How do I know most Autodesk customers don’t want rental?

In a recent comment, I was asked how I know Autodesk’s move to all-rental is the opposite of what customers want. Have I conducted research? This is an excellent question and deserves a proper answer.

So how do  I know this? Why am I so convinced? There are several independent sources of evidence, one bit of critical thinking and one undeniable proof. They all point in the same direction. First, a bit of evidence.

  • There are many public places on the Internet where this issue has been discussed, including Autodesk’s own discussion groups. The viewpoints expressed everywhere are overwhelmingly against Autodesk’s all-rental plans.
  • There are private places Autodesk customers hang out where I have access, and I receive private emails. Again, the overwhelmingly majority of the viewpoints I see expressed are very strongly against Autodesk’s strategy.
  • There’s a poll right here. How’s it going?

    Autodesk is ending the sale of perpetual licenses. This is:

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...
  • None of that is very scientific, but Autodesk has  conducted proper research. Among other things, it gathered customer focus groups at AU to determine the mood regarding going all-rental. I know somebody who went to one of those. The customers present at that particular gathering were 100% against.

OK, so you don’t want to accept any of that? Can’t trust the sources? It’s all a bit anecdotal? Fine. How about a bit of critical thinking?

  • Most customers of major Autodesk products are long-term users who would undeniably pay more via rental than perpetual and then have nothing to show for it when they stop paying. What are the chances of most of them wanting  that outcome?

Still not convinced? OK. The most concrete way in which it could be determined whether customers prefer rental would be an experiment in which both options were made available and the market were allowed to decide. An expensive experiment, sure, but impossible to argue with the result.

Autodesk conducted that experiment. Twice. Once quite a few years ago, and again in 2013. Rental was offered alongside perpetual licensing. Rental lost. Twice. It was abandoned as a choice. Twice. The market has spoken. Twice.

Rental for Autodesk products is a handy option for a minority of customers but a non-starter for the majority, given the choice. Autodesk knows the only chance of making rental work in its marketplace is to remove that choice.

Disaster in progress – Getting it wrong

No, not Autodesk getting it wrong, me  getting it wrong. In recent posts, I supported my arguments against Autodesk’s move to all-rental software with faulty evidence. As pointed out to me by several commenters, I completely failed to take deferred revenue into account. I would like to sincerely thank those who pointed out my error.* Although I included a disclaimer about not being a financial analyst, I should have gone further and simply not ventured into areas I am ill-qualified to cover. I got it wrong. I therefore offer unreserved apologies to Autodesk and my readers.

What now?

I have done myself a bunch of graphs that I think paints a fairer picture of Autodesk’s position, but there’s a reasonable chance I’m wrong about that too so I won’t be publishing them. Instead, In a day or two, I will remove the content of the offending posts (but leave the shell of the posts there to preserve the comments). I do this not to hide my embarrassment, but to limit the degree of undeserved damage to Autodesk. Feel free to copy/paste, take screenshots, etc. of the posts until then. Of course, it’s not really possible to delete things from the Internet, so if you ever want to relive the joy of seeing me get things spectacularly wrong, feel free to use the Internet Archive to do so.

What this doesn’t mean

This doesn’t mean Autodesk is off the hook with the rental thing. It may not yet be a financial disaster of the magnitude I argued, but the jury is still very much out on whether it will eventually succeed. Even if it does (and I still have very strong doubts – doing the opposite of what your customers want is rarely a winning long-term strategy), it’s still a grotesquely anti-customer move which deserves to be vigorously opposed. I will  continue to oppose it. I will continue to point out any faulty arguments that are used to support it. However, I will be much more careful to avoid using faulty arguments of my own.

* Autodesk could have also pointed out my error, but didn’t. Before I started commenting on rental I emailed Autodesk PR specifically encouraged them to point out any factual errors and/or seek a right of reply, but I want to make clear that isn’t what happened here. I have not backed off due to pressure or threats from Autodesk. Indeed, I have had no contact from Autodesk whatsoever in relation to my blog since it re-started. I continue to encourage such contact, but of course Autodesk is under no obligation to take up my offer.

Disaster in progress – Autodesk continues to lose heavily

This post originally contained assertions about Autodesk’s financials that were based on flawed understanding, and has been removed. It’s not really possible to delete things from the Internet, so if you ever want to relive the joy of seeing me get things spectacularly wrong, feel free to use the Internet Archive to do so.

Draping images over surfaces in Civil 3D

Having recently overcome various difficulties to successfully drape an image over a surface in Civil 3D, it may be useful to pass on a few points I have learned. There are various posts and videos out there that helpfully go through this process, but some of them (including Autodesk sources) contain information that is irrelevant or just plain wrong, and none of them contained all  of the information I needed to complete the task.

I used Civil 3D 2015 for this, but the principles apply to all recent releases. Here is the basic sequence required:

  1. In the drawing containing the surface, attach the image to your drawing using your preferred method (ImageAttach, Xref, ClassicImage). I’ll assume you’re familiar with what you need to do to get the image correctly scaled and aligned with the surface.
  2. Invoke the DrapeImage command, which will show you this dialog:DrapeImage01
    Make sure this is set for the image you want to drape and the surface you want it draped over. You can change the Render Material Name to whatever you like, or leave it as the default. Pick OK.
  3. You no longer need the image attached to the drawing and it will probably only confuse matters, so you can use use the Xref or ClassicImage command to detach it.

If you’re really lucky, that’s it. You will have a lovely-looking surface with a draped image over it. However, at this stage that’s pretty unlikely. Don’t panic! You also need to ensure the following conditions are in place:

  1. The surface will need to use a surface style that includes triangulated surfaces so the image has something to drape over. In the Toolspace, under Surfaces, right-click on the surface and pick Surface Properties…, then change Surface Style to anything with triangles, triangulation or TIN in the name (this varies depending on the template used). If you don’t have such a style available, you’ll need to make your own or edit an existing one using the button with a pencil in it.DrapeImage02
  2. While you’re in the Surface Properties dialog, have a look at Render Material. That should be showing the Render Material Name you specified in step 2 above. If it isn’t, make sure it is. Pick OK.
    Bonus tip: if you later need to remove the draped image from the surface, you can do so by changing the Render Material to something else (e.g. ByLayer).
  3. Still seeing nothing useful? Make sure you are using the Realistic visual style. You can get at the Visual Styles Manager using the VisualStyles command, but in recent releases it has been made easier to switch visual styles using the in-canvas control:DrapeImage03
  4. Still nothing? Try turning off Hardware Acceleration. Right-click on that glowing blue blob thing in the lower right corner and pick Graphics Performance…DrapeImage04That will give you a dialog with a Hardware Acceleration switch. Turn it off, pick OK and (hopefully) voila!

Note that the above conditions need to be in place when plotting, too. You might not expect hardware acceleration to make a difference to plotting, but in this case, it does.

Restoring the Classic workspace in AutoCAD 2015, 2016 and 2017, etc.

One of the more common queries on my putting things back to “normal” posts is how to restore the AutoCAD Classic workspace in those releases where it is absent. Since Autodesk removed that workspace it has been too involved a process to fully describe how to do it in the context of my post. In the 2017 version of that post I’ve added a useful link, but as that’s a massive post and the link is buried near the end of it, this may have escaped your attention.

Here’s the link to Brazilian AutoCAD expert Luciana Klein’s step-by-step guide. It’s for AutoCAD 2016, but the principles apply to other releases and variants. Thanks to Luciana for going to the effort of putting this together.

Battle of the Bullshit part 3 – Beyond Bentley

Somebody at Autodesk really does seem to have it in for Bentley right now. I thought they were friends? Oh well, times change.

Autodesk has launched a campaign to promote its BIM offerings for transportation projects and is promoting this via emails to existing customers, all of which is fair enough. It’s suggesting BIM is a better tool than traditional CAD for such projects. Another reasonable claim, so it’s appropriate for us to evaluate the arguments and examine the options.

What did Autodesk decide to call its campaign? Beyond AutoCAD? Beyond CAD? To BIM and Beyond?

None of the above. It’s Beyond Bentley.

Huh? You may have noticed I’m keen on alliteration, but still, huh? What does Bentley have to do with this? Most Autodesk CAD customers are going to know and care nothing about Bentley products. So why mention them at all? The headline is “Move beyond Bentley to Autodesk, the makers of BIM”. The strong implication is:

Bentley only does traditional CAD. You should use BIM instead, and that means you need Autodesk.

However, I believe many Autodesk customers will think like this instead:

Autodesk seems very concerned about this Bentley mob. I wonder what they’re offering that has the Big A so worried? Bentley must be a big player in this area. I’ve been considering developing an Autodesk exit strategy anyway because of the forced rental thing and I’ve heard Bentley sells perpetual licenses. I must go check them out!

Those customers who do check out Bentley will learn that despite Autodesk’s implication, Bentley do in fact provide BIM products, and quite a few products specifically for transportation. I have no idea if Bentley’s BIM and transportation products are any better or worse than Autodesk’s offerings, but I do know you shouldn’t take either vendor’s word for it, including anything they say in webinars. Find out for yourself with a hands-on evaluation. Because BIM isn’t something you just pop in and out of, make sure you include long-term licensing costs into your calculations.

Battle of the Bullshit part 2 – Autodesk’s sophistry

In my last post, I gave Bentley a well-deserved slap for, er, saying things that perhaps weren’t entirely factual. Now it’s Autodesk’s turn.

What’s this about? Carl White, Senior Director of Business Models at Autodesk, wrote a blog post Not so fast Bentley: Separating fact from fiction responding to statements made by Bentley in its press release Bentley Announces Autodesk License Upgrade Program. Some of Carl’s observations on Bentley’s claims were perfectly valid, but unfortunately he went beyond that and wrote a few more things – “facts” – where he’s on shakier ground. Let’s examine Carl’s interpretation of reality, shall we?

Fact #1 – No Autodesk customer ever  loses the right to use the perpetual software license you’ve purchased, it is “evergreen”.

This is generally true. There are exceptions (read the EULA), but let’s not split hairs. In the vast majority of cases, we don’t lose the right  to use the software. We can, however, lose the ability  to use the software. That loss is practically inevitable long-term because of the progress of technology. I have several old AutoCAD releases I can’t run for environmental reasons, not licensing ones. This means that if we want to use our licenses long-term, we rely on Autodesk’s ongoing cooperation. That’s where customers have legitimate concerns, because there are no guarantees that Autodesk will continue to provide that cooperation. If it does, there are no guarantees that cooperation will remain free or even affordable.

And if you’re on a software maintenance plan, you can continue to receive all of the benefits of software updates and technical support for as long as you’d like.

This has been officially promised, and let’s give Autodesk the benefit of the doubt and assume that this promise will be fulfilled to the letter. There’s still an elephant in the room. What will the benefits of updates and support cost us? Based on what Autodesk has done in recent years, it is a pretty safe bet that the cost of maintenance (formerly called Subscription) is going to rise, and rise sharply. Give it a few years and I expect maintenance customers will be paying the same as rental customers. I expect other strong-arm methods will be used to “encourage” people onto rental. When this happens, our perpetual licenses will be near worthless and Bentley’s claim about a “…write-off of the future value of their investment…” will become uncomfortably close to the truth.

We’ve shared key dates well ahead of time to give customers time needed to adjust, but that does not mean we’re taking away options.

The latter part of this statement goes beyond disingenuous; it’s arrant nonsense. Of course Autodesk is taking away options. Autodesk has been taking away options for years, and this has only accelerated. As of right now, I can no longer buy an Autodesk software perpetual license. I no longer have that option, which I had before. How is that not taking away options?

Fact #2 – Our customers have a choice. When you subscribe to Autodesk software, you have flexible terms (monthly, quarterly, annually), and multiple access points (single user, multi-user and shared). Now Autodesk customers can get the software they need for a year or a month, in ways that are more convenient and better for their business.

Well, I guess the first sentence is kind of true in a sense. Long-term customers (that’s most of us) do have the choice between paying merely a lot  more per annum for an Autodesk license via annual or multi-year rental, or paying vastly  more by doing it monthly. Suggesting this is better for our business is, of course, laughable.

Customers can buy and use it for as long as they want and can match their subscription type with the demands of their workforce. When the workforce expands, they can ramp up, or in quieter periods, they can scale it back. In short, subscribing gives you flexibility and predictability.

This is true; rental is  the best option for some customers under some circumstances. It is good that Autodesk has made that option available for the small minority of customers in that situation. However, it is the opposite of flexibility to make it the only  option.

When it comes to value, lower upfront costs make our software more accessible and allow you to try more tools without the risk of a large upfront expenditure. Plus, you only pay when you need it. This is a big deal. Some of our customers prefer this cost is considered an operating expense, allowing you to bill the cost of the software back to the client or project. And if you subscribe for a longer, multi-year term, you lock-in your rate. Combine that with flexibility in the length of contracts and you may find that you’re actually paying less.

Nice attempt at spin here, but ultimately it’s nonsense. Except for the minority of customers who need that level of flexibility, rental is not about paying less. If it was, Autodesk wouldn’t be doing this. Pushing Autodesk customers on to rental is all about trying to extract more  funds from us for the same thing, not less. Suggesting otherwise is disingenuous.

If rental really was  better value, Autodesk would give its customers the choice between perpetual and rental and let the market decide. But wait! Autodesk did exactly that a few years ago, and the market decided; the rental experiment failed miserably. Autodesk knows  it has to make rental compulsory because otherwise most customers wouldn’t go for it. Yet in a painful piece of patent paralogy, it paints this compulsion as a selfless act of customer service.

Fact #3 – Software as a service is essential for technological evolution. It allows for continual and consistent innovation and support. The software will get better, faster and more seamless in the way you use it. The experience is customized to you or your organization, and provides a simplified way to access and deploy software, manage your users and collaborate on projects. With this new way of delivering software, everyone will always have the latest, most up-to-date Autodesk tools available.

Even ignoring the conflation of software as a service (SaaS) and rental, the first sentence is breathtaking in its audacity. It goes beyond spin, beyond disingenuity, into the realms of the surreal. No, SaaS is not essential for technological evolution. The whole history of computing screams that loud and clear. Autodesk wouldn’t exist if the first sentence were true. It isn’t remotely close to true. To be generous, it’s a terminological inexactitude.

Reading beyond the first sentence, there’s a lot of wonderfully utopian wishful thinking that nobody familiar with Autodesk would believe for a second. It’s shown up for the other-worldly spin that it is by Autodesk’s years-long ongoing decline in maintenance value-for-money and its woeful attempts at trying to make continual updates work (which you probably don’t want anyway).

It’s not just Autodesk saying this; the entire software industry is moving in this direction. Frankly, design and engineering software has been a bit slow to make this change. But the benefits for end-users are clear, and it’s just a matter of time before all vendors have similar ways of buying.

While it’s true that various software companies are moving at least partly towards SaaS and rental of conventional software (some more successfully than others), it’s not at all a uniform industry-wide position. It’s disingenuous to imply that going all-rental is already almost universal and Autodesk is just catching up. As for the “benefits for end users” being clear, I guess all those customers who like paying lots more per year for their software will agree.

Yes, it’s likely that many vendors, maybe even most of them, will have similar ways of buying in the next few years. No, it won’t be all of them. No, not all vendors will make rental compulsory for new licenses as Autodesk has done. Some of Autodesk’s competitors (e.g. Bentley, Bricsys) will continue to provide their customers with the ability to purchase perpetual licenses. The law of give-the-customer-what-they-want-or-die tells me that those competitors are much more likely to thrive than Autodesk.

What does this mean? It means that millions of you are already seeing the benefits of shifting to subscription and are making that choice voluntarily.

Voluntarily? Really? I can’t imagine anyone typing that statement in that context without either wincing (if they have any self-respect) or laughing (if they don’t). Strewth!

So who won the Battle of the Bullshit? Nobody. First, Bentley lost. Then Autodesk put in a supreme effort, summoned up a steaming stack of sophistry, and lost more.

Raise your game, people; we’re not all stupid out here. If you can’t support your argument with the truth, then your argument isn’t a good one and you need to rethink it.

Battle of the Bullshit part 1 – Bentley’s terminological inexactitudes

I note with interest the blog post Not so fast Bentley: Separating fact from fiction by Carl White, Senior Director of Business Models at Autodesk. In this, he responds to statements made by Bentley in its press release Bentley Announces Autodesk License Upgrade Program, stating:

Earlier this week, Bentley announced an “upgrade program” for Autodesk customers. We found the offer to be disingenuous and mischaracterizes what Autodesk offers our customers.

OK, let’s have a look at what Carl is complaining about. Here’s one Bentley statement that could be considered questionable:

For consideration by owners of Autodesk perpetual licenses facing Autodesk’s imminent deadline for the write-off of the future value of their investment, Bentley Systems is offering recovery of the value otherwise subject to forfeit.

Carl has a point here. The “imminent deadline for the write-off of the future value” line is presented as fact, but at this stage it’s not true. While perpetual license owners may legitimately fear for the long-term value of their investments, there is nothing subject to an imminent deadline other than the end of the ability to purchase further perpetual licenses. Likewise, the “subject to forfeit” thing is a scaremongering phrase that deserves Carl’s “disingenuous” label. Autodesk isn’t subjecting anything to forfeit right now. Anything else dubious in Bentley’s statement?

Bentley Systems considers purchases of perpetual licenses to be long-term investments by our users, so we continually innovate to increase their value. We are glad to now extend this ‘future-proofing’ to Autodesk license owners who otherwise will lose value in their applications.

That’s all pretty reasonable but the “…will lose value in their applications” part is questionable. We might suspect that will happen, but we don’t know  it yet. Perhaps “…may  lose value in their applications” would be more reasonable. Bentley also quotes a customer as saying:

Autodesk continually sets deadlines forcing us to give up our perpetual license for an annual subscription.

Now while it’s accurate to say that Autodesk continually sets deadlines and has certainly been very heavy-handed in its years-in-the-making push to rental (currently called subscription in Autodeskspeak), it has not yet forced customers to give up perpetual licenses. Those of us with perpetual licenses have not  been forced to give them up. We can continue to use them. Bentley shouldn’t use inaccurate statements like this in its marketing, even when quoting others.

In summary, Carl is right. Bentley has  been disingenuous and deserves a slap for it.

If only Carl had just stuck to the sort of analysis I made above, I could have ended my own analysis right there. Unfortunately, he didn’t. He couldn’t resist the urge to add his own “facts”. My next post will put these under the same kind of scrutiny.

Hotfix for AutoCAD 2017 SP1 Autoloader bug

As reported earlier, AutoCAD 2017 SP1 breaks third-party add-ins that use the officially approved Autoloader mechanism. Autodesk is to be commended for acting quickly to produce a hotfix for this. In order to make this hotfix available quickly, Autodesk has taken the very unusual step of allowing a third party to distribute it. See this post from Jimmy Bergmark, who pointed out the bug in the first place. Kudos to whoever at Autodesk made the call to think outside the box to do this. It’s a very un-Autodesk Corporate thing to do, and particularly commendable for that very reason.

It’s important to note that because of the way Service Packs are now handled in AutoCAD and the vertical products based on it, this SP1 bug affects all of those products, not just base AutoCAD. Here is the list of affected products*:

  • AutoCAD 2017
  • AutoCAD Map 3D 2017
  • AutoCAD Civil 3D 2017
  • AutoCAD Mechanical 2017
  • AutoCAD Electrical 2017
  • AutoCAD Architecture 2017
  • AutoCAD MEP 2017
  • AutoCAD P&ID 2017
  • AutoCAD Plant 3D 2017
  • AutoCAD Utility Design 2017

*See links in comments below for further information about this.

Having heaped praise upon Autodesk for acting so quickly, it still needs to be said that Autodesk has done the wrong thing very quickly. Customers who go along with Autodesk’s continuous update push will see third party applications failing. The third party developers will be getting support requests from those customers and will have to persuade them a) that it’s Autodesk’s fault, and b) to go and deal with a manual hotfix that requires admin rights and requires copying/renaming things in Program Files. For customers without sufficient confidence to do that, or for whom just getting permission from IT to perform admin-rights operations is onerous, that’s pretty inconvenient.

It is wrong for Autodesk to offload the consequences of its incompetence onto its victims. Those customers and developers who have simply followed Autodesk’s direction and done nothing wrong deserve better than this.

What should have happened? SP1’s immediate withdrawal. It should be pulled now and reintroduced later (perhaps as SP1a) with this bug fixed. Given we’re only talking about one file, a week or two should do it. The hotfix should remain available for those customers who have already installed SP1, wish to keep it in place, and are happy to do the manual hotfix steps.

The lesson for customers and developers is not to blindly follow Autodesk’s direction. Make your own informed decisions about how you use, manage and develop for Autodesk products.

There are lessons here for Autodesk, too.

  1. Test stuff properly before releasing it. If serious bugs like this are discovered, delay the release until they’re fixed and retested.
  2. When you do screw up, fix it not only quickly but correctly. Don’t offload your problems onto your customers and developers; clean up your own mess.
  3. You’re not competent enough to do the automated continuous update thing. Your customers won’t trust you to do it, and they will be right. Give it up.

If item 2 above involves extra inconvenience and expense, so be it. It’s part of the cost of doing business; people pay a lot of money for Autodesk software, particularly if they’re forced to rent it. But doing item 1 right is actually cheaper and it means item 2 is much less likely to be relevant.

Will Autodesk learn from this? Unfortunately, I can’t be confident about that. I’ve seen too many such lessons unlearned or simply ignored over the years.

AutoCAD 2017 Service Pack 1 is out but you probably don’t want to install it

As reported by Jimmy Bergmark, AutoCAD 2017 SP1 will break add-ins that use Autodesk’s built-in autoloader mechanism. It looks like it’s a problem caused by third party applications, but it’s not. It’s entirely Autodesk’s fault. The only fix at this stage is to uninstall SP1.

It’s astonishing that Autodesk would release a service pack like this, introducing a nasty bug that will break customers’ existing functionality. This reminds me of the comedy of errors that was AutoCAD Release 13 with its multitude of updates, many of which introduced new bugs as well as fixing others. AutoCAD 2017c4a, anyone?

If you needed any more evidence that automated continuous updates from Autodesk are A Bad Idea, here it is. What a crock.

AutoCAD 2017 – Putting things back to “normal”

The most frequently accessed posts on this blog are the AutoCAD 201x – Putting things back to “normal” series. They also attract a lot of comments:

Most Commented Posts

  1. AutoCAD 2013 – An Autodesk Help writer responds – 164 comments
  2. AutoCAD 2012 – Putting things back to “normal” – 158 comments
  3. AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal” – 135 comments
  4. AutoCAD 2009 – Putting things back to “normal” – 121 comments
  5. AutoCAD 2010 – Putting things back to “normal” – 106 comments

The last one of these I did was for AutoCAD 2012, so I guess it’s well beyond time to bring things up to date for all those people who don’t like things being brought up to date. If there is something in particular I haven’t included in this post that you think people will find useful, please add a comment below and I’ll see what I can do.

I’m not suggesting it’s a good idea to turn all of these things off, it’s just a resource for people who want to know how to turn some of them off. These items are in alphabetic order. If you can’t find what you’re after, try your browser’s find/search option to look for a word on this page rather than this site’s search option which will search the whole site. If you still can’t find it, please comment and let me know what I’ve missed.

  • Aerial View. If you’re a relatively recent user of AutoCAD, you may have never seen the Aerial View window, but you might still find it useful. The DSVIEWER command (which turns this window on) has been undefined. You can use REDEFINE DSVIEWER to turn it back on, or just enter .DSVIEWER (with a leading period). It may not work perfectly on all systems under all circumstances, but give it a try and see what you think.
  • Array Dialog Box. The associative array features added by AutoCAD 2012 did not come with an Array dialog box. After protests from the crowd, AutoCAD 2012 SP1 reintroduced the old dialog box. This has been retained ever since and is accessed using the command ARRAYCLASSIC. Why isn’t it called CLASSICARRAY? Because by the time Autodesk wanted to restore this feature, I had already published ClassicArray™ and owned the trademark. Did ARRAYCLASSIC make ClassicArray defunct? Not entirely. The old Autodesk dialog interface is much less capable than ClassicArray and only allows the creation of simple non-associative arrays. If you want a dialog box interface and the modern array features (including Path arrays), you will still need my ClassicArray (which has the fortunate side-effect of acting as a workaround for several of the Array command’s various bugs, limitations and design issues). If you just want to control whether ARRAY creates associative or non-associative arrays, use the ARRAYASSOCIATIVITY system variable (1 for associative, 0 for non-associative).
  • Autocomplete. You may well find the automated filling in of your typed commands useful, but I find it’s too slow and gets confused, resulting in the wrong command being used. If it’s getting in your way, turning it off is as simple as AUTOCOMPLETE OFF. There are a variety of settings you can selectively turn off individually if you prefer, see Command Line below.
  • Blips. The BLIPMODE command has been undefined, but you can use REDEFINE BLIPMODE to turn it back on, or just enter .BLIPMODE (with a leading period).
  • Button Backgrounds. If you have your own or third-party Ribbon, toolbar or menu items, you may notice that AutoCAD 2017 messed up their transparent backgrounds. Believe it or not, this was a deliberate act by Autodesk. I intend to write a more detailed post on this in future, but the short version is that the BMP background of 192,192,192 is no longer supported so you need to use another format (e.g. PNG files) if you want your buttons to support transparency.
  • Classic Commands. If you prefer not to leave the various new palettes on screen all the time, old versions of various commands are still available: ClassicGroup, ClassicLayer, ClassicXref and ClassicImage. (Autodesk deprecated these commands in 2011, which I think is a really bad idea, but at least they’re still there in 2017). There is also a system variable LAYERDLGMODE, which when set to 0 will make the Layer command work in the old (and faster) modal way. If you use this setting, you can still access the new modeless layer palette with the LayerPalette command. Going back further, there are command-line methods of using these commands: -Layer, -Plot, -Xref, XAttach, -Image and ImageAttach.
  • Color Scheme. Goth AutoCAD doesn’t appeal to you? If you don’t want to draw with a product that looks like a 10-year-old version of PaintShop Pro, you can lighten things up a bit using Options (right-click on the drawing area and pick Options… or just enter OP), then pick the Display tab, set Color Scheme to Light. See Graphic Background below for more options.
  • Coordinates. Bafflingly, Autodesk decided that most CAD users are uninterested in where things are placed in a drawing, so coordinate display is turned off by default. You’ll obviously need to turn them on to do any meaningful work (well, duh), so pick the 3-line Customization button at the lower right and turn on the Coordinates item at the top of that menu. Pick and choose among the various other options to get the buttons you want.
  • Command Line. There are many enhancements to the command line that theoretically make your keyboard-based interactions with AutoCAD more productive. I find that all of these features are great if I’m not in a hurry. If I just want to enter a short command and hit Enter, I find the command I get is wrong most of the time. To control which of these command line features you want on, use the INPUTSEARCHOPTIONS command.
  • Content Explorer. The Content Explorer was pretty horrible in many ways and Autodesk killed it. It’s gone and is unlikely to return, so you can stop looking for it. DesignCenter is still there and still does most of Content Explorer’s job, only better. Unfortunately, this means those people who did use Content Explorer’s unique functionality (e.g. searching for text among multiple drawings) are now out of luck until Autodesk does something about that.
  • Crosshairs. Want 100% crosshairs? Many people do. As before, use the Options command’s Display tab and look towards the bottom right, or set the CURSORSIZE system variable to 100.
  • Cursor Badges. About a dozen commands in AutoCAD now display a little glyph on the cursor to give you a visual clue about what you’re doing. If you find these pointless or annoying, turn them off by setting CURSORBADGE to 1. No, I have no idea why you use 1 to turn them off and 2 to turn them on, rather than 0 and 1 like pretty much everything else.
  • Customer Involvement Program. Those in the know always turn off whatever Autodesk phone-home activity they can find, not just because we’re a bunch of tin-hat-wearing paranoiacs, but because uses your resources and harms your performance. I’ve observed this happening, despite having been assured by Autodesk people that such a thing couldn’t possibly be occurring. The CUSTOMERINVOLVEMENTPROGRAM command has given access to one such setting for a few releases, but now there’s DESKTOPANALYTICS too. It’s not doing you any good, so kill it.
  • Dynamic Input. If Dynamic Input slows you down, you can turn it off with the status bar toggle or F12. If you like the general idea but don’t like some parts of it, there are lots of options available in the Dynamic Input tab of the DSettings command to enable you to control it to a fine degree. You can also get at this by right-clicking the Dynamic Input status bar button and picking Settings… As an example of the sort of thing you might do in there, the default of using relative coordinates is difficult for long-termers to get used to. To turn it off, pick the Settings… button in the Pointer Input panel, pick Absolute coordinates, then OK twice. There are a whole range of DYNxxx system variables for controlling this stuff.
  • File Tabs. Want vertical screen space more than you want to see what drawings you have open? Turn off File Tabs with the FILETABCLOSE command. You can still switch between drawings with Ctrl+Tab.
  • Graphic Background. After various experiments with black, white, black, cream, etc., for the last few releases Autodesk has stuck a nearly black background in model space only. Many of you will want a real black background to provide better contrast. To do this, invoke the Options command and pick the Display tab. Don’t be tempted to choose Color Scheme because that just changes the appearance of various user interface elements. Instead, pick the Colors… button. This will put you in the Drawing Window Colors dialog box. On the left, choose a context you want to change (e.g. 2D model space), choose the appropriate background element (e.g. Uniform background) and choose the particular shade that takes your fancy. There is a Restore Classic Colors button, but that only takes you back to AutoCAD 2008 with its black model and white paper space. If you want a black paper space background too, you’ll have to pick the Sheet / layout context and specify that individually. You may wish to put the Command line > Command line history background setting to white, too. When you’re done, pick Apply & Close, then OK.
  • Grid. If you use isometric snap and grid, you will be glad to find that AutoCAD 2017’s line-based isometric grid works properly, unlike some earlier releases. If you still prefer dots, right-click on the Grid status button and pick Grid Settings…, which will take you into the Drafting Settings dialog box, which you can also get at with the DSettings command, or DS for short. In the Snap and Grid tab, the grid is controlled by the options on the right. If you want your dots back, turn on the toggles in the Grid style section. This can also be done using the GRIDSTYLE system variable. This is now stored in the registry rather than on a drawing-by-drawing basis.
  • Hatch Dialog Box. If you want the Ribbon on but prefer the old Hatch dialog box, set HPDLGMODE to 1.
  • Hatch Double Click. If you’re not using the new Ribbon-based hatch editing feature, you will probably want to invoke the HatchEdit command when you double-click on a hatch object. Doing this involves braving the CUI interface, but I have gone into step-by-step detail of that process here. In short, you need to drag and drop the Hatch Edit command from the bottom left CUI panel onto the double-click action for Hatch in the top left panel, replacing the default action (Properties).
  • Help. If you want your Help to work with adequate speed and reliability, or to work at all in some proxy server environments, you will want to turn off AutoCAD’s online help. The installer for the AutoCAD 2017 English offline Help can be found here. For other languages, see here. However, downloading and installing it isn’t enough. Go into Options > System, then look in the bottom right pane to turn off the Use online help toggle. The Help structure remains destroyed and the interface is still a long way short of the excellent CHM-based Help we had prior to AutoCAD 2011, but at least it’s not as slow and externally dependant as the online Help system. Note that the search mechanism in the offline version is notably weaker than in the online version.
  • InfoCenter. This is the set of tools on the right top of the AutoCAD window. It takes up space, reduces AutoCAD reliability and performance and forces the use of Internet Explorer to support Autodesk LiveUpdate technology. You probably want it gone. Here’s how:
    (vl-registry-write
    (strcat "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\\" (vlax-user-product-key) "\\InfoCenter")
    "InfoCenterOn" 0)

    Paste the above lines into AutoCAD’s command line area and hit Enter. Close and start AutoCAD and InfoCenter will be gone. If you ever want it back, use the above code with a 1 in place of the 0, then close and restart AutoCAD.
  • Layout Tabs. You don’t get to choose where the layout tabs go, but you can turn them on and off using the LAYOUTTAB system variable.
  • Navigation Bar. If you like the NavBar feature as much as I do, you’ll want to turn it off. You can close it easily using the little X in its top left corner. Alternatively, control it with the NAVBARDISPLAY system variable (0 for off, 1 for on) or click the [-] button in the top left corner of the drawing area and turn off the Navigation Bar toggle there.
  • Pull-down Menus. Enter MENUBAR 1 to turn pull-down menus on. To turn them off again, enter MENUBAR 0.
  • Ribbon. You can close the Ribbon with the RibbonClose command. If you ever want to turn it back on, enter Ribbon.
  • Screen menu. The SCREENMENU command has been undefined, but you can use REDEFINE SCREENMENU to turn it back on, or just enter .SCREENMENU (with a leading period). However, you can’t access the screen menu section in CUI any more, so if you want to maintain your screen menu you will need to do it in an ancient release or with a text editor operating on a .MNU file.
  • Security. There are various obstacles to productive use that can be placed in the way by the various security settings that have been progressively introduced since AutoCAD 2014. However, I’m not going to provide advice on removing those obstacles because of the risk such action can entail; I don’t want to be a party to making your system more vunerable. If you wish to look into this area, look up the SECURITYOPTIONS command and the SECURELOAD system variable. One security setting I’d suggest you definitely leave at the default value of 0 is LEGACYCODESEARCH, because that setting will protect you from the most common AutoCAD-specific malware without any practical downside. Feel free to look it up and take your own informed action, but you almost certainly don’t need to set this variable to 1.
  • Selecting Dashed Lines. AutoCAD now allows you to select objects with linetypes by picking the gaps. If you don’t want this, set LTGAPSELECTION to 0. Although 0 is supposed to be the default, I’ve seen AutoCAD working as if it were set to 1 even when it says it is 0. If so, set it to 1 and back to 0.
  • Selecting One Object at a Time. Does AutoCAD insist on only allowing you to select one object at a time? You probably have PICKADD set to 0. Set it back to the default of 2 or look for the Use Shift to add to selection toggle in the left pane of the Selection tab of OPTIONS. AutoCAD has been known to mangle this setting by itself. Yes, even when there is no possibility of a LISP routine messing with it.
  • Selection Cycling. Depending on your preference and/or system graphic performance, you may wish to turn off selection cycling (set SELECTIONCYCLING to 0), or at least the list that appears when selecting objects that lie on top of each other (set SELECTIONCYCLING to 1).
  • Selection Effect. If you want AutoCAD to show selected objects with old-style dashed lines rather than a glowing halo, set SELECTIONEFFECT to 0.
  • Selection Lasso. You can now select objects within irregular areas using the Lasso tool by clicking, holding and dragging. If this gets in your way, turn off the 4 bit of PICKAUTO (e.g. change PICKAUTO from 5 to 1). You may prefer to use the toggle for this in the left pane of the Selection tab of OPTIONS.
  • Selection Preview. This feature annoys some users, adding as it does an unfortunate degree of stickiness and working inaccurately when Snap is in use. This is controlled in the Selection tab of the Options command. Turn off the toggles in the Selection preview panel on the left (these control the SELECTIONPREVIEW system variable). If you dislike the coloured boxes you get while doing a Window or Crossing, pick the Visual Effect Settings… button and turn off the Indicate selection area toggle. This controls the SELECTIONAREA system variable.
  • Snap. By default, AutoCAD’s snap no longer works while there is no command active. Set SNAPGRIDLEGACY to 1 to turn this feature off.
  • Start Tab/New Tab/Welcome Screen. If you want AutoCAD to start in a blank drawing rather than using the Start Tab (New Tab or Welcome Screen in earlier releases), set the STARTUP system variable to 0. Note that if you turn off the Start Tab feature during installation or deployment creation, it’s not possible to later turn it back on using AutoCAD commands. If you’re unsure about whether or not you want to use the Start Tab, defer that decision until after installation.
  • Startup performance. You may have noticed that AutoCAD’s Ribbon switching performance is much faster than earlier releases. You may also have noticed that when you start AutoCAD, the cursor is sticky for a while after the Command prompt is available. These two items are not unrelated; AutoCAD is loading Ribbon components in the background. If you would prefer this not to happen, set the RIBBONBGLOAD system variable to 0.
  • Steering Wheel. Do you have a funny silver thing following your cursor around? Despise it? If it will stay still long enough you can hit the little X in the top right. Alternatively, use the NAVSWHEEL command to toggle it or click the [-] button in the top left corner of the drawing area and turn off the Steering Wheel toggle there.
  • Status Bar Text. You can’t have text-based status line toggles any more, so you can call off the search. Yes, I know. This is the poster child for Autodesk deliberately ignoring the clearly expressed wishes of its customers.
  • Toolbars. In AutoCAD 2009, you could turn individual toolbars on and off by accessing a menu obtained by right-clicking on the QAT. Autodesk somewhat vindictively removed that option in 2010, and it’s still gone in 2017, so I guess we can conclude that Autodesk really doesn’t want you using toolbars. A toolbar-toggling menu is still available if you right-click in an unused docked toolbar area, but if you have no toolbars visible there will be no such area available. What to do? Turn on one docked toolbar at the Command prompt, then you will be able to access the menu by right-clicking on the blank area to the right of it. The following command sequence will do it:
    _.-TOOLBAR ACAD.Standard _Top 0,0
    Paste this into AutoCAD’s command line area and the Standard toolbar will be turned on above your drawing area. This will leave a grey area to the right that you can right-click into. The other toolbars will be in sub-menus under that, with the main set of default ones in the AutoCAD section. Note that this will only work if you have the acad.cuix file loaded (or partially loaded). This is the case in vanilla AutoCAD and some verticals, but it may not be the case in other verticals.
  • Tooltips. Excessively intrusive and oversized tooltips were a “feature” of AutoCAD 2009’s revamped UI design, and we’ve been plagued with them ever since. I’m glad to see that many of them have had their verbosity somewhat curtailed (thanks to Dieter), but they still annoy the heck out of me, particularly by obscuring what I’m trying to see in dialog boxes. To kill them with fire, see Options > Display and start turning off toggles about half way down the left side.
  • Trace. The TRACE command has been undefined, but you can use REDEFINE TRACE to turn it back on, or just enter .TRACE (with a leading period).
  • UCS Icon. Don’t like the new simplified UCS icon? Sorry! While you can use the UCSIcon command’s Properties option to change the appearance of the icon in various ways, there’s nothing to restore the UCS Icon’s appearance from previous releases with its little arrows pointing the way.
  • ViewCube. I like the ViewCube concept, and I think it’s a great piece of interface design. But not everybody agrees. It has caused performance issues and it’s not very useful for 2D users. If you want it gone, that’s a surprisingly difficult thing to find out about. The simplest way to remove it is by clicking the [-] button in the top left corner of the drawing area and turning off the ViewCube toggle there. If you want more control, it’s handled using the Options command, in the 3D Modeling tab, in the bottom left corner. Turn off those toggles that don’t make sense for you. There is a related set of system variables called NAVVCUBExxx.
  • Workspace. The Workspace (gearwheel) control is now located near the bottom right corner. The item called AutoCAD Classic is long gone, unfortunately, so you’ll need to make your own classic workspace by manually setting up your interface the way you like it, then saving it as a Workspace using the Save Current As… option under the Workspace control. See this step-by-step description by Luciana Klein, (for AutoCAD 2016) along with clues from the various items above, for information on how to do this. There’s a bug in the Workspace control that means it no longer reverts to a saved workspace directly. If you want to revert to the correct version of a workspace, you need to switch to a different workspace first and then back again.
  • Xref Fading. Don’t like your xrefs looking different? Use the Options command’s Display tab and look at the Xref display slider on the bottom right, or use the XDWGFADECTL system variable.
  • Zoom Animation. If you prefer your zooms to be instant rather than progressing from one view to another in an animated series of steps, you can turn off that feature using the VTOPTIONS command or the VTENABLE system variable.

If you have allowed AutoCAD to migrate your settings, some of the above will already be done for you, but by no means all of it. If past experience is anything to go by, the job done by Migration will be sub-optimal, but it received a major overhaul for 2017 so maybe it’s all good now. Call me paranoid/lazy/whatever, but I didn’t bother finding out. I’ve done without it for over a decade and will continue to do so; file under Problems left unfixed for so long that nobody cares when the fix finally comes.

Once you’re happy with your new environment, I suggest you save your workspace under a name of your choosing (Save Current As… under the Workspace gearwheel control), then export your profile in the Options command’s Profiles tab. Keep a safe copy of both your exported profile and your main CUIX file (acad.cuix by default), because that is where new workspaces are stored.

All of this advice is offered on an as-is, try-it-yourself-and see-what-happens basis. If in doubt, before you start messing make a safe profile, export it, then make an experimental profile and make it current. Back up any files you may have modified (e.g. acad.cuix).

I’ve probably missed a few things, so feel free to point them out or ask questions. I’ll edit this post to add relevant information.

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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Feel free to use this post to comment on any aspect of these polls. From the main page (or search results) where the comments are not immediately visible, you can comment by clicking the number next to this speech bubble icon:

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

This post originally contained assertions about Autodesk’s financials that were based on flawed understanding, and has been removed. It’s not really possible to delete things from the Internet, so if you ever want to relive the joy of seeing me get things spectacularly wrong, feel free to use the Internet Archive to do so.

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.