Autodesk answers – 2 of 4

In a comment on the first of these posts, Ralph G raised the possibility that these answers have been edited by marketing people. I have checked with Eric Stover and he assures me these answers come direct from the program managers concerned and are unmassaged by marketers. That ties in with the partial email trail that came with the answers. It also ties in with the impression I have formed recently that Autodesk is starting to open up a bit. That’s a trend I’m happy to encourage.

There’s one thing that clinches the marketing-interference matter for me. Despite Eric being on vacation when I sent in the request, the answers came back in days rather than weeks or months.

Enough of that, here’s the next question, courtesy of Matt Stachoni:

Q: Why haven’t the latest Subscription Bonus Packs been released for AutoCAD Architecture Subscription customers?

A: This year was the first time we released bonus packs continuously throughout the year to AutoCAD subscription customers, and we had a lot to learn about how to best deliver the bonus packs, and how often to release them. Based on our learnings from this year, our plan for the coming year is to ensure that AutoCAD Architecture (and other AutoCAD vertical product) subscription customers also receive any AutoCAD updates and bonus packs we deliver.

Autodesk answers – 1 of 4

At the end of January, I asked for your questions to put to Autodesk product managers. My intention was to pose your questions in a video interview format while attending the AutoCAD 2010 product launch, but for logistical reasons I was unable to make this happen.

Autodesk’s Eric Stover kindly arranged for your questions to be answered anyway. The delay in getting these answers back to you is my responsibility, not Autodesk’s. The answers come courtesy of the following product managers:

  • Diane Li – lead manager on AutoCAD;
  • Guillermo Melantoni – 3D and Parametrics expert;
  • Kathy O’Connell – customer requests, quality improvements, and 2D improvements.

I will post each question and answer a day apart, to give you chance to comment on each issue separately. Here is the first question, courtesy of Chris Cowgill:

Q: With the current release cycle being so short, has anyone considered suspending a new release for a time, to spend an entire release cycle working on improving/restoring functionality of existing features and fixing bugs, why, or why not?

A: With any given release, we aim to deliver a healthy balance of new features & functionality along with improvements to existing functionality, so we can help enable new ways of doing design, but also provide more efficient ways of working the way you do today. We plan to continue this balancing act for future releases, but have also started delivering regular product updates (formerly known as ‘service packs’) throughout the year. So, rather than requiring you to wait for a new release of the product to get product improvements, this year we delivered 3 product updates that included hundreds of bug fixes to existing AutoCAD features and functionality.

Older AutoCAD loses (part of) the plot

I know there are plenty of people still using AutoCAD 2007 and earlier, so this bug warning may save some of you some grief. I have no idea how widespread or isolated this problem is, but under some circumstances I haven’t worked out yet, AutoCAD 2007 fails to plot all of certain dynamic blocks. Some attributes have a habit of being plot-shy. Even if you don’t use dynamic blocks yourself, you could receive a set of drawings, check them on-screen, approve them, plot them and send out paper drawings without all of their parts. Unless you’re carefully manually checking the paper plots, this situation is obviously a little dangerous. Fortunately, Plot Preview also shows up the problem, so it is at least possible to check things without wasting trees.

Here’s an example. This is part of such a drawing displayed in AutoCAD 2007, with all of its parts in place. One of the dynamic blocks is highlighted:

Drawing in AutoCAD 2007 with all its parts in place

Here’s that drawing plotted using AutoCAD 2007, showing the missing parts:

Drawing plotted in AutoCAD 2007 with parts missing

Earlier releases do the same, including pre-dynamic block releases. As DWF files are just electronic plots, the same problem applies to them. Yes, I’ve checked for non-plotting layers and looked into the visibility states within the dynamic blocks. An audit of the drawing indicates no problems. Attribute visibility settings are not an issue.

Here’s the same drawing plotted using AutoCAD 2009 (2008 and 2010 are fine, too):

Drawing plotted in AutoCAD 2009 with parts intact

What to do? Using a later release would solve it, but might not be a practicable solution in your office right now. Instead, you could consider using DWG TrueView for your plotting. That may not be ideal either, but it could be better than risking the consequences of an unknown number of your plots containing an unknown number of missing parts in unknown places.

Have you come across this problem? If you have any more clues about the circumstances that trigger it, please add a comment.

Vernor v Autodesk – why I think Autodesk is right

Well, there’s a statement I wasn’t expecting to make. Let me preface these comments with a disclaimer. I have no legal qualifications whatsoever. I make no claims of knowing who is legally right in this David v. Goliath legal battle; that’s for the courts to decide. When I make the statement that I think Autodesk is right, I don’t mean legally right, I mean morally right.

I have been following this fight with interest, but only in a half-baked way, third-hand via commentators (like myself, now). Based on my skimming of that commentary, my natural inclination to support the underdog, and my general dislike of of Autodesk’s previous and current legal adventures, I had been of the firm but privately held opinion that Vernor was right and Autodesk was wrong.

Today, after noting that new filings had been made, I had a proper look at some (not all) of the actual court documents themselves (thanks to Owen Wengerd’s CAD/Court), and surprised myself by coming to quite the opposite conclusion. I am now convinced that I was totally wrong.*

Until today, I was hoping that the court would support Vernor’s assertion that the First Sale doctrine applies in this case. Why? Because I feel that Autodesk is morally wrong in attempting to prevent the transfer of its software from one party to another.** At one time, Autodesk allowed AutoCAD to be resold (despite the EULA of the time saying that it wasn’t allowed) and indeed actively supported the transfer process. I felt at the time that Autodesk’s introduction of this restriction of a customer’s ability to resell AutoCAD was morally wrong. I still feel that way.

I also feel Autodesk is morally wrong in geographically restricting the sale of its software, and in several other areas of its EULA. I would be quite happy to have a court find that Autodesk is legally wrong in those areas, too. Despite that, I feel that it would be A Bad Thing if Vernor won in this case.

Why? Because Vernor was selling software that effectively didn’t exist. He was selling used copies of Release 14, when those copies had already been upgraded to AutoCAD 2000. To me, that’s clearly morally wrong.*** If the court finds that First Sale applies here, then that opens the floodgates to allow anyone to sell old copies of any software that has been upgraded, and keep using the new stuff. I really don’t think that would be good for anyone.

Those of you who have been upgrading AutoCAD for the last 25 years, I hope you held on to all your old copies, because you could be sitting on a gold mine. Of course, unless the court is going to compel Autodesk to acknowledge all these new “owners” of AutoCAD and support them with the various magic numbers required to keep them alive, there are going to be a lot of disappointed buyers around, the word will get around, and the bottom will quickly drop out of the market.

* This is not a first, I assure you.

** It has been stated elsewhere that Autodesk can actually be persuaded to allow the transfer of its software outside the usual restricted areas of merged companies, deceased estates and so on. This may be so, but it’s not something I would rely on.

*** This is a quite different moral proposition from somebody continuing to use an old version of software after upgrading, alongside the new version, on the same computer. That’s something I find entirely morally acceptable, whatever any EULA may stipulate.

AutoCAD 2010 – Will you miss the Menu Browser?

I’ve closed the poll that asked AutoCAD 2009 users about their MENUBAR setting. It’s very clear that pull-down menus are still very much in use in the Ribboned world of post-2008 AutoCAD. In AutoCAD 2009, an attempt was made to provide access to pull-down menus without sacrificing that strip of screen real estate. That attempt was called the Menu Browser, it was one of the thing you could find under the Big Red A, and it really didn’t work very well. In AutoCAD 2010, the Menu Browser has gone away. The A hasn’t gone away, just the ability to access pull-down menus through it.

There are some who have expressed a deep dislike of the Big Red A, although it never offended me greatly. I just wished the features hidden under it worked better than they did in 2009. Personally, I generally prefer what’s under the A in 2010 than what’s there in 2009, but you may not. I know that when the 2009 user interface was being attacked, its most prominent defenders were those keyboard-heavy users who turned both the Ribbon and the menu bar off, giving themselves more screen space. On the infrequent occasions when a pull-down menu was required, those people were content to provide an extra click.

When I found out about the Menu Browser’s death a few months ago, I expected there would be a severe adverse reaction from such people. Maybe there will be one when people hold get the shipping product and notice it’s gone. But after my poll showed only 7% of respondents used it instead of the menu bar, I’m now expecting that adverse reaction to be smaller than I originally thought.

If you want to use AutoCAD 2010, want to work without a menu bar but still have access to menu items occasionally, what can you do? You can add a button to the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT), or any other toolbar, that toggles the menu bar on and off. Use the CUI command to add such a button.* The following macro will do the job:

'menubar $M=$(-,1,$(getvar,menubar))

There are a couple of downsides to this method. First, although this macro has been written in such a way that it should be transparent, it doesn’t currently work that way. When you push the button, AutoCAD will still cancel any command you’re in. Second, the screen resize forces a redraw, which could slow you down in very complex drawings. However, under most circumstances that redraw will still be quicker than waiting for a reaction from AutoCAD the first time you pick the Big Red A. By the way, that reaction time is better in 2010 than the very tardy 2009. As a result, even AutoCAD 2009 users might prefer to use the QAT-button method and forget the Menu Browser ever existed.

* If there is enough interest, I will do a video tutorial explaining how to add such a button to the QAT.

A year of nauseam

This is one of those awful self-indulgent blog posts you hate, so just skip it and read the more interesting stuff a bit further down instead.

It is now a year since I started this blog and this is my 200th post. Here are the site statistics for 2008:

Stats 2008

Here they are for 2009:

Stats 2009

I’m sure there are other CAD blogs out there with much more impressive stats than that, particularly the Autodesk ones. I’m pretty happy with the number of visitors I have, though. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started doing this; maybe a couple of hundred people might be interested, maybe not. I certainly wasn’t expecting 168,000 visits in the first year. I wasn’t even sure I was going to keep it up after the first few weeks. But it seemed to grow in popularity quite quickly so I kept at it. Hopefully, I’ll retain my enthusiasm and keep it going for a while yet.

I’d like to thank all of you who find this blog worth reading, and especially all of you who add your comments, whether I agree with them or not. Please continue!

I see no ads

I have removed the advertisements from this blog. Not because I worried about people not liking them (they were fairly unobtrusive). Not because they were slowing down the page load times (although they did, a bit). Not even because I felt that they were somehow impinging upon my editorial independence.

No, I removed them because they weren’t generating any income. Not a single cent! I pretty much expected any income to be tiny, and certainly not enough to cover my fairly minor running expenses. It wasn’t tiny, it was totally absent. Experiment over.

I’m supporting the New Zealand blackout

Thanks to Robin Capper for bringing this to my attention.

New Zealand's new Copyright Law presumes 'Guilt Upon Accusation' and will Cut Off Internet Connections without a trial. Join the black out protest against it!

Disclosure: I’m a software developer, artist (of sorts), copyright owner and part of a company that sells software to allow copyright owners to protect their interests. I’m also the victim of clueless corporations counterproductively interfering with my art. Most of all, I’m a supporter of the fair use of copyrighted materials.

This law in New Zealand needs to be turned back now. If it succeeds in Robin’s country, it will be mine next, then yours. I encourage you to support this viral campaign so it attracts some press attention. Excuse me while I go and turn my gravatar black.

Gravatars – how to get a picture next to your comment

After some recent site maintenance here, you may have noticed that the comments look a bit different, and that some people’s comments have a little picture next to them. This little picture is called a gravatar (globally recognised avatar), and you can have one too. Once you set it up, you will find that it works in all sorts of places, not just this blog.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Visit and pick a sign up link.
  2. Provide a valid email address; the same one you provide when adding comments to blogs. I have not received any spam as a result of doing this.
  3. You’ll be sent a confirmation email; click on the link in that and follow the prompts to set your password and so on.
  4. Choose your gravatar image from your hard drive, the internet, a webcam or a previously uploaded image. You can point to any size photo and will be prompted to select a cropped square area to display.

That’s it, although you can manage your account to provide multiple email addresses and images if you wish. Wait 5 or 10 minutes, then check out this or other blogs and web locations where you have made comments in the past. Those blogs with layouts that support gravatars should now display the picture that you associated with the email address you supplied when you made your comment. If the image doesn’t show up, do a reload/refresh and/or clear your browser’s cache and try again.

Interesting times ahead for Cadalyst

As many of you may know, I’ve been writing for Cadalyst since 1995. Yesterday, I read in David Cohn’s summary of the history of Cadalyst that in 1991, Lionel Johnston sold CADalyst to Aster Publishing for $2.2 million.

How times have changed! Today, current owner Questex doesn’t think it’s worth keeping alive. I’ve been aware for some months of uncertainty about Cadalyst’s future, and Questex has finally decided that it doesn’t have one. Most of the staff have been laid off, with a tiny skeleton staff keeping things ticking over until the end of the month. As a Contributing Editor (i.e. writer), the financial effect on me is small, but others are less fortunate and have my sympathy.

There’s still hope, though. This is the official word from Editor-in-Chief Nancy Spurling Johnson:

Questex Media Group has decided to divest itself of Cadalyst, effective the end of February. A few of us are working actively on an employee buyout. We believe in Cadalyst and the CAD market and are positive about the future. There’s a lot to work out in the near term, but we are very, very optimistic that we can make this happen and not only keep Cadalyst moving forward, but make it a more valuable resource than ever for our readers and advertisers.

As Questex seems to think the Cadalyst name isn’t worth anything, with a bit of luck the employees won’t have to dig too deep to buy it out, and a long tradition will continue. With the unfortunate demise of AUGI World and uncertainty about any replacement, there’s a hole in the market right now. Sure, it’s a depressed market, but it still has a hole in it and even in a depressed state that market is surely much bigger now than it was in the “good old days” when the magazine was much thicker and the reviews were more critical.

If Nancy can pull off the buyout and Cadalyst continues without a publisher-owner, it’s possible that the result will be a better Cadalyst. It’s almost like a return to its roots; a small core of enthusiastic staff building up a publication. As a long-term reader, I’d be happy to see Cadalyst go back to the future.

The world has changed, of course, and I know I read Cadalyst almost exclusively on-line these days. Cadalyst could continue without printing a thing, either in the short term or permanently. Is there a future for a printed CAD magazine? I hope so. Despite the shift of readers to the on-line world, I still see newsagents full of magazines covering all sorts of topics, many of them more obscure than CAD. There are millions of us. Surely we deserve our own magazine?

AutoCAD 2010 release date

After my recent attendance at the AutoCAD 2010 launch, I have a few dozen subjects I’d like to blog about, lots of video editing to do, and not enough free time in which to do it. Many of my fellow launch-attending bloggers have beaten me to it with many of the meaty bits, but I’ll be covering much of that stuff in my own way and from my own perspective over the next few weeks.

One thing I can do with minimum effort is to pass on an important piece of information I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere yet: the date that Autodesk plans to actually ship AutoCAD 2010. That date is (drumroll)…

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

No great surprises there; the 12-month release cycle continues as usual.

Although this information was imparted to a room full of bloggers in an on-the-record session, I suspect it may have slipped out accidentally. It’s a planned date and may yet change subject to various circumstances. It applies to AutoCAD and probably AutoCAD LT; the vertical variants of AutoCAD will have later ship dates, probably in mid-April.

Interestingly, in a conversation with an Autodesk Australia person today, I was told that the 2010 launch dates are staggered across the globe. (That’s launch dates, not ship dates). So although everybody in Australia with an Internet connection already knows what’s in AutoCAD 2010, Autodesk Australia itself is apparently not allowed to disclose any information about it until Monday, 23 March 2009. That’s kind of bizarre if true, and I suspect it may be based on some kind of misunderstanding, but that’s what I was told.

Autodesk not listening? The response, part 1.

While attending the AutoCAD 2010 launch today, I took the opportunity to interview three Autodesk people: Eric Stover, Jon Page and Shaan Hurley. I raised the issue of Autodesk being seen as not listening to its customers, and was given a very comprehensive response. Here is the first of two parts of that interview.

YouTube link.

Disclosure: Transport, accommodation and some meals were provided by Autodesk.

Why do you think Autodesk isn’t listening?

I frequently see people remark that Autodesk doesn’t listen to its customers. I’ve made that remark myself in relation to certain specific items, most recently the botched discussion group update. Of the six Rate Autodesk polls, the Listening to its customers poll shows easily the biggest bias towards the wrong end of the graph.

Now I happen to know that Autodesk goes to some lengths to find out what its customers are thinking (more on that later), but still this feeling of being ignored persists among its customers. Why is this so? Why do so many of you hold this view? I have my own thoughts about this, but right now I’m more interested in yours.

I’d like to see some examples that make you think that Autodesk doesn’t care about your viewpoints, wishes and desires. If you can suggest ways in which Autodesk could do things better, let’s hear them. On the other hand, if you believe that Autodesk is listening, please provide examples that show that to be the case.

I will be asking some Autodesk people the same question very soon, in addition to any questions you pose in my Ask Autodesk a question post (more questions, please!). I will report back on the answers, so it will be interesting to compare your comments with what the Autodesk people have to say.

(Don’t) Ask Autodesk a question

If you had a real live Autodesk development person standing in front of you right now (an AutoCAD Product Manager, for example) and were allowed to ask one question, what would it be?

Please add a comment here with your question. I would ask that you keep your question civil and reasonably concise (one or two sentences), and bear in mind that the development person in front of you isn’t going to have a useful answer to policy questions about pricing, license agreements, customer service and so on. Other than that, anything goes, so let’s have ’em.

I can’t promise that your question will get answered, but I’ll see what I can do.

Note: comments are now closed, as this post keeps getting mistaken for an ongoing mechanism for asking Autodesk questions.

Adding Heidi

Although I want to keep my list of links reasonably compact, it should not have taken until now to add the AutoCAD Insider blog of Autodesk’s Heidi Hewett to the list. Heidi’s idea of going through the AutoCAD alphabet is a great one, and I wish I had thought of it.

blog nauseam has been light on for AutoCAD tips and information lately. Although that’s going to change for the better soon, there’s plenty of that kind of stuff on Heidi’s blog to keep you amused in the meantime. It’s useful stuff for all AutoCAD users, explained well.

Oh, and Heidi, the Boundary command was (kind of) added in Release 12, except it was called Bpoly at the time. It was renamed to Boundary in Release 13. The Bpoly command lives on to this day, doing exactly the same as Boundary.