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.

AutoCAD 2010 – Putting things back to “normal”

Easily the most popular post on this blog, in terms of both hits and comments, is AutoCAD 2009 – Putting things back to “normal”. Lots of people seemed to find it useful, so I guess it’s worth doing an updated sequel for the current release. Much of this post is the same as the original, but there are differences.

Note: there are updated versions of this post for AutoCAD 2011 and 2012.

One thing that’s regularly asked whenever a new AutoCAD release hits the streets is how to make it work like earlier releases. As I stated in my original post, I think you should give any new features a fighting chance before turning them off or ignoring them. The 2010 Ribbon is still a Ribbon, but in my view it’s a better one than in 2009. But it’s entirely your choice. We should be grateful that in AutoCAD 2010 at least (unlike Revit 2010), you do still have that choice.

Let’s assume you’ve made the decision to put your environment back to AutoCAD 2008 or earlier; how do you do it?

  • Workspace. In vanilla AutoCAD, you can restore much of the user interface by just switching workspaces. In the bottom right corner, there is a little button that looks like a gearwheel. This is the Workspace control. Click on it and pick the item called AutoCAD Classic. If you’re using a vertical variant of AutoCAD 2010, this workspace may not be available. If so, or if you want finer control over your interface, read on.
  • Pull-down Menus. Enter MENUBAR 1 to turn pull-down menus on. To turn them off again, enter MENUBAR 0.
  • Toolbars. In AutoCAD 2009, you could turn individual toolbars on and off by accessing a menu obtained by right-clicking on the QAT. Autodesk (vindictively?) removed that option in 2010. That menu is still available if you right-click in an unused docked toolbar area, but if you have no toolbars visible there will be no such area available. What to do? Turn on one toolbar at the Command prompt, then you will be able to access the menu by right-clicking on the blank area to the right of it. The following command sequence will do it:

    _.-TOOLBAR ACAD.Standard _Top 0,0

    Note that this will only work if you have the acad.cuix file loaded (or partially loaded). This is the case in vanilla AutoCAD and some verticals (e.g. AutoCAD Civil 3D), but it may not be the case in other verticals (e.g. AutoCAD Architecture).

  • Ribbon. You can close the Ribbon with the RibbonClose command. If you ever want to turn it back on, enter Ribbon.
  • Dashboard. The AutoCAD 2007/8 Dashboard is gone, but you can have a vertical Ribbon instead. If the Ribbon is not visible (it won’t be if you just selected the AutoCAD Classic workspace), enter Riboon to bring it back. In the tab title row (the bar with the word Home in it), right-click and pick Undock. Now you can place and size your Dashboard-like thing as you see fit. As before, you can right-click on things to change the various settings. However, getting the contents exactly the way you want it usually involves using CUI, and that’s well outside the scope of this post.
  • Graphic Background. Despite Autodesk thinking it’s a good idea to hide all the yellow lines in your drawings by giving you a creamy drawing area, many of you will want a black background. To do this, right-click on the drawing area and pick Options… (or just enter OP), then pick the Display tab. Don’t be tempted to choose Color Scheme and set it to Dark, because that just changes the appearance of various user interface elements. Instead, pick the Colors… button. On the left, choose a context you want to change (e.g. 2D model space), choose the appropriate background element (e.g. Uniform background) and choose the particular shade that takes your fancy. There is a Restore Classic Colors button, but that only takes you back to AutoCAD 2008 with its white paper space. If you want a black paper space, you’ll have to specify that individually. When you’re done, pick Apply & Close, then OK.
  • Status bar. Right-click on a status bar button, turn off Use Icons and your text-based status bar buttons will return.
  • Classic commands. If you prefer not to leave the various new palettes on screen all the time, old versions of various commands are still available: ClassicLayer, ClassicXref and ClassicImage. There is also a system variable LAYERDLGMODE, which when set to 0 will make the Layer command work in the old and faster modal way. If you use this setting, you can still access the new modeless layer palette with the LayerPalette command. Going back further, there are command-line methods of these commands: -Layer, -Xref, XAttach, -Image and ImageAttach.

If you have allowed AutoCAD to migrate your settings (I never do), some of the above will already be done for you, but by no means all of it. Once you’re happy with your new environment, I suggest you save your workspace under a name of your choosing (Save Current As… under the gearwheel button), then export your profile in the Options command’s Profiles tab.

The 12-month cycle and shipping software with known bugs

In a recent blog post, Deelip Menezes appears to be shocked by the very idea that a particular CAD company (no, not Autodesk) would ship software that contains known bugs. I thought he was joking, because he’s surely aware that practically all software companies with highly complex products release software with known bugs. As Deelip points out, those companies with 12-month cycles are particularly prone to doing this. There is no possible way any company can release something as complex as a CAD application within a fixed 12-month cycle without it containing dozens* of known bugs (because there isn’t time to fix them after discovery) and dozens* of unknown ones (because of insufficient Beta testing time).

Reading Deelip’s post and subsequent comments more carefully, it becomes clear that he doesn’t mean what a casual glance might lead you to believe he means. Deelip makes a specific distinction between “bugs” and “known issues”. He states that if a bug is discovered and the software is then adjusted such that it does not abort the software in a badly-behaved way, and this is then documented, then the bug ceases to be a bug and becomes a “known issue”.

I disagree. Bugs can cause crashes or not; they can cause “nice” crashes or not; they can be known about prior to release or not; they can be documented internally or not; they can be documented publicly or not. As far as I’m concerned, if the software doesn’t act “as designed” or “as intended”, then that’s a bug. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say, and I concur:

A software bug is the common term used to describe an error, flaw, mistake, failure, or fault in a computer program that prevents it from behaving as intended (e.g., producing an incorrect or unexpected result).

That doesn’t mean that software that is “as designed” (free of bugs) is free of defects. Defects are things that make the software work in a way other than “as it should”. They can be bugs, design errors or omissions, performance problems, user interface logic failures, API holes, feature changes or removals with unintended undesirable consequences, and so on. Unfortunately, defining “as it should” isn’t a precise science. You can’t just compare the software to the documentation and say that the differences are defects. The documentation could be faulty or incomplete, or it could perfectly describe the deeply flawed way in which the software works.

While I disagree with Deelip’s definition of bugs, I couldn’t agree more with a more important point he makes in his blog post. That point is of a fixed 12-month cycle being the root cause of a plethora of bugs/issues/whatever making it into shipping software, and this being an unacceptable situation. This is a view I expressed in Cadalyst before I started participating in Autodesk’s sadly defunct MyFeedback program, and it’s a view I hold even more strongly today.

In conclusion, I would have to say that the fixed yearly release schedule is not good for AutoCAD. It is good for Autodesk, certainly in the short term, but that’s not at all the same thing as being good for AutoCAD or its users.

I’m not alone in thinking this. The polls I’ve run on this subject, discussions with many individuals on-line and in person, and many comments here and elsewhere, indicate that a dislike of the 12-month cycle is the majority viewpoint. For example, when asked the question, “Do you think the 12-month release cycle is harming the quality of AutoCAD and its variants?”, 85% of poll respondents here answered “Definitely” or “Probably”. In another poll, 71% of respondents indicated a preference for AutoCAD release cycles of 24 months or greater.

Somebody please tell me I’m wrong here. Somebody tell me that I’ve misread things, that customers really think the 12-month cycle is great, and that it’s not actually harmful for the product. Anyone?

* Or hundreds. Or thousands.

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!