AutoCAD’s magic vanishing attachments

There are now quite a few file types that you can attach to an AutoCAD drawing as a reference, in the same way that you can attach other drawings as xrefs. We’ve been able to attach other drawings since Release 11 (1990) and images since Release 14 (1997), but every release since 2007 has introduced a new kind of attachment. In AutoCAD 2010, you can now also attach PDFs, MicroStation DGNs (v7 and v8), DWF and DWFx files. But should you? Maybe not. It depends who is going to use those drawings after you. If you know for certain that every user of that drawing is going to be using 2010 and later, that’s no problem. But if there is the possibility of earlier releases being used, your fine-looking attachments could vanish silently in the night. Attach a PDF to your drawing in 2010, give it to a user of last year’s AutoCAD 2009 (you’ll need to save it as a 2007 DWG) and what will he see? Nothing. There is no text-screen warning, no bounding box, no piece of text indicating the file name, nothing. Just a blank space where there should be useful drawing content. This problem isn’t new to 2010, because there are similar problems with the other recent attachment types. Let’s examine them one by one: PDF – visible only in 2010 and later (except for the special case of 2009 with the Subscription-only Bonus Pack 2). DWFx – visible only in 2009 and later. DGN v7 – visible only in 2009 and later. DGN v8 – visible only in 2008 and later. DWF – visible only in 2007 and later. It’s important to note that the attachments don’t actually disappear from the drawing. They are still stored there, even if you save to an earlier…

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Autodesk plans to fix Raster Design licensing SNAFU

I have been in touch with various people at Autodesk about Raster Design 2010’s failure to work in a mixed standalone/network environment. These people have all been suitably apologetic, they assure me it wasn’t a deliberate move on Autodesk’s part, and that moves are afoot to provide a solution fairly soon. For example: Our intention was never to cause such inconvenience for our Raster customers with the licensing change. We are currently working on a solution and hope to have more information in the coming weeks. And: …we are very aware of the issue currently relating to the co-existence of an AutoCAD SLM and Raster Design NLM. This was not an intentional “change of licensing policy”, but an unfortunate side effect of updating our licensing technology for SLM (stand-alone) seats to be in sync with our NLM seats for all AutoCAD-based products. I can only apologize for this new behavior experienced by customers upgrade to 2010 version products. We are currently pursuing a couple of options to rectify this situation. We do intend to provide a solution (fix if you will) in the very near term… The jury is still out about whether this problem affects only Raster Design or is a general problem that prevents a mixed standalone/network environment of AutoCAD and vertical products. If it’s a general problem, it would be an unmitigated disaster for the 2010 product range. I’m getting mixed messages about this from the Autodesk people, but I don’t want to make an issue of that because the people involved are trying to help by providing what information they have as quickly as possible. As soon as I have accurate information available to me I will pass it on. I know of at least one person who is unable to get a mixed AutoCAD and…

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Should you read software license agreements?

Evan Yares has raised an interesting point about the insolvency clause in Autodesk’s End User License Agreement. Please read the whole thing, but the gist is that there’s a clause where if you get into financial difficulties, Autodesk will do its bit to help you out in times of trouble by taking away your software licenses. This clause extends as far as making an arrangement with your creditors, which is a common enough phrase but can mean several things and isn’t defined within the agreement. So, if your cash flow is a bit tight and you have to ask your phone company for another month to pay your bill, you’ll be sure to stop using all your Autodesk software, won’t you? Never use it again, because otherwise you’ll be a thief. OK, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but I’m sure it could be interpreted that way by an aggressive and/or inventive lawyer, and Autodesk doesn’t appear to be short of those. Who knows? Why would Autodesk put that kind of thing in its EULAs if there is no intention of ever using it? That’s an interesting aside, but it’s not my main point. Autodesk EULAs have traditionally contained unreasonable, unconscionable and arguably unenforceable clauses, so there’s nothing particularly remarkable there. My main point relates to reading EULAs in general, not just Autodesk’s. As a general rule, should you do it? Looking at the polls I’ve done on this subject, lots of you don’t read them. In fact, over two thirds of poll respondents either never read them, or rarely do so. It would be interesting to find the reasons behind that. Do you not have the time? Is it pointless because it’s all legal gobbledygook? Do you trust the software maker to be reasonable? Do you consider click-throughs to be unenforceable? Or are there…

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Autodesk messes up Raster Design 2010 licensing

I was horrified to learn (in this Autodesk Discussion Group thread) that Autodesk has changed the rules as far as the way Raster Design licenses are handled. It’s quite possible that Autodesk has also done this with other products that I’m not yet aware of. If so, please comment and let me know. If you’re not familiar with Raster Design, it’s an Autodesk add-on that adds raster handling capabilities to AutoCAD and AutoCAD-based products. The change that has been introduced is that the licensing method of AutoCAD and Raster Design now has to match. That is, if your AutoCAD is standalone, the network version of Raster Design won’t run on it, and vice versa. Why does this matter? Let’s say you’re a CAD Manager in this scenario: You have a hundred AutoCAD users, half of which are full-time users with standalone licenses and the other half who are mainly part-time users with network licenses. Let’s say that some of those users (of both types) have a very occasional need to use the features in Raster Design. You bought one network license of the product a few releases ago and have everything on Subscription, just the way Autodesk wants it. So far, you’ve been able to provide the Raster Design option to all of your users. Only one user at a time can use it, but as use of the product is pretty rare, this hasn’t been a problem to date. If demand increased, other licenses could be added as needed. Now, with Raster Design 2010, this is no longer possible. Your network license will not be available to your standalone users. You have the following options: Buy 50 standalone licenses of Raster Design 2010 for your standalone AutoCAD 2010 users, i.e. spend a huge amount of money on software that will…

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Not another SpacePilot PRO review

This post is not about the new SpacePilot PRO 3D controller from 3Dconnexion (a division of Logitech). This post is about the Internet coverage of the launch of that new device, journalism, blogging, freebies and ethics. It has long been common practice for companies to give out free stuff to journalists. Free gadgets, free transport and other expenses for attending events, free beer, free lunch… oh, wait, there’s no such thing. As blogging has risen in prominence, that practice has been extended to providing free stuff for bloggers. It was traditional in the past for such freebies to go unmentioned in reports about the products of such companies. I think the first time I saw this kind of thing disclosed was by Ralph Grabowski, and I was impressed. Maybe it’s just the sites I read, but I see more of that kind of disclosure in blogs than I do in the traditional press (whatever that means these days). It seems that 3Dconnexion is distributing its US$499 SpacePilot PRO devices like confetti (particluarly at SolidWorks World), hoping to get as much coverage as it can. It’s working. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that. If a company wants to let potential customers know about its products, and if those customers read blogs, it makes sense for the company to send samples to bloggers in the hope that they get reviewed. As long as there are no strings attached, I see no ethical problem with that. If a negative review led to a reviewer being taken off the freebies list then I definitely would have a very big problem with that, but I see no evidence of that from 3Dconnexion. Where I do see an ethical issue is when a freebie is received, a review is written, and no disclosure…

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Autodesk Assistance Program and the educational watermark

You have probably seen blog posts about the Autodesk Assistance Program (see the FAQ PDF), promoted as a hand-up for the less fortunate who find themselves unemployed as a result of the current financial environment. The Autodesk PR makes it clear that the free software on offer is a 13-month student license. However, the consequences of using such software are not made clear, so I’ll spell it out here. If you use Autodesk educational software, you are not supposed to use it for commercial purposes. So, if you’ve just lost your position and were hoping to set yourself up with a few odd jobs here and there, building yourself up to a full-time drafting and design shop, don’t use the Autodesk Assistance Program software to do it. It’s useful only to help you keep your skills up to date, nothing else. What happens if you do use it for real work? Bad things. If Autodesk finds out, it might set a pack of rabid lawyers on you. How might Autodesk find out? Through your clients. Why would your clients tell Autodesk? Ah, that’s where the educational watermark comes into it. Every DWG file saved by the educational version of AutoCAD is invisibly stamped, recording that fact. That includes blocks extracted using Wblock, of course. If such a drawing is ever plotted, even by a normal, fully-paid-up AutoCAD, a text stamp will appear along all four sides, proclaiming that the drawing is For Educational Use Only. Trouble is, the invisible stamp passes from drawing to drawing like a virus, particularly among users of older releases. If somebody uses the educational version to just look at a drawing and happens to save it, that drawing is indelibly stamped with the mark of the Beast. If any part of that drawing is ever…

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Guillermo Melantoni’s 3D blog

What a Mesh is another new Autodesk blog, this time from Autodesk 3D guru Guillermo Melantoni. You may remember Guillermo mentioning his forthcoming blog in my A gaggle of geeks video, and now it has arrived. You can also see Guillermo in action in several videos about AutoCAD 2010’s new 3D mesh capabilities on AutoCAD Exchange. Guillermo is very, very smart, he expertly uses the products he develops (the building on the AutoCAD 2010 packaging was done by him), and it’s great to see him interacting with users in this way.

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New Autodesk blog for AutoCAD support

I’ve added a link to Without A Net, a new blog on support issues, technical solutions, fixes, and tips for AutoCAD. It’s run by Tom Stoeckel, global technical lead for AutoCAD product support. In my limited experience, I’ve found Tom to be a fine fellow with his customers’ needs at heart. This blog promises to be a worthwhile addition to the existing AutoCAD support mechanisms, and I commend Autodesk and Tom for introducing it.

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More on ODA, Autodesk and click-through agreements

Evan Yares has provided more information on the incident I mentioned in my last post. Here it is: It was years ago. My guess was that the person who did it was just trying to spider the website pages, for marketing research, and didn’t realize he got all the libraries too. In any event, I said hey you did this, they said no we didn’t, I produced download logs, they said there was no agreement and even if there was we hereby cancel it, I said if you want to see our libraries I’ll send ’em to you no strings, they said no thanks, then I just let it drop. Of course, I’m paraphrasing. I wasn’t going to get in a fight with Autodesk. Trying to trick them into joining the ODA would have been both futile and dumb. I’d been trying for years to get them to join (I was an optimist, once upon a time), and it caused no damage for Autodesk to be able to see the ODA libraries. There wasn’t anything in them that they didn’t know better than we did. Don’t read too much into Autodesk’s belief in the enforceability of click-through agreements based on this incident. I knew the guy who downloaded the files, and knew that he didn’t have the authority to bind Autodesk to an ODA membership agreement (it would have taken at least a VP to do that.) This is interesting for more than just the amusement factor; it raises a serious point about the enforceability of click-through agreements. In this case it was a web-based membership agreement, but I’m more interested in software license agreements. In most cases, the person doing a software installation is unlikely to be a Vice President or higher. It’s quite possible that the installer doesn’t…

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Evan Yares, ODA, Autodesk and click-through agreements

I’ve always found it entertaining when the lawyers of CAD companies do their best to make their clients look like total jerks. The opening shots as presented by Evan Yares in his proposed ODA class-action lawsuit indicate that there is another rich source of recreational reading on its way. I’m sure it’s no fun for the lawyer-paying people involved, though. You would think that Autodesk would be rubbing its corporate hands together at the prospect of the ODA being distracted like this. Or maybe not, if the bunfight throws up more little gems like this: Autodesk had at least once gone to the ODA website, agreed to the click-through membership agreement, received their access password via email, downloaded each and every library on the ODA’s website, then denied they did it. (The ensuing conversation about this, between the ODA and Autodesk, was pretty interesting, to say the least.) If that’s true (and I would welcome evidence from either party) it certainly puts an interesting slant on what Autodesk thinks about the enforceability of click-through agreements. On a related subject, see the polls on the right. There has been one running for a while about whether you even read such “agreements”, and I’ve added two more. They ask if you feel morally and legally bound by the terms that lie under that “let me get on with the installation” button.

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Buying 24″ monitors – is now the right time?

I’m doing my bit to reduce the impact of the global financial crisis. Yesterday, I went out and bought a couple of new 24″ monitors to replace my perfectly functional pair of 19″ LCDs. It now looks like I’m facing a huge wall of pixels and I don’t quite know where to look, but I felt like that after moving from my old 19″ CRT to the pair of 19″ LCDs, so I’m sure I will get used to it soon enough. The 19″ LCDs haven’t gone to waste, they are now adorning an older PC which was previously attached to the old and now slowly-dying 19″ CRT. Why was it a good time for me to buy new monitors? Because of the way monitor aspect ratios are going. The “sweet spot” for monitors right now is 22″ or 23″, where a serious number of pixels are available for very little cash. Trouble is, the pixels are in the wrong place. Almost all monitors of that size have a resolution of 1920 x 1080, a ratio of 16:9, same as a full HD TV. A vertical resolution of 1080 doesn’t provide a significant advantage over an old 19″ 1280 x 1024 (4:3 ratio) monitor. When I’m not doing CAD or image manipulation, I’m generally doing things that involve lots of vertical scrolling; word processing, reading web pages, that sort of thing. Often, those web pages have a fixed-width design (e.g. AutoCAD Exchange), so adding extra screen width gains me nothing but extra wide stripes on each side. With more and more software having a deep horizontal stripe dedicated to user interface elements, there’s not much point investing in only 56 extra pixels (5.4%) of height. From my point of view it’s better to pay a bit extra and go for…

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AutoCAD 2010 – Turning off InfoCenter

I generally avoid the still-awful Autodesk discussion groups these days, but I do hop in from time to time in the vain hope of seeing some improvement. In doing so, I occasionally pick up a gem, and that happened today. I think this one deserves a wider audience, so here it is. In AutoCAD 2010, you can disable the InfoCenter toolbar by opening the registry, and going to the following key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Autodesk\AutoCAD\R18.0\ACAD-8001:409\InfoCenter In that key there’s a value with the name “InfoCenterOn”. Changing that value from 1 to 0 will disable the InfoCenter toolbar. Source: Tony Tanzillo in this thread. Note that the “ACAD-8001” part will be different if you use a vertical variant of AutoCAD. Why would you want to do this? To improve startup times and reduce annoyance. Autodesk should have provided a better mechanism for doing this. The absence of convenient, designed-in off switches for new features is something I’ve complained about on many occasions over the years. Autodesk’s response has been patchy. Edit: I just noticed Owen Wengerd has posted about this, including a LISP routine to simplify the process of turning it on and off.

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