Last chance to buy Autodesk software – should you take it?

If, like me, you’ve been receiving increasingly eager Autodesk emails urging you to action, you’ll already be aware that Autodesk will end the sale of its last remaining perpetual license software lines on 31 July 2016. The End Time has already arrived for AutoCAD, so the only way you can now buy any form of AutoCAD perpetual license is as part of a Suite, and you must also commit to a maintenance plan. Of course, any Suite is substantially more expensive than AutoCAD, both in terms of initial cost and ongoing maintenance fees. However, if you only buy software and aren’t interested in renting it, this is your last chance to do so. (Or is it? There’s always the possibility that Autodesk will abandon its all-rental strategy in order to stave off its losses, in which case all bets are off).

In sales, this is known as the impending event closing technique. You can see it in action at car yards around the world. The idea is to encourage you to buy something while you still have the opportunity to do so, preferably without thinking too hard about whether it’s a good idea. In this case, is it a good idea? Let’s examine the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Last chance to buy a perpetual license. Maybe.
  • Cheaper long-term than renting. Maybe.

Cons

  • Very expensive unless you are likely to make use of multiple large components of the Suite.
  • Mandatory commitment to a maintenance plan, at least initially.
  • Unknown price vector for that maintenance plan. However, it’s safe to assume it’s not going to get cheaper over time.
  • Immediate obsolescence of Suites has already been announced.
  • The long-term value of any Autodesk permanent license is a big unknown.

Only you can make the call about whether a last-minute Suite purchase makes sense for you or your business, and that call can only be an educated guess at best. Nobody has any idea how well Autodesk intends to look after perpetual-only Suite customers when it would clearly prefer them to be rental-only industry collection customers instead. Based on Autodesk’s recent history, I would expect strong pressure to be applied to all perpetual license owners to persuade you to switch to rental. The experience is unlikely to be pleasant, particularly if you just stumped up big to buy Suite software.

Are you planning to take this last chance to buy Autodesk software?

Polls and comments

As part of the site layout changes here, the polls were moved from the right sidebar to the left. The Polls Archive page remains unchanged. The new site layout is responsive, so if you’re using a narrow browser window (e.g. on a phone), the sidebars may be automatically suppressed. If so, you can still get at the current polls using this post.

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AutoCAD’s ARRAYCLASSIC command is my fault

Ever wondered why most keep-the-old-version commands in AutoCAD are called CLASSICxxx but the old version of the ARRAY command is called ARRAYCLASSIC? Why can’t Autodesk be consistent for once? Sorry, that’s actually my fault. Here’s a little history.

  • AutoCAD Version 1.4 (1983) introduced the ARRAY command with Rectangular and Circular options.
  • AutoCAD Version 2.5 (1986) added the Polar option and hid the Circular option (but it’s still there).
  • AutoCAD 2005 introduced a dialog box version of the ARRAY command. The command-line version remained available via the -ARRAY command (with a leading hyphen).
  • AutoCAD 2012 introduced many new array features, including associative, path and 3D arrays. However, the dialog box interface was removed and the old command-line interface was back. There were also a bunch of bugs and limitations with the new regime.
  • I created and published the shareware utility ClassicArray™ to restore a familiar dialog box interface to AutoCAD’s array features. Rather than simply reproducing the old interface, I enhanced it to provide support for the new array features. I was also able to provide a workaround for some of AutoCAD’s array bugs and limitations.
  • By producing and selling a product called ClassicArray I established that as my trademark.
  • In AutoCAD 2012 SP1, Autodesk added the old dialog box interface back to AutoCAD and has left it in ever since. The restored interface did not support any of the new features. Calling the new/old command CLASSICARRAY would have infringed my trademark and I made sure Autodesk was aware of that fact in advance. That’s why ARRAYCLASSIC is called what it is.

Anyway, my ClassicArray exists and I still think it’s usefully better than what Autodesk provides. It has been updated to 1.1.0 to install and work smoothly with all AutoCAD releases from 2012 to 2017. Existing license holders can upgrade for free without my involvement and reuse their registration code with the new version. If you’re interested, hop over to classicarray.com.

Microsoft demonstrates why automatic updates are a terrible idea. Listening, Autodesk?

I like Windows 10. After some investigation and with some trepidation, I have upgraded two Windows 7 computers and one Windows 8 (ugh) computer to Windows 10. In use, I’m generally very happy with it. It boots fast, works well and most of the more ridiculous aspects of the Windows 8 “let’s assume your computer is a phone” interface are gone. The fact that I can scroll windows using my mouse wheel without first clicking on those windows to obtain focus is a real productivity plus. I would be happy to recommend Windows 10 to all Windows 8 users and most Windows 7 users, dependant on individual needs. I would, but I’m not. Microsoft is entirely responsible for that reluctance; read on.

The one thing I really, really dislike about Windows is the way it pushes updates. With Windows 7 I was always selective about what updates I allowed through and when they were applied. Windows 10 doesn’t give you that choice. It downloads and applies its updates as it sees fit, regardless of the importance of those updates, my bandwidth and the level of inconvenience applying those updates might cause. Windows 10 Professional only allows you to defer updates until the next restart, and will nag you to restart until you give in.

This is bad enough, but the Home version just takes over your computer and updates and restarts whenever it feels like it. Yes, even if you are in the middle of doing something and have unsaved work, and the update process leaves your computer unusable for two hours. I wouldn’t have believed it if it hadn’t happened to a very computer-smart member of my own family. Quite astonishing levels of malicious arrogance from the utter wankers at Microsoft.

I know there can be some very important reasons for keeping your OS up to date, particularly as far as urgent security patches are concerned. But really, given the choice between a tiny chance of some unknown malicious action by some unknown party (that hasn’t yet happened to any computer I’ve been running in over 30 years) and a 100% chance of known multiple malicious actions by Microsoft, which would you pick? Problem is, I made my choice on those three computers a few months ago and now I’m stuck with it.

Microsoft’s arrogance has triggered a minor in-house rebellion; two of my other former Windows computers are now happily running Linux. Five years ago, 100% of the computers in my household were running Windows. Now the figure is 43%, and I’m not even counting handheld devices (that would make it 20%). I haven’t bought a new version of Office in many years. Yes, I know, Microsoft isn’t exactly quaking in its boots, but it makes me feel better to raise the digit in this way.

Various other people are holding back on Windows 10 for this and other reasons, despite the insistent placement of update icons and nag notices. Some of those nag notices have made the news for all the wrong reasons. Last month, many people found themselves updated to Windows 10 without their explicit consent and against their will because Microsoft changed the status of the Windows 10 update for Windows 7/8 users and employed other sneaky tricks.

To Microsoft: that’s a really, really abhorrent low-life scumbag way to behave. These are our computers, not yours. We’re the customers (the ones providing the money) and you’re just vendors (the ones who want our money). Get back in your box and stop behaving like dickheads. Your assholery has been a significant factor in your decline. Give it up, it’s bad for you.

If you’re a Windows 7 or 8 user who wants to stay that way, please don’t disable updates altogether, because that could leave you vulnerable. Instead, I suggest you check out the free utility GWX Control Panel. If it’s too late and you’ve been updated, here’s what you can do. You have a limited amount of time to roll back.

Autodesk wants your software to be updated like this, continually and automatically. This is a bad idea for a whole range of reasons that go beyond why it’s a bad idea for Microsoft to do it. I hope to expand on those reasons later, but this post is long enough already. Trust me, it’s a terrible idea.

Although right now Autodesk is doing a heart-warmingly poor job of implementing this concept, eventually it might get the technical details right and be in a position to force it on you. Fight it tooth and nail. Make your voice heard wherever you can, online and in person. Uninstall, disable or block any software that attempts to do this. Look for any utilities, tips, etc. that stand between your software and automatic updates, and spread that news far and wide. This is an important battle for control over our own property, so please don’t give up.

Navel gazing note: this is the 500th post published on this blog.

AutoCAD 2017 Feature – Share Design View

An interesting new feature of AutoCAD 2017 is Share Design View, which is invoked using the leftmost button on the A360 Ribbon tab or the ONLINEDESIGNSHARE command. The idea behind this command is to create a web-published snapshot of your drawing that can be accessed by anyone with a browser (they’ll need a fairly recent one).

This command works as advertised and provides another option to allow limited access to your design information without providing access to your DWG files. It creates a web page containing a view of your drawing and lets you have the URL (link) so you can access it. You can then share this URL with anyone you want to share the design with. They just follow the URL and can view the design using the Autodesk A360 Viewer (no download required).

Heidi Hewett wrote a fuller description of how it works on the AutoCAD blog that would be pointless to reproduce here.

One caveat: although Autodesk describes the design’s location as secure and anonymous, it’s important to understand that it’s an open location. Anybody with that URL has access to that page. Although the URL is long, complex and probably unguessable, if you email somebody that URL and they start an email forward/reply chain that ends up with other people, all of those people can also access that page and you might never know about it. Also, the index that Autodesk must maintain for all of these pages would be a prime target for hackers looking to steal design content, at which point “secure and anonymous” will be meaningless.

So maybe don’t use this method to share your nuclear plant designs. Also, rescind any sensitive designs as soon as access is no longer needed, in order to limit the exposure time (see About Conferring with Clients and Colleagues Online). The URL stays active for 30 days unless you rescind it earlier.

Autodesk is to be commended for providing this feature and documenting it well and honestly. There is little evidence of the misleading hype about security that tainted Autodesk’s DWF marketing back in the day. Here’s a Cloud-based feature that adds value to AutoCAD with little or no downside. Just be aware of its semi-open nature and use it appropriately.

Note: this feature requires A360 to be selected during installation or deployment creation (which it is by default). If A360 is not installed, the Share Design View button will be greyed out. The command will still exist and will attempt to connect to A360 but will then fail with a Service Unavailable message.

Disaster in progress – Autodesk’s all-rental plans are failing

It has been observed elsewhere that Autodesk’s decision to stop selling software has had the expected results. (Expected by me and others, but apparently not by Autodesk). Rental? We’re not buying it. Literally.

What does this (and a bunch of other factors) mean for Autodesk’s profitability?

AutodeskProfit2017Q1

Numbers from Tenlinks (with FY corrected), data accumulated from Autodesk sources.

Autodesk lost $486m over the last 4 quarters, compared with a profit of $73m the 4 quarters before that and a profit of $202m the 4 quarters before that. Looks like a nose dive to me. But things are just wonderful, according to Carl Bass:

We had a strong first quarter, which builds on last quarter’s momentum and is a great start to the fiscal year. Our customers and partners continue to embrace Autodesk’s transition to a subscription-based business model and cloud-based software. We continue to diligently control our costs while investing in the transition. We’re striking a healthy balance in achieving both short-term and long-term goals.

Disclaimer: I’m not a business analyst and nobody should make financial decisions based on anything I have to say. But it seems to me that Carl’s whistling past the graveyard and disaster for Autodesk isn’t just looming, it’s well under way. I doubt the board is unaware of this, whatever spin they feel obliged to put on things. I wonder what action Autodesk will take? Here are my guesses in descending order of probability:

1. Keep steering the plane downwards and continue to pretend the flight plan is a good one. Carefully arrange golden parachutes for the pilots so they can jump out of the plane just before it hits the ground.

2. Go even harder at the customers, aggressively pressuring every customer into rental much earlier than originally planned. There are various methods that could be used to do this, which I may discuss later. The results are unlikely to be pretty, but the Autodesk board might think otherwise.

3. Slowly back off the rental thing piecemeal by experimentally reintroducing perpetual licenses for selected products (e.g. AutoCAD LT) to see what happens. Spin this to make it look like it’s not a change of direction by calling perpetual licenses something else, in the same way that the meaning of “subscription” has been transformed in Autodeskspeak. How about Infinite Subscription?

4. Abort! Abort! Do a total about-turn on the policy, admit it was all a terrible mistake and spin it as “We’ve listened to our customers”. No, I don’t think this is a likely outcome, despite it probably being the best thing for Autodesk’s future prospects.

Maybe you have some more creative suggestions?

Whatever happens, Autodesk has done massive damage to its biggest asset, customer loyalty. Many long-term Autodesk loyalist customers (including myself) are actively planning or executing an Autodesk exit strategy involving competing products. Others have already jumped ship. I spoke to an increasingly busy Bricsys person last week and he thinks Autodesk’s strategy is just wonderful (for him). Even in the best-case scenario, Autodesk’s self-inflicted damage will not be repairable in the short term. If Autodesk survives into the longer term, maybe it can find dumber customers and thrive, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Suites to be replaced by Autodesk industry collections

I just got this email. Maybe you did too:

Dear Christopher [sic],
 
I have some important information to share with you.
 
As we continue our transition to a fully subscription-based business, we remain committed to providing you greater value, more flexibility, and a simpler way to access the Autodesk software you need.
 
On August 1, 2016, we will introduce Autodesk industry collections and end the sale of Autodesk Design & Creation Suites.
 
Industry collections will provide you access to a wide selection of the essential Autodesk software for your profession. They will offer immediate access to new technology, cloud services, and several licensing options. In short, industry collections will give you the freedom to access the software products you want, when you want them. Learn more about the industry collections here.
 
To make way for industry collections, we will end the sale of new Design & Creation Suite subscriptions and perpetual licenses after July 31, 2016.
 
If you wish to purchase more Design & Creation Suites before August 1, 2016, we encourage you to subscribe now and rest assured that we will provide you with a simple way to switch to an industry collection in the future, if you so choose. If you prefer, you can purchase perpetual licenses of a Design & Creation Suite with a maintenance plan before August 1.
 
If you wish to continue receiving updates, support, and other benefits for your Design & Creation Suites, you can do so for as long as you continue your existing subscription or maintenance plan.
 
To learn more about Autodesk industry collections and options for switching your subscription (if you choose to do so) please read our Frequently Asked Questions. [I fixed the email’s URL which didn’t point to the FAQ].
 
I want to thank you for being an Autodesk customer, and I hope you share my excitement about these important enhancements to our offerings.
 
Yours sincerely,
Jeff Wright
Vice President, Customer Engagement
Autodesk, Inc.

No, I have no idea why I’m Christopher. No, I have no idea why Autodesk is so averse to using initial capitals for its product names. It’s confusing and silly.

As far as I can tell, industry collections are just renamed/combined Suites with a few things shuffled around a bit. If Autodesk were still in the business of selling software I might be interested in examining the pros and cons of moving to industry collections. Autodesk isn’t (or very soon won’t be), so I’m not interested. As it is, the annual cost is out of the question (unless I were actually going to use a decent number of the included products, which I wouldn’t). That’s to be expected, because the whole point of trying to push people onto desktop subscription (Autodeskspeak for rental) is to extract much larger amounts of cash over a given period of time.

Sorry Jeff, I don’t share your excitement. Thanks, but no thanks.

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 or thetimenow.com.

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?