When is a subscription-only update not a subscription-only update?

Before I get started, I want to clarify the meaning of the word ‘subscription’. For about 15 years, the word Subscription (note the initial capital) meant something specific for Autodesk customers. It meant you had bought a perpetual license and instead of paying for periodical updates, you paid for a year’s Subscription in advance. In allowed access to any new release that appeared during that year plus various other benefits.

That thing that was once called ‘Subscription’ has now been renamed ‘maintenance’ (no initial capital) in Autodeskspeak. So what does ‘subscription’ (no initial capital) mean? Rental. You pay in advance for use of the product for a period and when you stop paying, you stop using the product. This is now the only way to obtain Autodesk software you don’t already own. In addition to access to any new release that appears during the subscription period, it provides other benefits similar to what is now called maintenance.

To confuse matters further, Autodesk briefly called rental ‘Desktop Subscription’ (note the initial capitals) and it’s still possible to find remnants of that terminology in current Autodesk documents. It’s also possible to find ‘Subscription’ and ‘subscription’ used interchangeably on the same Autodesk web page:


Minor quibbles aside, the important thing to note is that the term ‘subscription’ as currently used by Autodesk means something very specific. It means rental. When something is described as ‘subscription-only’ it specifically excludes ‘maintenance’ and other perpetual license customers. And that’s how the AutoCAD 2017.1 update was described:


That subscription-only status of this update is what set me off. Preventing paying customers from accessing something that includes bug fixes is most unpleasant, and I felt obliged to say so. But it doesn’t appear to be the case. That subscription-only status is getting rubberier by the minute.

  • Autodesk states 2017.1 is “the first subscription-only update”. In addition to using the term ‘subscription’, being the first of something implies that it’s different to what happened before. That can’t mean that it’s available to all customers, because that’s what has happened with updates in the past. It also can’t mean maintenance customers can also access it, because that has happened for years for various enhancements, add-ins, productivity packs, etc.
  • Somebody as smart as Jimmy Bergmark (and that’s very smart indeed) is convinced that “even security enhancements and bug fixes are only available for subscription customers”.
  • There is no sign of 2017.1 on the public AutoCAD Downloads page.
  • As a maintenance customer, I didn’t receive notification of the update. However, I can see it in my Autodesk Account portal. It was apparently released quietly on 15 September 2016 for most languages, with French and German lagging behind for whatever reason.
  • The download is not restricted; anybody with the URL can download it (e.g. English 64-bit exe). I have no idea how Autodesk intends to restrict this update to certain customers.
  • I have been informed privately by an Autodesk person who should know that customers on both subscription and maintenance will get the update.

This confusion can be traced to Autodesk’s decision to call rental ‘subscription’, a name that already had a significant, long-established and totally different meaning in the Autodesk lexicon. Because I can’t think of a logical reason for Autodesk to do this, I strongly suspect the idea was to obfuscate the changes to licensing by deliberately confusing customers. If so, congratulations, it worked. I’m baffled.

Edit: Heidi Hewett has updated her post:


Although the Preview Guide still only mentions Subscription (which shouldn’t have a capital these days, but does here), I think that’s pretty much cleared up the confusion now.

On a positive note, I’d like to point out that Heidi has done these sorts of guides for years and always does an excellent job. Based on past experience, I would say it would be likely that she was simply passing on in good faith what she had been told, rather than being the origin of the incorrect information.


  1. As much of a skeptic as I am, I doubt that the “idea was to obfuscate the changes to licensing by deliberately confusing customers”. It’s more likely that the confusion exists among even the employees. History has shown us that Autodesk loves to rename things, and I’m sure they have trouble keeping up as much as we do.

  2. I agree. Generally when it appears Autodesk did some sly tricky move to achieve some devious goal, its actually lack of awareness of what they are doing. I consider the latter even worse, btw. The funny thing is they don’t seem to bother to ever straighten anything like this out. Ignorance is AutoBliss apparently.

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