Autodesk desktop app. Worst. Name. Ever. Is the product better than the name?

Autodesk wants your software to be automatically updated so you’re always running the latest version. Let’s pretend for a moment that this is a good idea and have a look at how Autodesk now attempts to do this. For the previous couple of releases (2015/2016), this has been done using Autodesk Application Manager. For 2017, this has been replaced by Autodesk desktop app. Even if you haven’t installed any 2017 products, you may have already seen this kind of thing pop up. Repeatedly.

ApplicationManagerReplaced

Note how there’s no obvious “stop nagging me and leave me alone” option. Autodesk Application Manager’s settings page does include an Alerts tab which allows you to turn off all desktop alerts, but the above message indicates Application Manager has suffered an “end of life” experience so there’s not much point having it on your system.

Before I get onto the new product and how it works, I want to discuss its name. It’s woeful. I have never been less whelmed by any product name than Autodesk desktop app. It’s not even Autodesk Desktop App, it’s Autodesk desktop app (sans initial capitals). It’s dull, generic, uninspired,  and it means nothing. AutoCAD is an Autodesk desktop app. Inventor is an Autodesk desktop app. Graphic Impact used to be an Autodesk desktop app. This is the equivalent of Ford naming their next new car “Ford road vehicle”. It says to me, “We couldn’t come up with a name so we just gave up.”

Having got that off my chest, what about the product itself? What does it do? According to Autodesk, this:

Autodesk desktop app is a content delivery solution. The desktop component installs with Microsoft Windows®-based Autodesk 2017 products and suites. It replaces the previous in-product update components and the Autodesk Application Manager.

Autodesk desktop app keeps Autodesk Subscription customers informed of product updates, new releases, new features, and special subscriber-only learning and training materials, as they become available. Autodesk desktop app also delivers and applies critical security patches for all 2015 Autodesk products onwards.

Does it deliver? No. Not for me, anyway. In my secure proxy server environment, it fails to connect, despite Autodesk Application Manager working fine in the same environment. There is a long and unfortunate history of various aspects of Autodesk software switching between working and not working in a secure proxy environment, and this product just added to that history. Things that worked in one release stop working in a new release. Some of them might start magically working again in a later release. I can only assume it’s developers tinkering with stuff and not realising the consequences. Whatever the reason, it inconveniences customers, makes Autodesk look bad at the Internet (again), and throws a spanner in the works as far as Autodesk’s online-driven future plans are concerned.

Besides it having the dumbest name ever and (for some) not doing the one thing it’s designed to do, what else is wrong with it? Here’s a list for starters:

  1. After an AutoCAD install, unless you specifically choose not to install it, it will be installed and will automatically run, getting right in your face when you probably just want to draw things.
  2. It automatically sets itself up to run all the time, using your system resources. I intend to go into more detail about Autodesk web stuff abusing your resources in future.
  3. On systems where it doesn’t work, the user experience is, er, sub-optimal. I won’t bore you with the details, but you are sent on a wild goose chase.
  4. On systems where it works, it calls home and communicates with Autodesk in undocumented ways (“Collects usage data to support users better.”).
  5. On systems where it works, it may repeatedly tell you about updates you have already applied.
  6. On systems where it works, it may not keep you up to date in the advertised manner; some hotfixes are not supported.
  7. It has a Sign In button, which encourages you to get an Autodesk account if you don’t already have one. It should not be necessary to sign in to anything to keep your products up to date. If you’re managing a corporate environment, you might not want your users all signing up for individual accounts without your knowledge.
  8. The whole idea of giving Autodesk unfettered access to update your apps when it feels like it is pretty horrific. That would involve a naive level of trust in Autodesk that it has proven repeatedly it does not deserve. The very application that wants to auto-update so it can carry on doing auto-updating other things is itself a classic example of why you really don’t want to allow that sort of thing to happen.

Let’s say you don’t care about any of that and still desperately want this thing working. What to do? At the bottom of the About Autodesk desktop app knowledgebase article, there is a link: Autodesk desktop app is not able to connect to the Internet. When I clicked it, I got this:

ThisIsEmbarrassingWell….this really is embarrassing. To be fair, the link appears to be working now, so you probably won’t see the above. However, what you do see isn’t any better. The advice provided there is terrible. It’s asking for totally unreasonable holes to be punched through your firewall, allowing whitelist access to a myriad of marketing and other undesirable sites (e.g. Akamai, which has a history of sub-optimal online ethics). I don’t think so.

The best thing I can say about Autodesk desktop app is that you can choose to not install it with your 2017 product. That seems like an excellent idea to me, because this product is a crock. Uninstall it if it’s been installed. Uninstall Autodesk Application Manager if that’s installed, because it’s just going to stop working and nag you to death in the meantime. Then store away this little episode at the back of your mind for future reference, because I’m sure Autodesk hasn’t finished pushing us down this path yet. Push back. Hard.

Autodesk Answer Day – 18 May 2016

Autodesk is encouraging you to use the Autodesk Community (formerly know as forums, discussion groups, newsgroups, etc.) to get answers to your questions by setting up a special day where Autodesk people will attend and be responsive. I don’t know if this includes responding to people’s concerns over Autodesk ending the sale of perpetual licenses, but it’s worth a try anyway. The forum for discussing that particular issue is somewhat hidden. It doesn’t appear among the list of forums, so you would only know it existed if you happened to pick on the Installation and Licensing link and had a look at the header to see the Perpetual License Changes link. But now you know it’s there, you can go and ask your questions. Meaningful answers are not guaranteed.

Here is the announcement. When is this event, exactly?

Join us at our first “Big Bang” Answer Day online event on Wednesday, May 18th from 6:00am to 6:00pm Pacific Time.

Pacific Time is currently UTC (GMT) -7 hours, so for people outside North America, that means UTC 1 PM Wednesday 18 May to 1 AM Thursday 19 May. To calculate the times in your own location, I suggest using the very handy timeanddate.com site.

Shout out to Robert McNeel & Associates

Let’s start the rebirth of this blog on a positive note. I’d like to express my gratitude to Robert McNeel & Associates for what must surely be the most outstanding example of long-term customer service in the CAD industry.

These days, McNeel is best known for the 3D modelling software Rhino. I have heard good things about this product, but have never used it. However, I am a long-term user of another McNeel product, DOSLib. This is an extensive set of functions that adds greatly to the functionality of AutoLISP. It all works very well and has saved me many hours of work that I would have spent reproducing that functionality. Of course, many LISP programmers could write functions to calculate a cube root, or read a text file, or display a date in whatever format you like, or copy files, or generate a GUID, or toggle the Caps Lock status, or display an HTML file, or return a list of OLE objects in the drawing, or display a multi-select file dialog, or return a list of Windows printers, or a hundred other handy things. The point is, they don’t have to because all that has been done for them and handed over for nothing.

The documentation is straightforward and accurate, and is provided in the form of a good old-fashioned local CHM file. This Help system may be unfashionable, but it remains infinitely superior to the still-awful system that paying AutoCAD customers have had to put up with for the last few years.

For those investigating alternatives to AutoCAD for whatever reason, the availability of DOSLib for Bricscad may help make that particular alternative a more attractive proposition.

Despite McNeel and Autodesk breaking ties many years ago, McNeel’s Dale Fugier has continued to provide, maintain and improve DOSLib. What’s more, DOSLib has remained totally free of charge and ad-free throughout its history, which dates back to 1992! Sometimes, there really is such a thing as a free lunch.

So here’s a big raised glass to Dale and Robert McNeel. Thank you for the many years of outstanding customer service in exchange for nothing but good feelings. Long may you prosper!

Disclaimer: I have no pecuniary relationship with McNeel; no money has ever changed hands in either direction. This post is totally unsolicited; I hope it comes as a pleasant surprise to McNeel.

Don’t be a technology lemming

In response to Shaan’s variant on the old “if you question the value of any change you must be a Luddite” argument, I was going to write a lemming-based parody. I didn’t, mainly because I didn’t want to perpetuate the lemming mass-suicide misconception. Instead, I’ll answer the point more directly.

Autodesk will acheive better success in convincing customers about Cloud computing and other concepts by actively and interactively engaging with them. Addressing their specific and legitimate concerns has a chance of success if the concepts have merit. Insultingly likening customers to allegedly stupid animals isn’t going to convince anyone.

Besides, the point has little validity. Armadillos have 20 species, are currently dramatically increasing their territory in North America, and have been around rather longer than humans. Maybe we should wait until we’ve been around a few tens of millions of years longer before we get too cocky about how terrible those stupid armadillos are at surviving.

Edit: Shaan has responded to this post on his own blog, deleted my reply and closed comments. He seems rather upset about something.

Edit: …and has now restored my comment and opened comments again.

Let’s have your AutoCAD WS 1.6 reviews

Autodesk has just released the latest iteration of its free online CAD app, AutoCAD WS. It’s available directly via your browser or as iOS, Mac or Android apps. This is the closest Autodesk has yet come to showing us what real CAD in the Cloud can do. Autodesk has now had three years’ work behind it since buying the company responsible for this technology. I’d like you to put aside any Cloud concerns you may have and give it a fair go. Please try it out and report back what you find in a mini-review. How well does it work? The customer stories are all from organisations using it as a viewer or for simple markup edits. Is that all it can do, or does it come close to deserving to have CAD in its name?

What do I want you to try? It’s up to you, but I don’t want to waste too much of your time. Why not have a go at something that would only take you a couple of minutes in any AutoCAD release from the last quarter of a century?

For example, I’m sure everyone here could start a new drawing using a template containing your company’s layer standards, insert a title block and populate a couple of the attributes, then accurately draw and dimension a single 2D view of a rectangular plate containing a single round hole. Try to do the equivalent in AutoCAD WS. If you have difficulty with that, try uploading a simple drawing and perform a few simple edits instead. How did that go?

I’ll be interested to see what you came across at each stage of the process. Was the setup process straightforward? What was easy to do in the WS editor? What was difficult? What was impossible? What worked well? What didn’t? What happened quickly? What took a long time? What’s good about the interface? What’s not? Do the commands work as you would expect them to? Please try to describe your experiences as objectively as you can.

Note: I’ve asked a similar question before, but that was some time ago and things have moved on since then.

Carl Bass confirms Cloud-only future for Autodesk – or does he?

As reported by Joe Francica (via WorldCAD Access), Carl Bass has confirmed, in a somewhat ambiguous way, that his Cloud-only vision rules at Autodesk.

I do believe that everything is moving to the cloud.

But…

There are a lot of applications that will [still] be done on the desktop. Whether Autodesk does it or not, I can’t think of a single function that won’t necessarily be done in the cloud.

Still a bit confused? Me too. It’s not clear where this leaves his underlings who have been rushing to contradict Carl’s earlier statements by unambiguously reassuring customers that Autodesk would continue to provide desktop software. Will they now come out with “clarifying” statements that fall into line with whatever it is Carl’s saying here? I doubt it, that would be just too embarrassing. I suspect we’ll see things go very quiet on this subject for a while.

Now we know (or do we?) it’s full steam ahead with desktop dismantlement, what about all those Cloud concerns? Carl does the standard Cloud PR thing of “addressing” that question by restating some of the concerns, ignoring others, but not coming up with answers for any of them other than expressing a vague hope that some of them will go away:

Foremost in people’s mind is security, privacy, reliability, confidential information. Some of those concerns will fall by the wayside.

Asked to come up with a compelling reason for customers to embrace the Cloud, he didn’t:

In many cases, for anyone to move to any technology platform you have to do more than what people have today. So what’s the compelling event? I think what you will see in the cloud is that it will look like every other disruptive technology. Some people will downplay it. Some will poo poo it.

More of the same, then. It’s disruptive, but people with legitimate concerns about that disruption are just naysayers to ignore. With an attitude like that, the chances of Autodesk taking its dubious customer base with it into Cloudy Heaven are slim indeed.

Caveat: I do not have access to the entire interview, so the opinions expressed here are based only on what I do have. It’s quite possible that Carl had something useful to say that didn’t appear in the article.

MDT users and other Autodesk orphans, let’s have your good news stories!

I was going to ignore this subject, but I’ve changed my mind because it allows me to post something positive about Autodesk. After all, I do try to post positive things; it’s hardly my fault that Autodesk has a habit of making it difficult.

In upFront eZine #756, Autodesk’s Andrew Anagnost (or was it Clay Helm?) had the following to say, and must say I agree totally with the first sentence:

The best evidence is how we have behaved historically. When we included Mechanical Desktop with Inventor, the media complained that we were killing Mechanical Desktop; you were probably one of them. But we didn’t; we came out with six, seven more releases of it, completely free.

So, MDT users, you’re the poster child for how Autodesk looks after its customers. You’re also evidence for how wrong those nasty media naysayers can be. So here’s your opportunity to offer your gratitude to Autodesk for looking after you so well and giving you all that completely free software. Or perhaps you’re the user of another Autodesk product that fell out of fashion or was deemed a technological dead end (like desktop software, apparently). Let’s hear your good news stories about how well Autodesk treated you and your investment.

If you don’t want to add a comment, there’s a poll over on the right. I look forward to seeing the “Brilliantly” option show a near-100% rating!

Autodesk’s social media consultant spills the beans

Ever wondered why Autodesk is putting so much emphasis on social media these days? Why AutoCAD needs Facebook and Twitter commands? It’s because Autodesk pays social media consultants lots of money to tell them about the importance of social media, and how to be social and media-ish. In this video, one of those consultants explains the process:

Who is telling the truth in Autodesk’s Cloud PR trainwreck?

Does Autodesk intend to move all its applications exclusively to the Cloud? That is, online only and no longer available on the desktop? Autodesk people who say yes:

Carl Bass, CEO
Phil Bernstein, Vice President, Building Industry Strategy and Relations
Scott Sheppard, Autodesk Labs Software Development Manager (with private Cloud caveat)

Autodesk people who say no:

Kenneth Pimentel, Director, Visual Communications Solutions
Andrew Anagnost, Senior Vice President of Industry Strategy and Marketing
Clay Helm, Public Relations Manager for Manufacturing, Cross-Platform, Sustainability, and Consumers
Various other underlings who make reassuring but non-specific noises about expanded choice, or who admit to inconvenient impracticalities

There’s huge irony in the way Clay (or Andrew) attempts to paint the shafting of MDT customers as a we’ll-look-after-you example, but I think that’s a deliberate distraction tactic; other than this comment I’m going to ignore it. I’m ignoring, too, the spin about informal interviews, misinterpretation and the like. There’s a black-and-white contradiction here. Autodesk either intends to move all its applications online and away from the desktop, or it doesn’t.

Two men say they’re Jesus
One of ’em must be wrong
Dire Straits – Industrial Disease

So who do we believe? Last time I looked at an org chart, the CEO trumped the lot. The buck stops with Carl. So why is he letting his underlings go around undermining his Cloudy Vision? I see the following possibilities:

  1. Autodesk is going Cloud-only but it’s supposed to be a secret. Carl let it slip out and the underlings have been sent to try to cover the tracks by confusing and obfuscating.
  2. Autodesk is going Cloud-only, Carl had it right, but the underlings haven’t all been told yet and are incorrect in their “corrections”.
  3. Autodesk isn’t going Cloud only and Carl was just making stuff up on the fly. Why? To try to impress what he thought was a specific audience who wanted to hear that. It’s ironic that the nature of the Internet meant that the comments made its way to pretty much everyone, including the customers who ultimately pay his salary.

None of these options makes Autodesk look good. Is there an option 4? Feel free to speculate. Ultimately, the only chance of sorting this out is by Carl Bass himself coming out with a definitive and spin-free statement. Even then, will anyone believe him?

I have lost all trust I had in you
Opeth – To Rid The Disease

I can agree with one thing Clay (or Andrew) had to say; you will get the best idea of what’s to come by looking at Autodesk’s history. So if you’re concerned about Autodesk pushing you onto the Cloud against your will, don’t be. Instead, be afraid. Very afraid.

Why owning stuff is still important

Let’s start with a few questions:

  • Do you own your home or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?
  • Do you own your car or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?
  • Do you own your TV or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?
  • Do you own your computer or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?

If you’re like me, you answered the same for most or all of those questions. I own all of the above and rent none of it. I prefer owning all of the above. Why? Three Cs:

  • Continuity. If I own my home, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be able to go on living in it as long as I like. There are exceptions (wars, natural disasters, etc.), but ownership is generally much safer than renting if it’s important to retain access in the long term. This is because it removes the significant possibility that the owner may eventually terminate the agreement for reasons of their own, or make the relationship financially impractical.
  • Control. If I rent my home, for example, there are strict limits on what I can do with it. I can’t just install an air conditioner if the place gets too hot in summer. The owners or their representatives can come calling to make sure I’m looking after it as they desire. If I want to keep pets or smoke in the property, my options are severely limited.
  • Cost. There’s a reason people invest in property to rent out to others, or run profitable multinational businesses hiring out cars. It makes sense to be on the side of the relationship that’s taking the money rather than the one that’s paying it out. In other words, it usually makes financial sense to be the owner rather than the renter.

That doesn’t mean renting things never makes sense, of course. I wouldn’t buy a car to drive around while visiting another country, for example. Many people can’t afford to buy their own homes and have no alternative but to rent. But that doesn’t alter the basic point that ownership is the most desirable situation to be in. Let’s look at another situation and see if that point still applies:

  • Do you own your music or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?

There are an increasing number of people who feel that owning music is old hat. For example, have a look at Scott Sheppard’s blog post on this subject. Here’s one thing Scott has to say:

When you think about it, you don’t want to own an album or CD, you want to hear the songs when you want to.

Sorry, Scott, but there is more to it than just hearing songs when I want to. I have thought about it, very carefully, and I do want to own an album or CD. I want this for the same reasons I want to own my home, my car and so on.

  • Continuity. If I own a CD and look after it, I know I’m going to be able to keep using it indefinitely. I don’t have to worry about whether the rights holder wishes to continue making that music available, or changes the terms of the agreement to my detriment.
  • Control. If I own a CD, I can listen to it in good conditions on my home system without the music suffering from lossy compression. I can put it in my car’s player along with a few others and quickly flip to it without having to search for it among several thousand tracks. I can rip the music from the CD and place it on my iPod Nano watch, or Android phone, or computers, and play it when and where it’s convenient. I’m not reliant on any external parties or connections.
  • Cost. Once I’ve paid for my CD, the incremental cost of each listen is extremely close to zero. I’m still enjoying music I bought years ago, cost-free. My eldest daughter only listens to music on her iPod, but she generally buys CDs rather than downloading songs from iTunes. She does this because she works out what’s cheapest and it’s usually the CD, even allowing for one or two tracks she doesn’t want.

The cost issue may or may not apply, depending on the album and the service, but for me the other two factors are dealbreakers anyway. Besides, there are other reasons I want to own an album. These include artwork, lyrics, the pleasure that comes from collecting and owning an artist’s works, and so on. I understand that these aspects are down to my personal preference. There are plenty of kids out there who just want to listen to this week’s stuff without thinking about the future too much. However, huge numbers of those sort of people aren’t customers, and don’t enter into the commercial equation. When they download music, they don’t pay for it.

Scott’s experiment with Spotify is hardly a compelling argument for non-ownership. He lists a whole bunch of things that are irritating and which detract from his ability to listen to the music when and where he wants to. Things that don’t apply to those of us who own our music (or those who download it for free). In fact, it’s a very convincing argument that the “anytime, anywhere” mantra needs to be turned on its head. Want to ensure that you’ll be able to listen to the music you want? Anytime, anywhere, uninterrupted, problem-free and independent of external factors? Ownership, not Cloudy stuff. Every time.

With that in mind, let’s look at one more situation:

  • Do you own your software or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why?

Let’s sidestep the convenient (and court-approved, in some locations) legal idea that customers don’t actually own the software they buy. Let’s interpret the word “software” above as the ability to use the software. This includes whatever is required to do so, from a media, technical and licensing perspective. While you and I might prefer to permanently own our software (or licence to use that software), Autodesk likes to think that society:

is moving from [sic] only requiring access to products instead of owning them

and so it wants to:

move from offering a perpetual license with maintenance to a termed subscription model

In other words, Autodesk doesn’t want you to own software any more, it wants to rent it to you. This desire is clearly the prime mover behind its Cloud push. Never mind that the last time Autodesk tried renting out its software, the experiment was a dismal and short-lived failure because of a lack of customers. This has nothing to do with what you want, it has everything to do with what Autodesk wants.

Is this all OK with you? Do continuity, control and cost really not matter when it comes to software? Are you happy to hand matters over to your friendly vendor and not think about the future too much, like some pop-happy teenager? Or, like me, do you think owning stuff is still important?

How to break Civil 3D 2013

In Civil 3D 2013 (with or without hotfix 2.1), use the PLOT command and use the Window option. While being prompted for the window corners, use the middle button mouse wheel to zoom to locate the exact point you want. Civil 3D then enters a loop in which it displays:

Document “drawing name” has a command in progress.
Hit enter to cancel or [Retry]:

At this point, the user can do nothing with the program. Hitting Enter, Esc, R, etc. or doing more all do nothing except cause the message to be redisplayed. Picking a point or further wheel zooming does nothing useful. Using the application’s red X, or attempting to use the Taskbar to close it are equally ineffectual. The user has no alternative but to terminate Civil 3D using Task Manager, losing all unsaved work in all drawings.

This happens for me in Windows 7 64-bit. It does not occur using AutoCAD 2013 on the same system. Does it happen for you?

Why Autodesk’s Cloud push will fail, part 1 – failure defined

It’s probably unwise to make predictions about what is going to happen in technology. If so, I’m about to be unwise. So be it; if I’m wrong you can taunt me about this post in a few years. Here’s my prediction:

Autodesk’s attempt to move CAD users onto the Cloud is doomed to failure.

This is the first of a series of posts that will examine what I mean by that and the reasons behind it. The first thing that’s important to lay out is what I mean by failure. What I mean is that reality will not match Autodesk’s expectation of what will happen with its products moving to the Cloud. What expectation is that?

I’d say two to three years from now, every one of our products will be used online. The only way to use them will be online.

Carl Bass, April 2012, TechCrunch interview

So let’s say you’re an AutoCAD user. A successful Cloud push by Autodesk will mean that you and very large numbers of people just like you be using AutoCAD or an equivalent Autodesk product on the Cloud by 2014 or 2015. If that doesn’t happen for you and all the other users of Autodesk products, then that’s failure by definition. Autodesk will have failed to meet its own publicly stated goal, and that’s exactly what I’m expecting to happen. While it might look to a Cloudophile that I’m swimming against the tide of inevitability, I’m not alone here. Let’s examine what this blog’s poll respondents think about the chances of them using CAD in the Cloud:

Cloud chances poll results

(Snapshot taken a couple of weeks ago; more votes but no percentage change since then).

The poll has been running for nearly a year and attracted a sizeable number of votes. More than half of the respondents are convinced that there is absolutely no chance – zero – that they will be using a public Cloud-based application as their primary CAD software in the next five years (by 2016 or 2017, two years beyond Carl Bass’s stated target of universal Autodesk online operation). There is a group of respondents equally convinced that they definitely will be using such an application. However, with only 10% of votes, this group is outnumbered 5:1 among those who feel certain about what is going to happen. If we split all the votes into those who think there’s a better than even chance of a Cloudy future (21%) and those who think there’s a less than even chance of that happening (79%), you can see that the doubters again have a very clear majority, nearly 4:1.

While the usual caveats about polls apply, it would be a very foolish Autodesk executive who believed this poll to be some kind of an aberration that does not reflect the broad views of the CAD community. I am convinced there is a dichotomy between the expectations of Autodesk and those of its customers, and that spells trouble. Autodesk is either going to succeed in pushing its customers into a future they are not expecting, or it is going to fail and be forced to revise its expectations. I predict that the latter will happen, and I will explain my reasoning in future posts.

Dilbert and the Cloud

I have an Autodesk-related Dilbert story to share. Back in the late 90s, I was visiting Autodesk’s San Rafael offices (at Autodesk’s expense) and had an appointment to see a product manager. There was some confusion when I arrived at Reception, but after a few phone calls I was shown into a meeting room containing the manager and a lot of other Autodesk people. However, the open mouths told me that they were discussing very confidential stuff. They were clearly shocked and horrified that an outsider had been allowed into that particular room at that particular time, even though I had signed an NDA and was due to spend that day giving some important future software a very thorough going-over.

The manager quickly shuffled me off to his own office and let me know he would be back as soon as the meeting concluded. I waited a while, staring into space. I did this for a while, but eventually got very bored and looked around for something to read to keep myself amused. Ignoring what was probably a lot of highly confidential paperwork, I discovered a Dilbert book and proceeded to read it. I became a fan right there and then. I also found myself respecting a manager who could see the funny side of the sort of management stupidity that is so effectively and bitingly satirised by Scott Adams. Somebody who buys a Dilbert book, I thought, is the sort of manager I can happily work with.

When he eventually returned, I thanked him for the uninvited use of his book and asked him what he thought of it. It turned out that he hadn’t bought the book himself. It had been presented to him as a gift. From his underlings.

Oh dear.

Fortunately, he hadn’t yet read it. I wonder if he ever did?

By the way, that manager is still with Autodesk. In fact, he has done rather well in that environment and is now a Senior Vice President. I wonder if his responsibilities include CAD on the Cloud? If so, he may be interested to read this Dilbert comic strip.

I love this comment from BlaDiBla3:

As IT manager I’m being pestered by management along the lines of the comic today.

I’ve found a partial solution I’d like to share:
When a director proposed to move standard Office applications to the cloud, I finally said:
“That’s a very good idea. You should be the first to migrate end use nothing else for a week”.
That project has now been canceled…

There’s an intriguing thought. Next time you’re at a presentation and an Autodesk representative is all gung-ho about the Cloud, ask them to fire up AutoCAD WS and do some real drawing work with it. Shouldn’t need a whole week to get the point across.

Autodesk confirms outrageous upgrade price increase

As I indicated in May, Autodesk will be increasing the cost of upgrades to 70% of the full retail cost of a new license. This renders it totally pointless upgrading Autodesk software at all, which is obviously Autodesk’s intention. This change probably won’t affect many people, as those who have chosen to stick with Autodesk despite everything have already been effectively forced onto Subscription. Anyway, here’s the confirmation from Autodesk:

In early 2013 Autodesk will simplify the current upgrade pricing model, which may affect pricing and/or eligibility for upgrades.  Autodesk is providing advance notice to help ease the transition and ensure that customers have enough time to plan and budget for any impact to your organization.

 As part of this change, Autodesk will be simplifying upgrades into a single offering available for licenses that are 1-6 versions old at a discount of 30% off new license SRP*.  Under the new upgrade program, product versions 2007-2012 are eligible for upgrade pricing and product versions older than 2007 will no longer be eligible for upgrade pricing on our standard pricelists. Our records show you may have one or more licenses that may be impacted by these changes.

Autodesk is making this policy change to better align with the needs and buying behaviors of our customers.  Many Autodesk customers choose to use Autodesk Subscription as their preferred method of maintaining their Autodesk Software.

That last paragraph is just embarrassing. It steps over the line that separates spin from total bullshit. The person who wrote it must have been either cringing (if they have any kind of ethical values) or laughing (if they don’t). The time of Autodesk being straight with its customers is now so far in the past that few customers will be able to remember those days. Those of us who do can only sadly shake our heads.

Let’s critique AutoCAD’s parametric constraints

One of the big-ticket features of AutoCAD 2010 was parametric constraints. This was old hat for many applications, even some based on AutoCAD like Mechanical Desktop. Parametrics and constraints already existed in vanilla AutoCAD in the guise of dynamic blocks, but this was the first time ordinary AutoCAD allowed ordinary AutoCAD objects to be constrained and linked to parametric dimensions.

Contraints mean that you can draw some objects and tell them that they are only allowed to behave in certain ways. For example, two lines have to remain parallel to each other. Parametrics mean that objects can be tied to special dimensions such that the dimensions drive the objects, not the other way round.

How good a job has Autodesk done with creating and improving this feature in AutoCAD? Has Autodesk done its usual trick of releasing a half-baked feature and then ignoring it to death? In one vital respect, the answer is a resounding yes. AutoCAD’s parametric constraints can only be applied to 2D objects. Draw a shape using a polyline, apply constraints and parameters, and adjust them to make things work properly and appear correctly. Now extrude the polyline to convert it to a 3D solid. Your carefully applied constraints and dimensions are instantly exterminated. This was a huge and obvious hole in the feature when it was introduced, but on the fourth iteration of this feature in AutoCAD 2013, that gaping hole remains resolutely unfilled. I guess Autodesk is keeping AutoCAD’s parametrics in this flattened state in order to protect Inventor from internal competition.

This 3D failing is very obvious, but I’m interested in more subtle aspects than that. As my experience with parametrics in other applications is limited, I’d like to encourage you to provide us all with the benefit of your knowledge. How does the AutoCAD 2013 implementation compare with that found in Inventor? Solidworks? Mechanical Desktop? How easy and efficient is it to use, in terms of creating usable parametric drawings and manipulating them? Is it logical and reliable? Are there any missing capabilities? The Devil is in the details, so has Autodesk overlooked any?

I’d also encourage less experienced users to comment. If you don’t want to enter a new field with your own drawing started from scratch, have a look at this sample drawing courtesy of Autodesk’s Dieter Schlaepfer. Here’s what Dieter has to say about it:

For your amusement, here’s a backyard deck that I whipped up a while back as a parametric design. It’s saved in R2010 format. After you turn on the geometric and dimensional constraints, open the Parameters Manager and try changing the value of Angle from 90 to 120, 130, and 140 degrees. Also, try changing the value of Tread from 18 (inches, sorry) to 16 or 20.

No question that this takes a bit of experience and it’s not for everyone.

If you prefer to embark on your own journey of discovery, here are some deliberately vague instructions. As always in AutoCAD, there are many ways of doing the same thing, but this will do to get you started:

  1. Draw a closed polyline describing an open L shape (let’s say it’s a metal plate). Make sure the corners are square, but you don’t have to make the sizes totally accurate.
  2. Use the AutoConstrain feature on the polyline.
  3. Perform a few grip edits on the constrained polyline so you can see what difference the constraints have made.
  4. Use Dimensional Constraints Aligned to dimension the plate in four key places: each overall plate width dimension and each of the leg width dimensions. Hint: press an initial Enter to use Object mode before selecting the object. When you are prompted for the dimension text, either press Enter if it’s was drawn accurately or enter the correct size if it wasn’t. The plate should change to the size you enter.
  5. If you want these dimensions to show up on plots, you will need to make sure their Constraint Form is set to Annotational. You can use the Properties palette to do this. You may also need to use DIMEDIT Home to put the dimension text in the usual place.
  6. Try using a few normal editing operations on the objects (e.g. STRETCH, COPY, ROTATE, TRIM, grip edit) to see how they react.
  7. Try modifying the objects by double-clicking on the dimensions and changing the values, then using Parameters Manager.

So, how was that? Easy? Difficult? Useful but awkward? Any areas where efficiency could be improved (e.g. too many clicks required for common operations)? Can you use this in your work or is there some problem lurking that appears to be a dealkiller?

Edit: Here’s a more complex example from Dieter: https://www.dropbox.com/s/n5hng961nj1dkzy/gasket1.dwg?m

Autodesk buys more social media stuff

Following up on its acquisition of Socialcam (which was then abandoned by 50 million users), Autodesk has acquired social media platform Qontext from Indian company Pramati. What exactly is this? I have no idea. I tried to find out by reading the Pramati site, but it’s so heavily obscured in trendy but vague corporatespeak it’s hard to work out anything firm. I played Buzzword Bingo while reading the site and won within seconds. Maybe the Autodesk statement clarifies things?

“Mobile, cloud and social computing are dramatically changing the way engineers, designers and architects work. The addition of the Qontext technology to the Autodesk portfolio will lead to new technology innovations that help our customers embrace these disruptive technologies and leverage them for competitive advantage,” said Amar Hanspal, Autodesk senior vice president of information modeling and platform products. “It was great to work with the team at Pramati who have demonstrated a great capability in incubating disruptive businesses.”

Well, that’s cleared that up, then. Apparently, Autodesk has bought a bunch of buzzwords. Must have been running short of them or something. I hope it was worth it.

How good is Autodesk’s customer focus?

Autodesk has grown and prospered by always, as much as possible, placing the customer’s needs foremost.

John Walker, 1990, The Autodesk File

That was the dominant philosophy back in Autodesk’s ancient history, to the benefit of all. However, is that still the case today? I’m not going to offer an view one way or the other in this post. Instead, I will leave it open to the floor. Good or bad, please comment below using specific examples if you can. If you’re short of time, you can still use the poll on the right to express your opinion.

Autodesk is firing. No, wait! Hiring.

August 2012: Autodesk increases profits, but not as much as expected, and gets rid of 500 people. This sort of thing has happened before, resulting in the loss of good, skilled people, some with many years of priceless and irreplacable experience.

September 2012: Autodesk goes on a recruiting drive.

So, if you want to work for a company that will put you out with the trash the next time reality doesn’t quite match some financial analyst’s estimate, you know where to go. Good luck with that.