Cloud concerns – downtime

One concern with any SaaS (Software as a Service) product is the potential for downtime. Is this really an issue? After all, big Cloud vendors have multiple server farms as part of their huge infrastructure investment. This provides redundancy to keep things going even in the event of a major local disaster or two. Cloud vendors have a lot of experience handling things such as power outages, hackers, denial-of-service attacks and the like. Amazon, the vendor currently used by Autodesk, promises an annual uptime of 99.95%.  That’s got to be good enough, surely? Maybe not. The Amazon cloud service has had some noticeable failures, in some cases affecting customers for several days. Amazon may promise a certain average uptime figure, but it provides only credits if it fails to meet its targets. Amazon has been known to be slippery about using fine print to avoid paying those credits, which in any case would go to Autodesk. Joe Drafter, who relies on a Cloud application to do his work and who suffers a significant loss of income and business reputation from a 4-day outage, probably shouldn’t hold his breath while waiting for a big fat compensation check to turn up. But is a Cloud solution really going to be less reliable than what you have now? Nothing’s 100% reliable, including a standalone PC, so what’s the problem? The problem is that with the Cloud, the potential for downtime is in addition to that you currently experience. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the sort of things that could stop you producing a design using traditional software: Power failure at your office Your hardware fails Your operating system fails Your CAD software has problems bad enough to prevent you working Here’s an equivalent similarly non-exhaustive list for a SaaS CAD application: Power failure at your office Your…

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Cloud benefits – collaboration

The “other” C word – collaboration – was super-trendy in a mildly amusing way a couple of years ago, so I hesitate to use it here. But it seems to me that it represents a real potential benefit of CAD on the Cloud. Not just potential, because it’s already here, free for anyone, thanks to AutoCAD WS. The optional ability to put your designs where they can be worked on by those who are contributing to the design, regardless of their location, has to be a good thing, surely? Let’s find out how it’s going in the real world. I’d like to hear from people who have used AutoCAD WS, or tried to use it, in order to collaborate with others. What are the benefits and problems? Does the workflow match your needs, or do issues such as contractual and legal responsibility prevent you from working in this way? Are there practical difficulties in areas such as performance and CAD management? Is AutoCAD WS a good enough CAD tool for this job, or does it have a way to go yet?

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This blog is just wonderful, apparently

One of the more interesting things about running a blog that is visited by a reasonable number of people is the fan mail. My immense modesty prevents me from keeping visible the thousands of positive comments that are posted here, but I thought I would give you an idea of the sort of praise I receive (and Akismet hides) on a daily basis. This small sample is all from the past 48 hours, with my comments in blue: My brother recommended I might like this website. He was entirely right. This publish truly made my day. You cann’t believe simply how so much time I had spent for this info! Thanks! Actually, I cann, how so much! Many of my publishes make many people’s days. Please tell your brother I said “Hi!”, and thank him for the massage oil. That is very attention-grabbing, You are an overly professional blogger. I’ve joined your feed and look ahead to in search of more of your great post. Additionally, I’ve shared your web site in my social networks. I look ahead to in search, too. I appreciate the social sharing, because I’m sure you have a lot of friends. Thank you so much for this! I haven’t been this thrilled by a blog post for a long time! Keep up the great job. Keep on inspiring the people! Don’t mention it; inspiration and thrills are all part of the service here. wonderful blog, very well written. I like it very much. I would read your site monthly and recommend it to my classmates. Please keep it updated. Keep on the good work. – A sweet girl Only monthly? I’m hurt. To make amends, send pics of yourself and your classmates to my email at pedowatch@fbi.gov. Such a wonderful analysis! No idea how you were able…

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Autodesk Cloud – don’t panic, business as usual

Autodesk recently made a big announcement about its Cloud initiatives, and reactions have been all over the place. Some people can barely contain their breathless excitement while others are outraged to the point of passing out the pitchforks. Why? It’s pretty much business as usual. It’s nothing like Dassault’s disastrous we’re-moving-you-to-the-Cloud FUD campaign against its own product, SolidWorks. There’s no hint here of AutoCAD (real AutoCAD, I mean, not “AutoCAD” WS) being moved to the Cloud, or anything as radical as that. (Yes, I know there’s a limited experiment along those lines but that’s nothing to do with this announcement). It’s just a collection of relatively minor changes to Autodesk’s existing on-line services, collected together to make a newsworthy press release. (As an aside, I must say this was a much more worthwhile announcement than the ridiculously over-hyped DE8.16N thing. So I was supposed to get excited about a routine upgrade of a product I have already been using for months, on an OS I don’t use, when the upgraded product is still half-baked just like the first underwhelming effort? Fortunately, I didn’t get sucked in by the pre-announcement build-up so I wasn’t disappointed, just amused when the truth was revealed. Autodesk PR, please don’t cry wolf so often; keep the hype in reserve for the hypeworthy stuff.) Back to the Cloud thing, and putting aside hype and horror, here’s the stuff that has just happened: Autodesk Cloud documents lets anybody store up to 1 GB documents on-line, or 3 GB if you’re a Subscription customer. This isn’t new, but until recently it was an Autodesk Labs project called Nitrous. The infrastructure is provided via Amazon and Citrix. AutoCAD WS has been updated to integrate its storage with Autodesk Cloud documents. Remember, WS isn’t anything like real AutoCAD, but rather a limited on-line DWG editing tool.…

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AutoCAD 2012 – Downloading the trial is a trial

Let’s say you’re trying to download some software and it insists on first installing some intermediary download manager. Do you think, “Great, this will make my life easier, things are bound to go quickly and smoothly now”? No, didn’t think so. How about when it’s by Akamai? Does that make you feel more confident? No, nor me. If I download stuff without a manager, it just works. Sometimes it’s slow, but it works. If I use a general-purpose download manager that’s part of my browser, or one I chose to install and use (e.g. Free Download Manager), things generally go very well. If there’s a direct download link to use, success and a very quick download are almost guaranteed. But it seems that every time some company wants to force a download manager on me, something bad happens. Now maybe I’m only remembering the failures and forgetting the successes, but I’m absolutely sure that download reliability is way, way poorer when companies insist on inflicting their download managers on me. I’ve had issues with them at home with a straightforward ADSL connection, and I’ve had no end of problems with them at work in a proxy server environment. Even when they work, the download speed is generally significantly poorer than when I use something like Free Download Manager. The latest in a long line of download manager difficulties is this morning’s attempted download of the AutoCAD 2012 trial. Why, as a Subscription customer, am I downloading the trial? Why don’t I just get it from the Subscription Center? Because Autodesk hasn’t got around to putting 2012 on there yet. Paying customers come some way down the priority list, apparently. I hope it’s just a temporary delay, because last year here in Australia the delivery of AutoCAD 2011 software to customers was a…

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AutoCAD WS contest poll added

Thanks to all entrants in the AutoCAD WS contest. I have now closed the entries and added a poll (see right). Although I did state that there would be no prize for this contest, I have some exciting news! I am happy to announce that thanks to an exclusive* arrangement with Autodesk, the winner of this contest will receive a free** copy of AutoCAD!*** I will keep the poll open until I feel like closing it or the entry I like best is winning, whichever is the most convenient. * Exclusive to people with Internet access. ** Excluding any Internet access expenses the winner may incur. *** AutoCAD WS. If the winner is unable to use AutoCAD WS due to iThing insufficiency, browser-based access to Project Butterfly will be provided instead.

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iPad, iPhone app – good and bad news

Good news! Autodesk has announced an app that will link iPads and iPhones to Project Butterfly. This provides viewing, markup and limited editing facilities. Bad news! Autodesk has decide to call it AutoCAD WS, which is bordering on the fraudulent. It’s not AutoCAD, is nothing like it, and is unlikely to ever be anything like it. I can call my dog Prince, but that doesn’t make him royalty. Unfortunately, much of the mainstream media appears to be blissfully unaware of this. This is gaining Autodesk some short-term column inches, but at the longer-term expense of furthering the myth that “AutoCAD” is going to run on iPhone and iPads. People will start using Butterfly, think it’s AutoCAD, and then, if they need CAD for their Macs, wonder why they should spend thousands on something so basic and limited. Good news! It will be available Real Soon Now, and you can sign up for it at http://butterfly.autodesk.com/mobile/. Bad news! You can’t sign up for it using your iPhone or iPad (unless it’s jailbroken). Apple may be convinced you don’t need Flash, but Autodesk disagrees. The Butterfly signup page requires Flash, you see. It wants to send you off to adobe.com. Ouch! You have to admit, that’s pretty funny. Cluelessness? There’s an app for that. I guess iUsers will just have to use their Macbook Pros to sign up.

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Autodesk user community survey

Autodesk is running a web survey to try to find out which user communities (including blogs) its customers find valuable. If you are interested in participating, the survey is here. If you want to specify any blogs, you will need to type or paste their names into various “other comments” boxes. As the number of blogs I read far exceeds a reasonable type-in requirement, I couldn’t accurately give an idea of my web habits. So I’m not sure how much can be accurately read into the results. (Source: CAD Panacea). I saw Shaan asking about this kind of thing a while back, but not getting much response. It looks like Autodesk is trying to work out exactly where its customers go these days for support, discussion, networking, training, etc. I can’t speak for other bloggers, but I’d be happy to provide my site statistics on request. Anybody can also get an idea of how much of a “community” a blog is by the number of comments. One point I found strange in the survey was the order of “valuableness” in one of the questions. It went something like: Not at all valuable Not very valuable Valuable Somewhat valuable Very valuable Exceedingly valuable (or whatever) The ordering of “somewhat valuable” and “valuable” was the opposite to what I would have expected. What do you think? Is “somewhat valuable” more valuable than “valuable”, as the survey suggests?

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Magic vanishing images

In a thread in the Feedback & Questions about the Discussion Groups section of the Autodesk discussion groups, somebody called ACADuser contributed what I thought was a highly amusing bar graph as a test image. Inspired by this, I contributed a couple of test images of my own. A few hours later, the whole thread magically disappeared! It seems a shame that I went to the effort of making those images, and all for nothing. The handful of people who would have seen them on the discussion groups have now missed out on the experience. So I’ve decided to make up for that by posting them here, where thousands of people can look at them instead. Here’s the first one (not that amusing): Here’s the second one. Given the circumstances, it seems somewhat prescient: If ACADuser wants to get in touch, I’ll be quite happy to post his image too.

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Autodesk discussion group changes – user reaction

I will be airing my own views on the Autodesk discussion group changes in a future post. In the meantime, I have collected some reactions from other users. For the record, there has been only a little censorship in this area. Here are some of the comments that made it through unhindered: I’ve given it a fair shake and it’s just as bad as I imagined Goodbye, people. It was nice while it lasted it sucks it doesn’t look like you have any intention to meet the expectations of these people not [as] much traffic as there was before the change.  I hope things improve I’m sure you’ve noticed the sourness many folks are having with this interface What a f’in f-up This is so aggravating that I am resorting to posting questions that may have already been answered vs. trying to find them via the search tool Very annoying We use NNTP because it’s easy and fast, and better very slow, compared to “other” html forums This was hyped as a “state-of-art web experience”. It is clearly not Extremely slow compared to the previous web forum we are screwed with this interface This is like having your high performance vehicle (NNTP) stolen and having to take the bus to get to your destination 4 days later, still sucks Still very slow, cumbersome, difficult to track and navigate, unintuitive It took me literally 30 seconds to get that smiley to insert I really was expecting something better I see too many people who may not be around anymore. In most cases their expertise far outweighs any improvements to the forums Welcome to the new and improved Autodesk forum brought to you by high school students near you You keep using that word [“upgrade”]. I do not think it means what you think it means…

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Censorship on the Autodesk discussion groups

The Autodesk discussion groups have quite a few problems at the moment, which I will discuss at length in future. One unnecessary problem that has been added to the mix is censorship. Having praised Autodesk in the past for allowing discussion to go unhindered, it’s only fair to slam heavy-handed moderation when I see it. Before I get started, let me just say that Autodesk is entitled to moderate its discussion groups as it sees fit. The forum belongs to Autodesk and it can do what it likes with it. But just because Autodesk can censor its forums, that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to do so. Neither does that it mean that Autodesk is immune to public criticism of that censorship. There is no First Amendment obligation on Autodesk, but there are many other places that censored viewpoints can be repeated. Here, for example. In this particular case, a section was deleted from a reply I made in a thread about the educational plot stamp. In that section, I mentioned that the educational plot stamp is very easy to remove with an everyday AutoCAD command. I didn’t name that command or give any details of how to use it to remove the stamp. Now I understand that Autodesk gets the twitches when people discuss circumvention of its educational stamp “virus”, but I didn’t mention anything that isn’t already public knowledge. I discussed this issue at length in Cadalyst some five years ago, again without giving away the details. If you really want to know the details, please don’t ask me because I won’t reply. Google it, it’s out there. You probably don’t even need to do that. It’s a pretty obvious thing to attempt. It was, in fact, the very first thing I tried when I first…

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Autodesk discussion group update – what do you think?

On 4 June 2010, Autodesk turned off NNTP access to its discussion groups as part of the process of updating its software to use a different engine (the new one is from Lithium – here are its own forums). I am preparing a large post about what I think of the new web interface, but for now let’s hear from you on that subject. Please vote in the poll on the right, and add your comments once you’ve had a chance to put the “state-of-the-art web experience Autodesk customers have come to expect” through its paces. In related news, I have now closed the short-lived poll about the end of NNTP access to these groups. The results were: Should Autodesk shut down NNTP access to its discussion groups? Yes (8.8%, 5 Votes) No (59.6%, 34 Votes) Don’t care (31.6%, 18 Votes) Total Voters: 57 This is a small sample and must have some self-selection bias, in that those who cared about this move were more likely to read my post on the subject and vote about it. I attempted to temper this by including a “Don’t care” option, but some bias is still bound to be there. There is also likely to be some bias in the opposite direction, because people are less inclined to bother voting to try to fight a decision that had clearly already been set in concrete and which was never going to change. That said, it does seem remarkable that only 5 people could be found who supported Autodesk’s decision to drop NNTP access. According to my long-running What is your relationship to Autodesk? poll, There are at least 25 (claimed) Autodesk employees who are active enough on this blog to respond to its polls! Without wishing to compromise the private nature of my polls,…

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Autodesk to kill NNTP discussion groups

As of 4 June, Autodesk intends to update its discussion group software to something that does not support newsgroup (NNTP) access. From an email by Autodesk’s Eric Wright to NNTP users: “As an active NNTP user, we wanted to reach out to you directly. We recognize this will change your experience participating in the forums and want to help you transition to the new web interface. Improvements include a simpler, more intuitive interface to post & reply, bookmarking and e-mail notification features to track favorite posts, and more powerful search tools and filtering. While not a substitute for the NNTP experience, the streamlined capabilities of our enhanced RSS feeds can also provide an alternative offline forum reading experience.” As you can see, we are significantly investing to improve the platform behind the web-based experince to address many of the shortfalls reported by users over the last few years. Rich text vs Plain text confusion, formatting issues (like I just experienced cutting and pasting this message), logout issues, search, in-line image support, and robust RSS capabilities are just a few areas of improvements in an update planned for June 4. A public announcement will be posted in the forums in a few days. I hope you will give it a try after launch, and provide any feedback or best practices to help in the transition. Eric Wright Product Manager – Support & Learning Web & eBusiness Autodesk, Inc. The public announcement mentioned above can be found here. As you might expect, this decision has been a hot topic of conversation. A survey has been set up (by Tony Tanzillo, not by Autodesk), and the running results are here. I’ve added a poll of my own (on the right). Feel free to express your views here, too. I have some sympathy for…

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AutoCAD for Mac in Beta

Disclaimer: I have absolutely no access to inside information about this Beta. Even if I had, I would not reveal anything that I had learned as a result of such access. This post discusses only information that is already public knowledge. The native Mac OS X AutoCAD port that Autodesk has been foreshadowing for some time is now in Beta, it seems. The Italian Mac community is getting particularly excited about the leak, but it’s also a popular subject of discussion on at least one English-speaking forum. The Autodesk codename is Sledgehammer, and it’s currently 64-bit only. If this is a subject that interests you, with a bit of sniffing around you can easily find screenshots, a video and you can apparently even download it via torrent if you’re feeling particularly brave/stupid. If you’re interested in trying it out, it would be much better to apply to join the Beta program. That way, you will stay legal, you won’t download a trojan and you will contribute towards improving the product. Autodesk will probably need such contributions, because the early Beta allegedly runs like “a sewer” with huge performance issues. That should not be a surprise at this stage, but it should give you some idea of how much work Autodesk has ahead of it before it has a product that is fit for human consumption. Oh, if you do join Autodesk’s Beta program, please be a bit more careful with the software than the guy who thought it would be a cool thing to hand out to his friends. Edit: Ralph thinks it’s fake. I really don’t think it is, but must acknowledge the possibility that I’m wrong. Edit 2: More discussion and screenshots at SolidSmack.

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AutoCAD 2011 online Help changes – a curate’s egg

As announced by Shaan Hurley, Autodesk has made some changes to the AutoCAD 2011 online Help system. Please check it out and see what you think. After a short time with it, here are my experiences using IE6 (yes, I know). As this is a dynamic system and dependent on browser characteristics, Internet connectivity and any changes Autodesk may make between me writing this and you reading it, your mileage will vary. There are some cosmetic changes,  including a fixup of the Autodesk logo in IE6 that was done a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, my pink Comic Sans logo has not been adopted.  As I can’t do a direct side-by-side comparison with the pre-change setup under identical conditions, I can’t make a definitive statement about performance. I can say that it does appear to have improved somewhat. It now takes about 3.5 seconds from hitting F1 to seeing a complete landing screen. Once cached, I’m seeing it in come up in just under 2 seconds. The main change from a usability point of view is that the Search facility now defaults to searching All Books rather than whatever document you happen to have highlighted over on the left sidebar. That’s welcome. Also, the searches generally appear to give better results. For example, a simple search for LINE in the original 2011 online system gave a list of 199 results, of which the actual LINE command was 26th! Now, a search for LINE puts the LINE command third in the list; much better. The results come up faster than before (2.5 seconds in this example), but I have seen widely varying search times reported so I would be interested to hear about your experiences. The way the search results are presented is now significantly different. Instead of a single line for each result, 4 lines…

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Filling the holes in Autodesk’s CHM Help stopgap

It was good to see Autodesk react to criticism of AutoCAD 2011’s browser-based Help with an acknowledgement of the problems and an attempt to provide a workaround by making a zip file of CHM files available for download. That’s much better than ignoring people’s concerns, denying the validity of those concerns or shooting the messenger, which has been known to happen in the past. However, there are some holes in the workaround, only some of which can be filled. Under 64-bit Windows 7, the Search pane is blank, as it is in the CHM Help for earlier releases on that platform. This is stated on the download page. Index works well, but Search doesn’t. As Search is one of the worst aspects of the browser-based Help, this is a rather unfortunate. There is no obvious way of making the CHMs provide contextual help. Don’t bother pointing at acad181.chm in the Files tab of Options, it doesn’t work. Edit: See Chris Cowgill’s post on the AUGI forums for a partial workaround. Even without contextual help, no advice is provided for calling the CHMs from within AutoCAD; you are only told that you can set up a shortcut on your desktop and double-click on that when you need it. However, you can set up an alias command in AutoCAD. To do this, edit the acad.pgp file or use the Express Tools Aliasedit command to set up a shell command. The alias name can be whatever you like (e.g. HEL), the command name should simply be the path and filename of the main acad181.chm file. The CHM files are currently available only in English. The set of CHM files is incomplete. See below for more details and what you can do about it. These are the CHM files provided with AutoCAD 2011: acet.chm – Express…

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Had any problems with this site lately?

A couple of days ago, my web hosting server was down. This is pretty unusual with the hosting company I use, but these things can happen to the best from time to time. This site was up again after a couple of hours, during which I received the excellent customer service that is par for the course at Saratoga Hosting. It’s when things go wrong you really learn how good a company’s customer service is. Saratoga’s customer service is the best I have seen from any company in any field, ever. I have had one person email me to let me know that they could not add a comment yesterday. Anyone else have such issues over the past 48 hours? Feel free to use this post to mention any other issues you have with commenting, reading, navigating, searching or otherwise using this site.

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Autodesk provides CHM-based Help for AutoCAD 2011

In a comment in response to my AutoCAD 2011 Help system is not popular post, Autodesk’s Diane Serda acknowledged the problems, offered apologies and posted a link to a CHM version of the Help. From Diane’s comment: We have posted the zip file for download here: http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/ps/dl/item?id=15068206&siteID=123112&linkID=9240618 Instructions: 1. Download the AutoCAD2011CHMHelp.zip to your local drive (such as My Documents\AutoCAD2011Help). 2. Extract the zip file to this same folder. 3. To access the CHM Help, you’ll need to click on acad181.chm or create a desktop shortcut. You can also point to the locally installed HTML help by turning on the local help checkbox under Options, System. You can also access the PDF’s from the Online Help Home page under Online Resources. http://docs.autodesk.com/ACD/2011/ENU Thanks, Diane! That saves people from having to do inconvenient and dodgy things like downloading a demo version of an AutoCAD 2011-based vertical (Civil 3D 2011 has CHM-based Help for the AutoCAD bits) and grabbing the CHM out of there. Edit: when running under Windows 7 64-bit, the Search pane is blank, as it is in the CHM Help for earlier releases. That’s unfortunate, because searching is a major thing at which the browser-based system is currently very poor. The Index panel works, though, and it’s quick. The PDF link is currently broken for me, but I expect it will be working before too long. In the meantime, the direct link to the list of available AutoCAD 2011 PDF documentation is http://docs.autodesk.com/ACD/2011/ENU/pdfs/PDF Documentation.html (beware, space in URL).

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AutoCAD Internet Survey

I spotted this on the AutoCAD Research Twitter feed: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/AutoCAD_Internet Autodesk wants to know your views on web content and how it relates to AutoCAD and your work. It’s a fairly big survey, but I encourage you to take part. You can also sign up to participate in user research sessions here. This is a pretty direct way of letting Autodesk know what you think.

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