True to my promise I made at the end of my SolidWorks Essentials class, I "stayed with it," devoting at least half an hour a day to using the software. Okay, may be not every day, but most days.. The perseverance paid off.
I tested myself by creating 2 parts that I was quite familiar with from my teaching days and surprised myself by finishing them. I was hardly moving at demo jock speed. In fact, I think I made a few small errors and probably would have made the demo jocks laugh at my bungling ways. But most importantly, I finished. Gone was the head banging, fits and frustrations that marked my first few attempts. Several times, I came up against what would have been a barrier but some memory of a procedure, command or trick learned in class would kick in and I was able to get through it. Lo and behold, the people who had told me to take a class actually knew what they were talking about.
I must say I actually enjoyed making the parts shown. Compared to my old ways (over ten years ago with Mechanical Desktop) this newfangled software was a delight. For example, the ease at which I could move around the model to view it from different angles was SO easy with SolidWorks. In fact, I think I may even have exposed a small error in a model that had gone undetected in 4 years of teaching 3D modeling. Also enjoyable was using the feature tree to make changes. I loved SolidWorks' extrude command with its offset feature, which allows me to start an extrusion away from a chosen plane -- one of many little timesavers that I found in SolidWorks 2007.
Overall, my experience with SolidWorks has left me feeling that the software is, indeed, a joy to use as long as the user allows for an adequate training period. Do not think that using such a sophisticated product right out of the box will be straight forward or easy. I suppose a user could be self taught but this would greatly extend the training period. The consensus -- and my own personal experience -- calls for a short class by a certified instructor. In other words, you can launch from a long runway or use a catapult launch. You may protest when your SolidWorks VAR will only sell software bundled with 1 year of support and a training class. If you are a skeptic like me, you'll think of this as a way to jack up the profits -- like the warranties that the electronics stores always want to sell you. But in this case, the skeptics will be wrong -- the training is essential.