AutoCAD 2009 – An outsider’s look at the Ribbon

Kirill Grouchnikov is a developer who has a blog called Pushing Pixels. This wouldn’t normally be of particular interest to AutoCAD users, but he recently wrote a piece describing the AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon. It is always interesting to things described from a different perspective, in this case the Ribbon from a non-user’s point of view. He pays particular attention to the ways in which the AutoCAD Ribbon differs from Microsoft’s standards. As a non-user, he has skipped lightly over several aspects of AutoCAD Ribbon use, including some drawbacks of the current implementation, but it is still a worthwhile read, as are some of the comments that follow.

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Autodesk discussion groups – signs of life?

After an extraordinarily long period of total silence about the dreadful state of the appallingly-updated Autodesk discussion groups, it seems that the sleeping monster has raised an eyelid. Although it unfortunately indicates that Autodesk intends to try to patch up the new system rather than throwing it away, there is now a “sticky” post at the top of each forum containing the following text: Your continued patience is appreciated as we work to resolve the discussion group issues you have been reporting. We understand the impact these issues have on your productivity, and want to assure you we are continuing to troubleshoot and resolve. We’ve posted an update under “Help” to provide awareness and status of the issues we are working on. We’ll regularly update this as improvements are made. Never mind the glacial nature of the response, it’s good to see that an acknowledgment has finally been made of the problems. However, picking on the Help link reveals that there’s a long way to go yet before all the problems are even fully understood by the team responsible, let alone fixed. Only three “Known Issues” are listed, and four issues are allegedly resolved. At least one of those, shown as resolved on 7 October, is still very much broken right now. At least one of the FAQ items, “Why can’t I stay signed in?”, gives false information. Discussion group team, you will find a lot more than seven issues listed on this blog alone. To see them, just click on the Newsgroups link in the Tags section on the right. Alternatively, you could use the Search box at the top and enter something like “discussion groups”. A search that actually finds everything? There’s a novel idea.

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Autodesk University buddy offer for existing registrants

There can never be such a thing as too many Autodesk University buddy offer posts, right?* So here’s another one. This time, I won’t mention the year so I can’t get it wrong. AU Program Development Manager Joseph Wurcher has pointed out that existing registrants can also take advantage of the buddy offer. So if you have already registered and you know somebody who would like to go, maybe you can come to some arrangement with them that ends up with AU costing you less than it otherwise would have. You will need to contact the AU team at the right time; the details are all at the bottom of this page. * Yes, that’s irony. Have a look at all the “buddy” posts on Novedge Pulse for yesterday. Great minds think alike? Maybe we just lack originality. I guess most bloggers did the same as me; saw the email with the offer and thought, “That’s worth letting people know about.” Result? Attack of the Clones.

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The three Fs of customer service

I had another interesting customer service experience at the weekend. We had booked an electrician well in advance to service our air conditioner and change a bunch of light fittings. He was due at 9:30 on Saturday morning. At 9:00 I went round making sure everything was ready for him and sat down with a book while I waited. At 10:15, there was no sign of him so I rang him to see what was happening. He said he had been having weather troubles on the first couple of jobs that morning (it had been sprinkling with rain a little) but he would be there as soon as he could. I accepted this readily enough, although it would have been nice to have received a phone call. The weather was fine from that point on, so I was expecting him to turn up pretty soon after that. Foolishly, I kept expecting that all day. Now, my family and I had pretty much arranged our whole weekend based on having no power on Saturday morning, postponing various things such as housework and washing to fit in with the time we had been given. When he hadn’t turned up by 11:00, it was time to think about preparing the kids’ lunches before he turned up. He hadn’t turned up by 2:00 when I had to take the kids out somewhere, and he had given up answering his phone, so I just went out. He hadn’t arrived when I returned, and still hasn’t arrived, so I think it’s fairly safe to say he’s never going to turn up. You might think that this piece of total non-service represents some kind of low point, but it’s actually only the third worst customer service experience I’ve had this year. I have had two much worse…

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Autodesk University 2008 two-for-one offer

Although Autodesk University registrations passed 7000 a while ago, the financial crisis is likely to have slowed registrations considerably, so it’s not a huge shock to see Autodesk trying to ramp things up with a special offer. If you’re one of the first hundred registrants on November 5, you can register somebody else for free. If you’re late for that, you can register a second person for US$595. “For a limited time only!” Sorry, no bonus steak knives. Providing special offers is a tricky one. For the people who can take advantage of this offer, it’s great. Those who have already paid up may be annoyed about it, despite their $500 early bird discount. I don’t see how the AU people can fill all the expected places without doing something, though. There’s no pleasing everybody. Autodesk University is a fantastic event and if you can afford it, I encourage you to go. In today’s uncertain climate, the networking opportunities alone will make it worthwhile. No, I’m not receiving anything for this unsolicited promotion, it’s what I really think! Full details are available here. Edit: never mind what Autodesk calls it’s software, it’s not 2009 until next year. Duh!

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Rate Autodesk, vote once

I’ve added some new polls that ask you to rate Autodesk in five specific areas. I’ve seen some criticism of Autodesk in these and other areas, but that doesn’t mean the criticism is valid. I’d like to know what you think. Please be fair, and base your votes on your own experiences. If you have suggestions for similar polls, add a comment. I have closed several other polls, and will be discussing the results later. Poll abuse On the subject of polls, I have noticed that more than one person has been voting multiple times. While this is technically possible for people who have access to the Internet via multiple IP addresses, it’s obviously not desirable. Like the forthcoming US elections, the idea is that you have one vote each. While you might be able to work around that restriction to give yourself a little extra influence on the result, doing so is less than honest and is likely to get you in trouble. I accept that people who have access via home and work might accidentally vote twice on occasions, but if I perceive a continued pattern of deliberate abuse I will remove the offenders’ access rights to this site. As I respect everybody’s privacy I will not reveal any identities, drop any hints or make any announcements about this, I will just do it. Just to make the privacy issue completely clear, I will not, under any circumstances in public or private, reveal to anybody who has voted for what. Similarly, I will not reveal to any party any identifying information behind any of the users of this site. Fortunately, the influence of dodgy votes on poll results has so far been small and in most cases statistically insignificant. That is, it does not invalidate the conclusions that…

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Ways in which the crash could be good for Autodesk

No, I don’t mean the sort of crash where AutoCAD stops working. The current financial crisis, I mean. I must preface these comments with a disclaimer. I have no qualifications in finance and make no claim of financial expertise. These are purely a layman’s thoughts. Don’t buy or sell stock based on what I have to say here. Toss a coin instead. So, what on earth am I thinking? I’m thinking that although Autodesk (along with most other companies) will undoubtedly suffer greatly from the coming economic conditions, it’s not all dark cloud. Here are some potential silver linings. Autodesk is cashed up. If its competitors aren’t all carrying enough fat to survive the lean times, Autodesk could come out of the post-crash period with greater market share than before. Of course, this is contingent on Autodesk having products, customer service and a customer-friendly outlook that are attractive enough to win over any orphans. Some serious reversal of neglect in these areas will be needed, which involves spending more, not less. So it really is a very good thing that Autodesk has large wads of your money lying around for use in times like this. Companies with useful technology might become available cheaply. Some smart acquisitions could give Autodesk products some advantages over the competition. (Edit – Between writing this post and publishing it, I see Autodesk has just done exactly that with Softimage). Autodesk can buy its own shares back while they are cheap. If it needs cash in a few years, it can sell them again at what will undoubtedly be much higher prices. I don’t really care whether Autodesk does any of the above, but I do care about the next one. Autodesk has been living in a Soviet Russia-style fool’s paradise for years with its yearly…

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A true AutoCAD teaching story

Reading Ralph’s post about going back to teaching reminded me of a time some years ago when I taught some AutoCAD evening classes at a technical college. As Ralph points out, students have a wide range of abilities. Although they were all supposed to have completed a prerequisite introductory Windows course, it became apparent that during that course at least some of them must have been absent in mind if not in body. Here’s an example, where I was explaining to the class how it was possible to modify toolbars. Steve: “Move your mouse pointer over any toolbar button and right-click on it.” Student: “Nothing’s happening.” Steve: “You should see a menu appear with the word Customize on it. When it appears, left-click on that word.” Student: “There’s no menu on my computer.” Steve: “Did you hover over a toolbar button and right-click on it?” Student: “Yes, and nothing happens. Do I need to press Enter?” Steve: “No.” Student: (Presses Enter anyway) “It says Unknown command.” Steve: (Going over to see what’s going on) “Can you please show me what you’re doing?” The student did so. I returned to the front of the class. Steve: “If you haven’t already done so, hover the mouse pointer over any toolbar button, press down the right-hand mouse button and release it.” The student had been hovering over the button and typing C-L-I-C-K. After all, I had told him to write “CLICK” on it.

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Customer service – filling a hole

Two weekends ago, I bought a cheap plastic outdoor table and chair set from Clark Rubber. It came complete with an umbrella hole for which I have no need, but I didn’t particularly mind. I was just pleased to find something that was made locally rather than in China. A week later, I decided to buy another set just like it. When I got the new one home, I noticed it came with a blank to fill in the umbrella hole. It is likely that the first blank went missing when they removed the table from its box, at my request, so it would fit in my car. I thought it would be nice to have the tables completely matching, so I rang the store, explained the situation and asked if they had a spare blank. The manager took my number and said he would have a look and get back to me. Ten minutes later, he rang to say they had been unable to find a spare blank in stock, but that he had taken one from his display table and I could have that. A quarter of an hour later, I had it in my hand. Take a bow, Clark Rubber in Cannington. You displayed several important traits of excellent customer service. Making yourself available to listen to the customer’s wishes. Understanding those wishes. Acting on those wishes. Responding promptly. Putting the customer’s needs above your own. Showing flexibility in dealing with an issue that fell outside the usual set of circumstances. It’s only a little piece of plastic, but it reveals a lot. Every time I look at my perfectly matching set of tables, I will remember Clark Rubber, and I will remember it in association with great customer service. I will undoubtedly be back for more…

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The Autodesk discussion groups are awful

Yes, the Autodesk discussion groups are still awful. In other breaking news, the Pacific Ocean continues to be wet. I seldom visit them any more, but I just hopped on to the Autodesk discussion groups to see what progress had been made in fixing the many problems that have been pointed out here, on the groups themselves, in official problem reports, and elsewhere. Little or none, it seems. Search? There are still apparently only 188 uses of the word “autocad” in the tens of thousands of posts in the AutoCAD groups, ever. Editor? It not only still vacuums, when I just tried it out it vacuumed even harder than before, with delays of over a minute when switching between tabs and nasty screen formatting issues when the switch eventually occurred. Attachments that can’t be viewed? Check. Visible email addresses? Yup, still there. Everything I looked at was just as bad as it was last time I looked. Maybe something has been improved somewhere, but I gave up looking. I know there’s an Autodesk cultural tendency to pretend problems don’t exist for the sake of saving face, but that just doesn’t cut it here. (Actually, it doesn’t cut it anywhere, but that’s another story). What kind of face does this debacle present to the world? What does it make Autodesk look like? A company that doesn’t understand the Internet. A company that doesn’t know how to write software that works. A company that fails to seek user feedback on changes until it is too late. A company that can’t fix things that are broken. A company that doesn’t care about its customers’ privacy. A company that refuses to listen to customers who point out problems. Now I happen to know that this is not a fair and accurate representation of everyone…

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Why I won’t buy another Canon all-in-one printer

Last year, I bought a Canon MP830 printer/scanner/copier/fax/tea maker/whatever for my home office. I chose this particular device because it had all the features I was after, including CD printing, duplex printing, printing to the edge of the sheet, decent photo printing quality, and great document handling including automatic dual-sided copying. It also had theoretical high speed operation and ink economy with 5 separate tanks. It also looked like a sturdy piece of kit that wasn’t going to wobble all over the place in use, and which might stand a chance of lasting a long time. It was at the upper end of the Canon range, but even then it wasn’t expensive. I was a little worried that when one part of it eventually failed, I would be stuck with a partially functional device, such as a scanner/fax that wouldn’t print, or a printer that wouldn’t scan, and be left with the dilemma of replacing all of it or part of it. But I had good experiences with long-lived printers in the past (albeit Hewlett-Packard ones), so I figured that if I had to throw it away in five years’ time I could live with that. In practical use, most of the device’s features turned out to be as advertised, and while it was working I was generally happy with it. But I won’t be buying another one, and it’s unlikely that I will ever buy another Canon printer of any description. Why not? Performance. This simply isn’t up to scratch. While it may theoretically print a 500-page document at 30 pages per minute, printing a single page is a different matter. Although it can look spectacularly quick in action, it takes one full minute from turn-on to get itself ready to do anything at all, then about 10 seconds…

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What is a reasonable amount of time to wait for license codes?

Software companies use a variety of differerent methods in their attempts to prevent piracy and restrict use of their software to legitimate paying customers. Yes, these attempts are generally futile. Yes, they can end up inconveniencing legitimate users and providing pirate users with advantages over paying customers. Yes, they add to development costs and detract from the main development aims. Despite all that, I still support the right of software companies to do this. Lots of companies spend money doing futile, counter-productive things; it’s their money, their software, their customer base, their choice. That doesn’t mean we customers have to like it, and many of us don’t. Some of us happily accept it as part of the price of using our tools, some of us tolerate it with varying degrees of grace, and some of us fume about it but do it anyway because we have no choice. Beyond that point, there are those who won’t put up with it at all, and who find various ways around it. Where a given user fits within that spectrum of views depends partly on that person’s personality, but also on the amount of inconvenience that the software throws up. I’ve started a new poll because I’m interested to discover what level of inconvenience people are prepared to put up with. What is a reasonable level of tolerance? The poll question refers to a scenario where you have the need to use a piece of software, and before you can do so, you need to obtain codes. The question is not specific to AutoCAD or Autodesk, it applies to any software that needs magic numbers before it will work. Software often allows grace periods before a code is needed, but there are also circumstances where such grace does not apply, so for the…

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My autodesk.com site survey experience

I just tried out the new discussion groups to see if anything has been fixed. After entering my password (yet again), instead of placing me back in the discussion groups with my 100-topics-per-page settings, I was transported to the main Autodesk page and given the chance to provide feedback. I was informed that a new browser window would be opened, and then… nothing. I waited a while, but still nothing. Or so it seemed. Actually, the new browser window appeared behind my existing browser window, so I found it eventually. I clicked on it, it opened another, bigger window and the survey started. Here are the questions and my responses: Which of the following best describes your primary purpose for today’s visit? . Other To see if the discussion groups are still broken How often have you visited Autodesk.com in the past 6 months? . 6 times or more A question about my industry group that didn’t want to copy and paste… . Other Question is not relevant Do you currently own an Autodesk product? . Yes Are you planning to make a purchase decision related to an Autodesk product? (I don’t know what choice to make here, none of them really fit. I’m on Subscription but that doesn’t mean I’m not involved in purchasing decisions; I am. I don’t know when the next purchasing decision will be, though. I picked:) . No. Which of the following titles best describes your role in your company? . IT Manager From which region are you accessing this site? (Can’t you tell?) . Australia / New Zealand / South Pacific How would you rate your overall experience with Autodesk.com today? . Very bad (Actually, I don’t really know because because I haven’t yet got to the discussion groups I asked for, so I’m…

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50 years of LISP

It is difficult to find an exact date for LISP’s birthday. It wasn’t so much born in an instant as it was gradually dragged out of the primordial slime during the heady days of late 50s computer research. What is known is that John McCarthy, LISP’s “father”, published a report in October 1958 about his new programming language aimed at providing artificial intelligence capabilities on the IBM 704 mainframe computer. That report, one of a series, was the first one to use the name LISP. OOPSLA, a major annual conference on object-oriented programming, has decided to celebrate LISP’s 50th birthday on 20 October 2008. Practically everyone at that event is likely to be smarter, geekier and possibly even more pedantic than me. So for now I’m going to go with that date and raise a glass to LISP and John McCarthy in one week’s time. John Walker’s almost-accidental but still inspired decision to add LISP to AutoCAD was, in my opinion, the most significant feature addition in AutoCAD’s history. There were many other feature additions without which AutoCAD would be a joke (e.g. blocks, undo/redo, dimensioning, polylines) but they were always going to happen anyway. Adding LISP wasn’t like that. It wasn’t inevitable. It was an excellent example of Walker thinking outside the box, and it was the one thing that raised AutoCAD significantly above its competitors (yes, it had serious competitors once) at a time when the PC CAD market was still up for grabs. The genius of this move was that instead of attempting to fill AutoCAD’s many feature holes, Autodesk could provide the tools that would let the users do that for themselves. The language was an ideal fit for a number of reasons, and users in droves started hole-filling with a vengeance. Without that boost to…

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How complete are most new AutoCAD features?

You may have noticed the poll on the right asking “How well cooked is the average major new AutoCAD feature these days?” Despite the rather frivolous nature of the question and choices, there is a serious side to the question so please let me know what you think. Note that this doesn’t address the question of how well cooked new features should be, just how well cooked they are. There’s an argument that can be made in support of releasing features before they are honed to perfection, and I will be covering that issue in later posts.

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Slight improvement in discussion group search

While almost all of the problems with the Autodesk discussion groups remain, there are some signs of movement in one area at least. The search facility, which until recently refused to find anything from before the update, now finds some earlier posts. It would appear that some kind of search index is very slowly being built, but it’s a long way short of being finished. For example, if I do the standard default search for “autocad” in all the AutoCAD groups, there are 83 found in the last 90 days. This seems plausible, but I don’t trust it. Changing the time option to “All” now does actually return something rather than nothing at all, so I guess that’s an improvement. But 188 messages containing “autocad”? Since 1998? There should surely be thousands. Also, there are apparently no messages at all containing the word “it”. Or “is”. Ever. Some way to go there, then. If the people fixing the search happen to be reading this, please note that a maximum possible number of 30 results per page is much too low and makes it very hard to work with the search results. 100 would be better. There are still email addresses being exposed to the spam trawlers, but I guess by now that horse has well and truly bolted. Although I haven’t done a scientific study of post frequency, it looks to me as if the discussion groups are now significantly less active than they were before the update. Given the slightly functional search, the persistence of the awful editor, and the terrible runeverythingintooneline formatting of the existing message database (particularly important for the many posts containing code), I can’t say I’m surprised at the exodus.

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AutoCAD performance and productivity

I have closed the performance and productivity polls as described in my posts here and here, and the results can be seen in the Polls Archive. As with most of the other polls I’ve run here, the distribution of votes has not changed greatly after the first few days. It is clear from the very different voting patterns in the two polls that blog nauseam readers are smart enough understand the difference between the two questions. The performance poll has a very clear skew to the “slower” side. This supports the empirical evidence I’ve seen elsewhere that people perceive AutoCAD as getting slower. This is stuff they’ve noticed for themselves, not a few milliseconds here and there. On the other hand, the productivity poll results show a much more even distribution. The five options are pretty equally represented, except that “a lot more productive” has suffered at the hands of the most popular choice, “a bit more productive”. If you calculate the mean result, it is almost bang in the middle. It’s actually slightly worse than that, but by such a very small margin that it is not statistically significant. Overall, we can say that the average viewpoint expressed here is that people clearly see AutoCAD as getting slower, but that its productivity has stayed about the same. So, does this let Autodesk off the performance hook? If a slowing AutoCAD is balanced by productivity-enhancing features, does performance matter? In my opinion, the answers to those questions are no and yes respectively. It’s not a safe assumption that productivity features are balancing speed issues for everybody across the board. A new feature may help some users’ productivity, maybe even a majority of users, but it won’t help everybody. Some new features even harm some people’s productivity, which is one more reason for being grateful that Autodesk generally…

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The John Walker interview, and other observations

I have been thoroughly enjoying Kean Walmsley’s interview of Autodesk co-founder John Walker, which he has now finished. Kean’s link to part 4 is currently broken (edit: now fixed) and that broken link has been picked up by others (edit: also fixed in Between The Lines), so here are the correct links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. One of the best things about the interview is that it contains some frank criticism of Autodesk (and Microsoft, for that matter). On an Autodesk blog. Think about that. OK, it may be criticism of some stuff that is now ancient history, and it was made by someone who isn’t actually an Autodesk employee any more, but when was the last time you saw even that? It’s refreshing to see just a tiny crack appear in the never-say-anything-negative Autodesk facade. I remember a time when Autodesk people were allowed to speak reasonably freely in public, often did so, and were even known to make admissions that not everything always smells of roses. John’s fellow Autodesk founder Duff Kurland once wrote this wonderful, wonderful response to a question of mine on the CompuServe ACAD forum (it was about Autodesk removing Visual Basic support without warning, if you’re curious): We screwed up. We screwed up twice. He then went on to explain the detail of how and why Autodesk had screwed up and exactly what they had learned from the experience. Can you imagine any Autodesk person saying that now? If they did, can you imagine that person remaining an Autodesk employee afterwards in anything other than a sweeping-up capacity? Nor me, and that’s a real shame. It would be easy enough to justify it by saying Autodesk is a public company and has a glossy corporate image to preserve, but…

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Here’s a couple I didn’t mention earlier

The Autodesk discussion group editor inserts spaces into URLs longer than a certain size (about 70 characters, it seems). It will insert spaces in one place for the URL that it says is displayed on the screen, in another place for the URL that’s actually invoked when clicked, and sometimes in even more places on the URL that really is displayed on the screen. Sometimes the space appears as a space and sometimes it appears as %20. The editor will cunningly allow you to apparently fix up these errors in the places they occur, and then the fun-loving little sprite will reintroduce the same or similar errors as soon as you save the changes. Multiple edit attempts will get you nowhere (except a padded cell, perhaps). Somebody must have had a wonderful time writing that one. Another bug relates to the display of quoted messages. Admittedly, this was always going to be a difficult task to get right in the new environment, because of the many quoting styles that exist in the messagebase. No surprise, then, to discover that quoted text frequently displays in such a way that makes the message author look like a clueless dolt. In related news, I’ve added a poll that asks what you think of the recent web update. I’m not making my usual attempt to remain neutral and avoid influencing the poll results this time, as it’s a bit late for that. Everybody knows my views by now, but I suspect it wouldn’t make much difference in any case. People are angry enough about this mess without any influence from me. However, it’s always good to see a wide range of views expressed; somebody thinks the update is “Fantastic”.

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