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:

1. Download the 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.

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 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!

What would you ask Autodesk about Subscription and upgrades?

My post on Autodesk’s new upgrade pricing regime attracted a fair amount of comment, much of it critical of Autodesk.

So, let’s follow this up. Let’s say, just hypothetically, that you had an Autodesk high-up in front of you who was willing to answer questions about Subscription and upgrade policy. What would you ask? Please add a comment here with your question. If you want to do so privately, use the Contact link at the top of the page. I would ask that you keep your question civil, relevant and reasonably concise. Other than that, anything goes, so let’s have ‘em.

I’ve done this before and did get some answers. Although not all of you liked the answers, they were better than no answers at all. I can’t promise that all your questions will be answered this time, but I’ll see what I can do.

AutoCAD for Mac under construction

Despite it being A Bad Idea, it look like Autodesk is going ahead with making some kind of OS X variant of AutoCAD, as has been hinted at for a while now. Owen Wengerd has pointed out a few dead giveaways in the AutoCAD API.

Another giveaway is the move to the browser-based Help system. OK, it may perform hopelessly and have terrible functionality, but hey, it’s platform-independent! If you still doubt my assertion that the development of AutoCAD for Mac would be a bad thing for AutoCAD, just go and search for a few things in the new AutoCAD 2011 Help system. Then go back to an earlier release (one that uses Windows-specific Help) for a comparison. Once you’ve seen how platform-independence has “improved” Help, just imagine that level of “improvement” applied to the rest of AutoCAD.

We have a winner

Congratulations to Brian Benton from CAD-a-Blog. His alternative name for AutoCAD 2011, R.E.A.L. (Real Expensive AutoCAD License) was clearly the most popular among those who voted in the pin the name on the product competition. Brian is now the proud (or otherwise) owner of a virtual album, uniVers by Voyager:

Voyager uniVers Download Card

I’m not sure what Brian will make of the opening moments of the album, where accordion music leads into part-grunty vocals. Maybe it would be best to start with track 8, Falling, instead.

Incoming link: “Important Revit information”

One of the things my blog’s WordPress dashboard shows me is a list of incoming links, i.e. who is pointing to this blog. One line intrigued me:

unknown linked here saying, “318 random votes.. …”

Clicking on the link took me to the Autodesk Discussion Groups, but only as far as this message:

Error: you do not have permission to view the requested forum or category.

A Google search showed up the link as follows:

Important Revit information
Saturday, 3 April 2010 9:23 AM
318 random votes..

Call me self-obsessed if you like, but I find this curious. If anybody has any more information about it, please let me know.

Siemens 0, Autodesk (April) 1

Personally, I find most April fool jokes to be pretty lame. I considered doing one myself, and had what I thought was a pretty convincing idea, but finally decided against it. Maybe next year.

This year, there was one definite exception to the lameness rule. It was well set up, clever and funny. Siemens killed it. Or, to be more accurate, they foolishly attempted to kill it. Fortunately, the Twitter CADville app is still alive and even now being tended by somebody with a fine sense of humour, as you can see from tweets like this:

Sometimes you will see duplicate messages. That can happen after downtime. You want better, write your own CADville #cadville.

Sometimes, the cloud is a big server farm. Othertimes, is a crappy laptop that needs to go to the programmer’s girlfriends house. Back in 1h

Once Siemens pulled Mark Burhop’s corporate blog post, in an attempt to protect Mark, Deelip removed his own related post (edit: now restored). But the very idea that you can hide stuff like this once it has been blogged about is plainly ludicrous. Returning wine to a shattered bottle would be much easier.

Ralph describes the CADville story here, you can also see it on Twitpic here, and the original FAQ has been reposted here. Now I’m posting about it on a blog that gets about 90,000 page reads a month. I expect there will be a fair bit of comment buzzing around the CAD community for a while, none of which will reflect well on Siemens.

If this gag had been left to run, I would have either not heard about it at all, or would have noticed it as a funny little episode that showed how cool it was that Siemens doesn’t fit the ‘humourless German’ stereotype. The failure of this futile censorship attempt is a classic case of the Streisand Effect. Apparently, there are people with corporate clout at Siemens who either haven’t heard of it, or delude themselves into thinking that social media are somehow controllable from on high. Nope, sorry, think again.

Deelip said this on Ralph’s blog, and it sums it up nicely:

Yes, this whole thing could and should have ended differently. What I find odd is that CAD vendors talk about social networking and social media and how they are embracing it in different forms. What Mark tried to do was exactly that. He got some of us to blog, others to tweet, irrespective of our affiliations, so that this prank (which is exactly what it is) would look as real as possible. I did my part.

Too bad Siemens does not get what social networking and social media is actually all about.

Congratulations, corporate klutzes, you have succeeded in making your company look completely clueless. Out of touch much? Duh!

Compare this with Autodesk. OK, Scott Sheppard’s Autodesk Love Maker 2011 joke didn’t have me ROFLMAOing or even LOLing, and it was pretty obviously an April fool, but it was still pretty well done. The fact that Autodesk corporate doesn’t throw a hissy fit over stuff like this indicates that it’s at least partly human. The fact that Scott can put a funny picture of his CEO (Pointy Haired Bass) on his blog and still remain employed tells me only good things about Autodesk corporate.

The contrast with Siemens is as stark as it could be.

Edit: Mark (not Matt – apologies) has now restored his post and provided an explanation (of sorts) about the post being pulled. I have asked for a clarification.

Competition poll now open

In a shock move, Autodesk’s general design product for this year was named AutoCAD 2011. I thought AutoCAD Banana or Generic CADD 7 stood a chance, but it was not to be. Maybe next year?

Over on the right is a poll to allow you to choose who of the 14 entrants wins the prize in the pin the name on the product competition to come up with an alternative name. I’ll leave the poll open for about a week. Entrants can vote for themselves, but only once. Please vote for the entry you like the best!