Hope for Autodesk FM Desktop orphans

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).

For more information, see www.fmsystems.com/fmdesktop, especially the FAQ.Edit:

Hope for drcauto LT Toolkit orphans

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.

I’m Still Alive

It’s an understatement to say that things have been a little quiet around here lately. I have just returned from some international travels and expect to start ramping thing up again soon.

Thanks to the person who enquired about my wellbeing; I value your concern. I replied, but it bounced.

Ralph Lauren – genuinely dumb or trying to be clever?

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:

LOL - Laugh On Lauren

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.

Vernor wins (for now), customers don’t

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.

Does your AutoCAD get its wrods worng?

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:

  1. AutoCAD (or vertical) release(s) where you have seen this happen. Also mention any recent releases where you have seen it not happen.
  2. Command line status when you have seen this happen (docked, floating, off, all of the above).
  3. Dynamic input status when you have seen this happen (on, off, on but with some options turned off, all of the above).
  4. Screen configuration when you have seen this happen (single, dual, either).
  5. AutoCAD main window status when you have seen this happen (maximised, floating, either).
  6. Other than this problem, does AutoCAD’s general response to input seem “sticky”? Sticky keyboard, mouse, or both?
  7. Other than AutoCAD, do any other apps give sticky response on the same PC?
  8. 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.

Trusting Autodesk? Contemplating a new product

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?

  1. Still be around and providing CAD software for many years?
  2. Go on supporting this new product for many years?
  3. In the event that the product is discontinued, provide an alternative, together with a migration path that retains full drawing intelligence?
  4. 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?
  5. Provide a product that works as well in real life as it does in demos?
  6. Provide a product that, from first release, works without crippling restrictions or bugs that render the product unusable?
  7. Include adequate support for national standards?
  8. Sell the product for a reasonable price on an ongoing basis?
  9. Provide Subscription for a reasonable price on an ongoing basis?
  10. Provide the product in such a way that we have flexibility in our use of network and standalone licensing long-term?
  11. Continue to allow the licensed use of earlier releases and use at home?
  12. Provide full API access to the custom objects, including ActiveX?
  13. Provide adequate object enablers for all recent AutoCAD releases and variants?
  14. Support the ongoing use of DWG files by other releases of this product freely up and down within a 3-release DWG version bracket?
  15. Provide full visual integrity, editability of proxy objects and round-tripping of intelligence, when saving to plain AutoCAD, including earlier releases?
  16. 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?
  17. 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.

Ribbon acceptance in AutoCAD and Revit

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.

These messages are brought to you by AutoCAD

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?

AutoCAD 2010 Update 1

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.

AutoCAD virus protection update

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.

Another AutoCAD malware warning

Shaan Hurley has posted some useful information about another AutoCAD-based virus that is doing the rounds, and I strongly suggest you read it. However, I have some reservations about the solution that is posted there and in the Autodesk knowledgebase.

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.

The biggest DWG file I’ve ever seen

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?

AUGI Special Election – voting opens

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.

AUGI Salary Survey – last few days

The annual AUGI Salary Survey (ably run by friend and fellow geek/blogger Melanie Perry) is open for your responses until 30 June,  so if you’re planning to fill it in, please get in soon. There are 19 simple questions on one page, and it only takes a couple of minutes. If you have questions about the survey, read the FAQ.

In these troubled times, many of you may find the previous years’ results a valuable resource.

AUGI | AEC EDGE magazine published

More AUGI news, but good news this time. The first edition of the on-line magazine AUGI | AEC EDGE has been published by Extension Media. It is available in high- and low-res PDF format, plus an on-line reader. The first issue has 82 pages of almost entirely Revit articles and is very light on for advertising. That’s good in the short term for readers who prefer editorial content over advertising, but in the long term the advertising ratio will have to ramp up to ensure this publication’s ongoing survival.

In the meantime, I commend the advertisers who did contribute to making this publication a reality: Contex, Advanced AEC Solutions, CADzation, Autodesk Catalog, Autodesk Seek / Revit Market and HP (although I may not be so kind to HP in future posts on this blog). I also commend Editor (and AUGI Director) Steve Stafford and his big team of volunteer writers for their efforts.

AUGI Special Election – Candidates

There are four candidates for two positions on the AUGI Board of Directors. The voting page is now open, although it will not go active until voting commences on 29 June. The candidates are (in alphabetical order):

I encourage you to read their profiles (click on the names above) and examine the PDFs of their answers to a fixed set of questions.  Also, check out the candidates’ responses in the AUGI Board Candidates Discussion forum.

If you have anything to say about the candidates, their suitability for the position or their responses to questions, feel free to add your comments here. Such discussion is banned on the AUGI forums, but you won’t find any such censorship here. As long as your comments are not actually libellous, I won’t be modifying or deleting anything.

In a comment,  R.K. McSwain raises the spectre of people being banned from the AUGI forums for their comments outside it. Having made one Streisand Effect error of judgement on this issue already, I wouldn’t have thought the BoD would be silly enough to immediately repeat that error by getting even more heavy-handed, but you never know. I’m prepared to wear the risk, but if you’re worried about it, you don’t need to use your real name or AUGI forum name here. Even if you did, there’s no way of the BoD proving that the person using that name here is the same person on the AUGI forums. I won’t be handing out any identifying information to anyone, so go for it and say what you like.

A touch of Tehran taints the AUGI Special Election

Most of you reading this blog are fortunate enough to live in democracies, and can only look on with sympathy at those who are denied the right to choose who represents them. What must it be like to live under regimes where the people are denied basic rights such as a free choice over who governs them? Or under mock-democratic regimes that hold “elections” where the candidates available from which to choose are strictly limited, or where the ruling regime changes the rules of the game to prevent losing its majority, or where the right to comment on the suitability of candidates is removed?

Well, I guess we AUGI members now have a slight inkling of what that is like.

OK, so that’s over the top. At AUGI, there are no riots in the street, no fires, no guns, no dead protesters. No election fraud, either, and I would hope there never is. An AUGI election is infinitely more trivial than what the Iranian people are struggling with. That said, there are clear failings at AUGI on the democratic side of things. These include:

  1. In recent years, the Board of Directors (BoD) using the Affirmation Ballot style of “election” to appoint itself as half of the BoD is replaced each year. In this method, the BoD selects the people it wants on the BoD and allows the members the formality of voting “Yes” or “No” for each candidate. This has been widely seen as preserving an “old boys’ club”, and was practiced right up to the point where it failed at the end of 2008. It failed because members’ interest in this “electoral” process had dwindled to the point where a few dozen disgruntled “No” voters were enough to ensure that none of the BoD’s choices were accepted (including some very worthy people who have given a lot to AUGI over the years).
  2. The BoD setting up the replacement election such that it reduces the number of Directors being elected from 4 to 2. This ensures that it is not possible for the members to elect enough Directors to make a difference to how the BoD is run. This was done, despite the fact that it ensures that it will be not possible to run an election at the end of 2009 that meets the requirements of the current bylaws.
  3. The BoD putting tight restrictions on who the members are allowed to vote for. At least 7 members put themselves forward as candidates for the 2 available seats, but only 4 were accepted. The 3 rejected candidates all met the minimum qualifications, and included former Presidents and a highly respected long-term AUGI volunteer who was considered worthy enough to put forward at the end of 2008. Two of the candidates were clearly being punished for expressing views contrary to that of the BoD, but the exclusion of one candidate in particular has everyone baffled. No explanation has been forthcoming to justify these exclusions.
  4. Introducing a special forum to allow members to ask questions of the candidates (which is good), but as part of that process, sneaking in a rule that forbids discussion of the candidates or their answers anywhere on the AUGI forums (which is very, very bad). See here, rule 6: “Discussion of specific candidates and their responses in other Forums is prohibited.”

There are other failings I could have mentioned, but the electoral censorship issue is what drove me over the edge. Having remained neutral for a long time (including defending the BoD on occasion), I reached the point where I felt that continuing to remain silent about these abuses would be an insult to the AUGI membership. Such a violation of the right to freedom of speech is not to be tolerated, particularly where it amounts to interference with the electoral process. I do not accept this rule, but as a good AUGI citizen I will abide by it within the AUGI forums. I will not, however, be abiding by it here, where the BoD has no censorship rights.

You can look forward to seeing lots more on this subject in the coming days leading up to the opening of the polls on 29 June. If you are an AUGI member, I encourage you to take an active interest in this and future elections. Please read the Organization Feedback forums, the Candidates’ Forums, and above all, vote!

Hotfix available for Raster Design licensing issue

Thanks to Brian and Rick for pointing out the availability of a hotfix for Raster Design 2010’s standalone/network license incompatibility. As a bonus, it also fixes some Raster Design / Civil 3D stability issues.

The hotfix is available here, and as always with patches, fixes, service packs and updates, read the readme first.

Note that although this fixes the most common scenario where a network Raster Design needs to work on a standalone AutoCAD, it does not fix the opposite scenario. So if you have a bunch of network licensed AutoCAD variants available to you and you have a standalone license of Raster Design because you’re the only person in the office who needs it, you’re still out of luck. If you’re in such a position, I think you have a very strong case for a no-cost change from standalone to network licensing for Raster Design. If you ask for this and are refused, let me know and I’ll let everyone else know.