Autodesk desktop app. Worst. Name. Ever. Is the product better than the name?

Autodesk wants your software to be automatically updated so you’re always running the latest version. Let’s pretend for a moment that this is a good idea and have a look at how Autodesk now attempts to do this. For the previous couple of releases (2015/2016), this has been done using Autodesk Application Manager. For 2017, this has been replaced by Autodesk desktop app. Even if you haven’t installed any 2017 products, you may have already seen this kind of thing pop up. Repeatedly. Note how there’s no obvious “stop nagging me and leave me alone” option. Autodesk Application Manager’s settings page does include an Alerts tab which allows you to turn off all desktop alerts, but the above message indicates Application Manager has suffered an “end of life” experience so there’s not much point having it on your system. Before I get onto the new product and how it works, I want to discuss its name. It’s woeful. I have never been less whelmed by any product name than Autodesk desktop app. It’s not even Autodesk Desktop App, it’s Autodesk desktop app (sans initial capitals). It’s dull, generic, uninspired,  and it means nothing. AutoCAD is an Autodesk desktop app. Inventor is an Autodesk desktop app. Graphic Impact used to be an Autodesk desktop app. This is the equivalent of Ford naming their next new car “Ford road vehicle”. It says to me, “We couldn’t come up with a name so we just gave up.” Having got that off my chest, what about the product itself? What does it do? According to Autodesk, this: Autodesk desktop app is a content delivery solution. The desktop component installs with Microsoft Windows®-based Autodesk 2017 products and suites. It replaces the previous in-product update components and the Autodesk Application Manager.   Autodesk desktop app keeps…

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Autodesk Answer Day – 18 May 2016

Autodesk is encouraging you to use the Autodesk Community (formerly know as forums, discussion groups, newsgroups, etc.) to get answers to your questions by setting up a special day where Autodesk people will attend and be responsive. I don’t know if this includes responding to people’s concerns over Autodesk ending the sale of perpetual licenses, but it’s worth a try anyway. The forum for discussing that particular issue is somewhat hidden. It doesn’t appear among the list of forums, so you would only know it existed if you happened to pick on the Installation and Licensing link and had a look at the header to see the Perpetual License Changes link. But now you know it’s there, you can go and ask your questions. Meaningful answers are not guaranteed. Here is the announcement. When is this event, exactly? Join us at our first “Big Bang” Answer Day online event on Wednesday, May 18th from 6:00am to 6:00pm Pacific Time. Pacific Time is currently UTC (GMT) -7 hours, so for people outside North America, that means UTC 1 PM Wednesday 18 May to 1 AM Thursday 19 May. To calculate the times in your own location, I suggest using the very handy timeanddate.com site.

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Shout out to Robert McNeel & Associates

Let’s start the rebirth of this blog on a positive note. I’d like to express my gratitude to Robert McNeel & Associates for what must surely be the most outstanding example of long-term customer service in the CAD industry. These days, McNeel is best known for the 3D modelling software Rhino. I have heard good things about this product, but have never used it. However, I am a long-term user of another McNeel product, DOSLib. This is an extensive set of functions that adds greatly to the functionality of AutoLISP. It all works very well and has saved me many hours of work that I would have spent reproducing that functionality. Of course, many LISP programmers could write functions to calculate a cube root, or read a text file, or display a date in whatever format you like, or copy files, or generate a GUID, or toggle the Caps Lock status, or display an HTML file, or return a list of OLE objects in the drawing, or display a multi-select file dialog, or return a list of Windows printers, or a hundred other handy things. The point is, they don’t have to because all that has been done for them and handed over for nothing. The documentation is straightforward and accurate, and is provided in the form of a good old-fashioned local CHM file. This Help system may be unfashionable, but it remains infinitely superior to the still-awful system that paying AutoCAD customers have had to put up with for the last few years. For those investigating alternatives to AutoCAD for whatever reason, the availability of DOSLib for Bricscad may help make that particular alternative a more attractive proposition. Despite McNeel and Autodesk breaking ties many years ago, McNeel’s Dale Fugier has continued to provide, maintain and improve DOSLib. What’s more, DOSLib has…

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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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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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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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Autodesk confirms outrageous upgrade price increase

As I indicated in May, Autodesk will be increasing the cost of upgrades to 70% of the full retail cost of a new license. This renders it totally pointless upgrading Autodesk software at all, which is obviously Autodesk’s intention. This change probably won’t affect many people, as those who have chosen to stick with Autodesk despite everything have already been effectively forced onto Subscription. Anyway, here’s the confirmation from Autodesk: In early 2013 Autodesk will simplify the current upgrade pricing model, which may affect pricing and/or eligibility for upgrades.  Autodesk is providing advance notice to help ease the transition and ensure that customers have enough time to plan and budget for any impact to your organization.  As part of this change, Autodesk will be simplifying upgrades into a single offering available for licenses that are 1-6 versions old at a discount of 30% off new license SRP*.  Under the new upgrade program, product versions 2007-2012 are eligible for upgrade pricing and product versions older than 2007 will no longer be eligible for upgrade pricing on our standard pricelists. Our records show you may have one or more licenses that may be impacted by these changes. Autodesk is making this policy change to better align with the needs and buying behaviors of our customers.  Many Autodesk customers choose to use Autodesk Subscription as their preferred method of maintaining their Autodesk Software. That last paragraph is just embarrassing. It steps over the line that separates spin from total bullshit. The person who wrote it must have been either cringing (if they have any kind of ethical values) or laughing (if they don’t). The time of Autodesk being straight with its customers is now so far in the past that few customers will be able to remember those days. Those of us who do…

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How good is Autodesk’s customer focus?

Autodesk has grown and prospered by always, as much as possible, placing the customer’s needs foremost. John Walker, 1990, The Autodesk File That was the dominant philosophy back in Autodesk’s ancient history, to the benefit of all. However, is that still the case today? I’m not going to offer an view one way or the other in this post. Instead, I will leave it open to the floor. Good or bad, please comment below using specific examples if you can. If you’re short of time, you can still use the poll on the right to express your opinion.

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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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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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Trusting Autodesk – poll results

I have closed the polls asking if you trusted various companies to do the right thing by their customers. Here is a summary of the results, showing the percentage of “Yes” votes for each company. The most trusted company is at the top, the least trusted is at the bottom. Honda 69% Amazon 65% Target 52% Bricsys 43% Apple 36% Autodesk 23% Remember, this is not a scientific poll and as with all polls and surveys there will be some self-selection bias. Does anyone find anything about the above results surprising?

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ClassicArray Registration Service

When you register ClassicArray, you are supposed to receive an automated response with the registration code. I have not been able to get this working reliably, so for some customers I have been sending out the email manually. Personal circumstances dictate that I will be unable to do this promptly for much of April, so if you purchase ClassicArray and do not receive your code immediately, please accept my apologies in advance. I will also not be able to be very active on this blog for much of April.

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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 – 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 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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Cloud concerns – trust

Using any software involves some degree of trust in the vendor. Using the Cloud requires a much higher level of trust. Autodesk boss Carl Bass is a maker of carefully crafted things, so I’ll use that as an analogy. Using standalone software requires the sort of trust that a maker has in a tool manufacturer. Will the tools work properly and last a long time? Or will they break, potentially damaging the materials or even the user? Using SaaS requires that same kind of trust, plus others. Will the tool manufacturer keep making that tool? If not, will spare parts continue to be available? Will the manufacturer change the tool design so it doesn’t suit your hand any more, or doesn’t work as well on the materials you use? Beyond that, there are some aspects of the relationship that stretch this analogy somewhat. For example, a SaaS vendor resembles a manufacturer that won’t allow you to buy tools, only lease them. Except the manufacturer can change the lease terms or end it any time it likes, and then come into your workshop and take all your tools away. Oh, and this take-your-tools-away right also applies to the company that delivers the tools to your door. Using Cloud storage requires yet further levels of trust. It’s not tool manufacturer trust, it’s bank safety deposit trust. Will your carefully crafted creations be kept safe? Or will they be stolen or damaged? If they are, will you be compensated? If you can’t afford to pay the bank fees or want to use another banker because the teller was rude to you, will the bank politely return your valuables to your safe keeping or transfer them to the new bank? Or will they end up in the dumpster at the back of the bank? Trust is vital.…

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Any Autodesk/Akamai people care to explain this?

Akamai is an Internet/Cloud infrastructure company, used extensively by Autodesk. To be polite, my experiences using its services over several years have been somewhat negative. Back in March, when trying to download the AutoCAD 2012 trial, I went through the usual Akamai download manager struggles before being informed of the wonderful Opera workaround (thanks again, Helper). I thought I’d seen the last of Akamai for a while, but today, while left unattended, Windows threw up this warning: Huh? What is Akamai software trying to do here? I hadn’t asked it to do anything. I’m not downloading Autodesk software or even visiting an Autodesk site. There’s no reason for it to be running at all. Whatever it is, I don’t like it. Time to uninstall anything and everything Akamai, I think; something I should have done back in March. But wait! When I go to uninstall, what do I see? This: Note that the dates are in DD/MM/YYYY format. There’s an application installed back in March, for which I granted permission (unwisely, apparently). OK, but there’s another one installed today! No permission was sought or granted. Right, that’s it. Akamai is now on my brown list, which is not a place anyone wants to be. Nothing in any way related to Akamai will ever be installed any my computer or any computer over which I have influence or control. If Autodesk continues to use Akamai’s services, Autodesk can expect to see continued strong criticism in this area. Unless, of course, somebody from Autodesk and/or Akamai can provide a reasonable explanation of what’s gone on here. Over to you.

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Will Autodesk have to explain itself to the SEC?

The observant among you may have noticed that for many years, Autodesk’s free patches, service packs and updates haven’t added any new functionality. Bugs may get fixed, severe performance issues may be addressed, but design errors generally have to wait for the next release (at the earliest), and new features definitely don’t get added. The last time new functionality was added to AutoCAD in a free maintenance release was Release 13’s c4 update which shipped on 12 February 1996. (There was a public beta available some months earlier; I picked up a copy at Autodesk University 1995). That free update contained not only a host of bug fixes, but also more useful new features than some later full-price upgrades (e.g. AutoCAD 2000i). In an outbreak of outstanding customer service, a c4 CD was shipped free to all registered users. Maybe Autodesk was trying to recover from disastrously shipping Release 13 prematurely, but issuing such a comprehensive update free of charge was still highly commendable. Why did Autodesk stop providing new functionality in free updates? While it involves more work for Autodesk and hardly encourages paid upgrades or Subscription, the reason we’ve been given over the years is that there are accounting regulations that prevent Autodesk from providing new functionality in free updates. This does not apply to benefits from paid Subscription, and various new features for Subscription users have indeed appeared (albeit in fits and starts) over the intervening years. I have to admit that I have always thought that this accounting thing was a pretty unlikely-sounding excuse for Autodesk’s inactivity. This attitude was reinforced by a lack of Autodesk response to my requests for further information about the alleged regulations. Until recently, I didn’t care enough about this matter to bother finding out for myself, but something extraordinary just happened…

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