3Dconnexion recently announced another free software update for the new SpacePilot PRO 3D mouse. The most visible portions of this upgrade include new functions called Model Properties Applet and Intelligent Function Key Notification. Both of these new functions add functionality to the SpacePilot PRO’s LCD. If there ever was a device feature that needs added functionality, it is the LCD on the SpacePilot PRO.
Model Properties Applet
This new applet enables engineers to quickly view supposed key model information on the SpacePilot PRO’s LCD. The claim from 3DConnexion is that this somehow increases productivity and makes things easier for workgroups to collaborate. I’m not sure how this applet makes collaboration easier. The applet just displays fundamental document information on the LCD. It doesn’t transmit this data or pull information from my PDM.
For a drawing, the function is very basic, indeed. The applet tells me that I am looking at a drawing (go figure), and shows the computer network name of the drawing’s author, file size, file creation date, file last saved date, and the computer network name of the last person to save the file. There is nothing particularly “key” or “vital” about any this information. The applet would be far more useful if it allowed the user to modify the information on the display. For example, for me key information from a drawing would be a list of particular custom property names and their values, and the name of the model in the dominant pre-defined view (the view from which the part custom property values are derived).
Slightly more useful information is available for models, including mass, volume, material and density. This same information is displayed for assemblies, though I’m not sure why. Wouldn’t it be more useful to show me the total number of parts in the assembly, or an estimate on how many seconds would be required for a force rebuild (CTRL-Q)? My suggestion to 3DConnexion is to completely dump the file information and add these kind of data for all document types.
Intelligent Function Key Notification
This is a fancy name for the fact that the LCD now displays a quick pop-up window which shows the user which button command they activated. It does this regardless to the applet that is running on the LCD. This way, the user will always have visual confirmation as to which command they just executed. This is a moderately useful function for someone who has just finish mapping their programmable buttons and needs queues to help reinforce the memorization of that mapping. If the user has already memorized their button mapping, this function provides little benefit. For now, I like this function, but I can easily imagine that I will ignore it eventually.
“S” Shortcut key
One bonus for SolidWorks users is that 3DConnexion recently added support for the “S” shortcut key. It can now be added to the programmable buttons directly without having to create a device macro. This function was secretly added to the previous software upgrade for the SpacePilot PRO, but 3DConnexion is now bragging about it. They also stated that this “S” shortcut key support has been added for SpaceExplorer and SpacePilot Speed Keys. My only criticism here is that any key and key-combination should already be supported by the software for these devices. My 1990’s programmable keyboard supports any key combination in its “PF” keys. Why are these not fully supported by 3DConnexion’s 21ST Century product offerings?
Having just recently updated my SpacePilot PRO drivers and software with this new announced version, I can say that installation was easier this time around. In the past, installation has been a bit of a pain. One problem plaguing the SpacePilot PRO is that its software and drivers need to be the last item installed on your computer. This means that if any supported application is installed after the SpacePilot PRO software, the SpacePilot PRO software needs to be reinstalled afterwards. Crazy, huh? Anyway, this upgrade was pretty painless this time, and I didn’t even lose my programmable key mappings, unlike previous upgrades and re-installs. New 3DConnexion 3D mice shipped in September 2009 will have the new version of the software and drivers included. Otherwise, for Windows, download them from this location here.