Ribbon poll roundup

Further to my last post, Here is a brief summary of this blog’s various poll results that relate in some way to Ribbon and CIP use. The most recent polls are at the top of the list. I have placed in bold those percentages that relate directly to the proportion of AutoCAD Ribbon use among the voters on this blog.

  • AutoCAD 2010 users’  Ribbon use: 44% (AutoCAD 2010 users’ CIP on: 36%)
  • Ribbon love: 28%
  • AutoCAD 2010 menu bar non-users: 23%
  • Inventor Ribbon use: 44% (Inventor 2010 users’ Ribbon use: 59%)
  • Revit Ribbon use: 42% (Revit 2010 users’ Ribbon use: 58%)
  • AutoCAD Ribbon use: 32% (AutoCAD 2009/2010 users’ Ribbon use: 38%)
  • CIP on: 27%
  • AutoCAD 2009 menu bar non-users: 21%
  • AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon one of 3 best new features: 11%
  • AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon turned on in some way: 29% (fully visible 13%)

The polls were run at different times over the past couple of years with different questions being asked in different ways about different releases, and responded to by very different numbers of voters. Don’t expect consistent or directly comparable results; this is not a scientific study. As with all polls here, there is a self-selection bias; those people who feel most strongly about a subject are more likely to find these polls and make the effort to vote in them.

The more recent polls generally have significantly greater sample size than the early ones. The smallest poll (AutoCAD 2009 best new features) has 37 voters, the largest poll (AutoCAD users generally using Ribbon) has 751. While the former certainly qualifies as Shaan’s “a few dozen”, the latter does only if you consider 62 to be “a few”. In which case, can I give you a thousand dollars and you give me a few hundred back?

Here are the poll details, which you can also see in the Polls Archive. If you think any of these questions or the available responses are in any way biased or leading , I’d be interested to hear your reasoning.

AutoCAD 2010 users, what are your Ribbon and CIP settings?
Start Date: 15 March 2010

  • Ribbon on, CIP on (24.7%, 65 Votes)
  • Ribbon on, CIP off (19.4%, 51 Votes)
  • Ribbon off, CIP on (11%, 29 Votes)
  • Ribbon off, CIP off (44.9%, 118 Votes)
  • Ribbon
    Start Date: 16 January 2010

  • Love (28.2%, 164 Votes)
  • Hate (71.8%, 417 Votes)
  • AutoCAD 2010 users: pull-down menus – is your menu bar turned on (MENUBAR=1)?
    Start Date: 14 September 2009

  • Yes, it’s on all the time (69.3%, 475 Votes)
  • Yes, it’s usually on but I sometimes turn it off (4.1%, 28 Votes)
  • Yes in verticals, no in AutoCAD (1.9%, 13 Votes)
  • Yes (other) (1.5%, 10 Votes)
  • No, it’s usually off but I sometimes turn it on (7%, 48 Votes)
  • No, I never use pull-downs (13.7%, 94 Votes)
  • No (other) (2.5%, 17 Votes)
  • Inventor users: are you generally using the Ribbon?
    Start Date: 11 September 2009

  • Yes (44.3%, 82 Votes)
  • No (using 2010) (30.8%, 57 Votes)
  • No (using an earlier release to avoid the Ribbon) (15.7%, 29 Votes)
  • No (using an earlier release for other reasons) (9.2%, 17 Votes)
  • Revit users: are you generally using the Ribbon?
    Start Date: 9 September 2009

  • Yes (41.6%, 153 Votes)
  • No (using 2010 in unsupported classic mode) (30.2%, 111 Votes)
  • No (using an earlier release to avoid the Ribbon) (20.4%, 75 Votes)
  • No (using an earlier release for other reasons) (7.9%, 29 Votes)
  • AutoCAD users: are you generally using the Ribbon?
    Start Date: 9 September 2009

  • Yes (32%, 240 Votes)
  • No (using 2009/10) (51.1%, 384 Votes)
  • No (using an earlier release to avoid the Ribbon) (11.7%, 88 Votes)
  • No (using an earlier release for other reasons) (5.2%, 39 Votes)
  • Do you enable CIP (Customer Involvement Program) in your Autodesk products in production?
    Start Date: 23 February 2009

  • Yes, always (17.9%, 74 Votes)
  • Yes, on some products/releases (8.9%, 37 Votes)
  • No, because of privacy concerns (30.4%, 126 Votes)
  • No, because of performance concers (19.3%, 80 Votes)
  • No, it is not available for me (3.4%, 14 Votes)
  • No, other (20%, 83 Votes)
  • AutoCAD 2009 users: pull-down menus – is your menu bar turned on (MENUBAR=1)?
    Start Date: 28 November 2008

  • Yes, it’s on all the time (68.3%, 136 Votes)
  • Yes, it’s usually on but I sometimes turn it off (6.5%, 13 Votes)
  • Yes in verticals, no in AutoCAD (2.5%, 5 Votes)
  • Yes (other) (2%, 4 Votes)
  • No, it’s usually off but I sometimes turn it on (2%, 4 Votes)
  • No, I use the menu under the big red A (6.5%, 13 Votes)
  • No, I never use pull-downs (9.5%, 19 Votes)
  • No (other) (2.5%, 5 Votes)
  • Choose the best things about AutoCAD 2009 (up to 3)
    Start Date: 11 July 2008

  • Ribbon (10.8%, 4 Votes)
  • Menu Browser (5.4%, 2 Votes)
  • Quick Access Toolbar (5.4%, 2 Votes)
  • Smaller floating toolbars (8.1%, 3 Votes)
  • Status bar changes (8.1%, 3 Votes)
  • Action Recorder (18.9%, 7 Votes)
  • Modeless layer interface (18.9%, 7 Votes)
  • Quick View Layouts/Drawings (8.1%, 3 Votes)
  • Quick Properties (13.5%, 5 Votes)
  • Spell checking in text editor (29.7%, 11 Votes)
  • Rollover tooltips for objects (13.5%, 5 Votes)
  • Enlarged tooltips for user interface (0%, 0 Votes)
  • ViewCube (21.6%, 8 Votes)
  • Steering Wheel (2.7%, 1 Votes)
  • ShowMotion (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Geographic Location (2.7%, 1 Votes)
  • DWFx (5.4%, 2 Votes)
  • Off-white model space background (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Drawing recovery changes (8.1%, 3 Votes)
  • Updated button images (2.7%, 1 Votes)
  • LISP bug fixes (13.5%, 5 Votes)
  • Scale List bug fixes (10.8%, 4 Votes)
  • Other bug fixes (10.8%, 4 Votes)
  • Improvements available only in vertical products (16.2%, 6 Votes)
  • Other improvements in base AutoCAD (8.1%, 3 Votes)
  • AutoCAD 2009 non-Ribbon users: why don’t you use it?
    Start Date: 20 June 2008

  • Uses up too much screen space (63.6%, 35 Votes)
  • Doesn’t make good use of my screen size/shape (45.5%, 25 Votes)
  • Using it minimised requires an extra click/hover (47.3%, 26 Votes)
  • Tab concept means extra clicks (65.5%, 36 Votes)
  • Dislike concept of hiding tools – want buttons to stay visible (60%, 33 Votes)
  • Tab switching is too slow (45.5%, 25 Votes)
  • Button click reaction is too slow (38.2%, 21 Votes)
  • Turning it off saves startup time (30.9%, 17 Votes)
  • Ribbon content doesn’t match my needs (43.6%, 24 Votes)
  • All the commands should be on it (27.3%, 15 Votes)
  • Express Tools are missing (32.7%, 18 Votes)
  • Other things I use frequently are missing (40%, 22 Votes)
  • Too hard to find things (50.9%, 28 Votes)
  • No advantage over existing methods (63.6%, 35 Votes)
  • Customising it is too difficult (43.6%, 24 Votes)
  • Don’t like the colour scheme (16.4%, 9 Votes)
  • Don’t like fuzzy text (ClearType) (25.5%, 14 Votes)
  • Using a vertical product that doesn’t make use of the Ribbon (23.6%, 13 Votes)
  • Want to avoid training expense/inconvenience (18.2%, 10 Votes)
  • Want to avoid initial productivity reduction (18.2%, 10 Votes)
  • Inconsistent with other programs we use (e.g. Office pre-2007) (12.7%, 7 Votes)
  • Opposition to Microsoft’s influence (23.6%, 13 Votes)
  • I’m a Luddite and resist change for the sake of it (7.3%, 4 Votes)
  • AutoCAD 2009 users: in what state do you usually have your Ribbon?
    Start Date: 28 May 2008

  • Horizontal and fully visible (10.4%, 8 Votes)
  • Horizontal and minimised to panel titles (5.2%, 4 Votes)
  • Horizontal and minimised to tabs (7.8%, 6 Votes)
  • Vertical, floating and fully visible (1.3%, 1 Votes)
  • Vertical, floating and auto-hiding (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Vertical, docked and fully visible (1.3%, 1 Votes)
  • Vertical, docked and auto-hiding (Anchor left or right) (2.6%, 2 Votes)
  • Turned off (71.4%, 55 Votes)
  • Autodesk’s CIP data – massively biased?

    You may have seen Shaan Hurley and I having a discussion (ahem) over the validity of his statement:

    I really do use the ribbon now with AutoCAD 2010 along with most users as evidenced by the CIP data we receive daily from thousands of AutoCAD users who choose to send the great data.

    So, now you know. Most of you use the Ribbon now,  Shaan said so. Shaan, as he always has done in the past, declined my invitation to back up this assertion with more details. He has vast amounts of data collected from huge numbers of users. How could that possibly be wrong?

    Here’s how. CIP data is biased.

    How can millions of data points be biased? Actually, all samples are biased. Only the degree of bias varies. The polls on this blog are no exception. I do my best to keep the questions and options neutral; the only leading questions you’ll see here in serious polls are the ones I copy and paste from Autodesk blogs. But readers of this blog are one self-selecting small portion of Autodesk customers, and people who vote in my polls represent another self-selecting portion of that portion.

    The question is, how biased is Autodesk’s CIP data? Without access to Autodesk’s data (which it won’t provide) and resources for alternative data collection from its customers (ditto), the best I can do is use my own biased sample (that’s you lot out there) as a cross-check.

    Let’s examine it in light of Ribbon use among AutoCAD 2010 users. In an earlier comparison of my 2009 poll figures and Shaan’s CIP data, I wrote this:

    But Shaan’s CIP users are also a biased sample, comprising those AutoCAD users who have CIP turned on. Are users who go with the flow and have CIP on also more likely to go with the flow and leave the Ribbon on? Possibly, but I would have thought the CIP-on bias would be less significant than the blog-reader bias.

    I have recently run a poll to try to determine if that “possibly”, that hunch, has any basis. Let’s examine the results I got.

    AutoCAD 2010 users, what are your Ribbon and CIP settings?

    Ribbon on, CIP on (24.7%, 65 Votes)
    Ribbon on, CIP off (19.4%, 51 Votes)
    Ribbon off, CIP on (11%, 29 Votes)
    Ribbon off, CIP off (44.9%, 118 Votes)

    Total Voters: 263

    For the sake of argument, let’s make the assumption that my poll sample is unbiased. It’s not, and the degree of bias is unknown, but let’s see what it would mean if it was. Let’s see what kind of results Autodesk would see from its CIP sample:

    CIP-on voters (94):
    Ribbon on 69% (65)
    Ribbon off 31% (29)

    Shaan would see from this result that 69% of AutoCAD 2010 users have the Ribbon on, and would be tempted to say stuff like “use the ribbon now with AutoCAD 2010 along with most users”. Understandable. That’s just CIP users, but non-CIP users can’t be that different, surely? Or can they?

    CIP-off voters (169):
    Ribbon on 30% (51)
    Ribbon off 70% (118)

    Wow. That’s a huge discrepancy, and it implies that a sample selection based on CIP use introduces a massive bias. I’ve watched this poll grow over the weeks, half-expecting things to even out as the sample size increased. It didn’t. It has been pretty constant, with non-Ribbon non-CIP users outnumbering Ribbonite non-CIP users by a substantial margin.

    Let’s put the groups together, shall we?

    All voters (263)
    Ribbon on 44% (116)
    Ribbon off 56% (147)

    So, if the voters in my poll were observed by Autodesk via CIP they would appear to be 69% Ribbon users. In fact, only 44% of these voters are Ribbon users.

    How many AutoCAD 2010 users really have the Ribbon on? 69%? 30%? 44%? Some other number? I don’t know, and that’s not the point. The point is, Autodesk doesn’t know either. It can take some smart guesses, but just assuming CIP is accurate isn’t smart, it’s just a guess.

    Why does this matter? Because Autodesk makes decisions based on this stuff. Decisions that affect you and me and how we use our tools. Have a look at this statement from Autodesk’s Teresa Anania, Director of Industry Management (taken from her interview with Deelip Menezes about Inventor):

    …we had data that suggested that the new ribbon UI was well received and would be absolutely all that customers needed …. And now since we have the CIP data that shows us how our customers are using the software, we can analyze this before we permanently turn anything off.

    Comments like this (and others from other Adeskers) seem to indicate that there is an unspoken assumption that CIP users accurately represent a true cross-section of users in general.

    I know that Autodesk doesn’t rely solely on CIP; it uses a wide range of research tools to find out what users are up to and what they need. I regularly encourage you to participate in various Autodesk surveys, for example. But there are problems of accuracy inherent in all those methods. It would be natural, when faced with a set of apparently conflicting results from different sources, for Autodesk decision-makers to simply assume that the source with the biggest sample size is the most accurate. That could be a dangerous mistake, for both Autodesk and its customers.

    Note: my arithmetic was off in several places when I posted this, and I have edited the post to correct some of the figures. These corrections do not invalidate the arguments; the substantial bias is still evident.

    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 are now used. There is a descriptive hyperlink line, a line containing sample of text from the page the link points to, a spelled-out link line and a blank line. The second line appears to be randomly chosen. In our LINE example, the text starts with “If the most recently drawn object is an arc…”, which is a fairly long way down the LINE command page itself. The third line’s only function appears to be to waste space. I can right-click on the main link if I want that information. I can’t even copy and paste that third line; attempting to click and drag in the search results pane selects the whole lot.

    Because of the newly verbose display format, it obviously doesn’t make sense to display 199 results, as there would be too much scrolling. What is now displayed is 8 results, with links to another 7 pages (I’m not sure what happened to the 199 – 64 = 135 other results). If your desired result is in the first 8, that’s fine. If it’s not, then you have a harder job now to find what you’re after. You can’t use your browser’s find feature to look for a specific word among the full set of results. You will have to click on each page in turn and wait for it to appear before scanning the results. Fortunately, each page comes up fairly quickly (about 1 second), but I would much prefer to have the option of seeing more results displayed on each page. I suspect things have been arranged this way to improve performance (fair enough) and make it work better on mobile devices. While that’s all nice and cool and trendy and geeky and everything, I don’t intend to ever use AutoCAD on an iPhone. I would much prefer it if Autodesk prioritised its user interface design based on what the vast majority of its users are going to be using when they need the documentation.

    Choosing a different page within the search results and then using the Back button takes me back to the main landing page rather than my previous results page. Using the Forward button to try to get back where I was, just puts me back on page 1 again. This is obviously not good.

    That’s enough of the changes in isolation, how does today’s system compare with what went before? I did a quick test to see what was involved in finding out about a given command. I chose the WBLOCK command. Other commands and other users may give better or worse results.

    AutoCAD 2010 CHM Help
    Method: F1, type W, double-click on WBLOCK
    Time taken: 2.6 seconds

    AutoCAD 2011 offline Help (as shipped)
    Method: F1, click in search box, type W, Enter, click on W commands, click on WBLOCK, click on Write Block Dialog Box
    Time taken: 12.1 seconds

    AutoCAD 2010 online Help (as at 12 May 2010)
    Method: F1, click in search box, type W, click outside search box, click on search arrow, click on W commands, click on WBLOCK, click on Write Block Dialog Box
    Time taken: 16.0 seconds

    Given those results, it would be pretty hard to argue that the new system is more efficient for users. Again, this is just a sample command and method, and if you can find a different one where the new stuff works better than the old, I’m all ears. The method I ended up using for testing the 2011 online search actually required a fair bit of trial and error. Here are some things I tried first:

    1. F1, click in search box, type W, autocomplete gives me ‘wireless’ (left over from some other search I used on an unrelated site), Enter, nothing happens
    2. F1, click in search box, type W, click outside search box so I just have W, Enter, nothing happens
    3. F1, click on search arrow, click in search box, type W, it gets added to the end of the word Search, giving me ‘SearchW’!

    A few minutes after my tests, I tried again to see if there was a better way. What I found was that the W Commands link I needed was completely absent from the search results!

    Look, no W Commands!

    W System variables, check. W Methods, check. W commands? Nope. Not on this page. Not on any of the other 7. Where did it go? Will it return one day? Who knows?

    One of the risks of online-based software is that it can be a moving target. Stuff that you used in the past may not be there the next time you need it. It’s easy to see users getting confused and frustrated by this kind of stuff. After all, it’s supposed to be Help, not Hinder.

    In summary, some of the changes are welcome, but the system is still a long way short of being anywhere near as efficient or friendly as the one it replaced. The performance is better than it was, but still slow. The interface contains some clangers that tell me that user feedback has been absent, inadequate and/or ignored.

    I suggest this system be withdrawn, and soon. AutoCAD 2011 Update 1 should contain a complete and properly integrated CHM-based Help system, and Autodesk should go back to the drawing board with the whole browser-based Help idea.

    If, after due consideration and extensive user consultation, Autodesk still thinks that online Help is a good idea, it should spend the time required to make it work properly, introduce it only when Beta testers are satisfied that it is at least as good as what it is replacing, and then introduce it alongside the CHM system. The two systems should be run in parallel for as many releases as it takes to convince the vast bulk of users that online is best, at which point the losing system can be discarded.

    Right now, it’s abundantly clear which system should be ditched, and it’s not the CHM one.

    Autodesk wants more feedback, this time on Array

    Autodesk is looking for:

    General AutoCAD users of any discipline (latest release or older versions of AutoCAD), who are familiar with the Array command and use grips to edit their drawings.

    Optional/additional requirements:

    • Users that are familiar with parametric drawing (geometric and dimensional constraints in AutoCAD)
    • Users familiar with 3D
    • Familiar with the DIVIDE and MEASURE commands.

    Autodesk is planning to conduct this study on the week starting 17 May. Sign up here.

    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.

    Restoring Hatch double-click in AutoCAD 2011

    In AutoCAD 2011, the default action when double-clicking on a hatch object is to invoke the Properties palette for that object. In previous releases, it would invoke the Hatch Edit dialog box. In my AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal” post, I briefly described how to restore the old double-click action. I have since seen some incorrect advice being given out about how to do this, so this post describes the correct process in full detail.

    What to do

    1. Invoke the CUI command.
    2. In the top left pane, find the [+] next to Double Click Actions and left-click on it.
      Double Click Actions
    3. Scroll down that top left pane a little until you can see Hatch.
    4. In the bottom left pane (Command list), click on any command and type H. This should take you down to the Hatch Edit command. If not, just scroll down a little more until you can see it.
      Hatch Edit
    5. Left-click on the Hatch Edit command in the bottom left pane, hold down the mouse button and drag the command up onto the top right pane until it hovers over the Hatch item you exposed in step 3. When the little blue triangle is pointing to Hatch, let go of the mouse button, thereby dropping the Hatch Edit command onto Hatch.
      Drag and Drop
      Hint: you may find that the top left pane scrolls crazily while you attempt this step. Unfortunately, this is a “feature” of the CUI interface. If this happens, keep your mouse button held down and move your cursor up and down in the left pane until the scrolling comes under control and you are hovering over the right spot. You can avoid this if instead of dragging the command directly upwards, you move in a curcuitous route to the left or right, moving on to the top left pane from the side rather than the bottom.
    6. Pick OK and that should be it. Double-click on a hatch object and see what happens.

    What not to do

    You may see some advice telling you to find the Hatch double-click action (step 3 above) and then edit the macro of the Properties command found therein from “^C^C_properties” to “^C^C_hatchedit”. Do not do this.

    Why not to do it

    If you edit the macro then try it out, it works fine. Why, then, does it matter which method you use? Because if you edit the macro, you are changing the action that occurs not just for the Hatch double-click, but for every place the Properties command is used. This means it will have undesirable side-effects in many places. For example, double-click on a circle after changing the macro and you will see something like this:
    Command: _hatchedit
    Selected object must be a hatch object or associative hatch block.
    HATCHEDIT does not support old-format non-associative hatch blocks.
    Select hatch object:

    What to do if you’ve already done it

    If you have already changed the Properties macro, go back into CUI and reverse the process, changing the macro back to “^C^C_properties” (without the quotes). When you are happy that you’ve fixed that up, use the click-and-drag method described above.

    Screen captures created and modified using SnagIt 8 by TechSmith. Disclosure: Shaan Hurley gave me a free copy of this software (and Camtasia Studio 4, and a long-sleeved T-shirt which I promptly ruined by spilling red wine on it) at Autodesk University 2006.

    Not a topic to be debated publicly

    Over on the oft-entertaining Deelip.com, there was an interesting comment made by Autodesk’s Scott Sheppard. After going back and forth a few times over Autodesk’s then-failure to allow Indian customers legal access to certain free Autodesk software downloads, Scott said this:

    I defer to Autodesk Legal on these matters which is where I get my guidance. This is not a topic to be debated publicly. As one of our most active Labs participants, I was just sharing some information with you and your readers.

    On the face of it, Scott’s “not a topic to be debated publicly” comment seems pretty silly. Ralph Grabowski certainly saw it that way. In these blog-happy days, a lot of things that Autodesk may not like to see discussed are going to be discussed publicly. Autodesk needs to get used to that fact. Attempting to suppress public discussion of Autodesk policies is not just ineffectual, it’s counterproductive and harmful to Autodesk’s image. The very fact that this problem was fixed as a direct result of being discussed publicly shows that such discussion was not only appropriate, it was positively useful to everyone concerned.

    That’s on the face of it. Actually, I don’t think the comment is anywhere near as sinister as it seems. I think it was more of a throwaway comment along the lines of, “I can’t continue discussing this because it really isn’t my area”.

    Recently, I have noticed Autodesk opening up somewhat and demonstrating increased responsiveness to publicly aired concerns. I know that Scott is quite open to constructively discussing points of disagreement in public comments on his own blog. So I think we should cut him a bit of slack and just put this down as one of those “it may be what I said but it’s not what I meant” moments that we all have from time to time.

    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 Tools
    AdRefMan.chm – Autodesk Reference Manager
    adrefmanctxt.chm – Not to be launched manually
    ole_err.chm – Not to be launched manually
    webbrw.chm – Not to be launched manually

    These are the CHM files provided in the zip file download:

    acad181.chm – Main AutoCAD 2011 Help file
    acad.readme.chm – Readme
    acad_acg.chm – Customization Guide
    acad_acr.chm – Command Reference
    acad_aug.chm – User’s Guide
    acad_dpg.chm – Driver and Peripheral Guide
    acad_install.chm – Installation
    acad_nfw.chm – New Features Workshop
    adsk_lic.chm – Licensing

    These are the CHM files that are missing:

    acad_aag.chm – ActiveX and VBA Developer’s Guide
    acad_alg.chm – AutoLISP Developer’s Guide
    acad_alr.chm – AutoLISP Functions
    acad_alt.chm – AutoLISP Tutorial
    acad_car.chm – Connectivity Automation Reference
    acad_dev181.chm – Developer Documentation
    acad_dxf.chm – DXF Reference
    acad_sso.chm – Sheet Set Objects Reference
    acadauto.chm – ActiveX and VBA Reference
    adsk_brw.chm – Licensing – (this appears to be a later version of adsk_lic.chm).

    Do you need any of the above? I did. To obtain a full set of AutoCAD 2011 CHM files, I had to do the following:

    1. Download a vertical AutoCAD 2011-based variant. I used AutoCAD Civil 3D 2011, because I am entitled to download that from the Subscription Center. You may need to download an evaluation copy of a vertical. If so, make sure you delete the files after your evaluation period of 30 days, won’t you? Hopefully, Autodesk will have provided a better workaround by then.
    2. Double-click on the downloaded executable (which is actually a self-extracting archive). You will be prompted for a location for the files to be unzipped to. I accepted the default of C:\Autodesk\AutoCAD_Civil3D_2011_English_32bit.
    3. After the unzipping process is complete, the installtion window will appear. Pick Exit; you do not need to go ahead with the whole installation.
    4. Search for the CHM files in the unzip location. There are a variety of locations, some of them containing duplicate files, but I was able to find what I needed in C:\Autodesk\AutoCAD_Civil3D_2011_English_32bit\x86\en-US\C3D\Acad\Help.
    5. Copy the files from here to a safe location, and set up shortcuts and/or alias commands to access them.

    Note that I can’t vouch for the completeness or correctness of these files (which may be why Autodesk didn’t include them), but I can’t do that for the HTML versions either. For those of you in non-English-speaking locations, I would be interested in finding out if you can use this method to obtain non-English CHM files. Are there non-English AutoCAD 2011-based verticals available for download yet? If so, are the CHMs in your language?

    Finally, if you are having trouble reading CHMs over a network, check out this Microsoft document on a security update that may be the cause.

    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.

    How is your AutoCAD 2011 hatching?

    Hatching is the poster child for AutoCAD 2011’s 2D drafting feature changes (although there are several other significant ones), and also for demonstrating the advantages of providing a contextual interface via the Ribbon. It looks great at first glance when working with simple demo drawings, but how are things going in the real world? I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences.

    • Is the hatch Ribbon tab snapping into place and going away quickly enough, both the first time it is used in a session and subsequently?
    • Is the Ribbon interface easy to use, efficient and complete?
    • Does the hatch preview always match what’s actually hatched when you accept the preview? If not, how often is it wrong?
    • Are you happy with the new default double-click hatch action? (If not, see the Hatch double-click section of my AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal” post).
    • Does the hatch preview work quickly and accurately in simple areas? How about more complex areas? How about areas bounded by complex polylines with lots of vertices?
    • Is the performance up to scratch when creating and editing both associative and non-associative hatches? How about when grips are visible on complex bounding areas? How about when you make changes to hatches using the Properties palette?
    • Is boundary detection working reliably in finding and filling a closed hatch area? Even when using a solid or gradient hatch pattern?
    • How is your zoom and pan performance in drawings with a lot of hatching?
    • Have you noticed any problems with the new transparency and background features?
    • Have you experienced any hatch-induced crashes or lockups?
    • Are any of your hatch problems new to 2011, or do they also exist in earlier releases on the same PC when using the same drawings?

    If your hatching performance is poor, have you tried changing the values of system variables to turn off features to see if the problems persist? Try HPQUICKPREVIEW = 0, HPDLGMODE = 1 and SELECTIONPREVIEW = 0. Also, if you are having display performance issues, try VTENABLE =0 and check using 3DCONFIG to see if your graphics card/driver combination is certified.

    Autodesk shows Dassault how to treat customers

    There are areas of Autodesk’s treatment of customers that leaves much to be desired, and I will most likely continue to be critical of that until a) I die; b) Autodesk dies; or c) the bad stuff stops happening. One thing for which Autodesk deserves praise is the distribution of bug fixes to its customers, without imposing the sort of conditions that SolidWorks customers have to put up with.

    • Do Autodesk customers need to be on Subscription to receive bug fixes? No, they do not.
    • Do Autodesk customers need to have purchased the software within the last 90 days to receive bug fixes? No, they do not.
    • Do Autodesk customers need to have reported certain specific bugs to receive bug fixes? No, they do not.
    • Do Autodesk customers even need to be running the current release to receive bug fixes? No, they do not.

    AutoCAD 2010 Update 2 (that’s Service Pack 2 in the old language) has just been released for the users of last year’s software. This includes the Update 1 changes. The usual caveats apply, including reading the Readme first. As usual, Autodesk’s oddball numbering system means that after installation, Update 1 shows up as Version 2 and Update 2 shows up as Version 3 in the About screen.

    This Update applies to straight AutoCAD (and LT), not the vertical variants. I have no news about non-English versions. Patrick Emin informs me these updates are language-independent.

    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

    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).

    AutoCAD Internet Survey

    I spotted this on the AutoCAD Research Twitter feed:


    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.

    AutoCAD 2011 Help system is not popular

    My poll on this subject is still running (see right), but so far about 2/3 of respondents rate AutoCAD 2011’s new browser-based Help system as 0, 1 or 2 stars out of 5 (total fail, very poor or poor). Frankly, I’m surprised it’s doing as well as that. Have a look at this discussion group thread to get an idea of the sort of reaction I was expecting it to receive. (Kudos to Autodesk’s moderators for allowing the discussion to continue with relatively little obvious censorship, at least so far).

    There are many good new things in AutoCAD 2011, but Help isn’t one of them. Even if you like the concept of online help, this implementation of that concept is a failure. Even when used offline, this release’s browser-based Help is manifestly inferior to its CHM-based predecessor. Yet another victim of the 12-month release cycle, this feature is horribly undercooked and should not have been included in the finished product. As an advertisment for Autodesk’s ability to provide efficient cloud-based and/or platform-independent software, it could hardly be worse.

    I intend to pull Help to shreds in more detail in a later post, but feel free to add your own observations.

    It’s not easy being green (and believed)

    I know that some of you out there (unlike me) are pretty cynical about anything that Autodesk says on any subject. So when Autodesk makes a big thing about being environmentally responsible, such as its new Autodesk Sustainable Design Center site, it would be tempting to say “Yeah, right” and assume it’s just more spin to ignore.

    That would be wrong. Yes, Autodesk is using its green credentials as a marketing tool. No, that doesn’t mean it’s all bovine excrement. Autodesk is genuine about this stuff. It’s being driven from the top, and it’s being driven hard.

    How do I know? In addition to Autodesk backing up its assertions with a reasonable level of detail and independent scrutiny, I have a little first-hand knowledge. When I was attending the AutoCAD 2010 launch bloggers’ event last year, I was able to chat casually with quite a few non-marketing people. During those conversations, Autodesk’s move towards green issues was mentioned by more than one person, and in unscripted ways. It was clear to me that Carl Bass was serious about this and was strongly pushing a green culture within the company.

    Disclosure: when attending the AutoCAD 2010 launch in February 2009, Autodesk provided transport, accommodation and some meals. Yes, I am fully aware of the irony of learning about Autodesk’s green culture only because it flew me half way round the world and back again.

    What do I think of the Ribbon?

    I’m curious. What do you think I think about the Ribbon, particularly in AutoCAD? Do you think I’m a hater, a lover, indifferent, or what? Now, on what evidence do you base that view? Feel free to quote back to me anything I’ve written on this blog or any other public place to support your opinion. If you can’t find anything that gives you any clues one way or the other, feel free to mention that, too.

    Autodesk Subscription – it could be worse

    I’m still looking for your questions about Autodesk Subscription and upgrade policies and pricing. No matter what you think about that, you have to admit that Autodesk’s current policies are less anti-customer than those inflicted on SolidWorks users.

    Disallowing bug fixes for non-subscription customers is reprehensible, no matter what kind of spin is put on it. Not only that, it’s clueless. So you’re annoyed at Autodesk for whatever reason and are looking for alternative software from a company that doesn’t mistreat its customers? You know not to even bother looking at SolidWorks, don’t you?

    Edit: more relevant links and customer comments from Devon Sowell and Matt Lombard’s blogs.

    Autodesk Knowledge Base – rapid response converts fail to win

    Credit where credit is due. Following my rant about the uselessness of using a 16-minute YouTube video as the AutoCAD 2011 system requirements resource, the relevant people at Autodesk quickly fixed it and let me know.

    Now we just need the other releases covered and we’ll be all set. Autodesk is still officially supporting AutoCAD releases back to 2008, and those people who parted with a big slab of cash a decade ago are Autodesk customers, too. I’m sure Autodesk would like potential new buyers of its current products to know that they will be at least minimally looked after in future.

    I commend Autodesk’s Leo Casado for reacting politely and constructively to what was undoubtedly harsh feedback. Some Adeskers (by no means all) have been known to get extremely defensive when faced with criticism, insisting that all feedback should be expressed constructively. That’s nonsense, of course. Frank expressions of viewpoints are essential in order to resolve problems. Negative feedback, including harsh criticism, can be among the most useful forms of communication. Congratulations to Leo for showing how it can be handled positively, to the benefit of all.

    Autodesk Knowledge Base – who thought this was a good idea?

    This evening, I needed to know exactly which operating systems were supported by all AutoCAD releases from 2004 to 2011 inclusive. I have a pretty good idea, but I needed to confirm that my mental picture is completely correct. So I hopped over to the Autodesk Knowledge Base and entered “system requirements” in the search engine. Only one of the first 50 results was relevant, and that was for AutoCAD 2011. So I clicked on that. Did I get an easily digestible list of system requirements, including a list of exactly which operating systems were supported by AutoCAD 2011? No, I did not.

    What I got was this:

    AutoCAD 2011 System Requirements Knowledge Base Entry

    So I clicked on the pretty picture, hoping to be taken to an easily digestible list of system requirements, including a list of exactly which operating systems were supported. Is that where I was taken? No, it was not.

    Instead, I was taken to a 16-minute YouTube video. As I was not being blocked by a business firewall at the time, I could watch a few stuttery, blurry marketing images flash past during the few seconds it stayed on my screen. There’s a technical term for this kind of thing. It begins with w and rhymes with bank.

    But I don’t need to tell you how dumb this is. Anybody who is smart enough to read this blog can work that out. But the people at Autodesk who thought this was a great idea? Really, what on earth were they thinking? What were they smoking? Strewth!