After a month and 204 votes, I have now closed the poll that asks the above question, but it can still be found in the polls archive.
There were 20 choices, so you might expect an “average” release to attract 5% of the votes. You might also expect there to be relatively few votes for the older releases, because the newer the release, the more likely it is to be within a voter’s experience. All releases being equal, you might therefore expect the oldest releases to have about 0% and the newest about 10%, with a gradually rising straight line between them.
Of course, not all releases were equal. There has been a huge variation in the quality of releases over the years, so it’s remarkable how closely the poll follows that rising-line description. However, there are a couple of major exceptions that insert a major spike in the graph. Those exceptions are Release 14 with 23% of the vote, and its closest rival AutoCAD 2000. That isn’t very close at all (12%), despite introducing the major and easily remembered benefit of the multiple document interface.
It’s hard to argue with Release 14 being so highly regarded, being such a huge performance and stability improvement over its infamous predecessor. The list of new features in Release 14 was tiny in comparison with that of Release 13, but they generally worked properly. There was also a concerted effort to improve raw performance, and it paid off. Release 14 did wonders for Autodesk’s share price. Is there a lesson to be learned there? I think so.
That said, this is one of the few times I find my own opinion to be significantly different to those of most AutoCAD users. Whose is the sad lonesome vote for Release 2.5? Mine. As I’ve stated elsewhere, AutoCAD Version 2.5 was a really, really good release. If you look at some of the things you couldn’t do with 2.1, the improvement was dramatic.
Try to imagine using Version 2.1 of AutoCAD. As well as every zoom and pan taking an age, it wouldn’t let you plot to a file, mirror at an angle, copy objects more than once, trim objects, stretch objects or explode blocks and plines. No ellipses, even pseudo ones; isometric circles required the creation of a circle block that could be inserted with unequal scale factors. You couldn’t even rotate objects without first making them into a block and inserting it at an angle. Version 2.5 also made some important improvements to AutoLISP.
The reputation of Version 2.5 suffered in North America because of the introduction of the hardware lock, but that was removed within the life of the release and should not overshadow the huge leaps forward that were made in only 13 months. In those simpler days, it was possible to produce a new release of AutoCAD in about a year where the features were actually finished. Finished, working, documented and with API support.
For me, the top AutoCAD releases are:
- Version 2.5.
- Release 12 – major dialogue box improvements with full LISP support, grips, hatching improvements, the first proper Windows release and much more.
- Version 2.1 (2.18 to be exact) – the introduction of AutoLISP. This is what moved AutoCAD permanently ahead of its competitors (yes, AutoCAD had serious competition once).
- Release 14.
- AutoCAD 2000 – the multiple document interface is the obvious change here, but more significant to me was the incorporation of Visual LISP into the core product.
Other notable but underrated releases include Release 11 (paper space and xrefs) and the notorious Release 13. Despite being released in a very unfinished state and with significant performance issues, the number of advances in Release 13 were enormous. That was part of the problem; Autodesk was too ambitious about what features could be completed within the available timeframe.