33 years of AutoCAD upgrades rated – part 4

In this series of posts, I am looking back on all the AutoCAD upgrades I’ve experienced over the years and rate each of them out of 10. See post 1 for information about what the ratings mean.

In part 4, I rate AutoCAD 2011 to AutoCAD 2017.

  • AutoCAD 2011 (March 2010): 5 – Object transparency was a very important enhancement for some. The X-Ray and other visual styles made 3D editing more efficient. Object visibility (independent of layers) was handy but has confused some DWG recipients ever since. Selection Cycling, Add selected and Select Similar (which had been in AutoCAD-based verticals for a while) were true productivity enhancers. Geometric constraints were improved but still confined to 2D, as they are to this day. Finally, Autodesk’s first of several failed attempts at an online Help system meant this wasn’t such a good release as it could have been.
  • AutoCAD 2012 (March 2011): 4 – Array enhancements were a good idea, reverting to the 80s for their user interface was less smart. Content Explorer was woeful in just about every way, but provided some otherwise unavailable searching features. I found the in-canvas controls of benefit. Support for ECW files was important to my users. The Auto-command entry was a good idea that worked well enough in this release (but performs increasingly poorly with each new release, to the point where I can’t tolerate it these days). There were a few 3D enhancements. Yet another (the 12th?) 3D to 2D method was added, Model Documentation, which as usual for a major new feature wasn’t nearly finished. Don’t get me started on the nudge feature. Moving CAD vector objects around by effectively random amounts based on pixel sizes was as dumb an idea as I can remember. Help still sucked.
  • AutoCAD 2013 (March 2012): 3 – This release ushered in a new API and DWG format as expected. Less expected was this DWG format lasting 5 releases, which was a bonus out here in user land. There were a bunch of Cloud features destined to be ignored by most but very useful to some. Model Documentation improved almost to the point of production usability, but has stayed stuck at the almost-there stage ever since. Help got even worse and has never recovered. Property preview and lots of minor tinkering with various features were worthwhile but didn’t add up to enough to make this a must-have release; needing compatibility with the new DWG format was more likely to do that.
  • AutoCAD 2014 (March 2013): 2 – A basic free file tabs utility was pulled into the core without improvement, a disappointment to those of us used to much better functionality from 3rd party developers. There were some security enhancements that got in the way for many people, but without addressing the main security problem (automatic loading of code from implicit paths at startup). The command line grew in functionality and got slower (again), and there was a bit more minor tinkering here and there. Creating clockwise arcs would have been impressive in the mid 80s, but here only showed how slow Autodesk had become at fixing long-standing functionality issues.
  • AutoCAD 2015 (March 2014): 2 – Lasso was a useful change, as were improved dragging and selection. Unless you’re into point clouds, there’s not much else here of practical use, though. Application Manager was the first step down the dark path leading us to the attempted automatic update doom that lay ahead, and gets no points from me. Darkening the default appearance of the interface to resemble Paint Shop Pro from 2007 was no substitute for substance. At least it was optional. The removal of the option to use textual status bar toggles wasn’t optional. It represented a particularly petty piece of Autodesk interface arrogance and a classic example of Autodesk breaking the unbroken while leaving the broken broken. The New Tab (later called Start) was terribly slow and best bypassed. It’s unfortunate that Autodesk made an API change here, breaking from the established pattern of changing both DWG and API every three years.
  • AutoCAD 2016 (March 2015): 2 – Those people who found a use for the execrable Content Explorer would have been upset by its removal. I wasn’t. Geometric osnap, improved revision clouds, dimension command changes, PDF and point cloud improvements, ability to attach Navisworks files, not much else. No API or DWG change, which was good, but nothing much to see here, move along please.
  • AutoCAD 2017 (March 2016): 1 – Graphics performance, which to Autodesk’s credit has been quietly but significantly improved in recent years, got another boost. Performance in other areas has continued to get worse. Just starting up an older AutoCAD release or a competitor’s product is like a breath of fresh air and shows how bloated, slow and inefficient AutoCAD has become. Share Design View was useful to some, within its limitations. PDF import was sometimes useful and a nice-to-have; done to a higher standard than we have come to expect, it was improved further in 2017.1. Dialog box size enhancements were welcome but at least 10 years overdue. Autodesk desktop app is notable only for its awfulness. Terrible idea, dreadful implementation. Migration was finally looked at 11 years after it was broken, and about 8 years after I permanently gave up on it. I didn’t even bother testing the new version because I’ve arranged things so I can do very nicely without it, thanks. Associative centerlines and marks were a potentially good idea but the implementation was atrocious. Deliberately removing 192,192,192 transparency from button icons was an act of sheer bastardry that was worth at least -1 just on its own. Another API change after only 2 years was an inconvenience but at least 2017 kept the 2013 DWG format for the 5th release in a row, probably the best thing Autodesk has done for AutoCAD customers in recent years. Long may that continue.

Part 1 – AutoCAD Version 1.4 to Release 11.
Part 2 – AutoCAD Release 12 to AutoCAD 2002.
Part 3 – AutoCAD 2004 to AutoCAD 2010.
Part 4 – AutoCAD 2011 to AutoCAD 2017.
Part 5 – Summary.

Do you agree or disagree with these assessments? Feel free to share your memories and experiences.


  1. “Deliberately removing 192,192,192 transparency from button icons was an act of sheer bastardry that was worth at least -1 just on its own.”

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who hated that change. Originally I had two versions of all my icons, small and large (16×16 and 32×32).

    Then Autodesk added the “Dark” theme and I had to make versions of my icons that worked with that. That made four versions, small vs large, dark vs light.

    Then they changed transparency and went with PNG files. Now I’m up to eight different files for each of my icons: small vs large, dark vs light, bmp vs png.

  2. 2012 – Nudge is one of those commands that looks fancy during demos, but has very little application in the real world *unless* you combine it with SNAP, then I can see some usefulness.

    2014 – File Tabs is what we were asking for since what? 2002? They thought they solved this with “Quick View Drawings”, but that is still such a bloated overthought way to do what File Tabs does. File Tabs, like many other features, does the job, but it was left unfinished.

    2015 – This is when the status bar toggles (SNAP, GRIP, ORTHO, etc) were made icons only, and the text option was removed (You listed this under 2014). This is still my #1 pet peeve to date. There was zero reason to remove this feature. We still have the Screen Menu, decades after its “death”, but they remove something useful. I just don’t get it.

    2017 – The continued movement of graphics operations to the GPU is okay, if you have the GPU to handle it, and the correct driver(s). For most daily generic work, it’s just as well to disable Hardware Acceleration and all of the other fancy graphics enhancements. I do appreciate the dialob box enhancements. Things like this are hard to market for new sales (Hey, you can resize the RENAME dialog now!), but are still valuable.

    All in all, after using the current version for a while, I can’t fathom going back to say, AutoCAD 2000. But I did think we’d be further along in the development process at this stage of AutoCAD’s life.

  3. Thanks Steve. I still work with 2014 daily, and I still love having the text buttons there, not to mention how easy it is, at a glance, to see which buttons are enabled and which ones are not.

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