kind of serious market traction against AutoCAD.

Limitation: Naming Conventions

Perhaps more than any other limitation, the forced truncation of file names for Google Sketchup textures poses a problem for users commanding large, complex, or sophisticated projects that require specific naming conventions. Google Sketchup is limited by the antiquated 8.3 DOS character maximums, so file names have to be shortened to eight characters or less. This poses a significant problem for high-end designers juggling hundreds or thousands of textures that have to be swapped in and out quickly and easily, since naming conventions will be far less intuitive with Sketchup than they would be with AutoCAD – or just about any other form of computer aided design software.

Advantage: Free Models

Google Sketchup hooks up to 3D Warehouse, which contains a seriously massive assortment or pre-designed models of all shapes and sizes. Hundreds of thousands of them. While AutoCAD typically ships with around 4,000 pre designed model templates – and users can easily access a few thousand more on one of the many AutoCAD user sites out there – the availability of pre-designed models from Sketchup is absolutely jaw dropping.

If and when Google manages to correct the compatibility and naming convention problems with Sketchup, AutoCAD will have a tough and determined competitor. Until then, serious designers are smart to stick with the big dogs.

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