Sweet Home 3D: Open Source, Cross Platform Design Application
If Vern Yip is reading this, I still need your help. Though Sweet Home 3D tops Google's SketchUp in a number of areas, it's still not much help for someone with no design sense.
This makes it even more odd that I was so excited when I spotted Elizabeth Krumbach's post on the open source, cross platform 3D interior design modeling application. I've lived in my house for nine years -- we have shades on all the windows, but only one window has actual curtains. It's just that SketchUp is a fun little application, and it's one of the only applications I've tried to run with WINE (and failed miserably in the attempt).
Sweet Home 3D, as Krumbach says, is pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Because it's open source, there's the potential to model a structure (and the stuff that fills it) to a whole new level of precision. Perhaps the only drawback (and it could be a machine quirk, as everything's being difficult today) was its seeming somewhat crashprone on my Ubuntu 9.04 64-bit laptop. That could also be chalked up to my learning curve. But let's take a closer look.
The key thing to keep in mind with Sweet Home 3D is that zoom is as useful as any of the building tools. Walls, rooms, half walls, and furniture can be set at any angle (and the angles and dimensions are calculated as the structure is laid out). Hints pop up when a particular tool is selected (such as "Create wall" or "Create rooms"), but all generally work the same way. Personality can be added to structures by selecting the desired item, and changing color, texture, or height and slope.
But it's really all about the three dimesional walk throughs. Sweet Home 3D has two methods of 3D viewing: aerial and a "virtual visit." The "virtual visit" mode is an eye-level view, controlled by selecting the small figure in the 2D pane and turning and moving him. (I tend to do this slowly, and imagine him fearfully expecting something to jump out from under the oversized corner sectional couch.)
For best results, Sweet Home 3D developers recommend that your system (both hardware and software) is capable of handling fairly intensive 3D rendering.
The application can take "photos" of a room in its 3D state, and is able to export plans to PDF (or simply print them). Importing items of furniture can be done in-program (and the application can handle files in the OBJ, LWS and 3DS formats for those wishing to create and contribute objects).
Sweet Home 3D runs on Windows, OS X, Linux and Solaris, and can be launched via Java Web Start or by an installer. Since it is licensed under the GPL, the source code is also available for those wishing to take a closer look.