33 years of AutoCAD upgrades rated – part 5 – summary

In this final post of the series, I’ll examine the patterns that have emerged from the upgrade history I rated in parts 1 to 4. Bear in mind I’m only assessing the DOS (up to R13) and Windows (from R12 on) versions of the full version of AutoCAD. Of course, this only represents my opinion of those releases and is bound to be biased by the uses I and my users have for the software. Your experiences and opinions will almost certainly vary.

What can I say? My assessment is based on a third of a century of experience, and I’ve tried to be as objective as I can. I’m not unique in perceiving the decline of the AutoCAD upgrade; you’ll see the same said by long-standing customers and experienced independents all over the place. Ralph Grabowski, for example:

The new feature list for AutoCAD’s annual “big-R” release has become so short that I stopped producing my annual “What’s Inside? AutoCAD” ebook series in 2013.

Back to my own assessment, here’s a graph that shows how I rated the releases:

One thing’s obvious and that’s the permanent drop in the rate of improvement that set in with the onset of the annual release cycle. My average rating for AutoCAD Version 2.0 to 2000 is 7.7. For 2000i to 2017, it’s 3.4. Autodesk switched to doing half as much worthwhile development between releases, but charged the same upgrade fee. Value for money halved.

We entered the era of an endless stream of annual releases with fewer genuinely useful new features. Worse, the abbreviated cycle meant most of those features went into production half-baked in design, implementation or both. Some of those undercooked features (the lucky ones) got some attention in the next release. Many more of them never got fixed, or got quietly removed later, or eventually got patched up years after the user base had ignored them to death.

Have a look at the decline from 2010 downwards. The average for the last five releases is 2.0. The rate of improvement per release, starting from a low point, took a nose dive. Value for money, which was poor, is now dire.

Conclusion? AutoCAD is in maintenance mode. Autodesk’s attention (and investment) is elsewhere and it is just going through the motions of updating the software. Progress has stalled. Inspiration is AWOL.

Nevertheless, through all this, we have still paid for new releases in various ways, and in huge numbers. No wonder Autodesk is convinced we’ll be silly enough to pay over the odds to rent software; there’s a precedent.

The more Autodesk has moved away from the optional upgrade model, through optional maintenance*, then effectively compulsory maintenance**, then finally to the compulsory rental model***, the weaker the upgrades have become. Autodesk no longer feels compelled to put in the development effort that will convince customers to shell out for the advantages provided by a new release.

Autodesk wants an endless revenue stream in return for merely providing access to the software, rather than as a reward for improving it: money for nothing. That’s Autodesk’s dream, and an understandable one. For customers, it’s a nightmare: nothing for money.

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.

* Maintenance was previously called VIP and then Subscription.
** Autodesk restricted the availability of upgrades, priced it out of the market, and in some cases only sold perpetual licenses bundled with maintenance, before finally eliminating upgrades altogether.
*** Autodesk’s third attempt at rental (there were failed attempts in 2001 and 2013) was first called Desktop Subscription and then just subscription. I generally call it rental to avoid confusion with The Maintenance Formerly Known as Subscription.


  1. In economics, this is called “rent seeking,” where a company collects revenues from customers in exchange for nothing more than being allowed to keep using the product. As Autodesk seems to be tapering off development of AutoCAD, could they be reduced to being a mere rent-collector?

  2. This has been a great series! Thanks for putting it together. I’ve only been in the game since 2013 so its fantastic to see a first hand users experience of older versions. Did you have any methodology to your rating? I know you mentioned it was kind of subjective per you experience i was just curios if there was a methodology. Do you think there could be anything like diminishing returns in play? Could they be chasing down the nearly impossible last 2%.

    • The only methodology is that the best improvement ever gets 10 and if there’s no overall improvement at all it gets 0. Obviously there’s a degree of subjectivity there.

      I’d accept the diminishing returns argument if Bricsys hadn’t disproved it so comprehensively with BricsCAD V17. It’s still very possible to take a capable CAD application and improve it out of sight.

  3. Doom and gloom. Nice synopsis. I lived in beta land from R12 through 2009 so I actually missed the real world upgrade effects. Thanks for tbe overview. So much wasted potential – Autodesk, not me…

  4. Kenth Augustsson

    Been using ACAD since 1987 and for me the most valuable has been Window integration, multiple DWG, 3DSolids, Paper space, VBA instead of those (), but they worked too and off course the debugging features. It seems ACAD never will be on really good terms with Window 64-bit. 3D-handling is nowadays something I couldn,t dream of back in 1987.

  5. Attention is elsewhere? Attention is on scooping up big piles of money. Autodesk is the poster child for corporate greed! They have been for years. Subscription is the enemy! They don’t have to develop the software anymore. They no longer have to innovate! With perpetual licensing a thing of the past you, if you stop paying you stop using the software. Autodesk never has to modify their code again if they don’t want to. They are the de facto standard! Where are you going to go?

  6. I must say, upon reading the initial letter and later more info on what this all means I was suspicious and pretty confused. But after reading your blog it makes so much sense. Thank for taking the time to put this all together and help us make some sense of it. The writing is clearly on the wall where Autodesk is wanting this to go…..

  7. Great job on the chart and review Steve. The only area I would disagree is 2009 & 2010. 2009 with the new ribbon was horribly slow, what good is a feature if it isn’t worth using. They fixed the performance issue with 2010. I give 2009 a 2 and 2010 an 8. At our office we skipped over installing 2008 and 2009, I did’nt think 2008 had enough features to warrant upgrading.


    • The 2009 Ribbon itself was terribly slow, true, but most users turned it off and enjoyed a bunch of other UI enhancements. 2010 improved the speed somewhat at the expense of a very sticky startup as the Ribbon was being background loaded.

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