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- Total Stats
- 503 Posts
- 576 Tags
- 3,489 Comments
- 1,140 Comment Posters
- 74 Post Categories
- 50 Most Commented Posts
- AutoCAD 2013 – An Autodesk Help writer responds - 164 comments
- AutoCAD 2012 – Putting things back to “normal” - 158 comments
- AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal” - 135 comments
- AutoCAD 2009 – Putting things back to “normal” - 121 comments
- AutoCAD 2010 – Putting things back to “normal” - 106 comments
- AutoCAD 2009 – Why do you hate the Ribbon? - 80 comments
- Why AutoCAD for Mac is a bad idea - 73 comments
- Let’s critique AutoCAD’s parametric constraints - 62 comments
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD explained - 47 comments
- How will you react to Autodesk’s new upgrade pricing? - 41 comments
- Is AutoCAD stability getting better or worse? - 41 comments
- Restoring Hatch double-click in AutoCAD 2011 - 40 comments
- AutoCAD 2012 – Missing a few things? - 38 comments
- AutoCAD WS Contest - 36 comments
- (Don’t) Ask Autodesk a question - 32 comments
- Olympic Fencing – Mythbusting the Shin v Heidemann Controversy - 31 comments
- Any Bricscad users out there? - 30 comments
- Why Autodesk’s Cloud push will fail, part 1 – failure defined - 30 comments
- AutoCAD 2012 – ClassicArray Beta - 27 comments
- Why don’t you trust Autodesk? - 27 comments
- AutoCAD 2013 – Autodesk pulls off a miracle with Help - 27 comments
- AutoCAD for Linux – another bad idea - 26 comments
- What are the best and worst features ever added to AutoCAD? - 26 comments
- Older AutoCAD loses (part of) the plot - 25 comments
- Trebling upgrade prices was not enough for Autodesk - 25 comments
- AutoCAD 2009 – How do you use the Ribbon? - 24 comments
- Ribbon acceptance in AutoCAD and Revit - 24 comments
- What is loaded at AutoCAD startup, and when? - 23 comments
- AutoCAD 2013 – What’s new? - 23 comments
- AutoCAD 2009 – Do you use the menu bar? - 22 comments
- AutoCAD 2009 & 2010 users – out of memory errors? - 22 comments
- AutoCAD 2012 – Downloading the trial is a trial - 22 comments
- AutoCAD 2013 Service Pack 1 – Now you see it, now you don’t - 22 comments
- Vernor v Autodesk – why I think Autodesk is right - 21 comments
- Cloud concerns – terms and conditions - 21 comments
- AutoCAD 2013 for Mac – the holes live on - 20 comments
- Advertising, ethics and editorial freedom - 19 comments
- Bug watch – identify this insect - 19 comments
- Downloading AutoCAD 2011 - 19 comments
- Autodesk for Mac – the hole story - 19 comments
- AutoCAD 2012 – Array has good and bad points - 19 comments
- AutoCAD 2013 – Download the trial without Akamai - 19 comments
- Is there anybody out there? - 19 comments
- Cloud concerns – Security – Autodesk puts its arguments on line - 18 comments
- AutoCAD 2013 Help shock – it no longer sucks - 18 comments
- Carl Bass confirms Cloud-only future for Autodesk – or does he? - 18 comments
- Don’t be a technology lemming - 18 comments
- Pin the name on the product and win a prize! - 17 comments
- Not answering the question - 17 comments
- Autodesk’s 12-month release cycle – Is it harmful? - 16 comments
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Kirill Grouchnikov is a developer who has a blog called Pushing Pixels. This wouldn’t normally be of particular interest to AutoCAD users, but he recently wrote a piece describing the AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon. It is always interesting to things described from a different perspective, in this case the Ribbon from a non-user’s point of view. He pays particular attention to the ways in which the AutoCAD Ribbon differs from Microsoft’s standards. As a non-user, he has skipped lightly over several aspects of AutoCAD Ribbon use, including some drawbacks of the current implementation, but it is still a worthwhile read, as are some of the comments that follow.
After an extraordinarily long period of total silence about the dreadful state of the appallingly-updated Autodesk discussion groups, it seems that the sleeping monster has raised an eyelid. Although it unfortunately indicates that Autodesk intends to try to patch up the new system rather than throwing it away, there is now a “sticky” post at the top of each forum containing the following text:
Your continued patience is appreciated as we work to resolve the discussion group issues you have been reporting. We understand the impact these issues have on your productivity, and want to assure you we are continuing to troubleshoot and resolve. We’ve posted an update under “Help” to provide awareness and status of the issues we are working on. We’ll regularly update this as improvements are made.
Never mind the glacial nature of the response, it’s good to see that an acknowledgment has finally been made of the problems. However, picking on the Help link reveals that there’s a long way to go yet before all the problems are even fully understood by the team responsible, let alone fixed. Only three “Known Issues” are listed, and four issues are allegedly resolved. At least one of those, shown as resolved on 7 October, is still very much broken right now. At least one of the FAQ items, “Why can’t I stay signed in?”, gives false information.
Discussion group team, you will find a lot more than seven issues listed on this blog alone. To see them, just click on the Newsgroups link in the Tags section on the right. Alternatively, you could use the Search box at the top and enter something like “discussion groups”. A search that actually finds everything? There’s a novel idea.
There can never be such a thing as too many Autodesk University buddy offer posts, right?* So here’s another one. This time, I won’t mention the year so I can’t get it wrong.
AU Program Development Manager Joseph Wurcher has pointed out that existing registrants can also take advantage of the buddy offer. So if you have already registered and you know somebody who would like to go, maybe you can come to some arrangement with them that ends up with AU costing you less than it otherwise would have. You will need to contact the AU team at the right time; the details are all at the bottom of this page.
* Yes, that’s irony. Have a look at all the “buddy” posts on Novedge Pulse for yesterday. Great minds think alike? Maybe we just lack originality. I guess most bloggers did the same as me; saw the email with the offer and thought, “That’s worth letting people know about.” Result? Attack of the Clones.
I had another interesting customer service experience at the weekend. We had booked an electrician well in advance to service our air conditioner and change a bunch of light fittings. He was due at 9:30 on Saturday morning. At 9:00 I went round making sure everything was ready for him and sat down with a book while I waited. At 10:15, there was no sign of him so I rang him to see what was happening. He said he had been having weather troubles on the first couple of jobs that morning (it had been sprinkling with rain a little) but he would be there as soon as he could. I accepted this readily enough, although it would have been nice to have received a phone call. The weather was fine from that point on, so I was expecting him to turn up pretty soon after that. Foolishly, I kept expecting that all day.
Now, my family and I had pretty much arranged our whole weekend based on having no power on Saturday morning, postponing various things such as housework and washing to fit in with the time we had been given. When he hadn’t turned up by 11:00, it was time to think about preparing the kids’ lunches before he turned up. He hadn’t turned up by 2:00 when I had to take the kids out somewhere, and he had given up answering his phone, so I just went out. He hadn’t arrived when I returned, and still hasn’t arrived, so I think it’s fairly safe to say he’s never going to turn up.
You might think that this piece of total non-service represents some kind of low point, but it’s actually only the third worst customer service experience I’ve had this year. I have had two much worse experiences than that in 2008; one from an Australian company and one from an American company. I will relate those experiences in later posts.
Anyway, my customer service experiences, along with some other recent happenings, have led me to contemplate such matters, and come up with some (ahem) profound thoughts on the subject. The main point is that getting things right is only the first line of defence against poor customer service. What happens when things go wrong (and they will) is the real test of a company’s service attitude / culture.
What should happen when things go wrong? Three Fs. F— up? Fess up. Fix up. What do these mean?
- F— up? Find out if a mistake has been made. If a customer is saying that something has been screwed up, assume they are right until proven otherwise. Even if complaining customers are wrong 90% of the time, that’s no excuse for treating the other 10% as if they don’t know what they are talking about, or that they are wrong or unreasonable.
- Fess up. If a problem is evident, admit it. I can think of no single instance in corporate history where denying the existence of a genuine problem has made a company look better than admitting it. Ignoring a problem, making excuses for it, obfuscating, pretending it’s not there, or even claiming that it’s the customer’s fault, always makes the guilty company look worse. Always. No exceptions. A company representative that acts like that is doing no kind of useful service to the company, no matter how loyal they may think they are being. The same thing applies to politicians, but don’t get me started on that.
- Fix up. Having established that the problem is real, correct it. Do whatever needs to be done to make the customer satisfied.
I could add a fourth F, “Fast”, because correcting problems that affect customers should be a priority, but let’s keep it to three for now. Easy, right? I expect I will now make a fortune writing a book, selling my ideas to clueless companies that should know better, and/or doing highly paid speaking tours. I think I will call it, “The Johnson Method of Customer Service: It’s F—ing Obvious.”
Although Autodesk University registrations passed 7000 a while ago, the financial crisis is likely to have slowed registrations considerably, so it’s not a huge shock to see Autodesk trying to ramp things up with a special offer. If you’re one of the first hundred registrants on November 5, you can register somebody else for free. If you’re late for that, you can register a second person for US$595. “For a limited time only!” Sorry, no bonus steak knives.
Providing special offers is a tricky one. For the people who can take advantage of this offer, it’s great. Those who have already paid up may be annoyed about it, despite their $500 early bird discount. I don’t see how the AU people can fill all the expected places without doing something, though. There’s no pleasing everybody.
Autodesk University is a fantastic event and if you can afford it, I encourage you to go. In today’s uncertain climate, the networking opportunities alone will make it worthwhile. No, I’m not receiving anything for this unsolicited promotion, it’s what I really think!
Full details are available here.
Edit: never mind what Autodesk calls it’s software, it’s not 2009 until next year. Duh!
I’ve added some new polls that ask you to rate Autodesk in five specific areas. I’ve seen some criticism of Autodesk in these and other areas, but that doesn’t mean the criticism is valid. I’d like to know what you think. Please be fair, and base your votes on your own experiences. If you have suggestions for similar polls, add a comment.
I have closed several other polls, and will be discussing the results later.
On the subject of polls, I have noticed that more than one person has been voting multiple times. While this is technically possible for people who have access to the Internet via multiple IP addresses, it’s obviously not desirable. Like the forthcoming US elections, the idea is that you have one vote each. While you might be able to work around that restriction to give yourself a little extra influence on the result, doing so is less than honest and is likely to get you in trouble.
I accept that people who have access via home and work might accidentally vote twice on occasions, but if I perceive a continued pattern of deliberate abuse I will remove the offenders’ access rights to this site. As I respect everybody’s privacy I will not reveal any identities, drop any hints or make any announcements about this, I will just do it.
Just to make the privacy issue completely clear, I will not, under any circumstances in public or private, reveal to anybody who has voted for what. Similarly, I will not reveal to any party any identifying information behind any of the users of this site.
Fortunately, the influence of dodgy votes on poll results has so far been small and in most cases statistically insignificant. That is, it does not invalidate the conclusions that can be drawn from the overall poll results. The more valid votes there are, the less influence the multi-voters will have, so go to it and have your say. Once, please!
No, I don’t mean the sort of crash where AutoCAD stops working. The current financial crisis, I mean. I must preface these comments with a disclaimer. I have no qualifications in finance and make no claim of financial expertise. These are purely a layman’s thoughts. Don’t buy or sell stock based on what I have to say here. Toss a coin instead.
So, what on earth am I thinking? I’m thinking that although Autodesk (along with most other companies) will undoubtedly suffer greatly from the coming economic conditions, it’s not all dark cloud. Here are some potential silver linings.
Autodesk is cashed up. If its competitors aren’t all carrying enough fat to survive the lean times, Autodesk could come out of the post-crash period with greater market share than before. Of course, this is contingent on Autodesk having products, customer service and a customer-friendly outlook that are attractive enough to win over any orphans. Some serious reversal of neglect in these areas will be needed, which involves spending more, not less. So it really is a very good thing that Autodesk has large wads of your money lying around for use in times like this.
Companies with useful technology might become available cheaply. Some smart acquisitions could give Autodesk products some advantages over the competition. (Edit – Between writing this post and publishing it, I see Autodesk has just done exactly that with Softimage).
Autodesk can buy its own shares back while they are cheap. If it needs cash in a few years, it can sell them again at what will undoubtedly be much higher prices.
I don’t really care whether Autodesk does any of the above, but I do care about the next one. Autodesk has been living in a Soviet Russia-style fool’s paradise for years with its yearly product cycles. Practically everybody who knows anything about the software knows that the 12-month cycle is unsustainable because of the significant harm that it is inflicting on the products. But it has been an undoubted financial success, so far. Autodesk is addicted to it, but like any unhealthy addiction it will ultimately be fatal. What to do?
This financial crisis represents a get-out-of-jail-free card for the Autodesk board. Announce the long-overdue death of the annual cycle now, while Autodesk shares are already undervalued. Any negative reaction from a share market that doesn’t know or care about product quality will be hard to identify as having a specific cause while the share price is being flushed down the toilet anyway. Announce it in conjunction with something that will save Autodesk money, like abandoning some of its sillier legal adventures, and it will be even harder for shareholders to apportion blame to any particular measure. In a month or two, nobody will be able to identify specific causes of the stock being at whatever level it happens to be at that time.
Such a great opportunity for Autodesk break out of the yearly rut and rescue its products from a sad slide into semi-permanent sub-mediocrity is unlikely to be repeated any time soon. It’s a nettle; it’s going to sting, but it must be grasped.
Can Carl Bass be Autodesk’s Gorbachev?
Reading Ralph’s post about going back to teaching reminded me of a time some years ago when I taught some AutoCAD evening classes at a technical college. As Ralph points out, students have a wide range of abilities. Although they were all supposed to have completed a prerequisite introductory Windows course, it became apparent that during that course at least some of them must have been absent in mind if not in body.
Here’s an example, where I was explaining to the class how it was possible to modify toolbars.
Steve: “Move your mouse pointer over any toolbar button and right-click on it.”
Student: “Nothing’s happening.”
Steve: “You should see a menu appear with the word Customize on it. When it appears, left-click on that word.”
Student: “There’s no menu on my computer.”
Steve: “Did you hover over a toolbar button and right-click on it?”
Student: “Yes, and nothing happens. Do I need to press Enter?”
Student: (Presses Enter anyway) “It says Unknown command.”
Steve: (Going over to see what’s going on) “Can you please show me what you’re doing?”
The student did so. I returned to the front of the class.
Steve: “If you haven’t already done so, hover the mouse pointer over any toolbar button, press down the right-hand mouse button and release it.”
The student had been hovering over the button and typing C-L-I-C-K. After all, I had told him to write “CLICK” on it.
Two weekends ago, I bought a cheap plastic outdoor table and chair set from Clark Rubber. It came complete with an umbrella hole for which I have no need, but I didn’t particularly mind. I was just pleased to find something that was made locally rather than in China.
A week later, I decided to buy another set just like it. When I got the new one home, I noticed it came with a blank to fill in the umbrella hole. It is likely that the first blank went missing when they removed the table from its box, at my request, so it would fit in my car. I thought it would be nice to have the tables completely matching, so I rang the store, explained the situation and asked if they had a spare blank. The manager took my number and said he would have a look and get back to me. Ten minutes later, he rang to say they had been unable to find a spare blank in stock, but that he had taken one from his display table and I could have that. A quarter of an hour later, I had it in my hand.
Take a bow, Clark Rubber in Cannington. You displayed several important traits of excellent customer service.
- Making yourself available to listen to the customer’s wishes.
- Understanding those wishes.
- Acting on those wishes.
- Responding promptly.
- Putting the customer’s needs above your own.
- Showing flexibility in dealing with an issue that fell outside the usual set of circumstances.
It’s only a little piece of plastic, but it reveals a lot. Every time I look at my perfectly matching set of tables, I will remember Clark Rubber, and I will remember it in association with great customer service. I will undoubtedly be back for more products in the future. If only all companies were like that, life would be a lot more pleasant for everybody.
Yes, the Autodesk discussion groups are still awful. In other breaking news, the Pacific Ocean continues to be wet.
I seldom visit them any more, but I just hopped on to the Autodesk discussion groups to see what progress had been made in fixing the many problems that have been pointed out here, on the groups themselves, in official problem reports, and elsewhere. Little or none, it seems.
Search? There are still apparently only 188 uses of the word “autocad” in the tens of thousands of posts in the AutoCAD groups, ever. Editor? It not only still vacuums, when I just tried it out it vacuumed even harder than before, with delays of over a minute when switching between tabs and nasty screen formatting issues when the switch eventually occurred. Attachments that can’t be viewed? Check. Visible email addresses? Yup, still there. Everything I looked at was just as bad as it was last time I looked. Maybe something has been improved somewhere, but I gave up looking.
I know there’s an Autodesk cultural tendency to pretend problems don’t exist for the sake of saving face, but that just doesn’t cut it here. (Actually, it doesn’t cut it anywhere, but that’s another story). What kind of face does this debacle present to the world? What does it make Autodesk look like?
- A company that doesn’t understand the Internet.
- A company that doesn’t know how to write software that works.
- A company that fails to seek user feedback on changes until it is too late.
- A company that can’t fix things that are broken.
- A company that doesn’t care about its customers’ privacy.
- A company that refuses to listen to customers who point out problems.
Now I happen to know that this is not a fair and accurate representation of everyone and everything at Autodesk. Nothing like it. Nevertheless, that is the face that is being presented by this utter disaster of an “upgrade” and the failure to fix or even acknowledge the problems introduced by it. The people at Autodesk who really do care about the customer (yes, there are many such people) must be sickened when this sort of thing happens, particularly when it happens in such a public way. It reflects badly on everybody in the company, even the majority who are well-meaning and innocent of customer-harming activities.
It is now over a month since the old (and perfectly functional) discussion groups were killed. It does not appear to be possible to make the new ones work adequately. Autodesk, please bite the bullet and end this failed experiment now.
Last year, I bought a Canon MP830 printer/scanner/copier/fax/tea maker/whatever for my home office. I chose this particular device because it had all the features I was after, including CD printing, duplex printing, printing to the edge of the sheet, decent photo printing quality, and great document handling including automatic dual-sided copying. It also had theoretical high speed operation and ink economy with 5 separate tanks. It also looked like a sturdy piece of kit that wasn’t going to wobble all over the place in use, and which might stand a chance of lasting a long time. It was at the upper end of the Canon range, but even then it wasn’t expensive.
I was a little worried that when one part of it eventually failed, I would be stuck with a partially functional device, such as a scanner/fax that wouldn’t print, or a printer that wouldn’t scan, and be left with the dilemma of replacing all of it or part of it. But I had good experiences with long-lived printers in the past (albeit Hewlett-Packard ones), so I figured that if I had to throw it away in five years’ time I could live with that.
In practical use, most of the device’s features turned out to be as advertised, and while it was working I was generally happy with it. But I won’t be buying another one, and it’s unlikely that I will ever buy another Canon printer of any description. Why not?
- Performance. This simply isn’t up to scratch. While it may theoretically print a 500-page document at 30 pages per minute, printing a single page is a different matter. Although it can look spectacularly quick in action, it takes one full minute from turn-on to get itself ready to do anything at all, then about 10 seconds to print a simple monochrome page in draft. There are also long delays when the device is switching from one kind of use to another. The lengthy period of whirs and clunks indicates that it’s doing something very important internally, but I have no idea what. I don’t care. For my typical use, it’s just too slow.
- Economy. The ink savings promised by the 5-tank system are illusory. This thing eats ink at a rapid rate, so I’m finding that the costs of running this printer are significantly greater than my previous Hewlett-Packard. Having to maintain at least one spare (preferably more, because they don’t last long) of each tank is inconvenient and means there is always an expensive set of tanks lying around waiting to be thrown or given away when the device finally dies. Which, given my experience to date, could be any day now.
- Reliability. It doesn’t have this. It had to be returned for warranty repairs in its first year, as it complained about its ink tanks. This resulted in the print head being replaced. Out of warranty, it started doing the same thing again. This was sometimes fixable by various means, such as removing and replacing the tanks, switching the device on and off, removing and replacing the print head, cleaning the contacts, prematurely replacing unfinished ink tanks with new ones, and so on. This would sometimes fix the problem on the first or second attempt, but this level of cooperation didn’t last for ever and the condition gradually worsened until the device was officially dead. I took it in for repair but apparently a new print head (which costs 30% as much as the printer) was not required this time. It has been fixed, for now, by replacing one of the half-full tanks with a new one. Apparently, genuine Canon tanks, which are the only thing it has ever had in it, are prone to bad batches, and I’ve been unlucky. The little chip on each tank, which is intended to make life difficult for makers of third-party tanks, has been making my life difficult instead.
- Idiotic design. This is the killer. You may recall my concern that I would be left with a partially functioning device when one part failed. I need not have worried about that, because it seems the Canon design philosophy is one of extreme built-in obsolescence. When one part fails, even if it’s just an ink tank, the whole machine is a boat anchor. When the magenta ink tank is faulty, that doesn’t mean your prints come out looking rather less pink than they should. It doesn’t mean that you are restricted to monochrome prints. It doesn’t mean that you can’t do any printing at all. It means that the device is completely, absolutely, 100% useless. You may think that it should be possible to print in monochrome, scan a page, or send a fax without a cooperative magenta ink tank, but the Canon designers apparently think otherwise. What on earth were they thinking? I mean, how could anybody possibly think this is an appropriate design decision? Strewth!
Canon, this device is not good enough. I know that one person’s reliability experiences are not statistically significant, but even without that, the other downsides are enough to make me not want to repeat this unpleasant buying experience.
I have had very long life, 100% reliability and relative economy out of Hewlett-Packard devices in the past, so it looks like I’ll be returning to the fold with my next purchase. I know that HP doesn’t quite have the exalted quality reputation it once enjoyed, but it surely can’t be as bad as this. Can it?
Here in Australia it is well into the 21st and I raised my own glass last night, but for John McCarthy and most of my readers, it is the 20th of October right now. So this is the appropriate time to say Happy Birthday to LISP. Here’s to another 50 years of simple, compact, maintainable, efficient and elegant coding.
Software companies use a variety of differerent methods in their attempts to prevent piracy and restrict use of their software to legitimate paying customers. Yes, these attempts are generally futile. Yes, they can end up inconveniencing legitimate users and providing pirate users with advantages over paying customers. Yes, they add to development costs and detract from the main development aims. Despite all that, I still support the right of software companies to do this. Lots of companies spend money doing futile, counter-productive things; it’s their money, their software, their customer base, their choice.
That doesn’t mean we customers have to like it, and many of us don’t. Some of us happily accept it as part of the price of using our tools, some of us tolerate it with varying degrees of grace, and some of us fume about it but do it anyway because we have no choice. Beyond that point, there are those who won’t put up with it at all, and who find various ways around it.
Where a given user fits within that spectrum of views depends partly on that person’s personality, but also on the amount of inconvenience that the software throws up. I’ve started a new poll because I’m interested to discover what level of inconvenience people are prepared to put up with. What is a reasonable level of tolerance?
The poll question refers to a scenario where you have the need to use a piece of software, and before you can do so, you need to obtain codes. The question is not specific to AutoCAD or Autodesk, it applies to any software that needs magic numbers before it will work. Software often allows grace periods before a code is needed, but there are also circumstances where such grace does not apply, so for the sake of this poll please assume that you need the codes before you can get on with your job. How long would you be content to wait for the codes and still remain a satisfied customer?
I just tried out the new discussion groups to see if anything has been fixed. After entering my password (yet again), instead of placing me back in the discussion groups with my 100-topics-per-page settings, I was transported to the main Autodesk page and given the chance to provide feedback. I was informed that a new browser window would be opened, and then… nothing. I waited a while, but still nothing. Or so it seemed. Actually, the new browser window appeared behind my existing browser window, so I found it eventually. I clicked on it, it opened another, bigger window and the survey started. Here are the questions and my responses:
Which of the following best describes your primary purpose for today’s visit?
To see if the discussion groups are still broken
How often have you visited Autodesk.com in the past 6 months?
. 6 times or more
A question about my industry group that didn’t want to copy and paste…
Question is not relevant
Do you currently own an Autodesk product?
Are you planning to make a purchase decision related to an Autodesk product?
(I don’t know what choice to make here, none of them really fit. I’m on Subscription but that doesn’t mean I’m not involved in purchasing decisions; I am. I don’t know when the next purchasing decision will be, though. I picked:)
Which of the following titles best describes your role in your company?
. IT Manager
From which region are you accessing this site?
(Can’t you tell?)
. Australia / New Zealand / South Pacific
How would you rate your overall experience with Autodesk.com today?
. Very bad
(Actually, I don’t really know because because I haven’t yet got to the discussion groups I asked for, so I’m taking a wild guess based on recent experiences. I later checked the discussion groups and found that this was an accurate guess.)
Based on your best online experience, how would you rate www.Autodesk.com as a site that…
(Now, notice that is’s asking about my best online experience. I assume that would be best ever? Going back years, right? Before the recent update, then? OK, I’ll answer fairly based on that assumption.)
…is a reliable source of information that you trust?
9 Very Good
…leaves you feeling that your time was well spent?
8 Very Good
…helps you make well-informed decisions?
9 Very Good
…is easy for you to navigate?
…allows you to move rapidly to the information you need?
…enables you to find what you’re looking for?
…encourages you to return?
…meets or exceeds your expectations?
…you would refer to others?
…has content that is relevant to the purpose of your visit?
…gives you the amount of detail you need?
…covers the range of information you need?
…enables you to identify and contact the right people?
0 Very bad
…provides a positive interactive experience?
8 Very Good
…enables you to help yourself?
7 Very Good
That’s the end of that section, the progress bar is half-way though, so I go to the next section, which I assume is going to ask the same questions based on my worst experience. Oops, no it’s not! The survey is over! Thanks for playing.
Now you know. So, if in a few weeks somebody from Autodesk refers to “survey results” that supposedly show how well the recent update went down with users, point them at this post. I gave high marks for some of my responses, but I wasn’t being asked about my experiences after the recent update. I was being asked about my best experiences, which is altogether different.
This sort of thing is why I never take survey results from anyone at face value. I always insist on seeing the full details, otherwise I will give such results no credit at all. No details, no point.
It is difficult to find an exact date for LISP’s birthday. It wasn’t so much born in an instant as it was gradually dragged out of the primordial slime during the heady days of late 50s computer research. What is known is that John McCarthy, LISP’s “father”, published a report in October 1958 about his new programming language aimed at providing artificial intelligence capabilities on the IBM 704 mainframe computer. That report, one of a series, was the first one to use the name LISP.
OOPSLA, a major annual conference on object-oriented programming, has decided to celebrate LISP’s 50th birthday on 20 October 2008. Practically everyone at that event is likely to be smarter, geekier and possibly even more pedantic than me. So for now I’m going to go with that date and raise a glass to LISP and John McCarthy in one week’s time.
John Walker’s almost-accidental but still inspired decision to add LISP to AutoCAD was, in my opinion, the most significant feature addition in AutoCAD’s history. There were many other feature additions without which AutoCAD would be a joke (e.g. blocks, undo/redo, dimensioning, polylines) but they were always going to happen anyway.
Adding LISP wasn’t like that. It wasn’t inevitable. It was an excellent example of Walker thinking outside the box, and it was the one thing that raised AutoCAD significantly above its competitors (yes, it had serious competitors once) at a time when the PC CAD market was still up for grabs.
The genius of this move was that instead of attempting to fill AutoCAD’s many feature holes, Autodesk could provide the tools that would let the users do that for themselves. The language was an ideal fit for a number of reasons, and users in droves started hole-filling with a vengeance. Without that boost to AutoCAD’s open architecture, the PC CAD market would have been a very different place. Autodesk itself may not even have survived into the 1990s, and I could have been writing this blog about Versacad, Computervision, or some other competitor.
Today, despite an unfortunate history of long periods of neglect from Autodesk, LISP remains the language of choice for most of my AutoCAD-related programming needs. There are exceptions, but I’ll usually first see if a given job can be done in LISP. If it can’t be done easily and well in LISP, then I will consider using one of the other available languages. For the sort of work I usually do, that doesn’t happen very often.
Why? I’ll explain my reasoning in a later post.
You may have noticed the poll on the right asking “How well cooked is the average major new AutoCAD feature these days?” Despite the rather frivolous nature of the question and choices, there is a serious side to the question so please let me know what you think.
Note that this doesn’t address the question of how well cooked new features should be, just how well cooked they are. There’s an argument that can be made in support of releasing features before they are honed to perfection, and I will be covering that issue in later posts.
While almost all of the problems with the Autodesk discussion groups remain, there are some signs of movement in one area at least. The search facility, which until recently refused to find anything from before the update, now finds some earlier posts.
It would appear that some kind of search index is very slowly being built, but it’s a long way short of being finished. For example, if I do the standard default search for “autocad” in all the AutoCAD groups, there are 83 found in the last 90 days. This seems plausible, but I don’t trust it. Changing the time option to “All” now does actually return something rather than nothing at all, so I guess that’s an improvement. But 188 messages containing “autocad”? Since 1998? There should surely be thousands. Also, there are apparently no messages at all containing the word “it”. Or “is”. Ever. Some way to go there, then.
If the people fixing the search happen to be reading this, please note that a maximum possible number of 30 results per page is much too low and makes it very hard to work with the search results. 100 would be better.
There are still email addresses being exposed to the spam trawlers, but I guess by now that horse has well and truly bolted. Although I haven’t done a scientific study of post frequency, it looks to me as if the discussion groups are now significantly less active than they were before the update. Given the slightly functional search, the persistence of the awful editor, and the terrible runeverythingintooneline formatting of the existing message database (particularly important for the many posts containing code), I can’t say I’m surprised at the exodus.
I have closed the performance and productivity polls as described in my posts here and here, and the results can be seen in the Polls Archive. As with most of the other polls I’ve run here, the distribution of votes has not changed greatly after the first few days.
It is clear from the very different voting patterns in the two polls that blog nauseam readers are smart enough understand the difference between the two questions. The performance poll has a very clear skew to the “slower” side. This supports the empirical evidence I’ve seen elsewhere that people perceive AutoCAD as getting slower. This is stuff they’ve noticed for themselves, not a few milliseconds here and there.
On the other hand, the productivity poll results show a much more even distribution. The five options are pretty equally represented, except that “a lot more productive” has suffered at the hands of the most popular choice, “a bit more productive”. If you calculate the mean result, it is almost bang in the middle. It’s actually slightly worse than that, but by such a very small margin that it is not statistically significant.
Overall, we can say that the average viewpoint expressed here is that people clearly see AutoCAD as getting slower, but that its productivity has stayed about the same. So, does this let Autodesk off the performance hook? If a slowing AutoCAD is balanced by productivity-enhancing features, does performance matter? In my opinion, the answers to those questions are no and yes respectively.
It’s not a safe assumption that productivity features are balancing speed issues for everybody across the board. A new feature may help some users’ productivity, maybe even a majority of users, but it won’t help everybody. Some new features even harm some people’s productivity, which is one more reason for being grateful that Autodesk generally lets us turn them off (although it has been forgetful about that in some cases in recent years). Performance is one of the many things that impact productivity, but unlike most new features, is something that impacts the productivity of everybody. Even a first-time user has to sit around waiting for AutoCAD to start up, while a fast power user will be rendered less productive, and certainly more frustrated, by relatively small hesitations.
Furthermore, if AutoCAD is about as productive as it was a few releases back, is that good enough? Or should Autodesk be providing noticeably more productivity in return for our Subscription or upgrade payments? If not, why do we continue to hand over our hard-earned dollars? Why do we go through the upgrade process at all, with all its attendant costs, struggles and inconveniences?
Autodesk, please put much more effort into halting and reversing AutoCAD’s performance slide. It doesn’t have to be a competition between performance and productivity. Improve the former and the latter will also improve.
I have been thoroughly enjoying Kean Walmsley’s interview of Autodesk co-founder John Walker, which he has now finished. Kean’s link to part 4 is currently broken (edit: now fixed) and that broken link has been picked up by others (edit: also fixed in Between The Lines), so here are the correct links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
One of the best things about the interview is that it contains some frank criticism of Autodesk (and Microsoft, for that matter). On an Autodesk blog. Think about that. OK, it may be criticism of some stuff that is now ancient history, and it was made by someone who isn’t actually an Autodesk employee any more, but when was the last time you saw even that? It’s refreshing to see just a tiny crack appear in the never-say-anything-negative Autodesk facade.
I remember a time when Autodesk people were allowed to speak reasonably freely in public, often did so, and were even known to make admissions that not everything always smells of roses. John’s fellow Autodesk founder Duff Kurland once wrote this wonderful, wonderful response to a question of mine on the CompuServe ACAD forum (it was about Autodesk removing Visual Basic support without warning, if you’re curious):
We screwed up. We screwed up twice.
He then went on to explain the detail of how and why Autodesk had screwed up and exactly what they had learned from the experience. Can you imagine any Autodesk person saying that now? If they did, can you imagine that person remaining an Autodesk employee afterwards in anything other than a sweeping-up capacity? Nor me, and that’s a real shame. It would be easy enough to justify it by saying Autodesk is a public company and has a glossy corporate image to preserve, but nevertheless it’s still a real shame.
Back to John Walker. Although John has been away from the AutoCAD scene for an age now, I’ve still been enjoying his comments for many years in The Autodesk File, which I’ve always said should be compulsory reading for all new Autodesk employees. I haven’t always agreed with John’s views on everything, but they are intelligently presented, sometimes confronting, and often entertaining. Besides, it’s hard for me to argue with somebody who has succeeded in the way he has; he could always say, “Well, I did this. What have you done?”
Here are some of my favourite John Walker quotes (from The Autodesk File):
If we continue, as we have done consistently for the last eight years to measure every proposal against the standard, “How does this benefit the customer?”, I believe the success we’ve experienced to date will be just the base upon which far greater achievements can be built.
…we must never forget our customers. It is the customer, ultimately, that we are working for, and it is the customer who we must always strive to satisfy. All the rest will take care of itself, in the fullness of time.
Around here, I’ve been known to say things like, “I don’t care what you think. What do the customers think?”. That may sound arrogant, but to me it’s just plain old common sense. The evidence that it works is all around us.
Finally, and if you’re trying to lose weight, have a read of John’s The Hacker’s Diet. It’s also common sense and my slowly shrinking gut is evidence that it works.