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. And that’s fine. In each of the above cases, the revelations have been A Good Thing. Good for Autodesk, good for customers.

Maybe the question should be, “Why doesn’t Autodesk discuss future plans much more often?” Stock market regulations, perhaps? But hang on, there are some very major publicly traded corporations that seem to get away with revealing all sorts of things about their future products. For example, Microsoft regularly conducts very widespread public Beta programs that let people know in great detail what’s very likely to appear in the next release, and seems to have survived the experience so far. There’s surely no reason why Autodesk couldn’t do the same if it wanted to.

Ultimately, it comes down to a desire for secrecy; a culture of concealment and control. Of course Autodesk may have legitimate reasons for keeping some of its plans from its competitors, but the culture can be so pervasive as to cause some bizarre side effects. You may find this difficult to comprehend, but there are those in Autodesk who got into a tizzy about me speculating in my launch announcement that Autodesk’s general design product (AutoCAD 2010) was going to be followed by something called AutoCAD 2011. There was something of a surreal drama behind the scenes. There were apparently people within Autodesk who genuinely thought I needed privileged information to work out that 10+1=11. No, I’m not making this up.

I’m not sure Autodesk’s secrecy is doing any good for anyone. It’s surely harder to maintain these days and it’s only going to get harder. I suspect several Autodesk blood vessels were burst when AutoCAD Mac Beta 1 was leaked. On the one hand, I can understand that; somebody broke an NDA, a legitimate agreement was freely entered into and then broken. Some people at Autodesk probably had their carefully planned marketing timelines disrupted.

On the other hand, this provided a whole heap of free and largely positive publicity. Potential AutoCAD for Mac users are now hovering in anticipation, filling the Mac forums, spreading the good news among themselves, putting off the purchase of competitive products, considering entering the official Beta program, and so on. At the same time, the news of performance issues in the early Beta is helping to put a dampener on expectations in that area. Lowered customer expectations may turn out to be very useful when the product is actually released. All considered, a good thing for Autodesk, then.

I’m convinced that Autodesk is opening up. That’s great, but there’s a way to go yet.

6 comments to Does Autodesk discuss future plans?

  • Maybe the determining factor is “when there is something to discuss”. There is labs to test drive “fringe but could be mainstream” stuff with no NDA. There is My Feedback for near to release stuff (understandably very subject to NDA).

    Perhaps the Mac thing, if it exists, and I don’t know or care, is somewhere in the middle. Not quite labs open, not quite alpha/beta. I’ve seen the work involved in getting a graphic (but not CAD/Design) app from PC to Mac. To do it properly was far from a simple transition, closer to start again.
    Bur really, I don’t give a toss, I’m a Wintel PC :)

  • One reason is legal. In the USA, shareholder-owned corporations cannot give out information that could affect the share price to subsets of people, who would have an advantage over others in buying and selling shares, based on what they learned to be future plans. That’s why we get to listen in on financial analysts phone calls now. (Prior to Enron, those calls were closed to the press. Thank you Ken Lay.)

    Let me be the first to announce that Autodesk will ship AutoCAD 2012 towards the end of next March. Among the new features will be commands released to subscription customers this summer. There will be improvements to 3D modeling, as well as a bone or two thrown to 2D drafters. In addition, the accompanying press release will announce that “this is the best release Autodesk has ever shipped in the history of AutoCAD.”

  • Bob

    Steve,
    Interesting conversation. I’ve asked myself similar questions in the past.

    There was a conversation from Revit Product Management on AUGI that illustrated some of the considerations around disclosing future plans, you might want to check it out. Sounds like its more accounting than legal issues.

    http://forums.augi.com/showpost.php?p=1054910&postcount=32

    Bob

  • Not only did you figure out 10 + 1 = 11, you did it for both base 2 and base 10. Such two-fisted math wizardry is beyond most PR types.

  • Ralph, “give out information that could affect the share price to subsets of people” sounds exactly like running a private Beta, which Autodesk does a lot.

    And now you’ve announced those Autodesk secrets, you’re going to be off the Autodesk Christmas card list.

    Randall, there are only 10 kinds of people, etc.

  • Mike Burke

    “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.”

    That was never a secret. At AU 2007 they even had a subscribers breakfast session with no NDA’s telling everyone this was going to happen.

    What surprises me when the major release comes out they don’t seem to mention “previously available for subscription customers” anywhere on the documentation. I think they should.

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