Don’t be a technology lemming

In response to Shaan’s variant on the old “if you question the value of any change you must be a Luddite” argument, I was going to write a lemming-based parody. I didn’t, mainly because I didn’t want to perpetuate the lemming mass-suicide misconception. Instead, I’ll answer the point more directly. Autodesk will acheive better success in convincing customers about Cloud computing and other concepts by actively and interactively engaging with them. Addressing their specific and legitimate concerns has a chance of success if the concepts have merit. Insultingly likening customers to allegedly stupid animals isn’t going to convince anyone. Besides, the point has little validity. Armadillos have 20 species, are currently dramatically increasing their territory in North America, and have been around rather longer than humans. Maybe we should wait until we’ve been around a few tens of millions of years longer before we get too cocky about how terrible those stupid armadillos are at surviving. Edit: Shaan has responded to this post on his own blog, deleted my reply and closed comments. He seems rather upset about something. Edit: …and has now restored my comment and opened comments again.

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Let’s have your AutoCAD WS 1.6 reviews

Autodesk has just released the latest iteration of its free online CAD app, AutoCAD WS. It’s available directly via your browser or as iOS, Mac or Android apps. This is the closest Autodesk has yet come to showing us what real CAD in the Cloud can do. Autodesk has now had three years’ work behind it since buying the company responsible for this technology. I’d like you to put aside any Cloud concerns you may have and give it a fair go. Please try it out and report back what you find in a mini-review. How well does it work? The customer stories are all from organisations using it as a viewer or for simple markup edits. Is that all it can do, or does it come close to deserving to have CAD in its name? What do I want you to try? It’s up to you, but I don’t want to waste too much of your time. Why not have a go at something that would only take you a couple of minutes in any AutoCAD release from the last quarter of a century? For example, I’m sure everyone here could start a new drawing using a template containing your company’s layer standards, insert a title block and populate a couple of the attributes, then accurately draw and dimension a single 2D view of a rectangular plate containing a single round hole. Try to do the equivalent in AutoCAD WS. If you have difficulty with that, try uploading a simple drawing and perform a few simple edits instead. How did that go? I’ll be interested to see what you came across at each stage of the process. Was the setup process straightforward? What was easy to do in the WS editor? What was difficult? What was impossible? What worked well? What didn’t? What happened quickly?…

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Carl Bass confirms Cloud-only future for Autodesk – or does he?

As reported by Joe Francica (via WorldCAD Access), Carl Bass has confirmed, in a somewhat ambiguous way, that his Cloud-only vision rules at Autodesk. I do believe that everything is moving to the cloud. But… There are a lot of applications that will [still] be done on the desktop. Whether Autodesk does it or not, I can’t think of a single function that won’t necessarily be done in the cloud. Still a bit confused? Me too. It’s not clear where this leaves his underlings who have been rushing to contradict Carl’s earlier statements by unambiguously reassuring customers that Autodesk would continue to provide desktop software. Will they now come out with “clarifying” statements that fall into line with whatever it is Carl’s saying here? I doubt it, that would be just too embarrassing. I suspect we’ll see things go very quiet on this subject for a while. Now we know (or do we?) it’s full steam ahead with desktop dismantlement, what about all those Cloud concerns? Carl does the standard Cloud PR thing of “addressing” that question by restating some of the concerns, ignoring others, but not coming up with answers for any of them other than expressing a vague hope that some of them will go away: Foremost in people’s mind is security, privacy, reliability, confidential information. Some of those concerns will fall by the wayside. Asked to come up with a compelling reason for customers to embrace the Cloud, he didn’t: In many cases, for anyone to move to any technology platform you have to do more than what people have today. So what’s the compelling event? I think what you will see in the cloud is that it will look like every other disruptive technology. Some people will downplay it. Some will poo poo it. More of the same, then. It’s disruptive, but…

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MDT users and other Autodesk orphans, let’s have your good news stories!

I was going to ignore this subject, but I’ve changed my mind because it allows me to post something positive about Autodesk. After all, I do try to post positive things; it’s hardly my fault that Autodesk has a habit of making it difficult. In upFront eZine #756, Autodesk’s Andrew Anagnost (or was it Clay Helm?) had the following to say, and must say I agree totally with the first sentence: The best evidence is how we have behaved historically. When we included Mechanical Desktop with Inventor, the media complained that we were killing Mechanical Desktop; you were probably one of them. But we didn’t; we came out with six, seven more releases of it, completely free. So, MDT users, you’re the poster child for how Autodesk looks after its customers. You’re also evidence for how wrong those nasty media naysayers can be. So here’s your opportunity to offer your gratitude to Autodesk for looking after you so well and giving you all that completely free software. Or perhaps you’re the user of another Autodesk product that fell out of fashion or was deemed a technological dead end (like desktop software, apparently). Let’s hear your good news stories about how well Autodesk treated you and your investment. If you don’t want to add a comment, there’s a poll over on the right. I look forward to seeing the “Brilliantly” option show a near-100% rating!

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Autodesk’s social media consultant spills the beans

Ever wondered why Autodesk is putting so much emphasis on social media these days? Why AutoCAD needs Facebook and Twitter commands? It’s because Autodesk pays social media consultants lots of money to tell them about the importance of social media, and how to be social and media-ish. In this video, one of those consultants explains the process:

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Who is telling the truth in Autodesk’s Cloud PR trainwreck?

Does Autodesk intend to move all its applications exclusively to the Cloud? That is, online only and no longer available on the desktop? Autodesk people who say yes: Carl Bass, CEO Phil Bernstein, Vice President, Building Industry Strategy and Relations Scott Sheppard, Autodesk Labs Software Development Manager (with private Cloud caveat) Autodesk people who say no: Kenneth Pimentel, Director, Visual Communications Solutions Andrew Anagnost, Senior Vice President of Industry Strategy and Marketing Clay Helm, Public Relations Manager for Manufacturing, Cross-Platform, Sustainability, and Consumers Various other underlings who make reassuring but non-specific noises about expanded choice, or who admit to inconvenient impracticalities There’s huge irony in the way Clay (or Andrew) attempts to paint the shafting of MDT customers as a we’ll-look-after-you example, but I think that’s a deliberate distraction tactic; other than this comment I’m going to ignore it. I’m ignoring, too, the spin about informal interviews, misinterpretation and the like. There’s a black-and-white contradiction here. Autodesk either intends to move all its applications online and away from the desktop, or it doesn’t. Two men say they’re Jesus One of ’em must be wrong Dire Straits – Industrial Disease So who do we believe? Last time I looked at an org chart, the CEO trumped the lot. The buck stops with Carl. So why is he letting his underlings go around undermining his Cloudy Vision? I see the following possibilities: Autodesk is going Cloud-only but it’s supposed to be a secret. Carl let it slip out and the underlings have been sent to try to cover the tracks by confusing and obfuscating. Autodesk is going Cloud-only, Carl had it right, but the underlings haven’t all been told yet and are incorrect in their “corrections”. Autodesk isn’t going Cloud only and Carl was just making stuff up on the fly. Why?…

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Why owning stuff is still important

Let’s start with a few questions: Do you own your home or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why? Do you own your car or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why? Do you own your TV or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why? Do you own your computer or rent it? Given the choice, what would you prefer? Why? If you’re like me, you answered the same for most or all of those questions. I own all of the above and rent none of it. I prefer owning all of the above. Why? Three Cs: Continuity. If I own my home, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be able to go on living in it as long as I like. There are exceptions (wars, natural disasters, etc.), but ownership is generally much safer than renting if it’s important to retain access in the long term. This is because it removes the significant possibility that the owner may eventually terminate the agreement for reasons of their own, or make the relationship financially impractical. Control. If I rent my home, for example, there are strict limits on what I can do with it. I can’t just install an air conditioner if the place gets too hot in summer. The owners or their representatives can come calling to make sure I’m looking after it as they desire. If I want to keep pets or smoke in the property, my options are severely limited. Cost. There’s a reason people invest in property to rent out to others, or run profitable multinational businesses hiring out cars. It makes sense to be on the side of the relationship that’s taking the money rather than the one that’s paying it out. In other words, it usually makes…

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Why Autodesk’s Cloud push will fail, part 1 – failure defined

It’s probably unwise to make predictions about what is going to happen in technology. If so, I’m about to be unwise. So be it; if I’m wrong you can taunt me about this post in a few years. Here’s my prediction: Autodesk’s attempt to move CAD users onto the Cloud is doomed to failure. This is the first of a series of posts that will examine what I mean by that and the reasons behind it. The first thing that’s important to lay out is what I mean by failure. What I mean is that reality will not match Autodesk’s expectation of what will happen with its products moving to the Cloud. What expectation is that? I’d say two to three years from now, every one of our products will be used online. The only way to use them will be online. Carl Bass, April 2012, TechCrunch interview So let’s say you’re an AutoCAD user. A successful Cloud push by Autodesk will mean that you and very large numbers of people just like you be using AutoCAD or an equivalent Autodesk product on the Cloud by 2014 or 2015. If that doesn’t happen for you and all the other users of Autodesk products, then that’s failure by definition. Autodesk will have failed to meet its own publicly stated goal, and that’s exactly what I’m expecting to happen. While it might look to a Cloudophile that I’m swimming against the tide of inevitability, I’m not alone here. Let’s examine what this blog’s poll respondents think about the chances of them using CAD in the Cloud: (Snapshot taken a couple of weeks ago; more votes but no percentage change since then). The poll has been running for nearly a year and attracted a sizeable number of votes. More than half of the…

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Dilbert and the Cloud

I have an Autodesk-related Dilbert story to share. Back in the late 90s, I was visiting Autodesk’s San Rafael offices (at Autodesk’s expense) and had an appointment to see a product manager. There was some confusion when I arrived at Reception, but after a few phone calls I was shown into a meeting room containing the manager and a lot of other Autodesk people. However, the open mouths told me that they were discussing very confidential stuff. They were clearly shocked and horrified that an outsider had been allowed into that particular room at that particular time, even though I had signed an NDA and was due to spend that day giving some important future software a very thorough going-over. The manager quickly shuffled me off to his own office and let me know he would be back as soon as the meeting concluded. I waited a while, staring into space. I did this for a while, but eventually got very bored and looked around for something to read to keep myself amused. Ignoring what was probably a lot of highly confidential paperwork, I discovered a Dilbert book and proceeded to read it. I became a fan right there and then. I also found myself respecting a manager who could see the funny side of the sort of management stupidity that is so effectively and bitingly satirised by Scott Adams. Somebody who buys a Dilbert book, I thought, is the sort of manager I can happily work with. When he eventually returned, I thanked him for the uninvited use of his book and asked him what he thought of it. It turned out that he hadn’t bought the book himself. It had been presented to him as a gift. From his underlings. Oh dear. Fortunately, he hadn’t yet read it. I…

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Autodesk buys more social media stuff

Following up on its acquisition of Socialcam (which was then abandoned by 50 million users), Autodesk has acquired social media platform Qontext from Indian company Pramati. What exactly is this? I have no idea. I tried to find out by reading the Pramati site, but it’s so heavily obscured in trendy but vague corporatespeak it’s hard to work out anything firm. I played Buzzword Bingo while reading the site and won within seconds. Maybe the Autodesk statement clarifies things? “Mobile, cloud and social computing are dramatically changing the way engineers, designers and architects work. The addition of the Qontext technology to the Autodesk portfolio will lead to new technology innovations that help our customers embrace these disruptive technologies and leverage them for competitive advantage,” said Amar Hanspal, Autodesk senior vice president of information modeling and platform products. “It was great to work with the team at Pramati who have demonstrated a great capability in incubating disruptive businesses.” Well, that’s cleared that up, then. Apparently, Autodesk has bought a bunch of buzzwords. Must have been running short of them or something. I hope it was worth it.

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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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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 Exchange bites the dust

Three years ago, I was happy to promote Autodesk’s then-new site AutoCAD Exchange. However, Autodesk has now given up on this attempt to maintain a social site of its own. My comment at the time, “AutoCAD Exchange is an important and potentially very useful site for AutoCAD users” turned out to be optimistic. I was closer to the mark with “It has yet to be seen if Autodesk manages to develop a real community on this site”. Now we’ve seen the answer. No, it didn’t. Autodesk has instead handed control to more socially successful sites, as this message indicates: Thank you for visiting AutoCAD Exchange. In an effort to consolidate our online AutoCAD community efforts to more popular networks, we will be migrating AutoCAD Exchange content and activities to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Through the AutoCAD Facebook page we provide tips & tricks, tutorial videos and opportunities to engage with the employees at Autodesk that have helped build the product from the ground up. We look forward to interacting with you on our social properties. AutoCAD  on Facebook AutoCAD on Twitter AutoCAD on YouTube Note:AutoCAD Plant Exchange will continue on this site, providing updates, content packs, and productivity tools. Click the Plant Exchange tab or visit www.autodesk.com/plantexchange. If you are at a corporate location it’s quite likely that Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are strictly off-limits, so I guess your AutoCAD-based social life just fell in a hole. OK, it was a worthy attempt which didn’t work, and it’s understandable that Autodesk pulled the plug. It was by no means the first Autodesk failed venture and it won’t be the last. Companies need to try out new things and nobody succeeds all the time. Apple Newton, anyone? Windows Me? IBM PCjr? AutoCAD for Mac? (The original attempt, that is. Jury is still out…

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LISP programmers, have your say again

Autodesk wants your input again in its annual API survey. This used to be a closed survey for Autodesk Developer Network (ADN) members, but has been open to all for the last few years. If you do any AutoCAD-based development at all, I encourage you to take part. That includes those of us who do most of our development in LISP. Here’s the direct link to the survey. As you can see if you click the link, there’s a lot of stuff in there that assumes you’re keen to get developing for AutoCAD WS. If you’re not quite so filled with Cloudy enthusiasm and would prefer Autodesk to expend its resources elsewhere (on fixing and improving Visual LISP, for example), please fill in the short survey and say so. It closes on 22 June, so you only have a week. Why bother, when it’s obvious that Autodesk is determined to ignore to death its most popular API regardless of whatever anyone says or does? I’m not sure, really. Maybe I’m an eternal optimist. (Ha!) Maybe I just want them to at least feel slightly guilty about sticking their fingers in their ears and going “LALALALALA! NOT LISTENING! WE HAVE A VISION, NOT LISTENING! LALALALALA!”

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Cloud concerns – Security – Autodesk puts its arguments on line

I’ve made the point before that while Cloud proponents like Autodesk have been happy to talk big on the potential benefits, they have been conspicuously (suspiciously?) silent on the legitimate concerns their customers have raised. The best responses you have been likely to see regarding such concerns can best be characterised as “glossing over”. So it’s good to see that Autodesk has put together a white-paper-type-thing called Autodesk® 360: Work Wherever You Are – Safely. This 275 KB PDF, with 5 pages of actual content, puts Autodesk’s point of view about one of the aspects of Cloud that people commonly raise as a concern. This is a good start, but of course there are quite a few potential dealbreakers that need addressing yet. How well does this document address this issue? As you’d expect from Autodesk, it’s gung-ho positive, but there is at least some acknowledgement of Cloud concerns, e.g. “Customer experiences, however, can be largely impacted by the speed and quality of their Internet connection”. In addition to such occasional connections with the real world, there are some categorical assurances that may make some potential users happier. Here are some examples: Autodesk 360 is delivered from data centers in the United States. Files and identities are safe during storage, transit, and usage. As part of Autodesk‟s due diligence for customer security and protection, prospective Autodesk personnel with potential access to sensitive data are screened through background checks before being employed. Once purged, your data may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time but will not be recovered or read by anyone. Customers own the content they create. While that’s all well and good, Autodesk needs to get its legal team reading off the same page and fix up its terms and conditions to make them less…

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Autodesk edges towards taking money for Cloud services

In an email to Subscription customers, Autodesk made several announcements about its Autodesk 360 Cloud services. Subscription users now get 25 GB per seat of Cloud storage, up from 3 GB. Non-Subscription users who create an Autodesk 360 account get 3 GB. The intent here, as with the trebling of upgrade costs, is to get you hooked on Subscription so you become a permanent revenue stream. More services are now available, apparently, but the list of services looks about the same to me. The table that lists which services are available for which products can be found here. If you’re an AutoCAD user, the only service available is Autodesk 360 Rendering. The services are now metered. You get a certain number of “cloud units”, and these are eaten up as you use the services. A standard AutoCAD user (with Subscription) gets 100 units. Each render costs you 5 units, so effectively you get 20 on-line renders per seat. That’s enough for a taster, but if Cloud rendering is as brilliant as Autodesk says it is, you’ll soon use that allocation up. The metering doesn’t mean anything – yet. If you use up all your units, it doesn’t matter. You can go on using more of them as long as you’re on Subscription. This free lunch will end as soon as Autodesk says so, or as soon as it puts a mechanism in place to charge you for units. No news yet on when that might be, but as parting you from your money is obviously the whole point of the exercise, I can’t imagine it will be too far in the future. Autodesk reserves the right to change all of this without notice, and to terminate access to Autodesk 360 services at any time and for any reason.

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Autodesk’s Kean about moving to the Cloud

Autodesk’s API guru Kean Walmsley is the second Autodesk person I’ve seen who has been brave enough to stick his head above the parapet by discussing the Cloud, in writing, and in a medium that allows for public comment. Kean has always seemed like a straight shooter to me. Please note that his blog represents his personal opinions rather than an official Autodesk position. He’s after your comments, so please go and let him know what you think on his post. Add your comments here if you’re more comfortable with that, and I’ll make sure Kean sees them.

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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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