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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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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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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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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The worst feature ever added to AutoCAD is…

…the Ribbon, according to your selections in the What are the worst features ever added to AutoCAD? poll. As in the best ever poll, the winner (loser?) in this race had no serious competition. I’ve listed eleven top (bottom?) features here rather than ten, partly because the popular (unpopular?) choice Memory Overuse isn’t exactly a feature. But it’s mainly because I’d hate to see Action Recorder unfairly miss out on a well-deserved mention. Ribbon (30%) CUI (20%) Help (on line / 2012) (18%) Memory Overuse (17%) AutoCAD Today (2000i/2002) (16%) White / Cream Drawing Background (16%) Unreconciled Layers (16%) Nudge (10%) Blipmode (9%) Proxy Object Compatibility (9%) Action Recorder (8%) Given the reception the Ribbon received when it was introduced, maybe it’s unsurprising to see it top the lists here. Cloud observers may find it interesting to note that that Autodesk’s attempt to move AutoCAD’s Help on line has been very poorly received. Yo Autodesk with your Cloud an’ all, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but on-line Help has been voted one of the worst features of all time! Of all time! The dislike of the intrusive, useful-to-some but short-lived AutoCAD Today feature remains strong a decade later. Light drawing backgrounds remain unpopular, which should not be a surprise to anyone, except maybe some people at Autodesk who thought it was a good idea to rehash old mistakes in a new and exciting way (“This time it’s magnolia!“). History, doomed to repeat, etc. As for poor old Action Recorder, that has to be the ultimate brochure feature. It’s something for Autodesk to boast about rather than something for customers to actually use; “We responded to customer requests and fulfilled AUGI wishlists for a macro recorder!” Well, you did, kind of, by giving us something that’s about as useful as a chocolate…

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(so (long (and (thanks (for (all (the (parentheses))))))))

A few days ago, John McCarthy died at the age of 84. He didn’t make a fortune selling gadgets, he just profoundly affected the world of computing. He will be remembered mainly as the father of LISP, without which it is quite possible that AutoCAD and Autodesk would not have survived beyond the 80s. However, his original thinking went well beyond the development of a language. For example, 50 years ago he came up with an idea that is very relevant to what we are actively discussing today: In 1961, he was the first to publicly suggest (in a speech given to celebrate MIT’s centennial) that computer time-sharing technology might lead to a future in which computing power and even specific applications could be sold through the utility business model (like water or electricity). This idea of a computer or information utility was very popular in the late 1960s, but faded by the mid-1990s. However, since 2000, the idea has resurfaced in new forms (see application service provider, grid computing, and cloud computing.) (Credit: Wikipedia) Back to LISP, I still use John’s antique language today. It’s still the best language choice for the vast majority of the development I do. Thanks, John.

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Taking control of your command line history

Thanks to Kean Walmsley’s post on his Through the Interface blog, I have learned something that would have been handy to know for the last decade or so, but which somehow escaped my knowledge. I learned how to increase the size of AutoCAD’s command line history cache. It defaults to 400 lines, which isn’t enough for me. I think this information deserves a wider audience than the ubergeek developers who frequent Kean’s blog, so here goes. Although it’s not directly mentioned on Kean’s post, you can find the current command line history cache length setting like this: (getenv “CmdHistLines”) This will return a value showing the number of command lines AutoCAD remembers, e.g. “400”. Although this is used as an integer value, it is passed to and from the Registry as a string. You can set a new value as shown below. Again, use a string, and note that values outside the range 25 to 2048 will be ignored: (setenv “CmdHistLines” “2048”) Also, if you don’t like AutoCAD repeatedly stopping during a long listing (e.g. SETVAR ? *), you can turn off that feature by setting the QAFLAGS system variable to 2. Don’t set it to 8191 as suggested in Kean’s post, because that will change a lot of other settings, few of which are documented publicly.

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Old news – shipping version of ClassicArray released

I have been somewhat neglectful of this blog lately, including a failure to mention that my ClassicArray™ plug-in for AutoCAD 2012 has been shipping since 1 May 2011. Thank you to those people from various places around the world who have been prepared to go to the effort of registering and paying for the product. Here are some details of the product taken from the ClassicArray page: ClassicArray is a simple-to use but powerful tool for creating arrays in AutoCAD. Provides a dialog box interface to AutoCAD 2012’s Array command. The familiar interface method provides continuity with earlier releases. Supports the creation of both associative and traditional non-associative arrays. Provides an in-dialog preview panel to give you a quick idea of what your array will look like before any objects are created. Allows creation of a preview array which can be accepted, rejected or modified before the desired array is finally chosen. Base objects can be incorporated into the array or left intact as desired using a simple toggle. Allows simple creation of 3D arrays. Comprehensive Help is available from within the dialog box. Provides Ribbon tabs and toolbars, separated into associative and non-associative sections. Setup routines are provided that support either all users (requires admin rights) or the current user (no admin rights required). Uninstallation is via the standard Windows Control Panel methods (Uninstall a Program, Add/Remove Programs). Uses AutoCAD 2012’s new Plug-in feature to provide application behavior consistent with other add-ins. Acts as a workaround for various AutoCAD 2012 Array bugs and limitations. Supports AutoCAD 2012 for Windows and vertical products derived from it. Sorry, due to Autodesk API restrictions ClassicArray can support neither AutoCAD LT nor AutoCAD for Mac. See the ClassicArray Help page if you want to see a full description of the product, including screenshots. One…

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AutoCAD 2012 – Autoloader mechanism for plug-ins

One of the less obvious features introduced by AutoCAD 2012 is the Autoloader mechanism that has been provided to make installation of plug-ins (current standard Autodeskspeak for add-ons, apps, utilities, routines, etc.) easier for both developers and users. It may not be immediately obvious, but it’s a useful and important addition. This mechanism has nothing to do with the AppLoad command, the Startup Suite, acad*.lsp, the (autoload) function or anything else that existed in earlier releases. This is completely new, it has not replaced or broken any of the existing loading mechanisms, and is, in short, A Good Thing. Developers don’t have to use it, but those who do, and their customers, will have certain advantages. I have used it for the ClassicArray loading mechanism, and I expect to see it used by more and more plug-ins over time. It works fine with all of the usual AutoCAD add-on APIs, including LISP. User perspective As a user, what this means is that for AutoCAD and related applications from 2012 on, there is a standard loading mechanism for plug-ins. The installation should be straightforward, with no multi-step processes to go through for different AutoCAD variants and releases. The result of the installation should automatically present itself in a standard way, with a short-lived welcome bubble, an extra panel in the new Plug-ins Ribbon tab, plus any other interface additions the developer wants to provide. If you subsequently install another AutoCAD variant or release, the plug-in will automatically appear in that variant with no further user action required, as long as that AutoCAD variant is supported by the plug-in. Developer perspective What this means for me as a developer is that I have much less to worry about in terms of installation. All that needs to be done to make the loading…

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ClassicArray Release Candidate 2

I have now posted the second Release Candidate of ClassicArray™ (version number 0.7.0). The main changes from the first Release Candidate (0.6.0) are: Help documentation, which you can also view here, now describes how to resolve an AutoCAD CUIx loading problem. (The problem is not specific to ClassicArray and can affect any CUIx file that is removed or relocated. More on that in a future blog post). Timebomb mechanism now works 15 days after first use rather than a specific date. Also now allows the interface to still be used (but no arrays to be created) once the evaluation period has expired. About dialog enhanced to show registration information and to provide access to a new registration dialog. Barring disasters, I intend to release ClassicArray in this exact form (except for updating the version number to 1.0.0) in about a week. Please see either www.classicarray.com or the main ClassicArray Beta post for the download, and provide feedback either as a comment on that post or in an email.

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ClassicArray Release Candidate – massive download bloat

I have just posted the Release Candidate of ClassicArray™ (version number 0.6.0). The main changes from Beta 2 (0.5.0) are: Setup executables have been provided to provide easier installation and uninstallation. Pretty comprehensive Help documentation is now in place, which you can also view here if you want to learn about the product without installing it. Bug fixed with Path preview not displaying accurately when no path is selected. Minor cosmetic dialog box fixes. Timebomb has been moved on 7 days to 28 April. Regrettably, the download file size has blown out to 787 KB because of the inclusion of the Help files and setup executables. There are two setup choices; one for all users (requires admin rights) and one for the current user only (admin rights not required). When installing the Release Candidate, it is not necessary to uninstall the Beta first. I would appreciate any feedback you might have, particularly on installation and uninstallation. If there are no significant problems reported with this version, I intend to release it in this form, except for version information and the timebomb mechanism. Please see the main ClassicArray Beta post for the download, and add any comments there.

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ClassicArray pricing proposal

I am considering the following pricing model for ClassicArray™ when it’s released: Individual licenses: $12 Up to 20-user license: $100 Up to 50-user license: $200 Up to 100-user license: $300 Unlimited site license: $500 Prices in US$, payment by PayPal, delivery by download only. Australian purchasers would have to pay 10% GST on top of that. Comments? Suggestions?

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ClassicArray Beta 2 (0.5.0)

I have just posted the second public Beta of ClassicArray™ (version number 0.5.0). There are some documentation updates (still no Help, though), and the main changes are: Bugs fixed with rectangular arrays where single-row and/or column arrays confused AutoCAD. The command now remembers its settings from one invocation to the next, within a single drawing session. Timebomb has been moved on 7 days to 21 April. The ReadMe.txt file in the zip explains how to uninstall the old version. Simply delete the old ClassicArray.bundle folder from the place you put it. Replace it with the new ClassicArray.bundle folder from the later zip file. Then try to break it! Please see the main ClassicArray Beta post for the download, and add any comments there.

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AutoCAD 2012 – ClassicArray Beta

People have already started to notice that AutoCAD 2012 has killed the dialog box interface for the Array command, and not everybody is happy about it. So I guess it’s time to launch ClassicArray™ Beta. ClassicArray is an add-on for AutoCAD 2012 for Windows that allows the creation of arrays using a dialog box interface similar to that provided in AutoCAD from 2000 to 2011, but enhanced to include new AutoCAD 2012 functionality. I will create another post later have created a Help page that describes ClassicArray more fully, but for now here are the commands ClassicArray adds to AutoCAD: ClassicArray (short form CA) ClassicArrayRect (short form CAR) ClassicArrayPolar (short form CAP) ClassicArraypAth (short form CAA) In addition, there are the same names with N appended, which default to creating non-associative arrays. For example, ClassicArraypAthN (short form CAAN) will create a non-associative path array. However, it is easy to create associative or non-associative arrays of any type, whatever command you use to start it. Toolbar and Ribbon buttons are provided. Help is currently non-functional now complete. This pre-release software is time-bombed, meaning it will no longer work after the date shown below. Here it is to download: ClassicArray.1.0.0.zip (Shipping product – 850 KB – will not create arrays after 15 day evaluation period ClassicArray.0.7.0.zip (Release Candidate 2 – 850 KB – will not create arrays after 15 day evaluation period) ClassicArray.0.6.0.zip (Release Candidate – 787 KB – will not work after 28 April 2011) ClassicArray.0.5.0.zip (49 KB – will not work after 21 April 2011) ClassicArray.0.4.2.zip (48 KB – will not work after 14 April 2011) It’s a small zip file; unzip it and read the readme to see what to do with it run the setup routine of your choice, depending on whether you want to install it for just the current user or for all users. Installation…

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Autodesk for Mac – the hole story

You may remember my pre-release speculation about what was likely to be missing from the Mac version of AutoCAD 2011. It turns out that my list was pretty accurate as far as it went, but very incomplete. In a move that I can only applaud, Autodesk has now published its own list of missing Mac features. It includes this statement: Although AutoCAD 2011 for Mac is based on AutoCAD 2011, it was written to be a native Mac application. As such, it is a new and separate product and not simply a port from the Windows version. In the first release of this new product, there are some features and functionality that exist in AutoCAD 2011 that are not yet available in AutoCAD 2011 for Mac, including (but not limited to): This is followed by a list of over 80 holes in the product. Many of them are minor, but the number of absent but important features is quite an eye-opener. I really can’t imagine anyone who is used to the Windows-based product being content with AutoCAD for Mac 2011 if forced to switch by a Apple-centric boss. Hardware, great. OS, fine. App, not so much. I expect future releases will gradually fill many of those holes, but Autodesk isn’t promising that. For now, I can state that at least one of my dire predictions was spot-on. AutoCAD for Mac is indeed half-baked. Autodesk has stated that the Mac version is the same price as the Windows version, despite being incomplete, because Mac users (particularly architects) won’t notice the missing stuff. That may be true (if somewhat insulting to architects and fanboys) or not, but it definitely doesn’t apply to the rest of us. Existing AutoCAD users, have a look at the list. What in there would be a dealbreaker…

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Executive summary of Deelip’s AutoCAD for Mac interview

Deelip has just published an extensive interview with several Autodesk people about AutoCAD for the Mac. Deelip had a good set of questions and I suggest you read the whole thing, but if it’s all too tl;dr for you, then here is the lazy reader’s version of what Autodesk had to say: The AutoCAD code was split up into 3 sections: the core CAD engine (platform-independent), the Windows-specific (MFC) parts and the Mac-specific (Cocoa) ones. AutoCAD for Mac is incomplete. Choosing which features to leave out was done with the aid of CIP (oh, dear) and Beta feedback. (Hang on a minute, I thought CIP said most people were using the Ribbon…) No comment on when or if AutoCAD for Mac functionality will catch up with its Windows counterpart. No comment on the stability or performance of the Mac version. Buying Visual Tau wasn’t a complete waste of money. If Mac users want Windows-level functionality, they should use Bootcamp. The Mac version is intended to expand the AutoCAD market to those Mac users who are frustrated by Bootcamp or who find it too hard. Some mind-blowing spin was attempted in a valiant but vain attempt to explain away the Ribbon = productivity, Mac <> Ribbon marketing problem. You will really have to read it for yourself, as I can’t do it justice here. But “just because 2+2=4 doesn’t mean 4-2=2” will give you some idea of what to expect. The Mac version is the same price as the Windows version, despite being incomplete, because Mac users won’t know or care about the missing stuff. There are no plans for a Linux port, or any other platforms. Autodesk will wait and see how AutoCAD for Mac does before porting any of the vertical products. (Very sensible). Autodesk closed off the AutoCAD…

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Another language pack cleanup solution

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

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Civil 3D 2011 ANZ comes complete with “virus”

If you install Civil 3D 2011 using the ANZ (Australia/New Zealand) profile, when you start it up for the first time, you will see a large warning indicating that the drawing requires an Asian language pack to be installed. It also warns that this is a symptom of the acad.vlx virus: Now I know that in this case it’s not an actual virus causing the problem, but rather the ANZ template drawing being “infected” with this Language Pack requirement. I have had to deal with quite a few incoming drawings in this state, and that’s painful enough without Autodesk also infecting every Australasian Civil 3D drawing with the problem. Other profiles may be similarly infected, but at the moment I don’t know. Edit: Matt Anderson reports that the problem occurs on US systems too. Autodesk, I suggest that as a matter of great urgency you create a clean ANZ template file, post it as a hotfix and warn all your Civil 3D customers of the SNAFU. Neither “install the language pack” nor “turn off the warning” are adequate workarounds. Your customers do not want to send out or receive any drawings in this state. Beyond the immediate issue of Autodesk shipping software that on first use warns the user that they may have a virus (and encourages the creation of drawings that spread that warning far and wide), I would appreciate some assistance in dealing with “infected” drawings, whether in Civil 3D or plain AutoCAD. First, I need to be able to detect such drawings using LISP so I ensure they are rejected rather than allowed into our drawing management system, and this detection will need to work in releases at least as far back as AutoCAD 2004. Second, I need a mechanism of cleaning up such drawings. The only…

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Programmers, have your say

Autodesk wants your input in its annual API survey. What used to be a closed survey for Autodesk Developer Network (ADN) members has been open to all for the last couple of years, and if you do any Autodesk-based development at all I encourage you to take part. Yes, that includes those of us who do most of our development in LISP. In fact, I am especially keen to see LISP developers adequately represented in this survey. This is a one-page survey and it doesn’t take long. The full list of API surveys is on Kean Walmsley’s Through the Interface blog. Most of you would be interested in the AutoCAD survey, so here’s a direct link to that. Kean assures us that our feedback will not fall on deaf ears, although I have yet to see any evidence of that in terms of any change to Autodesk’s decade-long policy of total LISP neglect. I guess many of us gave up hope of any improvement years ago and can’t be bothered providing feedback any more. Please don’t give up. Fill in the survey and let Autodesk know you still exist.

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