What proportion of Autodesk customers really are on Subscription?

In my recent interview of Autodesk Subscription VP Callan Carpenter, he made these statements: …there is a very small fraction of our revenue that comes from upgrades at this point in time. We’re down to very low single digits of customers who upgrade, and of those only half of those upgrade 1 or 2 years back. So we’re talking about approximately 1.5% of our revenue that comes from customers upgrading 1 and 2 versions back. …[customers who upgrade] 1 or 2 [releases] back, a very small percentage of our customer base, less than 2% of our customer base that was buying those upgrades. Others are calling those numbers into doubt. Deelip Menezes (SYCODE, Print 3D) estimated the numbers of AutoCAD users not on Subscription at 66% (or 43%, depending on which bit of the post you read), by counting the AutoCAD releases used by his customers and making assumptions about their Subscription status from that. That’s an extremely suspect methodology, as I pointed out: Your numbers don’t really tell us anything about Subscription v. upgrade proportions. All they tell us is that large numbers of people wait a while before installing a new release. We all knew that, surely. However, Deelip’s post did prompt me to point out this: …there is a fair point to be made about people on earlier releases who have hopped off the upgrade train altogether, or at least for a significant number of years. How would they be counted in Callan’s figures? They wouldn’t exist at all, as far as his income percentages are concerned. Owen Wengerd (ManuSoft, CADLock) asked a random sample of his customers and came up with 82% of them as non-Subscription customers. He also noted that he could come up with a 3% non-Subscription figure if he cooked the books by…

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Autodesk to kill NNTP discussion groups

As of 4 June, Autodesk intends to update its discussion group software to something that does not support newsgroup (NNTP) access. From an email by Autodesk’s Eric Wright to NNTP users: “As an active NNTP user, we wanted to reach out to you directly. We recognize this will change your experience participating in the forums and want to help you transition to the new web interface. Improvements include a simpler, more intuitive interface to post & reply, bookmarking and e-mail notification features to track favorite posts, and more powerful search tools and filtering. While not a substitute for the NNTP experience, the streamlined capabilities of our enhanced RSS feeds can also provide an alternative offline forum reading experience.” As you can see, we are significantly investing to improve the platform behind the web-based experince to address many of the shortfalls reported by users over the last few years. Rich text vs Plain text confusion, formatting issues (like I just experienced cutting and pasting this message), logout issues, search, in-line image support, and robust RSS capabilities are just a few areas of improvements in an update planned for June 4. A public announcement will be posted in the forums in a few days. I hope you will give it a try after launch, and provide any feedback or best practices to help in the transition. Eric Wright Product Manager – Support & Learning Web & eBusiness Autodesk, Inc. The public announcement mentioned above can be found here. As you might expect, this decision has been a hot topic of conversation. A survey has been set up (by Tony Tanzillo, not by Autodesk), and the running results are here. I’ve added a poll of my own (on the right). Feel free to express your views here, too. I have some sympathy for…

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Does Autodesk discuss future plans?

According to Shaan, Autodesk does not discuss its future plans. Or does it? In a comment, Ralph reckoned it does. Putting aside technology previews and various NDA-bound circumstances (e.g. Beta testing), can you think of cases where Autodesk has revealed what it intends to do in future? Here are a few off the top of my head: I’ve been to AU sessions dating back to 1995 that pretty much give away the contents of the next release of AutoCAD, using a vague cover-my-butt session title and a disclaimer at the start of the session. I understand that these days, attendees need to sign an NDA before entering such sessions. Last year in San Francisco, an international blogger audience was given all sorts of information about Autodesk’s future directions (preceded by a similar disclaimer), with no NDA and nothing off the record. I assume something similar happened at this year’s North American bloggers’ event. The Subscription (Advantage) Packs of the last couple of years have been a dead giveaway about some of the features that are going to make their way into the next release. The new 50%-cost upgrade policy was announced a year in advance. Surveys and other customer feedback mechanisms provide a very big clue about what Autodesk is looking at changing next. Some of these are covered by NDA, others are not. In the specific case that triggered this discussion, Autodesk has been gradually building up expectation of a Mac AutoCAD for quite a while. Yes, it required a little reading Between the Lines, but for some time it has been pretty obvious where all the Mac love was leading to. Feel free to add your own examples, but it seems to me that Autodesk is perfectly happy to reveal future plans as and when it sees fit.…

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Do you think Migration sucks?

I do. If you’ve added a couple of toolbars and changed a few settings, it’s probably fine for you. But I think it’s been effectively broken for significantly customised setups ever since Autodesk “improved” it by introducing the CUI mechanism in AutoCAD 2006. It’s undocumented and whenever I’ve tried it, unreliable. I ran some polls on it a couple of years ago which had few responses. What do you think now? If you’re unhappy with migration, don’t just vent here. Autodesk now wants to hear from you. Here’s the announcement: Dear AutoCAD User! AutoCAD Product Design & Usability Team is looking for participants for the study. Topic: focus on Migration process, Migration tool and results of migration. Our Goal To gain the most complete understanding about problems and requests AutoCAD users may have while migrating their settings and customization from a previous release of AutoCAD. Who Should Participate? We are looking for individual contributors or CAD managers with small number of seats (less than 5- either standalone or multi-seat standalone) with unsatisfying experience using Migration tool to migrate settings from a previous version of AutoCAD. How the Study will be Conducted? We will schedule ~1 h interview session with you (remotely) and discuss your experience with migration, results you expected, outcome you’ve got. When? We are planning research between May 27 and June 2, 2010. How To Sign Up? Please submit qualification data and indicate your availability here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MigrationSignUp I’m a bit concerned about the restriction of this study to individual users and CAD managers with a handful of users, as I would have thought CAD managers with significant numbers of users would be the least satisfied group, and the group with the greatest need for a working Migration system. However, as with other such Autodesk research, I encourage your…

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AutoCAD for Mac in Beta

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no access to inside information about this Beta. Even if I had, I would not reveal anything that I had learned as a result of such access. This post discusses only information that is already public knowledge. The native Mac OS X AutoCAD port that Autodesk has been foreshadowing for some time is now in Beta, it seems. The Italian Mac community is getting particularly excited about the leak, but it’s also a popular subject of discussion on at least one English-speaking forum. The Autodesk codename is Sledgehammer, and it’s currently 64-bit only. If this is a subject that interests you, with a bit of sniffing around you can easily find screenshots, a video and you can apparently even download it via torrent if you’re feeling particularly brave/stupid. If you’re interested in trying it out, it would be much better to apply to join the Beta program. That way, you will stay legal, you won’t download a trojan and you will contribute towards improving the product. Autodesk will probably need such contributions, because the early Beta allegedly runs like “a sewer” with huge performance issues. That should not be a surprise at this stage, but it should give you some idea of how much work Autodesk has ahead of it before it has a product that is fit for human consumption. Oh, if you do join Autodesk’s Beta program, please be a bit more careful with the software than the guy who thought it would be a cool thing to hand out to his friends. Edit: Ralph thinks it’s fake. I really don’t think it is, but must acknowledge the possibility that I’m wrong. Edit 2: More discussion and screenshots at SolidSmack.

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Callan Carpenter interview 5 – the 12 month cycle

This 5th post concludes the Callan Carpenter interview series. For the record, this interview was done in real time over the phone, with no prior notice of the questions. SJ: The 12-month cycle that you have for most of your software has come under some criticism from all sorts of people, especially me. Once you have your customer base practically all on Subscription, what’s the incentive for the 12-month cycle to persist? CC: In what way have you criticised the 12 month cycle? SJ: In that it damages the product. In that there’s not enough time to release a properly developed product within that 12-month cycle. This is an observation that many people have made going back many years. That’s the basis of the criticism; not that, “Oh no, you’re giving me more software”. Well, there are people who complain about that but I don’t think that’s a valid criticism. I think the valid criticism is that it damages the product. A poll that I ran on my blog asked that question: is the 12-month cycle damaging the product? The answer was a very emphatic yes from the readers of my blog. I know that’s not a scientific survey but it fits in with other viewpoints I’ve seen expressed in various places. CC: The question was, do we intend to continue to do that? SJ: Yes. Once you have effectively have your customers on the Subscription model, so that you’re no longer internally competing with the upgrade model, do you really have to have a 12-month release cycle? CC: Well, I think it’s a very interesting and valid question, do we need to have a 12-month upgrade cycle? I know there are customers who simply cannot absorb technology at that rate. But it’s a bit of a two-edged sword, in…

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Callan Carpenter interview 4 – enhancing the program

Part 4 of 5 in this series. SJ: There is always the fear that once you have all of your customer base on Subscription, you’re not going to need to offer those benefits any more. Can you assure people that that’s not going to be the case, that you are going to keep being “nice” to your customers? CC: Absolutely. I think my team and I spend as much time and brain energy trying to figure out how to enhance the program as anything else. Our goal is to make Subscription a compelling value proposition; to make it not only cost-effective but valuable in other ways. An example would be the Advantage Pack program. We had a history of Subscription including extensions and other little technology bonuses for subscribers. But last year, we said we’re going to do something different with that. One of the problems with our historical technical Extensions program is that it was optional for product line managers to either participate or not. It was optional for product line managers to localise those Extensions in languages other than English. It was optional to make those Extensions incremental install as opposed to requiring a full reinstallation of a product. So last year, we turned a lot of our product development upside down and produced the Advantage Pack with a whole new set of requirements. A product had to be localised, it had to be incremental install, and the top 26 or 27 product lines all had to participate in delivering that value. We saw the impact in the form of a 150% increase in the downloads of that Advantage Pack. That’s an example of trying to improve the value, and you’re going to see some additional fairly significant moves on our part on the Advantage Pack this year…

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Callan Carpenter interview 3 – the cost of complexity

Part 3 of 5 in this series. SJ: In one of my blog posts, I was pretty cynical about one of the phrases used in the press release: “the streamlining of upgrade pricing based on feedback from customers and resellers”. Was I wrong to be cynical about that? Did your customers really ask for upgrade prices to be increased to some nice round number? CC: What our customers have asked for is simplified purchasing. We have a very complex price book and it leads to thousands of prices items, maybe tens of thousands when you have all the permutations across all the different geographies in which we sell software. A lot of that complexity came from having multiple-step upgrades, multiple-step crossgrades. There is a cost to maintaining that kind of a system. So our resellers certainly were asking for simplification and streamlining explicitly. Our customers were asking to find ways to make it easier to do business with Autodesk; can it be less expensive? One of the costs of doing business is maintaining a very complex pricing scheme as we have in the past. So while we may not have a customer say, “Gosh, I wish you would simplify your upgrade pricing” explicitly, it is implicit in trying to offer an easier path to buying and less cost in the long run because we’re not maintaining a very complex system that only serves a very small percentage of our customer base. SJ: So there’s a real cost associated with this. Can you put a number on that as a percentage of the cost of the upgrade? Is it 1%? 10%? Is a big amount that customers need to be worried about? CC: You know, I’ve never tried to put it as a percentage of the cost of an upgrade and…

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Callan Carpenter interview 2 – upgrades a tiny minority

Part 2 of 5 in this series. SJ: Is there anything specific you want to say about what I have written in my blog? CC: There are a number of things we can do to put Subscription questions and Simplified Upgrade Pricing into context. I think the first thing we need to recognise is that there is a very small fraction of our revenue that comes from upgrades at this point in time. For the last 8 years or so, our customers have fairly well self-selected to either prefer to be on Subscription and have the latest version and technology available to them, or to not do that, in which case they tend to upgrade 3 years or more after the current release. We’re down to very low single digits of customers who upgrade, and of those only half of those upgrade 1 or 2 years back. So we’re talking about approximately 1.5% of our revenue that comes from customers upgrading 1 and 2 versions back. And so I think there’s clearly been a natural selection, a natural fallout over time of customers choosing; do I prefer to be on Subscription or do I prefer to pay for an upgrade? If you look at the real impact of upgrade pricing, the real impact is the customers who prefer to upgrade from 1 or 2 versions back, that’s a very very small percentage of our business. For those who are 3 versions back or more, there’s really no change at all. For subscribers, which is the majority of the customer base, there is no change at all either. I just wanted to start by kind of putting that in perspective. I think the other thing we should look at is that the history of the Subscription program is one of actually…

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Callan Carpenter interview 1 – Autodesk and social media

A couple of weeks ago, Angela Simoes from the Autodesk Corporate PR team invited me to interview Callan Carpenter, Autodesk’s Vice President of Global Subscription and Support. Callan is responsible for the sales, marketing operations and product support associated with Subscription. He is also Vice President in charge of Jim Quanci’s Autodesk Developer Network. This morning, we had a very extensive discussion about Subscription and other topics that I intend to publish in several parts over the next few days. Deelip has already published a Callan interview, but mine is quite different. In this post, I will let Callan introduce himself and then move into some questions about social media that I asked at the end of the interview. In this post, both Callan Carpenter (CC) and Angela Simoes (AS) responded to my questions. SJ: Callan, can you give me some background on yourself? CC: I’ve been at Autodesk since November 2008. Prior to that, I spent 20-odd years in the semiconductor and semiconductor-CAD software business: technologies in many ways analogous to what we have for our manufacturing, civil and media/entertainment markets here. I was focused on semiconductor design, manufacturing, electrical properties and so forth. I’m an electrical engineer by training. I’ve spent about half of my time in startups and about half in big companies. Everything from designing silicon to sales and marketing to engineering to you-name-it. SJ: It’s kind of unusual for me as a mere blogger to be approached by a Vice President, but I’ve had this happen twice in the past couple of weeks. Is there a move within Autodesk to engage more with bloggers and social media? CC: We’re definitely more conscious of social media than we have been historically. We are becoming more cognisant of the power of social media, whether it’s tweets or…

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The Machine that Won the War

I just wanted to get on the record that I don’t trust claims based on statistical data without being able to review in detail the methods used to obtain and interpret the data. Even with the best intentions, full integrity and honesty, it is not difficult to come to completely the wrong conclusions based on apparently compelling statistical evidence. This isn’t just theory, I’ve seen it happen. Detailed percentages presented at upper governmental levels, based on huge sample sets, giving a totally false impression because of errors and assumptions that occur at various places in the process. The exact same question asked twice in the same survey, giving very different results depending on the section in which the question appeared, providing an unstated context to the question. The devil is in the details, and the details can be extremely subtle. I have a “put up or shut up” rule that applies to anybody who makes claims based on unrevealed statistical evidence. It applies to corporations, news outlets, bloggers, government ministers, everybody. Without allowing scrutiny of the full details, all statistical claims are null and void, as far as I’m concerned. “Trust me” doesn’t cut it. Sorry, no exceptions. What does this have to do with the title? Those familiar with Isaac Asimov’s short story of that name will understand. I’m sure Robin Capper worked it out immediately.

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Command line poll replaced

For the past couple of months, I have been running a poll about the command line. I ran it using wording copied directly from a Project Butterfly poll, to get some kind of comparison between the poll respondents on this blog and those on the Project Butterfly blog. It’s fair to say that I don’t like the wording of the available options, which appear designed to influence the result rather than find out what people really think. The “I can’t work with…” option has negative connotations; if I pick this choice, it implies that my abilities fall short in some way and I lack flexibility. On the other hand, the “I think it’s time for a new way…” option has a positive feel about it. If I pick this choice, I’m a thinker, I’m progressive, I’m looking to the future. It’s no accident that marketing people love to plaster “NEW!” over their products. Despite the push-poll options, the command line was the clear winner on both blogs. Here are the Project Butterfly results (unknown number of voters): I can’t work without the command line (66%) I think it’s time for a new way to draw without the command line (34%) Here are my results (378 voters): I can’t work without the command line (81.7%) I think it’s time for a new way to draw without the command line (18.3%) I expected to see a greater preference for the command line among readers of this blog (largely command-line-using AutoCAD users) than among readers of the Project Butterfly blog (largely command-line-less Project Butterfly users). My expectation has been met. Instead of about a 2:1 majority there, command-line people here have about a 4.5:1 majority. Now let’s try a similar poll, hopefully without biased options, and see if that affects the result. I…

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Ribbon poll roundup

Further to my last post, Here is a brief summary of this blog’s various poll results that relate in some way to Ribbon and CIP use. The most recent polls are at the top of the list. I have placed in bold those percentages that relate directly to the proportion of AutoCAD Ribbon use among the voters on this blog. AutoCAD 2010 users’  Ribbon use: 44% (AutoCAD 2010 users’ CIP on: 36%) Ribbon love: 28% AutoCAD 2010 menu bar non-users: 23% Inventor Ribbon use: 44% (Inventor 2010 users’ Ribbon use: 59%) Revit Ribbon use: 42% (Revit 2010 users’ Ribbon use: 58%) AutoCAD Ribbon use: 32% (AutoCAD 2009/2010 users’ Ribbon use: 38%) CIP on: 27% AutoCAD 2009 menu bar non-users: 21% AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon one of 3 best new features: 11% AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon turned on in some way: 29% (fully visible 13%) The polls were run at different times over the past couple of years with different questions being asked in different ways about different releases, and responded to by very different numbers of voters. Don’t expect consistent or directly comparable results; this is not a scientific study. As with all polls here, there is a self-selection bias; those people who feel most strongly about a subject are more likely to find these polls and make the effort to vote in them. The more recent polls generally have significantly greater sample size than the early ones. The smallest poll (AutoCAD 2009 best new features) has 37 voters, the largest poll (AutoCAD users generally using Ribbon) has 751. While the former certainly qualifies as Shaan’s “a few dozen”, the latter does only if you consider 62 to be “a few”. In which case, can I give you a thousand dollars and you give me a few hundred back? Here are the poll…

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Autodesk’s CIP data – massively biased?

You may have seen Shaan Hurley and I having a discussion (ahem) over the validity of his statement: I really do use the ribbon now with AutoCAD 2010 along with most users as evidenced by the CIP data we receive daily from thousands of AutoCAD users who choose to send the great data. So, now you know. Most of you use the Ribbon now,  Shaan said so. Shaan, as he always has done in the past, declined my invitation to back up this assertion with more details. He has vast amounts of data collected from huge numbers of users. How could that possibly be wrong? Here’s how. CIP data is biased. How can millions of data points be biased? Actually, all samples are biased. Only the degree of bias varies. The polls on this blog are no exception. I do my best to keep the questions and options neutral; the only leading questions you’ll see here in serious polls are the ones I copy and paste from Autodesk blogs. But readers of this blog are one self-selecting small portion of Autodesk customers, and people who vote in my polls represent another self-selecting portion of that portion. The question is, how biased is Autodesk’s CIP data? Without access to Autodesk’s data (which it won’t provide) and resources for alternative data collection from its customers (ditto), the best I can do is use my own biased sample (that’s you lot out there) as a cross-check. Let’s examine it in light of Ribbon use among AutoCAD 2010 users. In an earlier comparison of my 2009 poll figures and Shaan’s CIP data, I wrote this: But Shaan’s CIP users are also a biased sample, comprising those AutoCAD users who have CIP turned on. Are users who go with the flow and have CIP on…

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AutoCAD 2011 online Help changes – a curate’s egg

As announced by Shaan Hurley, Autodesk has made some changes to the AutoCAD 2011 online Help system. Please check it out and see what you think. After a short time with it, here are my experiences using IE6 (yes, I know). As this is a dynamic system and dependent on browser characteristics, Internet connectivity and any changes Autodesk may make between me writing this and you reading it, your mileage will vary. There are some cosmetic changes,  including a fixup of the Autodesk logo in IE6 that was done a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, my pink Comic Sans logo has not been adopted.  As I can’t do a direct side-by-side comparison with the pre-change setup under identical conditions, I can’t make a definitive statement about performance. I can say that it does appear to have improved somewhat. It now takes about 3.5 seconds from hitting F1 to seeing a complete landing screen. Once cached, I’m seeing it in come up in just under 2 seconds. The main change from a usability point of view is that the Search facility now defaults to searching All Books rather than whatever document you happen to have highlighted over on the left sidebar. That’s welcome. Also, the searches generally appear to give better results. For example, a simple search for LINE in the original 2011 online system gave a list of 199 results, of which the actual LINE command was 26th! Now, a search for LINE puts the LINE command third in the list; much better. The results come up faster than before (2.5 seconds in this example), but I have seen widely varying search times reported so I would be interested to hear about your experiences. The way the search results are presented is now significantly different. Instead of a single line for each result, 4 lines…

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Autodesk wants more feedback, this time on Array

Autodesk is looking for: General AutoCAD users of any discipline (latest release or older versions of AutoCAD), who are familiar with the Array command and use grips to edit their drawings. Optional/additional requirements: Users that are familiar with parametric drawing (geometric and dimensional constraints in AutoCAD) Users familiar with 3D Familiar with the DIVIDE and MEASURE commands. Autodesk is planning to conduct this study on the week starting 17 May. Sign up here.

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Programmers, have your say

Autodesk wants your input in its annual API survey. What used to be a closed survey for Autodesk Developer Network (ADN) members has been open to all for the last couple of years, and if you do any Autodesk-based development at all I encourage you to take part. Yes, that includes those of us who do most of our development in LISP. In fact, I am especially keen to see LISP developers adequately represented in this survey. This is a one-page survey and it doesn’t take long. The full list of API surveys is on Kean Walmsley’s Through the Interface blog. Most of you would be interested in the AutoCAD survey, so here’s a direct link to that. Kean assures us that our feedback will not fall on deaf ears, although I have yet to see any evidence of that in terms of any change to Autodesk’s decade-long policy of total LISP neglect. I guess many of us gave up hope of any improvement years ago and can’t be bothered providing feedback any more. Please don’t give up. Fill in the survey and let Autodesk know you still exist.

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Restoring Hatch double-click in AutoCAD 2011

In AutoCAD 2011, the default action when double-clicking on a hatch object is to invoke the Properties palette for that object. In previous releases, it would invoke the Hatch Edit dialog box. In my AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal” post, I briefly described how to restore the old double-click action. I have since seen some incorrect advice being given out about how to do this, so this post describes the correct process in full detail. What to do Invoke the CUI command. In the top left pane, find the [+] next to Double Click Actions and left-click on it. Scroll down that top left pane a little until you can see Hatch. In the bottom left pane (Command list), click on any command and type H. This should take you down to the Hatch Edit command. If not, just scroll down a little more until you can see it. Left-click on the Hatch Edit command in the bottom left pane, hold down the mouse button and drag the command up onto the top right pane until it hovers over the Hatch item you exposed in step 3. When the little blue triangle is pointing to Hatch, let go of the mouse button, thereby dropping the Hatch Edit command onto Hatch. Hint: you may find that the top left pane scrolls crazily while you attempt this step. Unfortunately, this is a “feature” of the CUI interface. If this happens, keep your mouse button held down and move your cursor up and down in the left pane until the scrolling comes under control and you are hovering over the right spot. You can avoid this if instead of dragging the command directly upwards, you move in a curcuitous route to the left or right, moving on to the top left pane from…

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Not a topic to be debated publicly

Over on the oft-entertaining Deelip.com, there was an interesting comment made by Autodesk’s Scott Sheppard. After going back and forth a few times over Autodesk’s then-failure to allow Indian customers legal access to certain free Autodesk software downloads, Scott said this: I defer to Autodesk Legal on these matters which is where I get my guidance. This is not a topic to be debated publicly. As one of our most active Labs participants, I was just sharing some information with you and your readers. On the face of it, Scott’s “not a topic to be debated publicly” comment seems pretty silly. Ralph Grabowski certainly saw it that way. In these blog-happy days, a lot of things that Autodesk may not like to see discussed are going to be discussed publicly. Autodesk needs to get used to that fact. Attempting to suppress public discussion of Autodesk policies is not just ineffectual, it’s counterproductive and harmful to Autodesk’s image. The very fact that this problem was fixed as a direct result of being discussed publicly shows that such discussion was not only appropriate, it was positively useful to everyone concerned. That’s on the face of it. Actually, I don’t think the comment is anywhere near as sinister as it seems. I think it was more of a throwaway comment along the lines of, “I can’t continue discussing this because it really isn’t my area”. Recently, I have noticed Autodesk opening up somewhat and demonstrating increased responsiveness to publicly aired concerns. I know that Scott is quite open to constructively discussing points of disagreement in public comments on his own blog. So I think we should cut him a bit of slack and just put this down as one of those “it may be what I said but it’s not what I meant” moments…

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