Let’s critique AutoCAD’s parametric constraints

One of the big-ticket features of AutoCAD 2010 was parametric constraints. This was old hat for many applications, even some based on AutoCAD like Mechanical Desktop. Parametrics and constraints already existed in vanilla AutoCAD in the guise of dynamic blocks, but this was the first time ordinary AutoCAD allowed ordinary AutoCAD objects to be constrained and linked to parametric dimensions. Contraints mean that you can draw some objects and tell them that they are only allowed to behave in certain ways. For example, two lines have to remain parallel to each other. Parametrics mean that objects can be tied to special dimensions such that the dimensions drive the objects, not the other way round. How good a job has Autodesk done with creating and improving this feature in AutoCAD? Has Autodesk done its usual trick of releasing a half-baked feature and then ignoring it to death? In one vital respect, the answer is a resounding yes. AutoCAD’s parametric constraints can only be applied to 2D objects. Draw a shape using a polyline, apply constraints and parameters, and adjust them to make things work properly and appear correctly. Now extrude the polyline to convert it to a 3D solid. Your carefully applied constraints and dimensions are instantly exterminated. This was a huge and obvious hole in the feature when it was introduced, but on the fourth iteration of this feature in AutoCAD 2013, that gaping hole remains resolutely unfilled. I guess Autodesk is keeping AutoCAD’s parametrics in this flattened state in order to protect Inventor from internal competition. This 3D failing is very obvious, but I’m interested in more subtle aspects than that. As my experience with parametrics in other applications is limited, I’d like to encourage you to provide us all with the benefit of your knowledge. How does the AutoCAD 2013 implementation compare…

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AutoCAD 2013 – Autodesk pulls off a miracle with Help

In AutoCAD 2011, Autodesk introduced on-line Help. It was badly done and poorly received. It was slow and generally awful to use, and so obviously inferior to the generally well-crafted old CHM-based system in so many ways, that there were squeals of joy when somebody discovered that one of the AutoCAD-based vertical products hadn’t been updated to the new regime and still provided a CHM file. That file became hot property, being posted by users on Autodesk’s own discussion groups and other places. Eventually, the outcry was loud enough that Autodesk was forced to make the CHM version of Help available for download. Those of us who actually use the documentation from time to time (or support people who do) breathed a sigh of relief and got on with our work, grateful that Autodesk had seen the error of its ways. But had it, really? No. In AutoCAD 2012, Help was not only online, but integrated with AutoCAD Exchange in Autodesk’s dodgy version of a pseudo-browser. How good is Autodesk at writing browsers? About as good as you’d expect, sadly. No AutoCAD 2012 CHM was provided with the product at launch time, or even later as a download. So how well did this new and improved attempt at on-line Help go down with the punters? In my poll on the worst AutoCAD features of all time, Help (on line / 2012) came in third, which gives you some idea. Third worst of all time! That’s a really, really bad place to be. There’s only one place to go from there, surely? With AutoCAD 2013, Autodesk has wrought a miracle, taking this terrible failure of a system and completely revamping it. Somehow, incredibly, impossibly, Autodesk has managed to make it even worse. Not slightly worse, either. Much worse. AutoCAD Help has…

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AutoCAD 2012 – Autodesk adds an uninstallation analgesic

One of the more painful aspects of dealing with installations of recent releases of AutoCAD and related products is that although you might run a single setup routine to install what you think is a single application, the end result is a mass of different components being installed. Each of these components is considered a separate program by Windows, and needs uninstalling separately. Frankly, this is manifestly antisocial behaviour. I have complained to Autodesk about this ever since it started happening, but the number of sub-installations has been getting greater rather than smaller. Now Autodesk has provided an uninstallation tool, which you can find here. If you download and run psebuninstalltool.exe, you will be provided with a list of applications to uninstall. This is a move in the right direction, but it’s still far from ideal. You still have to choose which applications to install and which to leave alone because they’re in use by some other application, and because of the possible complexities you’re not likely to know. Get it wrong and you can break other applications in a way that’s not immediately obvious. Also, it uninstalls English language products only and is provided “as-is” as an unsupported tool. This is a welcome kludge to help with a problem that shouldn’t exist. Users simply shouldn’t have to deal with this nonsense. If you install one application, you should be able to just uninstall one application and it should be gone, without breaking anything else. Autodesk, thanks for this interim assistance, but I look forward to the problem being removed in future releases, rather than partially patched over.

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Another language pack cleanup solution

My CADLock, Inc. colleague, Owen Wengerd has posted about a fix utility he has written to help clean up drawings infested with the language pack problem discussed here. I have not yet tested Owen’s utility*, but as this should run in any AutoCAD-based product from 2007 on, it could well be a better partial solution than Autodesk’s Civil 3D-only (so far) patches. Autodesk still needs to sort out its dodgy templates, of course, and should probably provide its own non-Civil 3D fixes, if only to maintain a little corporate self-respect. As Owen has a long and distinguished history of being consistently and demonstrably better at AutoCAD programming than Autodesk’s own programmers, I’d be tempted to try this one first. However, Civil 3D users should probably apply the patches and updates anyway to help resolve other issues. To find Owen’s utility, go to the ManuSoft ARX freebies page and look for CleanLanguage.zip. While you’re there, use the Software menu to check out some of the other stuff Owen has done. * Edit: I have now tested it, and it works beautifully in both AutoCAD 2010 and Civil 3D 2011.

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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 shows Dassault how to treat customers

There are areas of Autodesk’s treatment of customers that leaves much to be desired, and I will most likely continue to be critical of that until a) I die; b) Autodesk dies; or c) the bad stuff stops happening. One thing for which Autodesk deserves praise is the distribution of bug fixes to its customers, without imposing the sort of conditions that SolidWorks customers have to put up with. Do Autodesk customers need to be on Subscription to receive bug fixes? No, they do not. Do Autodesk customers need to have purchased the software within the last 90 days to receive bug fixes? No, they do not. Do Autodesk customers need to have reported certain specific bugs to receive bug fixes? No, they do not. Do Autodesk customers even need to be running the current release to receive bug fixes? No, they do not. AutoCAD 2010 Update 2 (that’s Service Pack 2 in the old language) has just been released for the users of last year’s software. This includes the Update 1 changes. The usual caveats apply, including reading the Readme first. As usual, Autodesk’s oddball numbering system means that after installation, Update 1 shows up as Version 2 and Update 2 shows up as Version 3 in the About screen. This Update applies to straight AutoCAD (and LT), not the vertical variants. I have no news about non-English versions. Patrick Emin informs me these updates are language-independent.

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Polls, especially CIP and Ribbon settings

I encourage all my readers to participate in the variety of polls I have made available, over towards the right of this site. In particular, if you’re a user of base AutoCAD 2010, please have a go at the AutoCAD 2010 users, what are your Ribbon and CIP settings? poll. The results so far are very interesting, but the numbers are currently too small to be significant. My two longest-running polls are now approaching a thousand votes each, and it would be great to see several hundred responses to the Ribbon/CIP poll. While I’m on the subject of polls, I’ll repeat some comments I made a while ago. Back then, I noticed that more than one person had been voting multiple times. While this is technically possible for people who have access to the Internet via multiple IP addresses, it’s obviously not desirable. The idea is that you have one vote each. While you might be able to work around that restriction to give yourself a little extra influence on the result, doing so is less than honest. I accept that people who have access via home and work might accidentally vote twice on occasions, but if I perceive a continued pattern of deliberate abuse I will remove the offenders’ access rights to this site. As I respect everybody’s privacy I will not reveal any identities, drop any hints or make any announcements about this, I will just do it. Just to make the privacy issue completely clear, I will not, under any circumstances in public or private, reveal who has voted for what. To anybody. Similarly, I will not reveal to any party any identifying information behind any of the users of this site, with the exception of spammers. Fortunately, the influence of dodgy votes on poll results has…

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AutoCAD 2009 & 2010 users – out of memory errors?

Some of the users I support have repeated out-of-memory errors while editing fairly simple drawings. I have some 2010 users who suffer from this problem while others using the same drawings on the same hardware get by without ever seeing it. When swapping users to differerent PCs, the problem seems to follow the user. Despite various experiments, I have no idea what is going on here. Is this happening to you or anybody you work with? Have you managed to work out if there is something that triggers it? Is there a user interface setting or method of drawing that you suspect of being the culprit?

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These messages are brought to you by AutoCAD

Over the past few releases, and particularly in AutoCAD 2009 and 2010, I have noticed an increase in the number of information notices (bubbles, warnings, task dialogs, Communication Center notices, etc.) being displayed. Shaan Hurley has pointed out that 2010 Update 1 introduces a balloon notification that periodically makes you aware of how much time remains before your subscription expires. Is this a good thing? There’s a poll on the right that asks a specific question about the default state of AutoCAD 2009 and 2010, but I’d also like to see some comments on this. What do you think of these messages? Are they useful? Do they get in the way? Do you take any notice of them? Are there too many? Do we need any others? Do you turn them off? Is it easy enough to control them?

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AutoCAD 2010 Update 1

Update 1, the first of Autodesk’s Updates (formerly Service Packs) for AutoCAD 2010 is now out for AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT. Equivalent updates for various verticals will follow soon. The Readme contains information about what was fixed, so I won’t reproduce that here. As always, read the readme first and exercise the usual paranoia. However, my experience of the pre-release versions of this Update has been positive.

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Hotfix available for Raster Design licensing issue

Thanks to Brian and Rick for pointing out the availability of a hotfix for Raster Design 2010’s standalone/network license incompatibility. As a bonus, it also fixes some Raster Design / Civil 3D stability issues. The hotfix is available here, and as always with patches, fixes, service packs and updates, read the readme first. Note that although this fixes the most common scenario where a network Raster Design needs to work on a standalone AutoCAD, it does not fix the opposite scenario. So if you have a bunch of network licensed AutoCAD variants available to you and you have a standalone license of Raster Design because you’re the only person in the office who needs it, you’re still out of luck. If you’re in such a position, I think you have a very strong case for a no-cost change from standalone to network licensing for Raster Design. If you ask for this and are refused, let me know and I’ll let everyone else know.

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AutoCAD 2010 – Putting things back to “normal”

Easily the most popular post on this blog, in terms of both hits and comments, is AutoCAD 2009 – Putting things back to “normal”. Lots of people seemed to find it useful, so I guess it’s worth doing an updated sequel for the current release. Much of this post is the same as the original, but there are differences. Note: there are updated versions of this post for AutoCAD 2011 and 2012. One thing that’s regularly asked whenever a new AutoCAD release hits the streets is how to make it work like earlier releases. As I stated in my original post, I think you should give any new features a fighting chance before turning them off or ignoring them. The 2010 Ribbon is still a Ribbon, but in my view it’s a better one than in 2009. But it’s entirely your choice. We should be grateful that in AutoCAD 2010 at least (unlike Revit 2010), you do still have that choice. Let’s assume you’ve made the decision to put your environment back to AutoCAD 2008 or earlier; how do you do it? Workspace. In vanilla AutoCAD, you can restore much of the user interface by just switching workspaces. In the bottom right corner, there is a little button that looks like a gearwheel. This is the Workspace control. Click on it and pick the item called AutoCAD Classic. If you’re using a vertical variant of AutoCAD 2010, this workspace may not be available. If so, or if you want finer control over your interface, read on. Pull-down Menus. Enter MENUBAR 1 to turn pull-down menus on. To turn them off again, enter MENUBAR 0. Toolbars. In AutoCAD 2009, you could turn individual toolbars on and off by accessing a menu obtained by right-clicking on the QAT. Autodesk (vindictively?) removed that…

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Network/standalone clash is confined to Raster Design

Autodesk has been in touch to confirm that the failure to allow a mixed network/standalone environment is confined to Raster Design. I haven’t yet tested this myself, but I’ve been told unequivocally that you can mix standalone and network license models for the major products. Here is the official Autodesk response to the issue: We are very aware of the issue currently relating to the co-existence of an AutoCAD SLM (stand-alone license) and AutoCAD Raster Design NLM (network license) configuration. This was not an intentional “change of licensing policy” as expressed in some blog posts this week, but an unfortunate side effect of updating our licensing technology for SLM (stand-alone) seats to be in sync with our NLM seats for all AutoCAD-based products. We can only apologize for this new behavior experienced by customers upgrade to 2010 version products. We are currently pursuing a couple of options to rectify this situation. We do intend to provide a solution in the very near term and I hope you will join me in helping mitigate the frustrations expressed in various blogs this week. We have also heard of speculations that this issue also impacts side-by-side installations of different AutoCAD desktops. This is not the case. Both software development and QA have successfully installed many different AutoCAD-based 2010 desktops side-by-side in mixed SLM and NLM configurations without any issues.

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AutoCAD’s magic vanishing attachments

There are now quite a few file types that you can attach to an AutoCAD drawing as a reference, in the same way that you can attach other drawings as xrefs. We’ve been able to attach other drawings since Release 11 (1990) and images since Release 14 (1997), but every release since 2007 has introduced a new kind of attachment. In AutoCAD 2010, you can now also attach PDFs, MicroStation DGNs (v7 and v8), DWF and DWFx files. But should you? Maybe not. It depends who is going to use those drawings after you. If you know for certain that every user of that drawing is going to be using 2010 and later, that’s no problem. But if there is the possibility of earlier releases being used, your fine-looking attachments could vanish silently in the night. Attach a PDF to your drawing in 2010, give it to a user of last year’s AutoCAD 2009 (you’ll need to save it as a 2007 DWG) and what will he see? Nothing. There is no text-screen warning, no bounding box, no piece of text indicating the file name, nothing. Just a blank space where there should be useful drawing content. This problem isn’t new to 2010, because there are similar problems with the other recent attachment types. Let’s examine them one by one: PDF – visible only in 2010 and later (except for the special case of 2009 with the Subscription-only Bonus Pack 2). DWFx – visible only in 2009 and later. DGN v7 – visible only in 2009 and later. DGN v8 – visible only in 2008 and later. DWF – visible only in 2007 and later. It’s important to note that the attachments don’t actually disappear from the drawing. They are still stored there, even if you save to an earlier…

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Autodesk plans to fix Raster Design licensing SNAFU

I have been in touch with various people at Autodesk about Raster Design 2010’s failure to work in a mixed standalone/network environment. These people have all been suitably apologetic, they assure me it wasn’t a deliberate move on Autodesk’s part, and that moves are afoot to provide a solution fairly soon. For example: Our intention was never to cause such inconvenience for our Raster customers with the licensing change. We are currently working on a solution and hope to have more information in the coming weeks. And: …we are very aware of the issue currently relating to the co-existence of an AutoCAD SLM and Raster Design NLM. This was not an intentional “change of licensing policy”, but an unfortunate side effect of updating our licensing technology for SLM (stand-alone) seats to be in sync with our NLM seats for all AutoCAD-based products. I can only apologize for this new behavior experienced by customers upgrade to 2010 version products. We are currently pursuing a couple of options to rectify this situation. We do intend to provide a solution (fix if you will) in the very near term… The jury is still out about whether this problem affects only Raster Design or is a general problem that prevents a mixed standalone/network environment of AutoCAD and vertical products. If it’s a general problem, it would be an unmitigated disaster for the 2010 product range. I’m getting mixed messages about this from the Autodesk people, but I don’t want to make an issue of that because the people involved are trying to help by providing what information they have as quickly as possible. As soon as I have accurate information available to me I will pass it on. I know of at least one person who is unable to get a mixed AutoCAD and…

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Autodesk messes up Raster Design 2010 licensing

I was horrified to learn (in this Autodesk Discussion Group thread) that Autodesk has changed the rules as far as the way Raster Design licenses are handled. It’s quite possible that Autodesk has also done this with other products that I’m not yet aware of. If so, please comment and let me know. If you’re not familiar with Raster Design, it’s an Autodesk add-on that adds raster handling capabilities to AutoCAD and AutoCAD-based products. The change that has been introduced is that the licensing method of AutoCAD and Raster Design now has to match. That is, if your AutoCAD is standalone, the network version of Raster Design won’t run on it, and vice versa. Why does this matter? Let’s say you’re a CAD Manager in this scenario: You have a hundred AutoCAD users, half of which are full-time users with standalone licenses and the other half who are mainly part-time users with network licenses. Let’s say that some of those users (of both types) have a very occasional need to use the features in Raster Design. You bought one network license of the product a few releases ago and have everything on Subscription, just the way Autodesk wants it. So far, you’ve been able to provide the Raster Design option to all of your users. Only one user at a time can use it, but as use of the product is pretty rare, this hasn’t been a problem to date. If demand increased, other licenses could be added as needed. Now, with Raster Design 2010, this is no longer possible. Your network license will not be available to your standalone users. You have the following options: Buy 50 standalone licenses of Raster Design 2010 for your standalone AutoCAD 2010 users, i.e. spend a huge amount of money on software that will…

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Guillermo Melantoni’s 3D blog

What a Mesh is another new Autodesk blog, this time from Autodesk 3D guru Guillermo Melantoni. You may remember Guillermo mentioning his forthcoming blog in my A gaggle of geeks video, and now it has arrived. You can also see Guillermo in action in several videos about AutoCAD 2010’s new 3D mesh capabilities on AutoCAD Exchange. Guillermo is very, very smart, he expertly uses the products he develops (the building on the AutoCAD 2010 packaging was done by him), and it’s great to see him interacting with users in this way.

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AutoCAD 2010 – Turning off InfoCenter

I generally avoid the still-awful Autodesk discussion groups these days, but I do hop in from time to time in the vain hope of seeing some improvement. In doing so, I occasionally pick up a gem, and that happened today. I think this one deserves a wider audience, so here it is. In AutoCAD 2010, you can disable the InfoCenter toolbar by opening the registry, and going to the following key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Autodesk\AutoCAD\R18.0\ACAD-8001:409\InfoCenter In that key there’s a value with the name “InfoCenterOn”. Changing that value from 1 to 0 will disable the InfoCenter toolbar. Source: Tony Tanzillo in this thread. Note that the “ACAD-8001” part will be different if you use a vertical variant of AutoCAD. Why would you want to do this? To improve startup times and reduce annoyance. Autodesk should have provided a better mechanism for doing this. The absence of convenient, designed-in off switches for new features is something I’ve complained about on many occasions over the years. Autodesk’s response has been patchy. Edit: I just noticed Owen Wengerd has posted about this, including a LISP routine to simplify the process of turning it on and off.

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Some thoughts on AutoCAD Exchange

I’ve added a link to Autodesk’s new AutoCAD community site, AutoCAD Exchange. As with most things Autodesk, there are pros and cons. Here are my first impressions. I think it looks good in a Vista-black kind of way. I know some of you don’t like the black look in software, but I do. The layout looks a bit cluttered and confused at first, but I’m sure visitors will quickly get used to where to find things. The site appears to be designed around 1024-wide resolution. If you have more than this, as most CAD users do, then there are wide areas of wasted space either side of the good stuff. The front page is basically a teaser. To get to the useful content or do pretty much anything, you need to register or sign in. I don’t particularly like this, and it gives the impression (false or not) that Autodesk wants to own and control you, even if you’re just viewing a site. The registration process is the same as for other Autodesk sites such as the discussion groups, so if you have an Autodesk identity, you’re already registered. As it is a “community” site, on first sign-in you are invited to fill in more details, provide an avatar and so on. Some people might not like this, but it’s optional and Autodesk knows where I live so it makes no difference to me. I know where Autodesk lives, too. It has yet to be seen if Autodesk manages to develop a real community on this site, and if so, how open that community is allowed to be. Autodesk is encouraging bloggers to add an Autodesk Exchange widget to their blogs. I won’t be adding one in a permanent position because this is my blog and not Autodesk’s. I kind…

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A gaggle of geeks

Time to lighten things up a bit, I think. While attending the AutoCAD 2010 product launch in San Francisco on 5 February 2009, I conducted a series of micro-interviews with a collection of AutoCAD bloggers and Autodesk employees. One geek asks 14 other geeks if they are geeks; nothing too serious here. I hope Shaan enjoys my tabloid journalist editing job right at the end. YouTube link. Thanks to all the interviewees: Heidi Hewett, Autodesk blogger Lynn Allen, Autodesk blogger Melanie Perry, blogger Robin Capper, blogger Brian Benton, blogger Todd Shackelford, blogger Jon Page, Autodesk person Matt Stein, Autodesk person and personal blogger Shaan Hurley, Autodesk blogger Donnie Gladfelter, blogger Ellen Finklestein, blogger David Cohn, blogger Mark Douglas, blogger Guillermo Melantoni, Autodesk person (still waiting for that blog, Guillermo!) What is the collective noun for geeks, anyway?

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