Coming from Autodesk, makers for the thousand-dollar-plus AutoCAD drafting software, there's a new and currently free drafting tool for simple architectural drawings. Project Cooper is a simple app for creating 2D floor plans. It's like AutoCAD, stripped down to the bone and then some, and that makes it a lot easier to use. It's also built for Windows 7 touch screen computers, so you can drag and rotate and objects without a mouse or keyboard. (Project Cooper can also be downloaded from CNET's Download.com.)
The idea is that ordinary humans and some pros will use this app for simple layouts--basic floor plans for homes or events, gardens, and the like. Since the app saves data in Autocad DWG format, the files can then be shipped over to a professional architect for clean up. It could theoretically save a step in a home improvement project, but I expect in most cases a professional will have to re-draw a consumer's layout from scratch.
Scale and dimension are a big part of Cooper. When you start the program it asks you how big your drawing is going to be, and it scales everything to the right size automatically and picks appropriate units.
I used the app to do a little editing on a floor plan. I found it easy to add items from a palette of components, drag them into place, rotate them, and so on. The product is easy to get into if you're used to Windows apps, but if you're not used to the way Windows 7 touchscreen computers work, prepare for a frustrating learning experience while you learn a new way of interacting with data. i found my screen jumping around and objects ending up in places I didn't want them while I was trying to figure out the interface.
But once you've got that sorted out, if you want to do something like add a door, you just drag it to a wall. It won't cut the wall for you, but a simple tap of the erase button on the wall cuts out just the part you want. Cooper also has some fairly advanced functionality buried just below the surface, such as full support for layers of data, and dimension lines that are always accurate. There's also a semi-freehand drawing mode, which is good for landscapes.
Compared with another popular drawing app, Microsoft's Visio, Cooper is narrow in its focus. I wouldn't use it for a flowchart or organization diagram, but for doing basic architectural drawings its focus keeps it easy to use.
Also, it's not 3D, like Google's Sketchup. So you can do floor plans but not complex 3D work like designing kitchen cabinets. And since it's not 3D, it won't show you a rendering of what you're building in a real world view. (See also Autodesk's own online 3D planning app, Dragonfly.)
But you can't beat the price, for now, and it is pretty simple to use. If you've got a touch-enabled Windows 7 computer, it's a good way to get accustomed to the direct editing features of the new OS.
Cooper should be available with the launch on Windows 7 on Thursday, and while Autodesk is testing the app, for the next several months, it's free. If you're working on a home improvement project, I recommend you check it out.