How long should the AutoCAD release cycle be?

I’ve just added a poll asking this question. Actually, the poll question is rather longer than that, because I want to make it as unambiguous as possible. Other polls I’ve seen on this subject, including ones by Autodesk and Cadalyst, have always left room for speculation about what a given answer would actually mean. Sometimes, the question has been so ambiguous that the results have been completely meaningless. I’ve tried hard to avoid that, and if that means the question is rather long, so be it. In my poll, you’re being asked to consider a scenario where over a long period of time (10 years, say) the total charge from Autodesk for upgrades or Subscription would be the same, no matter what the release cycle. You would also get the same number of major new features, minor new features and other improvements. Your ability to choose to pay either upgrade fees or annual Subscription payments would also be unaffected. If you feel that you would like to answer “however long it takes to get each release finished” rather than a fixed time between releases, please choose a release cycle period that you think would be a reasonable average. The AutoCAD release cycle would also affect the AutoCAD-based verticals, so please take that into consideration. I will refrain from giving my own opinions on this subject until the poll is closed, but feel free to make your own comments about the pros and cons of different lengths of release cycle.

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What you like best about AutoCAD 2009

I’ve closed the poll asking you to choose the top three things you like about AutoCAD 2009. For some reason it wasn’t getting many votes. Only 37 people participated, rather less than many other polls here, and I’ve now put it out of its misery. The small sample size makes the results of dubious value, but here are AutoCAD 2009’s “best things”, as voted by at least five of you. Spell checking in text editor (30%, 11 Votes) ViewCube (22%, 8 Votes) Action Recorder (19%, 7 Votes) Modeless layer interface (19%, 7 Votes) Improvements available only in vertical products (16%, 6 Votes) Rollover tooltips for objects (14%, 5 Votes) LISP bug fixes (14%, 5 Votes) It came as no surprise to see that there was no love at all for the enlarged tooltips or pale model space, but I would have thought that ShowMotion would have been a useful addition for somebody.

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CAD history book

In case you missed it on WorldCAD Access, Dave Weisberg has released a history of CAD as a free book on-line. It is called The Engineering Design Revolution and subtitled The People, Companies and Computer Systems That Changed Forever the Practice of Engineering. I don’t like regurgitating things from other blogs, but this is an exception for two reasons. First, I find it very interesting. Second, it’s in a good cause and deserves all the publicity it can get. Access to the book in PDF form is free, but Dave is asking for voluntary contributions to the Cancer League of Colorado Foundation. I’ve skimmed through the Autodesk and AutoCAD chapter of the book, and while I was already familiar with much of the content that particular section and could pedantically quibble with its accuracy in a few places, I still found it highly informative and interesting. You can find the book at www.cadhistory.net.

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How much do you exchange data with non-Windows users?

A discussion I’ve been having elsewhere has prompted me to add two new polls (see right). I know that most of you, being AutoCAD users, are also Windows users. I’m interested to know how often you exchange data (e.g. DWG, DXF, DWF, PDF, etc) with users of other operating systems, specifically Linux and Mac users. If you don’t exchange data with anyone then please leave the polls alone, but if you do exchange data but never with non-Windows users, please join in and say so!

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When is a Service Pack not a Service Pack?

When it’s an Update. This year, Service Packs are called Updates, and the first one for AutoCAD is out now. The 32-bit version is here and the 64-bit version is here. The Update includes LT, but there is no news yet about Updates for any of the vertical AutoCAD variants. As usual, read the Readme first. Also, as this Update has had a considerably shorter gestation period than the traditional six-month wait for the first AutoCAD Service Pack, you may be wise to exercise more paranoia than normal. Save and export your AutoCAD profiles, save your workspaces, make backups of your CUI files and put them somewhere safe where AutoCAD and the Update can’t find them. Does the shortened time before the first Update indicate that there will be more Updates in store? Probably. Although Update 1 (U1) fixes a lot of stuff, there’s still plenty more stuff left to fix in 2009. Oh, and just because it says in the Readme that something is fixed, don’t take it for granted that your particular variant of that problem is fixed. Try it out for yourself. I know that many of you don’t put an AutoCAD release into production until SP1 is released, so should you go now with U1 or wait for U2? (No, not the band). Or U3, even, if there ever is one? It’s up to you, of course, but in my own CAD management role I won’t be distributing AutoCAD 2009 with U1 to my users. I just don’t think it’s ready yet.

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Autodesk and Bentley – kiss, kiss!

OK, so I’m a long way from being the first to comment on this, but maybe I’ll be the last? Don’t count on it. In the unlikely event that this is the only CAD blog you ever read, you may be unaware that Autodesk and Bentley have decided to swap code so their respective products can make a better job of writing each other’s drawing formats. The MicroStation DWG interface has traditionally been imperfect. (I remember raising the ire of one of the Bentley brothers in person many years ago on the CompuServe ACAD forum when I described Bentley’s DWG/DXF interface developers as incompetent (accurately, I may add). The brother in question was one of the said developers…) The AutoCAD DGN interface (which was available in Map for many years before making it into AutoCAD) has been rather less perfect than that, so this move should lead to benefits for customers of both products in future releases. Whether or not it actually will improve matters remains to be seen. That relies on the future competence of both parties in using ‘foreign’ code. The first versions could be, er, interesting. Or maybe they’ll be great. Assuming the best, who should we thank for this development? Autodesk? Bentley? Maybe not. I think we should thank the Open Design Alliance (ODA). If Autodesk hadn’t been so keen to do damage to the ODA in its belated but increasingly urgent battle to win complete control over DWG, do you think this would have ever happened? I don’t think so. It hadn’t happened in the preceding couple of decades. Thank you, ODA, for making this happen. May you live long and prosper, and continue to apply pressure to improve interoperability for all. But in the interests of fairness, don’t you think you should at least…

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Video – Deciphered lyrics

Here’s another video I have done to the music of Swedish metal band Opeth (the first one is here). This band’s latest album, Watershed, does not come with conventional lyrics in the booklet, but rather a page full of rune-type characters. There are actually two different pages in different editions of the album, and in order to work out the lyrics you need to rotate the pages, work out a substitution cipher and combine the two sources. To save you the trouble of doing all that, here are the lyrics of Heir Apparent. This is the only song on the album that contains only angry Cookie Monster vocals (beware!), so without my expert deciphering efforts (ahem!) it would be rather difficult for the uninitiated to know what the song was all about. If you can put up with the vocals, I think you’ll enjoy this! YouTube link.

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You don’t think much of AutoCAD 2009’s buttons

I’ve closed the poll about the button images. It’s a general thumbs-down from you on that particular change, albeit not a spectacularly vehement one. I agree with most of you. The images themselves don’t offend me greatly, but their role in making things harder to find means that Autodesk erected another unnecessary barrier to Ribbon acceptance. The images themselves have crisper edges, but are sadly devoid of colour, making them harder to tell apart. One exception is with the object snap buttons, which I consider an improvement over their predecessors. More important than that is the fact that there were many, many things Autodesk could (and should) have done instead of putting development resources into this area. I know from personal experience that creating button images can be a very time-consuming job. I have some sympathy for the poor Autodesk people who put the effort into producing these images, only to have customers wishing they had never bothered. Nobody likes wasting their time. This sort of thing (there are many other examples), makes it obvious that Autodesk needs to obtain customer feedback on design decisions much earlier in the development cycle, while there is still time to throw out the dumb ideas. Doing so would offer Autodesk a lot of potential for more efficiently targeting its resources, to the benefit of both Autodesk and its customers.

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What’s the best thing about AutoCAD 2009?

It’s starting to look a bit negative around here, and it is only going to get more negative when I start describing the details of my still-unresolved Autodesk customer service debacle. So here’s something to provide a bit of balance. What do you like best about AutoCAD 2009? What is better, faster, easier, more cool or just plain fixed when compared with the release you were using previously? I have a few ideas of my own, and will run a poll when I get a few suggestions from you.

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Autodesk’s 12-month release cycle – Is it harmful?

I’ve opened a poll asking for your opinion about whether the 12-month release cycle of AutoCAD and its variants is harmful to the quality of the software that Autodesk is providing. I won’t express my own opinion on this subject here yet, but will do so later, once the poll is closed. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject.

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AutoCAD 2009 – Top reasons to be Ribbonless

I’ve closed the poll for those of you who are using 2009 with the Ribbon turned off to show us the reasons why. The top 10 choices were: Tab concept means extra clicks (65%) Uses up too much screen space (64%) No advantage over existing methods (64%) Dislike concept of hiding tools – want buttons to stay visible (60%) Too hard to find things (51%) Using it minimised requires an extra click/hover (47%) Doesn’t make good use of my screen size/shape (45%) Tab switching is too slow (45%) Customising it is too difficult (44%) Ribbon content doesn’t match my needs (44%) I was hoping that the poll would help Autodesk in deciding how best to improve the Ribbon in future releases, but it’s pretty hard to do much about the top 7 choices here. Except number 2, perhaps; the Ribbon could be considerably tightened to remove waste space, in the same way as the excellent AutoCAD 2009 floating toolbars. The new poll is slightly related to item 5 above. Autodesk combined the Ribbon with a change to the button images. Personally, I don’t think this was a good idea. If you move people’s stuff around, changing the appearance of that stuff is only going to make it harder to find things and reduce people’s acceptance of the changed interface. Enough of my opinion, what do you think?

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