AutoCAD for Linux – another bad idea

I often see calls for Autodesk to support AutoCAD on Linux. Just like AutoCAD for the Mac, while I can sympathise with the users of that OS, I think a native port of AutoCAD for Linux would be a bad idea. Again, I think it would be bad for everybody: Autodesk, AutoCAD for Windows users, and most of all, AutoCAD for Linux users.

Why? First of all, for most of the same reasons I gave for the Mac port. Autodesk hasn’t just failed in the past with AutoCAD for the Mac, it has failed with AutoCAD for Unix, too. I remember Autodesk being very enthusiastic about the Sparc port in particular (AIX, too). I know personally of customers who were caught up in that enthusiasm and invested heavily in a Unix environment, only to bitterly regret it a few years later when Autodesk abandoned them. Would this happen again? Probably.

Second, the numbers just don’t add up. Current PC OS market share is running something like this:

Windows 88%
Mac OS 10%
Linux 1%

While the Windows share is currently falling (thanks, Vista) and the others are steadily rising, there’s a long way to go before Linux has the numbers to make the investment worthwhile. In any case, it is likely that most Mac or Linux users of AutoCAD wouldn’t be new customers, simply existing users using a different OS. Not much of a cash cow, is it?

I dislike the Windows monopoly and support the open source movement, so I would love it if Autodesk could just snap its fingers and provide all its software on whatever platforms the users want. Mac? Sure. Linux? Great, why not? The reality is that it’s not that easy. It’s expensive to do and expensive to go on supporting in the long term. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t make commercial sense, and wishing it did will not make it so.

Go and snag a free Snagit, quick!

For the next few hours, you can get a free registered version of the screen capture software Snagit from TechSmith. It’s a couple of versions old and not supported on Vista, but nevertheless is well worthwhile. No, the Print Scrn key isn’t the same thing at all; Snagit is much, much more useful than that. Try it for yourself, you can thank me later.

To get the freebie, first get a registration key by clicking here and then download your copy of Snagit 7.2.5 from here. Be quick, because this offer closes at 5 PM EST (9 PM GMT/UTC) today, 5 June 2009.

Even if you were planning on buying the latest version of Snagit, get this freebie anyway. As a registered user of Snagit, you automatically qualify for upgrade offers. This means you can get the latest Snagit for US$24.95 rather than US$49.95 (depending on location).

TechSmith has another screen capture utility, Jing. This is also free, with a more powerful version available at a cost. Which is the best TechSmith screen capture utility? Dunno, I’ve never used Jing. Grab ’em both and see what you think.

Source: mCADForums via SolidMentor.

Disclosure: at Autodesk University 2006, I was given free copies of Snagit 8.1 and Camtasia Studio 4.0 (thanks Shaan), both of which I still use regularly (i.e. it’s not shelfware). I was also given a TechSmith T-shirt, which I ruined within hours by spilling red wine on it.

AutoCAD for Mac review in Cadalyst (circa 1989)

A comment from Kal on Between the Lines mentions an AutoCAD Release 10.5 for Mac. My memory of ancient and useless AutoCAD trivia is usually pretty good, but this time things are a bit foggy and I need some help. I definitely remember there being some kind of half-release of AutoCAD for Mac*, but I’m not sure it was an official designation.

I do remember a Cadalyst review at the time, possibly by Art Liddle. I would estimate it to be from 1989, give or take a year. The then-new Mac release reviewed was some kind of hybrid between R10 and R11 (I think), with most of the feature set of one release and the DWG format of another. I had thought the product was called R11, but I could be wrong about that and maybe it was 10.5.

Is there anybody out there with a complete set of Cadalyst issues that goes back that far? Mine only goes back to mid-1995. If so, can you locate that review?

* Two decades ago, with a much smaller and simpler code base that was already non-platform-specific, Autodesk had to cobble together a hybrid release to provide native Mac support. How much harder would that task be today?

Why AutoCAD for Mac is a bad idea

There has been a fair bit of open discussion from Autodesk lately on the subject of a possible future OS X AutoCAD version. The more I think about this, the more I am inclined to believe that this would be a bad idea. A very bad idea.

It pains me to write this, because I’m very much a user advocate and I’m arguing here against something that some users have been requesting for a long time. If you’re one of those users, I’m sorry, but I think this is one of those cases when giving you what you want would be bad for everybody, and bad for you in particular.

Now, this sort of platform discussion often degenerates into a quasi-religious debate, so let’s see if I can head it off at the pass. If you’re a Mac fan who wants to tell me the benefits of your chosen computer family and how inferior Windows is, save it. I’ll concede right here and now that you are probably right. My experience of Apple products has generally been very positive. They look good, they’re well made, they work well, the Mac OS has been shamelessly copied by Microsoft for decades, and so on, ad nauseam. Yup. Not disputed. Also, not relevant to the point I’m about to make.

Ever since the last multi-platform AutoCAD (Release 13), Autodesk has dedicated its primary product solely to Windows. Since then, the code base has been spreading its mass of roots deeper and deeper into the Windows soil. Any Windows-specific advantage the developers can take has been taken. Reversing or working around that process is a very substantial undertaking. If it were done, I think it would have the following outcomes:

AutoCAD for Mac would suck

The performance is likely to be poor, because all the Windows-specific stuff will have to be redirected, recreated or emulated. The stability is likely to be awful, because this will be new ground for almost all of the developers involved. Developers with AutoCAD experience are going to have little or no Mac experience and vice-versa. They would be trying to make significant changes to the code base at the same time that that code base is being modified for the next release. The bug level is likely to be abysmal, both for the above reasons and also because the number of pre-release testers available to Autodesk on this platform is likely to be relatively tiny. The user interface is likely to be an uncomfortable square-peg-in-round-hole effort, which will work badly and be derided by OS X users.

AutoCAD for Mac would be half-baked

Not just half-baked in the usual let’s-put-this-out-as-is-and-maybe-we-can-fix-it-later way, but half-baked by design. The Autodesk survey implies that serious consideration is being put into a version of AutoCAD that is missing some of the things that make AutoCAD what it is. Things like paper/model space functionality, the command line, 3D, LISP, the ability to use third-party apps… AutoCAD for Mac LT Lite, anyone? If the APIs are not all there, that means no OS X version of any of the AutoCAD-based vertical products, either.

AutoCAD for Mac would be bad for Mac users

Last time this was attempted, it was a failure. The early 90s attempt at AutoCAD for Mac lasted for two three releases: 10 to 12. Autodesk had little option but to pull the pin on a non-viable product, but the orphaned users weren’t happy. Fortunately, there weren’t that many of them.

Would this happen again? Yes, I think it probably would. Any Mac user with any sense wouldn’t touch the first new Mac release with a bargepole. That, of course, makes it much less likely that there would be a second or third release. Autodesk’s corporate culture (espoused very strongly by Carol Bartz, but dating back to John Walker) encourages brave attempts that may lead to failure. This policy has unfortunately left large numbers of orphans in its wake over the years. In the event of poor sales, Mac for AutoCAD users would just be another set of unfortunates to add to a long list.

AutoCAD for Mac would be bad for Windows users

The very substantial effort required to produce any kind of AutoCAD for Mac at all would be a major drain on very limited (and shrinking) development resources. That means Windows users of AutoCAD would look forward to a release (or more likely several releases) with fewer new features, less completion of existing undercooked features, and longer waits until bugs and other problems get fixed. This, in exchange for no benefit whatsoever to those users. In fact, the decoupling of Windows-specific calls and the likely introduction of extra bugs would probably make AutoCAD for Windows work less well than it otherwise would.

AutoCAD for Mac would be bad for Autodesk

Autodesk is currently trying to save money by closing down offices, dropping products, cutting down on expenses and sacking employees (some of whom were long-termers; irreplaceable sources of information about use of the product and why certain things were done the way they were). In such an environment, does it make sense to start up a new project with high resource requirements and limited potential benefits? Especially when it is just a repetition of a previous project that was a complete failure?

So, in addition to costing Autodesk a lot of money and harming the quality of its core product, a failed AutoCAD for Mac would leave behind more Autodesk haters and be rather embarrassing.

I must admit that a lot of this is based on guesswork, but it’s educated guesswork. I’ve been educated by history, if nothing else. Autodesk’s corporate consciousness has an occasional habit of ignoring the lessons of history and repeating old mistakes. I hope AutoCAD for Mac – The Sequel isn’t one of those occasions.

Autodesk’s Revit rebellion reaction

It’s time to examine how Autodesk has reacted to the widespread criticism of Revit 2010. Is Autodesk listening? To be more specific, is Autodesk’s Revit team listening?

The Good

It has been good to see extensive public participation by Autodesk people in various discussions in different places. The Revit team isn’t hiding. It is asking for feedback on the Autodesk discussion groups, the AUGI forums and its own blogs, and getting lots of it. Much of it is negative, but it is to Autodesk’s credit that I’m not seeing much in the way of denial, or demands that the criticism must be constructive. I’ve been trying in vain for years to convince some people at Autodesk that denial is counterproductive and that criticism doesn’t have to be constructive to be useful.

The sort of messenger-shooting that I’ve seen some Autodesk people do from time to over the years (*cough* R13, CUI *cough*) is generally absent. I’m not seeing Adeskers arrogantly accusing users of their criticism being based on a failure to understand the product. I’m not seeing asinine comments that infer that the negativity is simply a symptom of the critics’ resistance to change. Actually, I’ve seen one such comment, but it wasn’t from an Autodesk person.

Overall, the Revit team’s responsiveness, openness and level of public availability is impressive. It’s so good that it puts other Autodesk teams to shame. When was the last time you saw an Autodesk person respond to criticism of AutoCAD in the Autodesk discussion groups or AUGI forums? Revit people are doing quite a bit of it, and by looking back I can see that they have been doing it for a while.

There was one attempt at a traditional corporate “the product is great, we just need to review our communications” message. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work (read the comments). Denial, spin, obfuscation; these things never convince the people who need to be convinced, so why bother? While it’s good to see a reaction from somebody pretty high up in the chain of command, the people lower down have been doing a much better job of communicating with their customers.

The Bad

The trouble with all this communication is that it’s a couple of years too late. It’s no good putting a huge amount of effort into something, introducing it to users, then discovering too late that the users hate it. No amount of communication after the fact can make up for that kind of blunder. Exposing an early design to a handful of people in restricted circumstances can be useful, but it’s nowhere near enough. Lots of people need to be exposed to a product for a long time (as the Revit team now acknowledges – see an interesting Autodesk blog post here). The earlier it’s done, the better the product will be. As a bonus in these difficult times, this will lower the overall cost of development, because problems get exponentially more expensive to correct as the development cycle progresses.

From the public comments I’ve read, the Revit Ribbon was presented to beta testers as late as January, and by then it was very much a fait accompli. There was little chance of making it work significantly better, and none whatsoever of removing a bad design from the product before shipping. This scenario is, unfortunately, confined to neither Revit nor this particular instance. Although I can’t comment on my own Autodesk pre-release experiences, if you have read enough public discussions over the years you will undoubtedly have seen this kind of conversation a few times:

Angry user: “This feature is useless! The beta testers must have been blind to miss this!”
Beta tester: “Actually, we did see it and reported it right away. Autodesk just didn’t fix it.”

I would like to expand on this, but I am somewhat restricted by NDA. I’m not complaining about that (it’s a voluntary agreement), just stating the position I’m in.

Another thing that belongs in this category is the Revit team’s apparent disdain for its users’ wishlists. AUGI Revit people are convinced that their wishlists are being ignored, and I can see for myself that Autodesk’s own Revit wishlist discussion group is hardly a hive of activity.

The Ugly

Autodesk showed the cloven hoof with its exclusion of Phil Read from Autodesk University.* This reflects extremely badly on Autodesk. See here, here, here and here. Almost everybody seems to think this crude and futile attempt at censorship was a deplorable move, and I agree. Besides this being an example of messenger-shooting at its worst, it’s not a good look for the AU event itself. When you pay your AU fees, are you hoping to see the most knowledgeable, enthusiastic, passionate and inspiring speakers available? Or just the ones with opinions that align with Autodesk?

* My reaction is based on the assumption that this exclusion did take place. It has been widely reported and condemned, but not denied by Autodesk, so I think it’s a pretty safe bet. The only comment from AU management is, “Speakers for AU 2009 will be announced around June 15 – I cannot comment before.”

AUGI World’s missing column

Despite living in troubled times, AUGI is managing to keep its AUGI World publication going, at least in electronic form. The printed edition, which was previously available only in North America, is no longer with us due to printing costs and/or green intentions. It may or may not not return at some later date.

AUGI World current and past issues

I was happy to note that not only is the current copy available in PDF format, but that previous issues have also been made available in that format. The unpopular NXTBook experiment is over, it seems.

Another change you may notice this year is that David Kingsley’s On The Back Page column is no longer with us. David, a former AUGI Director, is a very vocal critic of the current AUGI Board of Directors. The Board decided that the column he submitted was not deemed suitable for publication. With David’s permission, here it is.

Rejected On The Back Page column

I should point out that the views expressed in this document are entirely David’s, and do not necessarily reflect my own. Several of the points he makes are disputed by the Board of Directors. In fact, AUGI President Mark Kiker has responded directly to David’s points with a PDF of his own. Mark didn’t want to make that response available to the public, but AUGI members can find it here.

Who is this person?

The first person to identify the pixellated personage below will win a virtual doughnut. Bonus sprinkles will be provided if anyone can identify the other people, the event, the location and the year.

Mystery person

Picture courtesy of Donnia Tabor-Hanson (CADMama), from this thread in the AUGI Coffee Without CAD forum. I encourage you to read that thread and see if you can contribute to the idea it is promoting, but not until you’ve had a guess here! Readers of that thread and the people appearing in the photo should recuse themselves. Over to you!

Edit: lots of right answers (which I’ve now unhidden). Well done, Owen!

My first computer

My first computer was a Dragon 32, which I think I bought in 1982. With a massive 32 kilobytes of RAM and a proper typewriter keyboard, it was quite advanced for a home computer of the time. The Commodore 64 may have had more RAM, but a lot of it was grabbed by its very basic BASIC. I preferred a computer with an ELSE to go with its IF, thanks. Microsoft Extended BASIC for me, not the crummy old BASIC 2.0 of the Commodore. The Commodore 64 was one of the great consumer electronics sales successes of all time. The Dragon, er, wasn’t. It lasted less than two years before the Welsh parent company went under.

Inside, it was pretty much a Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer. Outside, it was this:

Dragon 32

I cut my coding teeth on this beast. The first thing I did with it was to write a parametric 3D bottle design program. I later spent several all-nighters developing what I thought was an awesome space game in BASIC using its limited graphics. I bought a plug-in cartridge that provided me with assembly language facilities. Real nerd stuff.

I sold it to a co-worker just before the company collapsed and replaced it with a Sinclair QL, another great commercial success story. I still have that QL (broken), and another one I bought much later as a replacement. I must get it out one day and see if it still works.

What was your first computer?

AutoCAD 2009 Update 3

Update (nee Service Pack) 3 for AutoCAD 2009 is now available. See Between the Lines for full details. As always, read the readme first. Here are the links:

Readme
AutoCAD 2009
AutoCAD LT 2009
AutoCAD 2009 for Revit Architecture
AutoCAD 2009 for Revit Structure

No word yet about related updates for the vertical products.

While I’m not convinced by some aspects of the recently introduced multiple-update-per-release regime, I do approve of Autodesk continuing to maintain 2009 after 2010 has been released. People have complained about this not being done in the past, and on this score at least, I have to say that Autodesk has listened.

What do you think about these updates? Do you use them? What about CAD Managers using deployments; do you deploy the updates? Is it too disruptive? Does it cause problems with the deployment no longer matching the installation, for example when attempting a repair install? Any other issues?

AUGI Board of Directors – election process starts

The long-awaited election of members of the 2009 AUGI Board of Directors has finally got under way. Nominations are now open and will be until 24 May 2009. To nominate yourself or others, see this page for details. Various announcements have been made about the timing and format of the election events, see the Announcement forum (AUGI members only) for details. It is likely that two positions will be filled by this election and one by Presidential appointment to replace one Board member who resigned, taking the Board to the 6-member minimum.

I will be covering the background to this election in future posts, but for now I just want to get the word out and encourage people to participate.

Revolt of the Revit Ribbon Renegades

I hesitate to cover this subject because my understanding of Revit is very close to nil. I’m going to cover it anyway, because it relates to the Does Autodesk Listen? theme that I’ve discussed here in the past.

Revit 2010 has appeared with a Ribbon interface, and many users don’t like it. Some well-known Revit users, including bloggers, former Autodesk employees and Revit founders, have railed against the new release. Autodesk has been accused of ignoring long-standing wishlists and pre-release feedback. Autodesk has (it is said) wasted precious development resources by introducing a badly-designed and poorly-performing pretty new face at the expense of solving long-standing and much-requested improvements to the core product. The main complaint appears to be that Autodesk didn’t do much with this release, other than introducing an interface that doesn’t work as well as the one it replaced.

All this will sound very familiar to AutoCAD users, but there are some significant differences between the AutoCAD 2009 situation and the Revit 2010 one. First, I think it’s fair to say (even based on my limited knowledge) that the old Revit interface was in some need of attention. It was basically an old NT-style interface that had been left neglected for some years. Revit users may have been mostly happy with the way the interface worked, but the way it looked must have been a bit embarrasing, especially for Autodesk. Second, AutoCAD 2009 left the old interface in place for those people who wanted or needed to use it; with Revit 2010 it’s Ribbon or nothing. There is no transition strategy.

I’m not qualified to make a judgement on whether the complaints about the usability of the new interface are justified. I should also mention that not every Revit user hates everything about Revit 2010, and there are positive comments from some about the new interface. However, I can say that the anti-Ribbon arguments have been expressed not only passionately, but also intelligently and persuasively. It’s not so much a matter of “change is bad”, but more “this change is bad, and here’s why”. Here are some examples:

One More Thing…
One More One More Thing…
A Well-Intentioned Road Paving
Don’t Confuse Change with Progress
Autodesk Bob
Humpty Dumpty Sat On a A Wall…
Dear Autodesk
Revit 2011 – the most significant release EVER

Some of the threads from the AUGI Revit – Out There forum (requires free AUGI membership sign-up to view):

Revit 2010 – New Ribbon UI
1st impression from Revit 2010…
What is your official opinion of 2010?
Who do we complain to?
2009 vs. 2010
Revit evangelist fatigue

Finally, here’s a Dilbert cartoon that was somebody else thought was a relevant comment on this situation.

In a future post, I’ll discuss how Autodesk’s Revit people have reacted to this criticism. Is Autodesk listening? Is it issuing corporate feelgood drivel? Is it circling the wagons and shooting the messengers as they ride by? Or is it doing all of the above?

Network/standalone clash is confined to Raster Design

Autodesk has been in touch to confirm that the failure to allow a mixed network/standalone environment is confined to Raster Design. I haven’t yet tested this myself, but I’ve been told unequivocally that you can mix standalone and network license models for the major products.

Here is the official Autodesk response to the issue:

We are very aware of the issue currently relating to the co-existence of an AutoCAD SLM (stand-alone license) and AutoCAD Raster Design NLM (network license) configuration. This was not an intentional “change of licensing policy” as expressed in some blog posts this week, but an unfortunate side effect of updating our licensing technology for SLM (stand-alone) seats to be in sync with our NLM seats for all AutoCAD-based products. We can only apologize for this new behavior experienced by customers upgrade to 2010 version products.

We are currently pursuing a couple of options to rectify this situation. We do intend to provide a solution in the very near term and I hope you will join me in helping mitigate the frustrations expressed in various blogs this week.

We have also heard of speculations that this issue also impacts side-by-side installations of different AutoCAD desktops. This is not the case. Both software development and QA have successfully installed many different AutoCAD-based 2010 desktops side-by-side in mixed SLM and NLM configurations without any issues.

AutoCAD’s magic vanishing attachments

There are now quite a few file types that you can attach to an AutoCAD drawing as a reference, in the same way that you can attach other drawings as xrefs. We’ve been able to attach other drawings since Release 11 (1990) and images since Release 14 (1997), but every release since 2007 has introduced a new kind of attachment. In AutoCAD 2010, you can now also attach PDFs, MicroStation DGNs (v7 and v8), DWF and DWFx files.

But should you? Maybe not. It depends who is going to use those drawings after you. If you know for certain that every user of that drawing is going to be using 2010 and later, that’s no problem. But if there is the possibility of earlier releases being used, your fine-looking attachments could vanish silently in the night. Attach a PDF to your drawing in 2010, give it to a user of last year’s AutoCAD 2009 (you’ll need to save it as a 2007 DWG) and what will he see? Nothing. There is no text-screen warning, no bounding box, no piece of text indicating the file name, nothing. Just a blank space where there should be useful drawing content.

This problem isn’t new to 2010, because there are similar problems with the other recent attachment types. Let’s examine them one by one:

  • PDF – visible only in 2010 and later (except for the special case of 2009 with the Subscription-only Bonus Pack 2).
  • DWFx – visible only in 2009 and later.
  • DGN v7 – visible only in 2009 and later.
  • DGN v8 – visible only in 2008 and later.
  • DWF – visible only in 2007 and later.

It’s important to note that the attachments don’t actually disappear from the drawing. They are still stored there, even if you save to an earlier DWG format like 2000 or 2004. The attachments survive the round trip to an earlier DWG format intact; they will reappear just fine if reopened in 2010. (Round-tripping of new object types is something that Autodesk has done extremely well over the years).

In most cases, the objects are stored invisibly as proxy objects (object name ACAD_PROXY_ENTITY, known in the early days as zombies). In some cases, they are listed as special Underlay objects (e.g. DGNUnderlay, DWFUnderlay). In 2000 to 2006, they all list as proxies. How can you list these objects in earlier releases when you can’t see them? With a bit of LISP, or old tricks like LIST ALL Remove Crossing.

The moral of the story for drawing creators is to look before you leap whan attaching new object types. For drawing recipients, it’s something to carefully watch out for. If you’re the customer and you use an earlier release, you may even wish to include a don’t-use-this-attachment-type clause in your specifications.

Autodesk plans to fix Raster Design licensing SNAFU

I have been in touch with various people at Autodesk about Raster Design 2010’s failure to work in a mixed standalone/network environment. These people have all been suitably apologetic, they assure me it wasn’t a deliberate move on Autodesk’s part, and that moves are afoot to provide a solution fairly soon. For example:

Our intention was never to cause such inconvenience for our Raster customers with the licensing change. We are currently working on a solution and hope to have more information in the coming weeks.

And:

…we are very aware of the issue currently relating to the co-existence of an AutoCAD SLM and Raster Design NLM. This was not an intentional “change of licensing policy”, but an unfortunate side effect of updating our licensing technology for SLM (stand-alone) seats to be in sync with our NLM seats for all AutoCAD-based products. I can only apologize for this new behavior experienced by customers upgrade to 2010 version products.

We are currently pursuing a couple of options to rectify this situation. We do intend to provide a solution (fix if you will) in the very near term…

The jury is still out about whether this problem affects only Raster Design or is a general problem that prevents a mixed standalone/network environment of AutoCAD and vertical products. If it’s a general problem, it would be an unmitigated disaster for the 2010 product range. I’m getting mixed messages about this from the Autodesk people, but I don’t want to make an issue of that because the people involved are trying to help by providing what information they have as quickly as possible. As soon as I have accurate information available to me I will pass it on.

I know of at least one person who is unable to get a mixed AutoCAD and Revit MEP environment working. If you have tried to get AutoCAD 2010 and another 2010 vertical product working side by side where one is standalone and the other network, please add your experiences to the comments here.

Should you read software license agreements?

Evan Yares has raised an interesting point about the insolvency clause in Autodesk’s End User License Agreement. Please read the whole thing, but the gist is that there’s a clause where if you get into financial difficulties, Autodesk will do its bit to help you out in times of trouble by taking away your software licenses.

This clause extends as far as making an arrangement with your creditors, which is a common enough phrase but can mean several things and isn’t defined within the agreement. So, if your cash flow is a bit tight and you have to ask your phone company for another month to pay your bill, you’ll be sure to stop using all your Autodesk software, won’t you? Never use it again, because otherwise you’ll be a thief.

OK, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but I’m sure it could be interpreted that way by an aggressive and/or inventive lawyer, and Autodesk doesn’t appear to be short of those. Who knows? Why would Autodesk put that kind of thing in its EULAs if there is no intention of ever using it?

That’s an interesting aside, but it’s not my main point. Autodesk EULAs have traditionally contained unreasonable, unconscionable and arguably unenforceable clauses, so there’s nothing particularly remarkable there. My main point relates to reading EULAs in general, not just Autodesk’s. As a general rule, should you do it?

Looking at the polls I’ve done on this subject, lots of you don’t read them. In fact, over two thirds of poll respondents either never read them, or rarely do so. It would be interesting to find the reasons behind that. Do you not have the time? Is it pointless because it’s all legal gobbledygook? Do you trust the software maker to be reasonable? Do you consider click-throughs to be unenforceable? Or are there other reasons? Please let me know. I may do another poll once I have a reasonable set of choices to offer up.

There’s an argument that can be made that you are actually better off not reading these “agreements”. According to this argument, if you don’t read it, how can you have agreed to it? There’s no meeting of the minds. Better still; get somebody outside your company to do the installation for you. That person has no authority to bind your company to anything, so no agreement exists.

Or does it? Is this a valid argument? Until there’s either well-established case law or unambiguous legislation, it’s anybody’s guess. Even when the answer is known, it’s highly likely that the answer will vary depending on your location. Even if the agreement states that it is based on California law, what if the local law establishes that no obligation exists that binds you to that agreement?

What’s the best thing to do? I honestly don’t know. You could do an R. Paul Waddington and make a public repudiation of any obligation to abide by Autodesk’s EULAs, and continue to use the software. You could do what I suspect a large number of people do, which is the same kind of repudiation, but a silent one. You could attempt to negotiate a modified EULA with the software vendor, but I don’t fancy your chances. You could stop using software with unreasonable EULAs, but what kind of choice is that? It may not be possible at all for your business. Finally, you could just put up and shut up, either agreeing unreservedly to accept whatever is in the EULA, or crossing your fingers in the hope that the software vendor will do the right thing.

What choice have you made, and why?

Autodesk messes up Raster Design 2010 licensing

I was horrified to learn (in this Autodesk Discussion Group thread) that Autodesk has changed the rules as far as the way Raster Design licenses are handled. It’s quite possible that Autodesk has also done this with other products that I’m not yet aware of. If so, please comment and let me know.

If you’re not familiar with Raster Design, it’s an Autodesk add-on that adds raster handling capabilities to AutoCAD and AutoCAD-based products. The change that has been introduced is that the licensing method of AutoCAD and Raster Design now has to match. That is, if your AutoCAD is standalone, the network version of Raster Design won’t run on it, and vice versa.

Why does this matter? Let’s say you’re a CAD Manager in this scenario:

You have a hundred AutoCAD users, half of which are full-time users with standalone licenses and the other half who are mainly part-time users with network licenses. Let’s say that some of those users (of both types) have a very occasional need to use the features in Raster Design. You bought one network license of the product a few releases ago and have everything on Subscription, just the way Autodesk wants it. So far, you’ve been able to provide the Raster Design option to all of your users. Only one user at a time can use it, but as use of the product is pretty rare, this hasn’t been a problem to date. If demand increased, other licenses could be added as needed.

Now, with Raster Design 2010, this is no longer possible. Your network license will not be available to your standalone users. You have the following options:

  1. Buy 50 standalone licenses of Raster Design 2010 for your standalone AutoCAD 2010 users, i.e. spend a huge amount of money on software that will go unused more than 99% of the time. Oh, and commit more money to maintaining that software with Subscription.
  2. Convert all your AutoCAD licenses from standalone to network. This is not a free service. Last time I looked, it cost about 20% of the retail price of a new seat. That means you will need to waste a huge amount of money changing your AutoCAD licenses to work in a way that is an inferior match with the way you do business. If you’ve already provided AutoCAD 2010 to your standalone users, you’ll need to uninstall them all and reinstall them as network versions. Won’t that be fun?
  3. Upgrade neither AutoCAD or Raster Design to 2010 and stick with the release you’ve got, i.e. waste a large amount of pre-paid Subscription money.
  4. Do without Raster Design altogether, i.e. waste the money you’ve spent on the product purchase and Subscription. In this case, you’ll probably need to put some time, effort and further expenditure into investigating and buying third-party alternatives that have a sane network licensing policy. Who said Autodesk is hard on its third-party developers? Look, it’s actively drumming up business for them!

Wow. This, in an environment where people are looking to save money. It doesn’t matter what efforts the Raster Design developers have put into improving the product. Raster Design could do twice as much stuff, twice as well, in half the time, while looking prettier and playing a tune. For many customers, this licensing decision has rendered the product unusable, so none of that stuff will matter. Why did you bother, people?

It’s such a spectacularly stupid move that it’s hard to comprehend that anybody within Autodesk could even seriously contemplate the idea, let alone allow it to get through to the finished product. Here are my top ten reasons why this is dumb even from Autodesk’s point of view:

  1. It adds another unnecessary pain point to CAD Managers. These are generally the people who are currently working out whether to upgrade, pay for Subscription, or stick with what they have and pay Autodesk nothing, so they are the people Autodesk should be most careful to avoid hurting.
  2. It will discourage some people from using the current release of the products.
  3. It will discourage other people from keeping their Subscription current.
  4. It will encourage some customers to ask for their money back for Raster Design, Subscription or both. If this is refused, it could even lead to another bad-publicity court case.
  5. It is a negative example people will use when deciding whether Autodesk can be trusted to do the right thing by its customers, once they are all tied into Subscription.
  6. It will discourage people who may have been interested in Raster Design from buying it.
  7. It will discourage people from investing in any other Autodesk add-on software in future.
  8. It will increase the perception that Autodesk doesn’t care about its customers and is always looking out for sneaky cash grabs.
  9. It will increase the perception that Autodesk is clueless about how its products are used in the real world.
  10. It distracts from the generally positive news about the AutoCAD 2010 product family. I’ve got some nice things to say about AutoCAD 2010, but I’m writing this instead.

Autodesk, this is a particularly nasty anti-customer move, and that’s the polite way of putting it. I stongly advise you to reverse this decision. I don’t care if you’ve made it technically difficult for yourself to do so; just do it. Please.

Disclosure: the above scenario is not a million miles from the situation in which I find myself. So it’s something that directly affects me. But it’s something so dumb and annoying that I’d still be ranting about it, even if that were not the case.

Not another SpacePilot PRO review

This post is not about the new SpacePilot PRO 3D controller from 3Dconnexion (a division of Logitech). This post is about the Internet coverage of the launch of that new device, journalism, blogging, freebies and ethics.

It has long been common practice for companies to give out free stuff to journalists. Free gadgets, free transport and other expenses for attending events, free beer, free lunch… oh, wait, there’s no such thing. As blogging has risen in prominence, that practice has been extended to providing free stuff for bloggers. It was traditional in the past for such freebies to go unmentioned in reports about the products of such companies. I think the first time I saw this kind of thing disclosed was by Ralph Grabowski, and I was impressed. Maybe it’s just the sites I read, but I see more of that kind of disclosure in blogs than I do in the traditional press (whatever that means these days).

It seems that 3Dconnexion is distributing its US$499 SpacePilot PRO devices like confetti (particluarly at SolidWorks World), hoping to get as much coverage as it can. It’s working. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with that. If a company wants to let potential customers know about its products, and if those customers read blogs, it makes sense for the company to send samples to bloggers in the hope that they get reviewed. As long as there are no strings attached, I see no ethical problem with that. If a negative review led to a reviewer being taken off the freebies list then I definitely would have a very big problem with that, but I see no evidence of that from 3Dconnexion.

Where I do see an ethical issue is when a freebie is received, a review is written, and no disclosure is made. I think readers are entitled to know about any free stuff associated with a review, and I think this applies equally to press and blogs.

Let’s have a look at some recent SpacePilot PRO coverage to see how we’re travelling at the moment. The following sites have mentions or reports without explicit disclosure. In many cases a mention is made of having one (or waiting for one) but it’s not clear if this is a free SpacePilot PRO, or if the writer has paid for one. If you’re one of these people, feel free to set the record straight either here or on your own site.

Here’s how I think it should have been done:

There are almost certainly other reviews and mentions that I’ve missed, so feel free to inform me and I’ll add to the above lists.

I hasten to point out that I’m not throwing stones here. I’m not accusing any of these people of writing positive reviews in return for a cool gadget. I’m just encouraging everybody to unambiguously declare any freebies they receive, that are associated in any way with whatever they write.

On Twitter, I see several of my fellow AutoCAD bloggers impatiently awaiting the arrival of their cool gadget. When they receive them, I expect we will see more reviews, and it will be interesting to see how many of those reviews include full disclosure, especially now I’ve raised the issue.

Here’s my own disclosure about my personal association with 3Dconnexion. I investigated the use of 3D controllers for a client and suggested the purchase of a couple of pretty expensive 3Dconnexion SpaceBall 5000 devices. Within months of purchase, 3Dconnexion made these obsolete without warning and failed to produce any new drivers for them, making them expensive paperweights.

When I attended AU 2006 (at Autodesk’s expense as a MyFeedback Scholarship), I turned up at the Press Room looking for a Press badge, as I am a Cadalyst writer. I received a Press person’s small bag of assorted goodies from various vendors. This included pens, small USB keys and the like, but a 3Dconnexion SpacePilot was the stand-out freebie. I later suggested that my client purchase a couple of SpacePilots to replace the obsolete SpaceBalls. Not because of the freebie, but because they were the cheapest suitable devices available.

So, on a personal level that’s one up and one down for 3Dconnexion. My view of 3Dconnexion is about the same as that of parent company Logitech. I like the devices, I’ll even use my own money to buy them, but I don’t think a good enough job is done of supporting recently purchased devices with updated drivers as new software arrives.

I haven’t received a SpacePilot PRO or the promise of one. I’m not sore about that. I haven’t asked or been asked. If they do happen to send me one, I’ll play with it and if I think it’s worth writing about, I’ll do so in an unbiased way and with full disclosure.

Autodesk Assistance Program and the educational watermark

You have probably seen blog posts about the Autodesk Assistance Program (see the FAQ PDF), promoted as a hand-up for the less fortunate who find themselves unemployed as a result of the current financial environment. The Autodesk PR makes it clear that the free software on offer is a 13-month student license. However, the consequences of using such software are not made clear, so I’ll spell it out here.

If you use Autodesk educational software, you are not supposed to use it for commercial purposes. So, if you’ve just lost your position and were hoping to set yourself up with a few odd jobs here and there, building yourself up to a full-time drafting and design shop, don’t use the Autodesk Assistance Program software to do it. It’s useful only to help you keep your skills up to date, nothing else.

What happens if you do use it for real work? Bad things. If Autodesk finds out, it might set a pack of rabid lawyers on you. How might Autodesk find out? Through your clients. Why would your clients tell Autodesk? Ah, that’s where the educational watermark comes into it.

Every DWG file saved by the educational version of AutoCAD is invisibly stamped, recording that fact. That includes blocks extracted using Wblock, of course. If such a drawing is ever plotted, even by a normal, fully-paid-up AutoCAD, a text stamp will appear along all four sides, proclaiming that the drawing is For Educational Use Only.

Trouble is, the invisible stamp passes from drawing to drawing like a virus, particularly among users of older releases. If somebody uses the educational version to just look at a drawing and happens to save it, that drawing is indelibly stamped with the mark of the Beast. If any part of that drawing is ever inserted into another, it carries the infection with it. It has been possible for companies acting totally honestly to end up with a large number of infected drawings, only to discover the extent of the disaster when plotting out a drawing set.

This has been less of an issue in recent years, because in AutoCAD from 2004 on, there’s a warning issued in the non-student versions of AutoCAD if an infested drawing is inserted or opened. It’s also possible for users of AutoCAD 2000 to 2002 to receive such a warning, using the EDU-Scan utility from ManuSoft.

Despite misinformation about this from Autodesk (e.g. “There is no way to circumvent the plot stamp” from here), such drawings can be cured. Innocent victims of the infestation can apply to their AutoCAD dealers for a special utility, time-limited to 15 days, to fix up the drawings. A DOS utility is also available that can identify the infected drawings. You may be asked to identify the source of the drawings before being provided with anything.

Alternatively, users of the non-student version can clean up infected drawings easily enough with an option of a very commonly used AutoCAD command. No, I’m not going to tell you which command, and please don’t email me to ask. I can tell you it was the first thing I tried when I came across such a drawing, and it worked perfectly. If you’re an innocent party in that unfortunate situation, a few minutes experimentation should see you right.

I wonder if an unintended side-effect of the Autodesk Assistance Program is going to be a rise in the incidence of educationally-tainted drawings. For those who ever receive drawings from other parties (probably most of us), it’s something to keep an eye out for. For those who intend using the Autodesk Assistance Program software, it’s a good idea to make sure you keep a tight rein on any drawings you produce with it. Because distributing student-stamped drawings is likely to do your future employment prospects no good at all.