Going back to Windows with an aching in my heart.

I’m typing this entry in Microsoft OneNote on my new Vista-based workstation.

WHAT?! The Apple fanboy has joined the enemy? Turncoat!

Yep.

The single biggest reason I have for doing so is software-related. If you remember back to this post, I was having enormous difficulties getting my modeling software to properly create the geometry I needed for the Water & Power project. Much of that difficulty was a result of what the software developers call “training issues” – a kind euphemism for operator error. Those errors were a direct result of me trying to shoehorn general-purpose modeling into a very specific, sheet metal and structural steel framework. After several additional weeks of cussing and learning, I THOUGHT I had resolved my issues and developed usable 2d patterns from my 3d models. A few weeks later, I came to find out (the hard way) that I was mistaken – some cut lines had been omitted from the pattern, which entailed reworking the patterns all the way from their 3d state for those particular shapes. I was able to do so and then generate some cutting templates with the help of the big printers at Kinko’s, but the whole error resulted in a pretty expensive change order at the fabricator. Not to mention the stress and the added work for me.

I realized at that point that if I wanted to continue to push myself and my designs via CAD, I was going to have to find a toolset and workflow that would minimize these kinds of errors. My trust in the current set of software tools I was utilizing had been undermined and the need for something new was self-evident.

Solidworks to the rescue.

I got an evaluation license and set up a Bootcamped Windows XP partition on my Macbook Pro. I did all the included tutorials, watched a few hours of demo videos on Youtube and elsewhere. WOW. Solidworks can do everything I was contorting myself to do in my previous packages (yes, plural) all in one unified workspace – and it can do it with an elegance and sheer power that blows me away. The most significant aspect is the History, which allows you to make changes to existing designs while automatically updating said design to compensate for the change. For example, say I decide to change the material for a sculpture from 16 gauge A36 steel sheet to 14 gauge 304 stainless steel. All that is needed is to tell the sheet metal feature in the feature tree that fact, and all the bend allowances, offsets, etc. are updated on the fly. In addition, any drawings that have been produced (again, right inside Solidworks) are immediately updated to reflect the change. That last bit is HUGE, since the downstream manufacturers rely on these drawings to fab the design. With my previous system, I would have to manually make any necessary changes to the 3d model, re-develop the patterns, export the patterns to my drawing program, and annotate the revisions there. Each of these steps introduces the possibility of mistakes – both mine and import/export related ones. Eliminating them means eliminating a big percentage of the errors that result in expensive change orders. Sweet. Now, mind you, all this power comes at a steep price – but one that can pretty quickly be compensated for in error-free projects.

 

OK, so, if I’m able to run it on my mac laptop, why a new computer? Unfortunately, the makers of Solidworks, Dassault Systemes, do not offer support for running it on macs. It makes zero sense to invest several thousand dollars on a software package only to run it on a cobbled-together system that precludes you from technical support in the advent of problems. Plus, Solidworks is a very hardware-intensive package, and a serious desktop workstation allows one to use it to fullest advantage.

Moving from OS X to Windows Vista is a pretty jarring experience – mostly in terms of attitude toward the user. Maybe it is just general familiarity, but Apple seems to have crafted a user environment that leaves less to bewilderment and officiousness. Not a day goes by on Vista where I’m not wondering what the hell that dialog box means or why that error occurred – something that, in all seriousness, almost never happened on the mac. I understand the why behind this – Apple does not have the legacy overhead for both software and hardware that Microsoft has to deal with, and of course the sheer number and variety of users forces Bill and Ballmer and Co’s hand. But I personally would pay extra to MS to have a simplified, less paranoid version of Windows to run Solidworks on. Here’s hoping Windows 7 is a step in that direction.

I’ll miss you, little Macbook.

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