This post has nothing to do with CAD or the other subjects I occasionally cover.
Last month, I unexpectedly lost two of my colleagues to cancer. Wayne was a loud, larger-than life character, full of life. Paal (pronounced like Paul) was a quieter, more reserved man, but very friendly, funny and positive. Wayne occasionally rubbed people up the wrong way with his robust manner, but everybody who knew Paal liked him. I thought he was a great guy, but I never told him that. Now I wish I had. I never even knew he was ill, so when I read the email telling me he was dead it was quite a shock.
It’s not my place to tell you what to do, so please take this purely as a suggestion. If you know somebody and you admire them for whatever reason, let them know it. They will feel better, you will feel better, and if you come in to work one day and find they are gone, you won’t be left wishing you had said something positive to them while you had the chance.
As for cancer, I can’t prevent or cure that, but I have a little idea for something I can do to help. More on that later.
This morning I spoke with CAD International‘s Nigel Varley. Here is a paraphrased summary of the interview.
SJ: When did CAD International buy the drcauto intellectual property rights?
NV: About two weeks ago.
SJ: You are currently helping drcauto customers with authorisation codes, is that correct?
NV: Yes, masses of them. It’s taking up a lot of our peoples’ time.
SJ: Are you charging for this service?
NV: Not at present.
SJ: Do you intend to charge for this service in the future?
NV: Maybe. We may need to, both to pay for our time and to recoup our investment. I don’t particularly like the idea of annual renewals for software, so we may do something different in future.
SJ: If somebody wanted to buy drcauto products such as LT Toolkit now, could they do so?
NV: No, we’re still processing the materials we were given when we bought the rights. It wasn’t left in a well-organised state. I’m not sure if that was done deliberately or if it was just like that.
SJ: Do you have any plans to continue development of LT Toolkit or the other drcauto products?
NV: It’s too early to say at this time. I understand it doesn’t work right now with AutoCAD LT 2010 with Update 2 applied, or on 64-bit Windows, or on Windows 7. It’s not clear at this stage how much work is involved in making it work. It should be doable, but we can’t make any commitments at this stage.
SJ: So do you have a timeframe for doing any of this stuff?
NV: No, it’s too early. We’re still processing it.
SJ: What about former drcauto employees helping people out with authorisation codes?
NV: They have no rights to do that. They don’t own the intellectual property, we do. People need to be very careful.
SJ: Are you contemplating legal action?
NV: I think I’ll keep that under my hat for now.
SJ: Do you foresee any problems with Autodesk if you go ahead with LT Toolkit?
NV: I don’t think so. Autodesk would be pretty naive, with competing products around at a lower price than LT and with LISP built in, to think that they would gain any sales by blocking LT Toolkit. They would just be shooting themselves in the foot.
SJ: Autodesk has always been strongly opposed to products like LT Toolkit. Are you concerned about legal action from Autodesk?
NV: Well, people say that Autodesk has been against it, but I haven’t seen any evidence of that. When I spoke to the late Gary D’Arcy he told me that Autodesk had never once even contacted him to try to get him to stop developing it.
On Deelip’s blog there has been some discussion about resellers and what they should be allowed to do, so I asked some questions along those lines.
SJ: What is the relationship between CAD International in the USA and Australia?
NV: We’re an Austalian company, moving into the US marketplace for those people in the USA who want to buy our products. We don’t have offices in the USA, but we do have people on the ground.
SJ: Is CAD International an authorised AutoCAD reseller?
NV: No. We’ve been selling Autodesk products for 15 years without a direct relationship. We buy from Scholastic like everybody else in the same position. It’s not worth becoming a dealer; the obligations are too great and the margins are not worthwhile. We’ve been asked on several ocasions over the years and always said no.
[Note: I've since read (in something written well before this issue was raised here) that Autodesk Australia intends to tighten up the reseller situation in the very near future. These things go in cycles, and have for the last 25 years.]
SJ: Does Autodesk have a problem with you promoting competing products such as Bricscad?
NV: They have never spoken to us about it in the past, but as we don’t have a direct relationship with them it’s not surprising.
SJ: I see from your web site that you are selling DWG TrueView for $195. Isn’t that a free product?
NV: That fee is for supply services; research services if you prefer. People can download it from Autodesk if they like or get it from us. We just put it on the site as a trial to see if anybody wanted to buy it. Nobody has, yet.
SJ: I can’t say I’m greatly surprised by that. Has Autodesk contacted you about this issue?
NV: No, we’ve heard nothing from Autodesk. They don’t really care about us, we’re a pretty small player in the market.
[Edit: the $195 price tag has since vanished from the site.]
Things have moved on since my first post on this subject in which I passed on the information that Leonard Liang (a former drcauto employee) could help with codes for LT Toolkit orphans. In recent developments
In a comment in a WorldCAD Access post, Nigel Varley from Australian company CAD International stated that they had bought the intellectual property rights to the drcauto software, and that drcauto codes and software obtained from former employees are illegal.
Another comment on the same post from former drcauto employee Kevin J Secomb lamented the demise of Gary D’Arcy’s dream and criticised CAD International for indicating in an email to users that they would charge for authorisation codes.
CAD International created a web page describing the situation with regard to drcauto products, including a statement that it would “offer immediate assistance to those needing new authorisation codes”.
Deelip Menezes made a blog post on the subject, followed by another one containing a reaction from Autodesk’s Jim Quanci. Poth posts are worth reading, as are the comments from various observers. The first post went off at a bit of a tangent about Autodesk’s apparent benevolence towards resellers that don’t toe the corporate line (drcauto is still listed as an Authorised AutoCAD reseller a decade after being dropped by Autodesk). The second post included words from Jim that the late Gary D’Arcy was a great character, albeit a pain to Autodesk. Having met Gary many years ago and followed the story of LT Toolkit with interest, I can confirm the truth of both statements.
I thought I would have a chat with CAD International’s Nigel Varley to see if I could clear up the situation as he sees it. It was a very interesting interview, the results of which I will publish very soon.
Autodesk’s Project Butterfly is its latest offering in the Cloud (Software as a Service, SaaS, web-based software, whatever) area. This is a Labs technology preview (i.e. it ain’t cooked yet) of browser-based drawing system based on Autodesk’s purchase of Visual Tao. The idea is that no software other than a browser is required to create, edit or just view drawings. To try it out, head to http://butterfly.autodesk.com/ and pick on Try Now. If you’re interested in going further with it, you will need to create an account, which is a quick and painless process. This account is separate from your Autodesk ID.
I’ve had a brief play with it and while it’s not as horribly slow as I had feared (the Ribbon is much quicker than AutoCAD’s, although that’s not difficult), it’s currently an extremely limited environment. Other than viewing and some very crude drawing operations, pretty much everything I wanted to do either couldn’t be done, or couldn’t be done in a satisfactory way. Once I had discovered how to get a drawing out of the clouds and in my own hands (it’s not Save As), the export crashed with an HTTP Status 500 error. Apparently, the server encountered an internal error () that prevented it from fulfilling this request.
Teething problems aside, it’s hard to imagine anyone accustomed to full-featured CAD software actually spending all day drawing with this mechanism. In fact, I can’t imagine spending more than an hour on it before tearing my hair out; a few minutes was enough. It’s perfectly adequate for viewing and marking up, but as a drafting tool it’s just a toy.
But it’s a start, and Autodesk is wise to get its head into the clouds. If SaaS really is The Next Big Thing in CAD, then Autodesk would have looked very silly if it had missed the boat altogether. I’m not convinced that SaaS is going to have the impact that some are predicting, but I’ll cover that argument in a separate post.
For those of us who have been following Autodesk for decades, it’s a familiar story. Autodesk buys a company or its technology, makes an Autodesk product out of it, and initially promotes it as the best thing since sliced bread. Autodesk subsequently ignores it to death, before finally killing it off and leaving customers in the lurch.
Autodesk FM Desktop suffered this fate, and if you go looking for information about the product on the Autodesk site you’ll find only a few dregs left over from the days when this was a viable product. At least in this case Autodesk has belatedly arranged a path out of the mire for its customers. FM:Systems will be taking over Autodesk’s FM customers, and your Autodesk FM Desktop licenses can be converted to FM:Interact Workplace Management Suite licenses. There is no data transfer mechanism yet (other than a DWF import), but something is supposed to be made available in the next few months.
(Edit: Marty Chobot from FM:Systems informs me that they will help customers who need to transfer data immediately).
LT Toolkit from the now-defunct drcauto was an add-on for AutoCAD LT that provided LISP and other capabilities that Autodesk disabled. Autodesk hated this, of course, but the late Gary D’Arcy made sure everything was done legally so it couldn’t be stopped even by Autodesk’s hyperactive legal team.
If you are a user of LT Toolkit and you want to keep using the software now the company has closed down, you may find this information from Evan Yares useful:
I’ve gotten in contact with Leonard Liang, the former key developer at DRCauto. He’s asked me to send any Toolkit Max users to him, and he will help them. His website is www.cadsta.com. His email, at that domain, is “leonardl”.
Source: a comment in this this WorldCAD Access post. If you don’t read comments, you may well have missed this, so I thought it was worth repeating.
Edit: events have overtaken this news since it was written. Please see here and here.
One of the blogs I read regularly is Photoshop Disasters, which recently posted a picture of a Ralph Lauren ad. In common with many fashion photos, this showed a skinny model that appeared to have been further skinnified on somebody’s computer to the point that the poor waif was ridiculously deformed. Like this:
Nothing out of the ordinary there, then. Under normal circumstances it would have received a few dozen comments and scrolled off the front page in a week or so, because there is no shortage of bad image manipulation out there for the blog to snigger at. The image was reposted at Boing Boing, but it would still have been forgotten in a week.
Except this time, Ralph Lauren prodded its lawyers into action and demanded the image be removed from both sites, issuing a DMCA notice. The DMCA request was spurious, as this is a clear case of fair use of an image for the purposes of criticism. Photoshop Disasters is hosted by Blogspot, which automatically complies with such requests. Boing Boing is not, and instead went on the offensive. They refused to take down the picture, instead reposting it with biting sarcasm. Read it, it’s funny. Ralph Lauren, if you’re reading this, please send me a DMCA notice too. I’m feeling left out.
This led to a flurry of comments, reposts and reports all over the Internet, including here. The comments (running at over a hundred an hour right now) are almost universally mocking of Ralph Lauren, its legal team, its models and its image manipulation propensities. The criticism goes way beyond the few snipes at a mangled-body image that would have been the case if Ralph Lauren had done nothing. It has moved on to the fashion designer’s ethical standards and those of the fashion industry as a whole for promoting artificially skinny bodies to eating-disorder-vulnerable people.
Now, is Ralph Lauren really that clueless and out of touch, to think that this kind of suppression would work? Or is this actually a deliberate marketing move, using the Streisand Effect to gain free publicity? Maybe, but it’s a deplorable attack on freedom of speech either way, and a boycott is fully justified. I’m not going to buy any of their stuff, ever, and I encourage you to do likewise. To be fair, I was unlikely to be a rich source of income. Even if I were a female with lots of excess money to throw away on clothes that look really awful, there is no way they would ever fit me. Or any living human, from the look of that photo.
Don’t get too excited, because I’m sure Autodesk will appeal, but as reported at Owen Wengerd’s CAD/Court, Vernor has won the right to resell his used copies of AutoCAD. While this is seen by some as a victory for customers, it isn’t. This doesn’t open up a brave new world in which we are allowed to sell the software we buy once we’re finished with it. If it had, I would be rejoicing as loud as anybody, because Autodesk’s ban on software transfers is an unconscionable restriction and deserves to die. But that’s not what this decision means. There are specific and paradoxical circumstances here, which allowed Vernor to win this case despite being morally wrong in my view, but will not benefit legitimate software users.
Vernor won (for now, and in one jurisdiction) because the court found he was not a party to the EULA. He didn’t read it, he didn’t click on anything to indicate his agreement to it, nothing. He just bought a bunch of books and discs and wanted to sell them on eBay. The fact that the item being sold is a remnant from software that had already been upgraded was not considered relevant. Neither was the fact that Autodesk is not obliged to provide the buyer of the discs with the codes they will need to make the software work. The upshot is that this decision will allow a small number of people to buy and sell useless discs. What about the buyers of those discs who may not know they are useless until too late? Caveat emptor, I guess. Some other court can sort out that mess.
I agree with Ralph Grabowski that “software should be no different than any other consumer good: buy it, use it, resell it, or toss it”. I’d love to see Autodesk and other vendors forced to support a legitimate used software resale market (as they once did in pre-eBay days), but this decision won’t make that happen. It won’t help customers at all. If your firm has shrunk a bit and you have some spare licenses, you still can’t sell them because you are a party to the EULA (probably, although this area is still a bit fuzzy). But take heart! If you go bust, your creditors may be able to slip any discs left over from your upgrade history into a garage sale and hope that Mr. Vernor drops by. Mr. Vernor will be allowed to sell them, and the new buyers will be allowed to put them on their shelves and look at them.
Is that really a win for customers? I don’t think so.
A problem I’ve seen affecting keyboard users (particularly fast ones) in recent AutoCADs (since 2006) is that the characters entered into the command line are not always the ones you typed. Or rather, they are the ones you typed, just not in the right order. In particular, I’ve seen the first couple of characters get messed up, so you might get ILNE instead of LINE. In addition to the annoyance factor, this is something of a productivity killer.
Has this happened to you? If so, please comment. Any comment is welcome, but it would be great if you could provide the following information:
AutoCAD (or vertical) release(s) where you have seen this happen. Also mention any recent releases where you have seen it not happen.
Command line status when you have seen this happen (docked, floating, off, all of the above).
Dynamic input status when you have seen this happen (on, off, on but with some options turned off, all of the above).
Screen configuration when you have seen this happen (single, dual, either).
AutoCAD main window status when you have seen this happen (maximised, floating, either).
Other than this problem, does AutoCAD’s general response to input seem “sticky”? Sticky keyboard, mouse, or both?
Other than AutoCAD, do any other apps give sticky response on the same PC?
General PC stats (OS, CPU type and speed, RAM size, graphics card).
Please add anything else that you think might be useful in tracking this down or working around it. If I learn anything that might be useful, I’ll report back in a later post.
Last week, in my capacity as a de facto CAD manager for a large public utility company, I was having a chat with an Autodesk Australia person (he’s a nice guy and very honest, by the way). The topic of conversation moved to the new AutoCAD-based vertical, Plant 3D 2010. At that stage, I had not even installed the 30-day trial, but I still raised some of the issues that potentially stood in the way of the company adopting this apparently highly suitable product.
In a word, it comes down to trust. Each drawing used or issued by this utility is a legal document with a potentially very long life ahead of it. I showed the Autodesk person a drawing issued in 1901. The assets documented by that drawing are still in use today; indeed, many thousands of people daily depend heavily on them. Before we invest our money, time and training in Plant 3D, we need to know that the electronic drawings produced with it are going to be fully functional in the long term.
In terms of a new product like Plant 3D, can we trust Autodesk to do the following?
Still be around and providing CAD software for many years?
Go on supporting this new product for many years?
In the event that the product is discontinued, provide an alternative, together with a migration path that retains full drawing intelligence?
In the event that the product is discontinued, continue to provide ongoing support at least to the level of allowing the product to run and be transferred from one computer to another?
Provide a product that works as well in real life as it does in demos?
Provide a product that, from first release, works without crippling restrictions or bugs that render the product unusable?
Include adequate support for national standards?
Sell the product for a reasonable price on an ongoing basis?
Provide Subscription for a reasonable price on an ongoing basis?
Provide the product in such a way that we have flexibility in our use of network and standalone licensing long-term?
Continue to allow the licensed use of earlier releases and use at home?
Provide full API access to the custom objects, including ActiveX?
Provide adequate object enablers for all recent AutoCAD releases and variants?
Support the ongoing use of DWG files by other releases of this product freely up and down within a 3-release DWG version bracket?
Provide full visual integrity, editability of proxy objects and round-tripping of intelligence, when saving to plain AutoCAD, including earlier releases?
Provide mechanisms that allow any company-based custom work to be distributed easily to internal and external users and carried forward to new releases reliably?
Avoid introducing problems and restrictions that would interfere with customisation and other aspects of CAD management?
Feel free to add to my list in your comments. If you go down the list giving a Yes, No or Maybe, how well does Autodesk do? Before looking at the product, I’ve got one Yes, a few Maybes and a very large number of Nos. That’s not based on paranoia or hatred, just on past history, including very recent history.
For example, can Autodesk be trusted to still be selling Plant 3D in a few years’ time? Ask the users of Autodesk FMDesktop. The same can be said of any of the other products in a long list of Autodesk abandonments that goes back to the dark ages. Generic CADD, anyone? What do I do with all my old Graphic Impact files?
Is it likely that Plant 3D will work properly in the real world in the first release or two? Ask the users of Civil 3D who tried to get any grading done for the first few releases. Very major and obvious problems in new products can go on for years before being addressed.
I’d be interested to hear how well you think Autodesk rates for new-product trustworthiness. There are other aspects to trusting Autodesk, and I will cover these in a future post. Please wait for that one before launching into any generic tirades; for now I just want to know about your level of Autodesk trust, purely in relation to new products and continued support for existing ones.
AutoCAD Ribbon use (and non-use) may have been the hottest topic on this blog to date, but it’s a storm in a teacup compared with what has been going on between Revit users and Autodesk. More on that later, but for now I’d just like to pass on a statement made by Autodesk BIM Design Product Line Manager Anthony A. Hauck on the AUGI forums that:
Recent data on other Autodesk applications having both the new and “classic” UI show about a 2 : 1 split in favor of the new UI.
I would be interested to know the full details behind this assertion. Whenever I see a baldly-stated statistic like this, my first thought is “where did it come from?” Without full details of the data and how it was obtained, every statistic like this is suspect at best. It could just as easily be useless or misleading. I’m afraid I’ve become rather cynical whenever I see any kind of Autodesk statistic. When challenged in the past, Autodesk has consistently failed or refused to back up its marketing statistics (or even vague assertions that certain secret Autodesk-supporting statistics exist) by providing the comprehensive details required to make them useful. I’d love to be proven wrong in this case, but I won’t be holding my breath.
Instead, I’ll just ask you and we’ll see how the numbers compare. Over on the right, there are two new polls on Ribbon use; one for Revit and one for AutoCAD. If requested, I’ll do similar polls for Inventor and 3ds Max. Please add your vote and feel free to comment.
Over the past few releases, and particularly in AutoCAD 2009 and 2010, I have noticed an increase in the number of information notices (bubbles, warnings, task dialogs, Communication Center notices, etc.) being displayed. Shaan Hurley has pointed out that 2010 Update 1 introduces a balloon notification that periodically makes you aware of how much time remains before your subscription expires. Is this a good thing?
There’s a poll on the right that asks a specific question about the default state of AutoCAD 2009 and 2010, but I’d also like to see some comments on this. What do you think of these messages? Are they useful? Do they get in the way? Do you take any notice of them? Are there too many? Do we need any others? Do you turn them off? Is it easy enough to control them?
Update 1, the first of Autodesk’s Updates (formerly Service Packs) for AutoCAD 2010 is now out for AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT. Equivalent updates for various verticals will follow soon. The Readme contains information about what was fixed, so I won’t reproduce that here.
As always, read the readme first and exercise the usual paranoia. However, my experience of the pre-release versions of this Update has been positive.
As I mentioned in my last post, I had some reservations about the code provided by Autodesk to deal with suspect acad.vlx and logo.gif files. Based on a suggestion from Jimmy Bergmark, I have written my own, safer version which you can download here: clean_virus_safe.lsp.
The comments at the top of the clean_virus_safe.lsp file explain what to do with it, but I will reproduce some of the relevant points here.
Purpose: Checks for existence of acad.vlx and logo.gif files, which are associated with virus AL/Logo-A, also known as ACAD/Unexplode, ACAD/Agent.A or ACM_UNEXPLODE.B. Written as a safer alternative to Autodesk’s code which deletes suspect files without prior warning. This code renames the files instead.
Legal: Provided as-is with no warranty whatsoever, use at own risk. May be distributed freely.
Usage: Append the contents of this file into a startup LISP file (e.g. acaddoc.lsp in your search path – create such a file if it does not exist). Autodesk’s suggestion to modify the acad20xx.lsp file should not be followed: this is bad practice. The acad20xx.lsp file is Autodesk’s file and any modifications you make to it are likely to be lost when updates and patches are applied.
Effects: Any and all files named acad.vlx and logo.gif and located in AutoCAD’s search path will be renamed, e.g. “acad.vlx” will become “[Suspected Virus] acad.vlx0″. The name will end in a number starting with 0. If other suspect files are later found in the same location, those files will be renamed to end with 1, 2, 3 and so on.
I don’t have a copy of the actual virus, and would like to get hold of one with a view to possibly improving this code. If you have a copy, I would be grateful if you could contact me so I can dissect it.
The LISP code suggested will delete any files called acad.vlx or logo.gif that are located in the current user’s current AutoCAD search path. There are a couple of problems with that.
The search path will change depending on the user, the profile, the startup folder and the drawing folder. That means you can’t just use the code once and expect the problem to go away; the code will need to remain in place permanently to ensure it does not recur. That may not be a huge problem, although it will have a performance penalty (particularly where the search path is long and/or includes network paths) and it is one more thing to remember to carry over to future releases.
More importantly, the code has no idea if the files it is deleting are legitimate or not. It is quite possible for a custom environment or third-party utility to make use of a file called acad.vlx, and there are all sorts of reasons you may have a logo.gif file floating around. The Autodesk code will just erase such files without prior warning, which is a bit naughty.
I commend Shaan and Autodesk for posting this information and proposed solution. However, I recommend caution before using this code as suggested. Check with your CAD Manager (if you have one) first to ensure there are no legitimate acad.vlx files in your environment. Do a search for these files yourself and see if there is a legitimate reason for them being where they are.
As with most malware attacks, taking care with incoming files is a very important part of the solution. Don’t just blindly use the contents of a zip file full of drawings, even from a trusted source. If somebody sends you a zip file containing an acad.vlx file, let the sender know about the problem and ask for an uninfected set of files.
There is a piece of malware out there written as an ObjectARX application, i.e. it will only affect AutoCAD users. It’s a China-based adware client, which Andrew Brandt at the Webroot threat blog has named Trojan-Pigrig. For full details, see here. Also, see here for AutoCAD-specific advice from the AutoCAD support team at the Without a Net blog.
Today, I tried to investigate a DWG file that one of my users couldn’t open. It wouldn’t open for me on an old 1 GB PC. Trying a PC with 4 GB didn’t help, and neither did experimenting with various releases of AutoCAD. Depending on the release, AutoCAD would either try to open the drawing and eventually die with an out of memory error, or would instantly inform me that the drawing was too big to open. I don’t have access to a 64-bit version of AutoCAD (which might possibly be able to open this monster on a PC with more than 4 GB of RAM), so the drawing is effectively useless.
The drawing is 242 MB (254,145,119 bytes), which I’m pretty sure is the largest drawing I’ve ever encountered. Based on a plot of a previous revision of the the drawing, it should be about 200 to 300 KB, i.e. one thousandth of the size it is. Looking at other oversized drawings from the same company shows that they are large because they contain lots of invisible proxy objects from a third party add-on or vertical variant of AutoCAD. Wblock will dramatically shrink such drawings, but care needs to be taken to ensure it’s not stripping out anything that might possibly be needed.
What is the biggest drawing you have ever come across? Did you discover what was making it so huge?
The AUGI Special Election voting page is now live, and will be open until 12 July 2009. I encourage all AUGI members to carefully consider the candidates and participate in the electoral process.
I do not like some of the restrictions that have been placed on this election, but it is the first real election (i.e. with a choice of candidates) that AUGI has had for several years, so please make it a success by taking part.