After 10 months of development work, Google has announced the release of SketchUp 7.1. A free upgrade for current Pro users, the latest version of the popular design software offers several new features:

(1) Improved rendering engine. "We've redone the pipeline, making it faster," says SketchUp product manager John Baucus. The result: Fewer hiccups as you work on large building models.

(2) Dimensioning. LayOut 2.1, part of SketchUp Pro 7.1, now allows users to apply dimensions—which will snap to points—to scaled models and vector graphics, making SketchUp a "lightweight drafting tool," says Baucus. LayOut also sports an improved freehand tool that turns your curves into smooth vector lines.

(3) Sharing and collaboration. SketchUp now supports a new file format: COLLADA. The open standard 3D file format—"it's XML under the hood," notes Baucus—means that users can move their designs among many kinds of software. "We're very excited about this," says Baucus. "It's important to us that people shouldn't feel locked in to a format." Users can also import and export KMZ (Google Earth) files.

(4) Photo textures. "This is the main new thing we've added," says Baucus. SketchUp users can now tap into Google Street View to extract images to use as textures on their designs. "It's perfect for contextual models," notes Baucus. Users find the site they want in Google Earth, import it into SketchUp, add the model, and SketchUp will find the best images available.

While these improvements are for the benefit of SketchUp's users, Baucus says, ultimately Google hopes upgrades such as these convince more architects and designers to model more buildings—especially existing ones—in SketchUp. "Our goal is to get a model of every building in the world" in Google's 3D Warehouse, says Baucus. To what end? "We think there will be uses of this nobody has yet imagined."