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 Help suckage to continue – confirmed

In a recent post on Between the Lines, Shaan passed on the following response from the AutoCAD Team: There has been some recent discussions about the built-in help system in AutoCAD 2013, both positive and some criticism.  As our longtime users know, AutoCAD help has been through many evolutions. We are particularly proud of the new AutoCAD 2013 online learning environment we recently released (AutoCAD Online Help Mid-Year Updates.) This update addressed several user requested fixes and changes, and we will continue to take our direction from our user’s feedback. We do recognize that the online learning environment may not be the solution for every user, so while we are focused on creating a rich and personalized online experience, we will continue to maintain our current basic offline experience. (The emphasis is mine). This statement, although couched in marketingspeak, confirms what I’ve had to say on the subject. Here’s my translation into plain English: AutoCAD 2013 Help sucked, the customers said so, the recent update improved matters somewhat for online users, but the awful old system stays in place for offline users. The offline system is in maintenance mode, and the experience will continue to remain basic (i.e. it will suck long-term). There’s no mention of correcting this situation; it’s clearly a matter of policy rather than some unfortunate accident. Today, I was using Autodesk Navisworks Manage 2013. As you might expect from an Autodesk product, it’s powerful but unstable. In addition to the lockups and crashes, it has various bugs and annoyances. In looking for a way of working around one of the annoyances, I delved into the Help system. Strangely enough, this product (much younger than AutoCAD) uses something that looks remarkably like an old-fashioned CHM-based Help system. It worked offline. It was quick. It had contents, search…

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I was wrong about AutoCAD 2013 Help, it still sucks

In my effusive welcome of AutoCAD 2013’s updated Help system, I wondered if I had been shocked into missing some glaring problem. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. In my enthusiasm, I managed to totally miss the fact that the new system has not been introduced for offline users. If you use the new system, there’s a link on the front page to the offline files. I got as far as downloading and installing what I thought was the offline version of the new system and discovered that it didn’t want to install because the old one was already installed. What I should have then done, and didn’t, was to uninstall the old and install the new, before running it in offline mode. I intended to get around to that to check the performance and responsiveness of the respective versions, but didn’t have the time right then. If I had done so, I would have noticed that my download, uninstall and reinstall would have been in vain, because the offline version pointed to by the new system is still the old version. My apologies to anybody who wasted their time because of what I originally wrote. There are many legitimate reasons why Autodesk customers want or need to use their software, including the documentation, entirely in offline mode. For example, the users I manage can’t access the online Help system from AutoCAD because Autodesk writes its software in such a way as to fail in a secure proxy server environment (yes, this has been reported as a bug, repeatedly). So for my users and many others, it’s true to say that despite the best efforts of Dieter and his team, AutoCAD 2013’s Help still sucks. Look at this from the point of view of such offline AutoCAD 2013 Help users. We…

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD explained

Following my comments on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD, Autodesk’s Dieter Schlapfer has sought to explain the reasoning behind it. Here’s what he has to say: As mentioned previously, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD is designed for occasional AutoCAD users and those coming back from their initial training. These are people who just need a base level of knowledge in 2D AutoCAD to get things done, and who don’t necessarily want to become experts. To make future versions more effective, I really want to get some input on the 42 AutoCAD commands, and any descriptions or illustrations that are not clear. Especially valuable to me is feedback coming from occasional users. Here’s some history. Believe it or not, the 42 commands came first! I kept flaunting this number, which was based on an internal AutoCAD overview class that I taught a while back, in response to people who complained about how hard it is to learn AutoCAD. Based on that interesting number, two of my colleagues made the connection to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the title of which was based on Ken Welch’s book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe (I have the 1986 edition). Creating a hitchhiker’s guide to AutoCAD was a terrific idea and the next thing I knew, I was writing it. Most of the 42 commands were no-brainer choices, but there were several that I knew would be controversial among experienced AutoCAD users. Based on internal feedback and CIP popularity, I made a number of revisions to my original list but I’m open to being persuaded to make additional changes. My biggest challenge was handling scaling and layouts. As you know, there are four primary ways to annotate drawings. It was tough, but I ended up choosing the one that was easiest to learn, the trans-spatial…

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AutoCAD 2013 Help shock – it no longer sucks

Some months ago, I gave Autodesk several damn good (and thoroughly well-deserved) thrashings over its hopelessly inadequate AutoCAD 2013 Help system. When Autodesk’s Dieter Schlaepfer responded and asked for feedback, he sure got it. There are 142 comments on that one post to date, most of them leaving nobody under any illusions about how short of the mark the new system was. There is now an updated version of the AutoCAD 2013 Help system. It has been an interminably long time coming, a fact made far worse by Autodesk’s stubborn refusal to provide a CHM stopgap (which could have easily been done on the ship date with minimal resources if the will had been there), but at least an update is here now. Is it any good, though? I’ve seen fit to give the online version of the updated system a few minutes of my time and I have to say that it’s now way, way better than it was before. In a remarkable turnaround from current standard Autodesk practice, it would appear that customer feedback has not just been listened to, but actually acted on. Honest! Search results make sense. Performance is generally way better than I expected from an online system. There are links to useful things like lists of commands. Things like forward/back mouse buttons work as expected. Various things I expected to suck, simply didn’t. Huh? What’s going on here? It’s not all brilliant. There are occasional unexpected pauses, but not to excess. A Douglas Adams fan (Dieter?) is clearly responsible for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD. It’s fun, but I’m not convinced it’s particularly useful. The layout is confusing and the content has me somewhat baffled. Is DRAWORDER really one of the first things a beginner needs to know about AutoCAD? Or were there 41…

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AutoCAD 2013 Service Pack 1 – Now you see it, now you don’t

Last week, Autodesk released Service Pack 1 for AutoCAD 2013, and then removed it a few days later. Service Pack 1 for AutoCAD 2013 has been temporarily removed due to a newly discovered fatal error. The AutoCAD team is actively working on resolving this and a new service pack will be posted here as soon as it is available. This is the sort of thing that Beta testing is supposed to prevent, but in this case it obviously didn’t. Somebody in a position of influence at Autodesk needs to investigate whether this is just a freak one-off, or if there is some systemic weakness within the Beta testing program. One of the supposed benefits of Cloud software is that there are no updates for users to worry about. It’s all taken care of on the vendor’s server and you’re always using the most up to date version. OK, now fast forward five years and imagine how this scenario would have panned out if AutoCAD was a SaaS product. You come in one morning to find your AutoCAD keeps crashing, or worse, corrupting your files. It keeps doing this for several days until Autodesk is convinced that the problem lies at its end and reverts the changes on its server while it works out how to fix it. In the meantime, there’s nothing you can do to keep your business running except use one of those old-fashioned copies of AutoCAD you have lying around the place. Except your Subscription agreement only allows you to go back 3 releases. Autodesk no longer supports the release you happen to have handy, and won’t allow the software to be activated. You don’t have a 30-day window because you once evaluated that release on your PC and your 30 days are well and truly gone. Oh, and the file…

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AutoCAD 2013 for Mac – the holes live on

A couple of years ago, I reported on the missing features in AutoCAD 2011 for Mac. While some generous souls were prepared to accept something half-baked as a first attempt, even that excuse doesn’t wash when it comes to a third iteration. So how well is Autodesk doing at filling those holes? Decide for yourself. Here’s an updated list of missing features in AutoCAD 2013 for Mac: Quick Properties Palette Layer State Manager New Layer Notification Various layer commands including LAYCUR, LAYDEL, LAYMRG, LAYWALK, and LAYVPI Autocomplete doesn’t work entirely properly, including offering commands that don’t exist Filter Quick Select DesignCenter Tool Palettes Navigation Bar ShowMotion Sheet Set Manager (but there is Project Manager) Model Documentation Tools (but at least now there are object enablers) Geographic Location Table Style Editing Hatch Creation Preview Multiline Style Creation Digitizer Integration Change Space Express Tools Material Creation, Editing, and Mapping Advanced Rendering Settings Camera Creation Walkthroughs, Flybys, and Animations Point Cloud Support DWF Underlays DGN Underlays Autodesk 360 Connectivity Data Links Data Extraction Hyperlinks Markup Set Manager dbConnect Manager eTransmit WMF Import and Export FBX Import and Export Additional Model Import Ribbon Customization Right-click Menus, Keyboard Shortcuts, and Double-Click Customization VisualLISP .NET VBA DCL Dialogs Action Recorder and Action Macros Reference Manager (Standalone Application) Dynamic Block Authoring Custom Dictionaries Password-protected Drawings Digital Signatures Workspaces User Profiles Migration Tools CAD Standards Tools CUI Import and Export Many of these are big-ticket, dealbreaking items. No DCL? Still? Seriously? To these we can add a whole application, Inventor Fusion, which comes as part of the AutoCAD 2013 for Windows install set. (Edit: Inventor Fusion for Mac is available to download as a Technology Preview application from Autodesk Labs and from the Apple App Store). I don’t expect many Mac users will be heartbroken about the lack…

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Should Autodesk provide a CHM version of its AutoCAD 2013 Help?

I’ve added a poll asking this question over on the right. I would like to see this done as soon as possible as a courtesy for those customers who find the current AutoCAD 2013 Help system inadequate. If you agree, vote Yes. If you disagree (for example, you think Autodesk should instead concentrate on improving the current system), vote No. If you wish to make a comment on this specific issue, feel free.

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AutoCAD 2013 – An Autodesk Help writer responds

Following some email discussions, I am happy to present a response from a relevant Autodesk person to the posts and comments here about AutoCAD 2013’s Help. Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your readers, Steve. First, I want to assure you that we’re listening to your comments about AutoCAD 2013 Help. We are adding it to the valuable feedback we’ve already received from users who participated in our Beta program. I responded promptly to every comment from each Beta user and will now address a wider audience. Here are some of the trends we’ve seen so far in the suggestions users are making about AutoCAD Help: Additional navigation to supplement our Search function Alphabetical listings of AutoCAD commands and system variables Improved precision from the Search function Access to information about new features We are working right now on our update plans. We invite your additional comments about any other problems you’ve had so that we can have a broad view of your needs as we define the scope of our update. I’m glad to say that Help updates will no longer have to wait until the next product release. I’d also like to emphasize that the software industry, Autodesk included, is trending toward online delivery of both software and documentation, and that these technology changes pose significant challenges to all of us. We always appreciate your feedback and we take it seriously. Thanks and best regards, Dieter Schlaepfer Principal Content Developer Autodesk, Inc. As Dieter suggests, please comment here with your problems and suggestions. Please be as brutally honest as you wish about Autodesk, its offerings and its future plans. However, I ask that you remain civil. I have ‘known’ Dieter on-line for about 20 years and can attest to his integrity, intelligence and intense desire to do…

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AutoCAD 2013 – Using Help in anger

Trying to be fair, I decided to put aside my initial hostility to the AutoCAD 2013 Help system and use it for real. I used it in a realistic situation, to find out how to work with something new or changed (model documentation) as I was working through it with my own example drawing. Try as I might to give it a fair go, I could only get so far before I got irritated. Using it in anger might not be an entirely appropriate phrase for it, but it’s not that far off. Using it in annoyance, perhaps? Here’s how it went. I hit F1, wait for it to finish loading itself, click in the search box (because that’s not where the focus is to start with), type ‘model documentation’ and pick Search (because Enter doesn’t work). I then wait again, for about 10 seconds, even though I’ve configured it for offline use. Eventually, there is a huge mass of results displayed, almost all of which are totally (totally!) irrelevant to model documentation. Most of them are relevant only to ARX programmers dealing with completely unrelated matters. If I use the “phrase” option rather than “and”, the list is much shorter and has a much higher proportion of results that have some relevance, but there are still completely pointless results. For example, the 4th result is About Performance Considerations (AutoLISP), which does not contain the phrase at all. It does contain the words ModelSpace and Document, but not together. It does not contain any information remotely related to model documentation. Didn’t Autodesk buy a search technology company a while back? If that company’s technology is in use here, then Autodesk bought a dud. At least the top two results directly relate to what I need, so I’ll move on with those. They are Commands…

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AutoCAD 2013 – Help improved in one area

There’s one important area in which AutoCAD 2013’s Help shines when compared with its immediate predecessors. If you’re a Visual LISP user, you’ll be pleased to know that if you select a function name in the editor (e.g. (vla-get-ActiveDocument)) and hit Ctrl+F1, this now takes you to the appropriate page in the ActiveX and VBA Reference, as it should. In AutoCAD 2011 you just got a cryptic message or a 404 error, depending on the context. In AutoCAD 2012, you were just taken to the front page of Help and expected to find it yourself. Props to Autodesk for fixing this problem. As a bonus, the reference you’re taken to is still a CHM so it works nicely. The Search tab doesn’t work in Windows 7, but that applies to all CHM Help and it’s Microsoft’s fault, not Autodesk’s. The structured contents and index are fully functional, which makes the whole thing usable even without the search facility.

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AutoCAD 2013 – Autodesk video tutorial for Help

Autodesk has produced a 2-minute video explaining the features of the new Help system in AutoCAD 2013 that I recently panned. As you might expect, it’s kind of upbeat and chirpy, but the fact that Autodesk feels the need to provide a tutorial on how to use Help says it all, really. Whatever, it may be useful to you, so here it is. It’s hosted on the Autodesk site, unlike many other Autodesk videos (and my own, to be fair), so those of you who have YouTube blocked at work may still be able to watch it. If you’re having trouble watching the tutorial, don’t panic. I expect Autodesk will soon produce another tutorial explaining how to use the tutorial explaining how to use Help explaining how to use the product to actually do work.

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Autodesk acquires Angry Birds developer Rovio

Autodesk announced today that it had welcomed Rovio Entertainment into the Autodesk fold. Following a US$2.6 billion acquisition, the publisher of mega hit video game Angry Birds is now Autodesk’s Mobile Entertainment division based in Espoo, Finland. “This is a tremendously exciting development for Autodesk going forward,” said Autodesk CEO Carl Bass. “Rovio is the world leader in mobile entertainment software,” he added, “so for Autodesk to have access to that market and that technology opens up a whole new world for us.” Bass was effusive about the synergistic benefits of the merger and the benefits it will bring to the user interfaces of all Autodesk products. “When a kid starts playing Angry Birds, they don’t need to read a huge mass of documentation. Just show them a few cartoons and they’re away, instantly productive. This is the essence of the democratization of design; it’s not dumbing down, it’s funning up.” This potential ease of use is excellent news for AutoCAD users, because the documentation is now so terrible that it will be wonderful if we no longer have to try to use it. Former Rovio CEO, Taikke Monniennren, now Autodesk Vice President in charge of Mobile Entertainment, is equally excited about the future. “We have already been given access to the Autodesk code base and my developers can see the potential there. By copying and pasting some code modules, we hope to be able to piece together the Angry Birds 3D Max Suite in a few short years,” said Monniennren. “The main challenge will be in keeping the download size manageable, but with a bit of luck we will be able to keep it down to just a few gigabytes.” In comparison, the original Angry Birds game was just over a megabyte. “Do not underestimate the strategic importance of this…

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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 2013 – Download from Subscription without Akamai

This year, Autodesk appears to have finally got its act together in terms of making software downloads and serial numbers available to Subscription customers quickly after the AutoCAD release. For me at least, the serial numbers and downloads were available as soon as I looked for them, so Autodesk deserves praise for improving matters considerably when compared with the last couple of years. If you’re a Subscription customer about to download AutoCAD 2013, you may be wondering how you can avoid the awful Akamai Download Manager. If you go to the download page, scroll through the various languages and find the product you’re interested in, you will see a Download Now button. Do not click it, because that will trigger an Akamai infestation. Instead, click on the down arrow to the right of the button. That will give you the option of performing a Browser Download. Click that and away you go.   The download sizes listed on the site are nearly double the real size of the downloaded files. The 32-bit version is actually 0.98 GB, not 1.89 GB. When you run the executable, it will unzip itself to expand to that size, but that’s not the size you need to know about when you’re downloading something. In my case, the download happened at rather less than half the speed at which the trial came down (taking over 30 minutes for the 32-bit version rather than 13 minutes), but that’s not a valid comparison as I used a different Internet connection and a different browser. The file I downloaded from Subscription was byte-for-byte identical to the equivalent file downloaded as a trial.

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AutoCAD 2013 – Download the trial without Akamai

It’s AutoCAD new release time again and many of you will want to get hold of the trial software, or download the production software from the trial site rather than the Subscription site for performance or other reasons (the resultant downloads are identical). As in previous years, Autodesk is heavily pushing the use of the Akamai Download Manager to download it, going to what I consider unethical lengths to do so. For a variety of reasons, some of which I’m not at liberty to discuss and others of which I have already discussed extensively, I strongly recommend not installing this software. In my view, it is a very bad idea to let anything by Akamai anywhere near your computer. If you’re in a secure corporate environment, it’s quite likely that you won’t be able to do so, or if you can, that it won’t work anyway. Although the Autodesk download process gives every impression that you have no choice in the matter, this is not true. In the past I have had to install an unsupported browser (Opera) to get at a straightforward download link, but this time it is possible to get the software without having to resort to that. Here’s what to do. Go to http://usa.autodesk.com/autocad/trial/, fill in the form and click the Download Now button. You will be presented with this screen: This is a pack of lies. Ignore everything except the line that says If you cannot complete the installation, click here. Click that and you will see this: The feedback link takes you to Akamai’s site so it’s probably not useful as a mechanism to let Autodesk know what you think of its use of the Akamai Download Manager. I have used it in the past and it’s a black hole, so don’t waste your…

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AutoCAD 2013 – What’s new?

As AutoCAD 2013 (yes, that’s what it’s called, shock, horror!) has now been released in Japan (Google translation), I can start to discuss it. I’m not yet free to go into details about anything that does not have publicly released information avaialable, but here’s a brief summary of what I can say. I will discuss some of these things in more detail later. It has a powerful tool for mosquito aggregation (allows you to effortlessly gather together a Cloud of bugs) OK, I’m kidding around, that’s just the Google translator struggling a little. Let’s get serious and list some new things that are easy enough to understand from the translation: Command-line options that you can click on (could be good, depends on how it performs) Other command-line changes (you can see in some of the screenshots that the command line now looks very different) Property editing preview (similar to the Microsoft Office feature where you can hover over a user interface element and have the contents dynamically show you the changes before you confirm with a click) Viewport preview of the changes (same kind of thing but with viewport display) View and cross-sectional view detailed diagram (Model Documentation improvements including sections and details) Strikethrough in text, leaders, tables, etc. (some will find this very useful) Inventor file import (again, useful to some if it works well) Latest user templates (updated with new title blocks, styles, etc.) Boundary stretching tool according to the situation (PressPull improvements) Extract the surface dividing line (looks like you can pick a point on a surface and have a line generated on it) More context-sensitive Ribbon tabs have been added Tool palettes can now be migrated (not that I trust Migration with anything) Autodesk Cloud connection (you can export drawings to the Cloud; more on this in…

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Restoring Hatch double-click in AutoCAD 2011

In AutoCAD 2011, the default action when double-clicking on a hatch object is to invoke the Properties palette for that object. In previous releases, it would invoke the Hatch Edit dialog box. In my AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal” post, I briefly described how to restore the old double-click action. I have since seen some incorrect advice being given out about how to do this, so this post describes the correct process in full detail. What to do Invoke the CUI command. In the top left pane, find the [+] next to Double Click Actions and left-click on it. Scroll down that top left pane a little until you can see Hatch. In the bottom left pane (Command list), click on any command and type H. This should take you down to the Hatch Edit command. If not, just scroll down a little more until you can see it. Left-click on the Hatch Edit command in the bottom left pane, hold down the mouse button and drag the command up onto the top right pane until it hovers over the Hatch item you exposed in step 3. When the little blue triangle is pointing to Hatch, let go of the mouse button, thereby dropping the Hatch Edit command onto Hatch. Hint: you may find that the top left pane scrolls crazily while you attempt this step. Unfortunately, this is a “feature” of the CUI interface. If this happens, keep your mouse button held down and move your cursor up and down in the left pane until the scrolling comes under control and you are hovering over the right spot. You can avoid this if instead of dragging the command directly upwards, you move in a curcuitous route to the left or right, moving on to the top left pane from…

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