The image captures several capabilities of Alibre Design. The rendered pistons and crankshaft show a few modeling and assembly features along with what can be shared online with suppliers and partners, for instance. The system also generates 2D drawings. The inset window shows who is online with you along with a menu for several tutorials.

It also serves as an entry to solid modeling for engineers looking to shift from 2D to 3D design. The software's easy-to-use design tools and collaboration techniques let users share data with customers and vendors around the world.

A built-in PDM (product-data-management) system helps users move quickly through the design process, keeping track of revisions, design changes, expenses and general data. Usually, software developers charge a hefty sum for a separate or custom-built PDM capability that can be so complex only a specialist can use it. With built-in PDM, designers and managers can work together without leaving their offices.

The design program can be used on a single computer, a local network, or globally over the Internet. This means companies need not spend inordinate amounts of time and money traveling to and from 5-minute meetings. The software costs less than most airplane tickets.

One of its most useful features is online collaboration. An entire design team can get together in minutes to work on a design regardless of each member's physical location. Each team member can simultaneously participate in a design session, rotating, panning, zooming, inspecting, communicating, and recording revisions while the CAD software records a design history. All engineering documents are updated once a design change is made because the software is natively parametric. This keeps all design-team members on the same page. After a collaboration session, an e-mail can be sent to each team member (whether they participated or not) to document images, notes, communications, and general information from the session.

Besides CAD data, users can also share text documents, image files, and Excel spreadsheets. No special set-up is needed: The sharing and recording starts right out of the box. Also, users need to be proficient in complex computer programs or attend rigorous training courses. An Invite Wizard gives user associates unlimited 30-day trials of the software.

The $495 software comes from Alibre Inc., 1701 N. Greenville Ave., Suite 702, Richardson, TX 75081, (972) 671-8492, www.alibre.com