Here’s a couple I didn’t mention earlier

The Autodesk discussion group editor inserts spaces into URLs longer than a certain size (about 70 characters, it seems). It will insert spaces in one place for the URL that it says is displayed on the screen, in another place for the URL that’s actually invoked when clicked, and sometimes in even more places on the URL that really is displayed on the screen. Sometimes the space appears as a space and sometimes it appears as %20.

The editor will cunningly allow you to apparently fix up these errors in the places they occur, and then the fun-loving little sprite will reintroduce the same or similar errors as soon as you save the changes. Multiple edit attempts will get you nowhere (except a padded cell, perhaps). Somebody must have had a wonderful time writing that one.

Another bug relates to the display of quoted messages. Admittedly, this was always going to be a difficult task to get right in the new environment, because of the many quoting styles that exist in the messagebase. No surprise, then, to discover that quoted text frequently displays in such a way that makes the message author look like a clueless dolt.

In related news, I’ve added a poll that asks what you think of the recent web update. I’m not making my usual attempt to remain neutral and avoid influencing the poll results this time, as it’s a bit late for that. Everybody knows my views by now, but I suspect it wouldn’t make much difference in any case. People are angry enough about this mess without any influence from me. However, it’s always good to see a wide range of views expressed; somebody thinks the update is “Fantastic”.

Discussion group search – partial workaround

The Autodesk discussion group search facility is still impersonating an industrial suction pump in a puddle. It sucks very hard and produces little useful output. In addition to the problems already mentioned ad nauseam (apparently there have never been any posts made containing the word “AutoCAD”, but 34 have been made in the past 90 days), here’s another one I spotted today: picking on Search Tips will give you a 404 error.

However bad the discussion groups are, at least the Subscription site is working (for me anyway, I know there are still people with login ID problems) and my helpful Indian chappie came back to me with a workaround. It’s not a very good workaround, and it only applies to Subscription customers, but I thought I would pass it on anyway:

Log in to the Subscription Center, pick Search in the top right corner, then fill in your search details or pick Advanced Search for more control.

This search method does find messages that date back before the recent web update. However, there are a few problems with it. There’s no way to restrict it to just discussion groups. Even if I restrict it to just “Communities”, it returns results that include various blogs, and to threads that have been moved or deleted. If more than one page of results is found, there’s no way of going directly to a given page, it’s Next > Next > Next > Next > repeatedly. If I try to restrict the search to AutoCAD 2009, for example, it returns nothing. Finally, it’s obviously only any good for Subscription users.

Another workaround is to use Google Advanced Search and set the Search within a site or domain field to discussion.autodesk.com. However, I know of no way of restricting the search to AutoCAD 2009, for example.

Enough band aids, the Autodesk discussion group search mechanism really needs fixing, along with all the other problems. I’ve already seen suggestions that Autodesk sabotaged its discussion groups on purpose. Personally, I’m generous enough to think that it’s just gross incompetence, but Autodesk’s continued silence and apparent inactivity can only encourage the conspiracy theories. I don’t know how much Autodesk pays for PR each year, but I bet the negative impression from this disaster is worth a lot more than it would have cost to have just done the job properly in the first place.

How not to do a web update

If you’re a major company and your various web-based services have evolved over time, you may have a proliferation of user IDs and some other issues to tidy up. You may be tempted to have a major overhaul.

If you think your reputation among your customers isn’t low enough and you desperately want this update to be an unmitigated disaster, what should you do? If you’re dropping subtle hints about moving towards a Software as a Service model, how can you remind people about the excellent reasons that exist for avoiding dependence on on-line services in general, and on yours in particular? Here are some suggestions:

  • Do everything at once. Don’t be tempted to divide this task into manageable portions, or you may have some prospect of success.
  • Close down everything for several days. If your customers might have to rely on some part of your web services to keep their products working, make sure you close down that part in particular. Let ’em stew.
  • Give the update job to a clumsy intern in your office that has never been allowed near a computer before.
  • Failing that, outsource the job to the lowest bidder. Ideally, have it done in a country that has a first language other than your own, to maximise the potential for misunderstandings.
  • When the user ID merge is done, make sure it is still broken for some people. Have multiple users with the same ID and multiple IDs with the same user. Some people’s existing user IDs will fail, so encourage them to make new ones and then refuse to allow it on the grounds that they already have an ID.
  • Make sure random people’s user IDs work in some places but not others. If they are paying for a maintenance contract, do your best to prevent them from using it.
  • Update your discussion groups to a new format. Of course, you should only do this if your existing groups are fast, efficient and reliable, and nobody is complaining about them. If it ain’t broke, fix it. Fix it real good.
  • If people have actually asked for any new features, such as signatures in their web-based posts, make sure you don’t provide them.
  • Don’t ask for feedback on any suggested changes. Before jumping in with the whole big update, don’t put up a sample discussion group to ensure that it works and that people like it. The slogan “Just Do It” works here, but already belongs to somebody else. Try “Don’t Look Before You Leap” instead.
  • Make sure you expose your customers’ private data to the world so they will never want to trust you again. If you can, make their email addresses visible to the spambots. Leave this visible for at least a week to give the trawlers a chance to do their harvesting, no matter how many impassioned pleas people make. You get bonus points if the exposed email address is also the user’s login ID. Spammers, scammers and phishers will love you, but your customers will not.
  • Make the new discussion group system slow, unreliable, and less efficient to use than before.
  • Ensure the discussion group editor messes up the formatting of people’s posts. Have it insert random junk into the posts and then refuse to let them edit it out. For bonus points, let them edit it out, but then ignore the edits or randomly re-insert new codes.
  • Make sure the search engine doesn’t find anything from before the update. If anybody attempts to change the search settings to find all posts, reward them by making sure it finds nothing at all, not even the recent posts it found a few seconds earlier.
  • If people are likely to post, say, program code, make sure you wrap it all up into one line to render it illegible.
  • If your customers are likely to use certain characters like square brackets in their posts, choose these as special characters in your editor. Mess up people’s posted program code into stuff that looks like a mass of broken links.
  • After a week or so, change your mind about the square brackets thing so that people who used that facility for their links now have posts that make them look like idiots. But don’t completely change your mind about it. Break the display of such links, but still encourage the users to insert them. For bonus points, insert each link at the start of the message rather than where the user expects it to go.
  • Log people off every so often so they have to keep logging on. Provide a “Remember this” feature that doesn’t.
  • If you are silly enough to allow people to keep their old items-per-page settings and you accidentally provide a control panel that works, make up for this by making those old settings unavailable in the control panel. In this way, you will prevent them from using a perfectly functional control panel for fear of losing their settings.
  • People who place attachments in their messages deserve to be frustrated, so you should break that feature for a while. Then allow some files to be attached, but mess up their display and randomly refuse to allow people to get at them.
  • If you think people might want to paste things into their messages, make it as awkward as possible. Copy and paste has universally worked a certain way for decades, so to keep on doing that is just what they will be expecting you to do. Do something new and interesting instead. Force them to go through a slow and arcane multi-stage process to paste the word “and”.
  • Because you don’t have full control over what appears on the screen, it’s much harder to mess up newsreader access, but make sure something makes life intolerable for those people too. Formatting attachments as garbage text is always a useful trick.
  • If you have an excellent educational conference coming up and people have complained about the associated web services in the past, take this opportunity to make them worse.

That’s all I have, sorry. My imagination must be failing, because I can’t think of any other ways a company could mess up such an update. Does anybody else have any other suggestions?

Autodesk on-line survey

As posted on Between the Lines, there is an Autodesk survey you may wish to complete in an attempt to have some kind of influence over AutoCAD’s future direction. Among other things, you will be asked specific questions about these issues:

  • Interoperability
  • Batch Processing in AutoCAD
  • Custom Linetype Creator
  • Custom Hatch Creator
  • Transparent Fills

You will also be asked to rank 10 possible future features:

  • Batch process drawings in AutoCAD
  • Draw order by layer
  • Enhanced visual styles
  • Visual compare two drawings
  • 3D Dynamic Blocks
  • Transparent hatch fills
  • Convert PDF to DWG
  • 3D enhancements
  • Hatch Pattern Generator
  • Linetype Creator

Without knowing more details, it’s hard to make a rational choice. For example, does “Enhanced visual styles” mean that AutoCAD 2007’s nearly-done 3D display overhaul will be finished off, allowing the correct display and plotting of simple conventional mechanical engineering views with hidden lines? Because that would make it important and worth me pushing it up the list. Or does it mean something more glossy but much less useful, which from my point of view would push it near the bottom? Who knows?

Never mind, I encourage you to have a go anyway. All you can do is your best based on the available information and hope it isn’t misinterpreted based on faulty assumptions. There’s a box near the end that allows you free rein to say what you like about AutoCAD’s future direction. I hope many of you use it, and I hope Autodesk doesn’t just “listen”, but acts based on what its customers say they want.

Autodesk discussion group links – feedback and bookmarks

The Autodesk discussion groups are currently working. They are also still irresponsibly displaying people’s email addresses as visible user names. If you’ve posted to the discussion groups in the past, I suggest you check to see if your email address is out there for the spambots to pick up.

There is now a feedback form for the discussion group and Community sites, so if you’re having problems you could try that. Hopefully, Autodesk won’t need a thousand feedback reports to work out that it’s running as slow as a wet week, the search is broken and that people’s privacy has been violated.

If you have links to product categories that no longer work properly, you can modify the format as shown in this example, which is for the AutoCAD category.

Old: http://discussion.autodesk.com/index2.jspa?categoryID=8

New: http://discussion.autodesk.com/forums/category.jspa?categoryID=8

Autodesk discussion group alternatives

As I’m typing this, the Autodesk discussion groups are down for maintenance again. Let’s hope that when they come back up, some of the problems are fixed.

In the meantime, if you’re an AutoCAD user and have something to ask or say, where can you go? Here are a few suggestions.

  • I like the AUGI forums. It’s an even more modern, more graphical and less space-efficient web interface than the new Autodesk one, but there’s a good community there and, hey, the search feature works. Mike Perry and colleagues run a tight ship, so please read the rules and be good.
  • If you have something to tell Autodesk and want practically no restrictions in the way you say it, submit a new message on dear Autodesk, or vote for the existing messages you like. It’s looking a bit bare and empty at the moment, so go fill it up.
  • As a Cadalyst person, it would be remiss of me to avoid mentioning the Cadalyst forums.
  • The Swamp is biased heavily toward CAD programming, so if you have a LISP question then head there, but it also hosts general CAD discussion. In this community, you are expected to be courteous and professional.
  • Old-timers like myself will remember that the CompuServe ACAD forum’s Take 5 section was carried over into the AutoCAD discussion groups. It was kept going for a few years before Autodesk felt it was getting out of hand and killed it. That community refused to be killed, and actually still flourishes for newsgroup (NNTP) users at the t5 dot dynip dot com server.
  • R. K. McSwain suggests the CADTutor forums.

If you wish to point out any other sites I’ve missed, please let me know and if they’re relevant I’ll edit this post to include them.

While I was typing this, the Autodesk discussion groups came back up, but who knows how long that’s going to last?

Also while typing this I also received a phone call from a helpful Indian gentleman at Subscription Support (which was working fine as of yesterday). He asked for details about the broken search (it doesn’t find anything posted prior to the update), confirmed that it’s broken, and promised to inform the relevant department. That’s a much better response than the email I mentioned in my last post.

More Autodesk discussion group angst

When you start using the new AutoCAD discussion groups, in addition to the broken search facility, you will have other issues to deal with. There’s a new editor with lots of features and lots of problems. Quoting formatted messages results in a mess. Switching from one tab to another messes up your text. Submitting your message results in an error page like this:

Autodesk
Discussion Groups
Discussion Groups
Oops! Server Error 500. The resource you’ve requested is not available.
   
 

© Copyright 2007 Autodesk, Inc. All rights reserved. Legal Notices & Trademarks — Privacy Policy

Despite this, the message does actually get submitted. People are unaware of this (possibly because the list of topics, and the popular discussions pane’s “last post” displays are not being updated as new posts are made) and re-posting their messages, resulting in duplicates.

There is some confusion about what constitutes a category in the discussion group structure. If you go from the top level to the AutoCAD level and then into AutoCAD 2009, picking the “Up one category” link takes you right to the top.

The speed of the web interface varies from quite acceptable to something rather less than that.

People are reporting problems with losing their old watched threads, and not being allowed to watch new threads without email notifications.

There’s nowhere obvious for people to report problems, so people are just starting complaint threads in random locations. What if you report problems directly to Autodesk? According to a poster in one thread, this is what he got in reply to his report that search is broken (which it still is):

Thank you for contacting Autodesk Support. Here is the recommended resolution to your Support Request:

Discussion Group is just a BBS for all Autodesk Customer. This BBS is not product support duty. So We could not give you any more resolutions. But I think you could use different key works or other mothord to search in Discussion group.

Good grief.

So, Autodesk, was user feedback sought prior to making these changes? Did the pre-release testing phase allow plenty of time for the design to be user tested, modified based on user feedback and re-tested before release?

Didn’t think so. Ah well, it’s a good thing that this valuable lesson was learned with something relatively trivial like your discussion groups and not something important, isn’t it? Like AutoCAD, for example?

Autodesk newsgroup changes

As I mentioned yesterday, the Autodesk newsgroups have been overhauled. After spending yesterday going up and down like a whore’s drawers*, the site is now up, albeit still not 100% of the time. At this stage, newsreader users appear to be generally unaffected by negative issues, which is a pleasant surprise.

The space efficiency for Web users has improved since yesterday, and while it’s not as good as it was a week ago, it’s now good enough for me. I’ve now managed to log on, and was impressed to see that it had retained my old settings of 100 topics per page and no limit on the number of posts per page. Unfortunately, the new control panel imposes a limit of 50 topics per page and 50 posts per page, so I’m not going to be able to change any of my other control panel settings for fear of forever losing my long-page settings. Autodesk, please add options for 100 topics per page (more, if you like) and unlimited posts per page.

The litttle blobs to indicate read and unread posts may look cute, but they’re not much use to me. Before, I could open a long thread such as this one and look for “NEW!” within the page using the browser search to find the new posts. Scrolling through the page looking for brown blobs is seriously inferior to the mechanism I had last week. Autodesk, can I please have an option to have easily searched words like “NEW!” instead of blobs? Oh, and “NEW!” is much more useful than “new” because the newsgroup is obviously scattered with large numbers of words that begin with those three letters.

Search? Still broken. Autodesk, you know what to do. Also, it logs me off every so often. What’s up with that?

So, what do you think of the new newsgroup interface? What’s good? What’s bad? What simple changes could Autodesk perform to make them more efficient for you?

* Source: Rowan Atkinson, Not The Nine O’Clock News, early 1980s.

Some Autodesk web stuff now coming back on line

Right now, the Autodesk Subscription site is back up, although some people are experiencing problems. As an Aussie, I approve of the new Subscription slogan that starts with “No Worries”, even if it’s not yet accurate. Product Activation is requesting a logon, but I haven’t gone any further than that, so it may or may not be working.

The Autodesk Discussion Groups are up and down by the minute. Links that once led directly to categories (e.g. AutoCAD) currently lead to pages with sub-category headings, but no links. The discussion groups themselves, while they’re up, have a new, much more modern look, but are unfortunately vastly less space-efficient than the old ones. My existing password no longer works and I haven’t seen an email about a replacement yet, so I haven’t been allowed to log on yet to see if I still have the option of improving the efficiency of the interface (e.g. by having 100 topics per page, not 15). The Search facility looks unfinished and fails to find stuff I know is there. There are various user-related issues, such as the user name links failing and multiple users with the same name.

The Autodesk University site is up, but registration is still disabled. The Autodesk Labs site is up, but contains some links that no longer work.

At a glance, the Alias Design, Civil Engineering, Impression and Manufacturing Community sites all appear to be up and running.

Lots of Autodesk web stuff broken right now

Autodesk is in the middle of a big site overhaul at the moment, with many services unavailable. For example, attempting to log into Subscription Support gives me this:

The Subscription Center is currently undergoing maintenance. You will not be able to access the Subscription Center during this time.
Support Request is also undergoing maintenance. Currently, you are not be able to submit, view or manage settings for your Support Requests.

The Subscription Center and Support Request will become available at the date and time shown in the chart below.

Time Zone/Country Date Time
GMT Tuesday, September 23, 2008 5.00 am
Eastern Time (EST) Tuesday, Spetember 23, 2008 1.00 am
Central European Time (CET) Tuesday, September 23, 2008 7.00 am
Japan Tuesday, September 23, 2008 2:00 pm
Korea Tuesday, September 23, 2008 2:00 pm
Singapore Tuesday, September 23, 2008 1.00 pm
India – Bangalore Tuesday, September 23, 2008 10.30 am

We appreciate your patience while we work to improve Autodesk Subscription.

That’s a relatively useful message; some direct links I have bookmarked give me this kind of thing:

The server you are trying to access is either busy or experiencing difficulties. Please close the Web browser, open a new browser window, and try logging in again.[05:09:00]

This also means your resellers are unable to provide you with license codes until the server is back up again. So if you were going to rely on that, don’t.

The various Autodesk blogs seem to be unaffected at the moment, but links on those blogs may not work correctly. For example, signing up to be placed on the AU blogroll from the link at Between The Lines seems to work, but then right at the end gives me the message below, leaving me in the dark about whether I need to repeat the process at a later date:

Temporarily unavailable due to site maintenance.
This portion of the Autodesk website is temporarily unavailable while we complete some upgrades. Our apologies for this, unfortunately necessary, interruption.
Autodesk is working to consolidate multiple user accounts, simplify the sign in process, and provide a single User ID and Password for accessing several Autodesk web sites. Access to register or edit your existing account information will be restricted during the September 18-21 launch window. Additionally, the sites affected will be unavailable Monday, September 22.

This particular message also provides this handy list of sites affected:

Here’s hoping autodesk.com comes back to life on time, in full working order, with a minimum of broken links (the biggest bane of the last overhaul), and hopefully with useful improvements that make it all worthwhile.

Is AutoCAD becoming more or less productive?

It seems that most of you are convinced that AutoCAD is getting slower, but I’ll leave the poll going for a while longer. But even if AutoCAD is getting slower, does that mean that it’s actually less productive? Do the new features introduced in recent releases allow you to produce more useful work in a given time, despite making you wait from time to time? I’ve added a new poll to see what you think.

I like Adobe a lot more now

If you haven’t found the Dear Adobe gripe site yet, have a look. Some of the comments are moronic, most are strongly worded, some are sarcastic, and some are just precious. How has Adobe reacted to being publicly blasted like this? Very well. Read what John Nack, Adobe’s Photoshop Principal Product Manager, has to say about it on his blog. Also, see how he has responded to many of the comments on his blog posting. Good stuff!

How would the good people at Autodesk react to dearautodesk.com? Would they ignore it? Would they pretend that the existing “constructive feedback only” mechanisms are adequate to allow their customers to get their points across? Would they send in a pack of lawyers, attempt to close it down and live with the inevitable consequences? Or would they, like Adobe, cooperate with the site owners and use it as a valuable resource?

In which direction is AutoCAD’s performance going?

I see quite a few comments in various places that say that AutoCAD’s performance has been getting progressively worse by the year. Is this what most people think, or just the viewpoint of a few complainers? Let’s find out, shall we? I’ve added a poll that asks for your opinions. Feel free to comment, too.

Note that this is a poll about raw performance, not productivity. It’s possible (though difficult) to make a program go slower but still allow you to produce more work in a given time, so I’ll cover the productivity angle in a later poll.

This poll is purely about how fast AutoCAD seems to you. How often do you find yourself hesitating, or waiting, or even going for a coffee break, while AutoCAD does its stuff? Is this getting better or worse? If you compare it with an earlier release, does it seem faster or slower? It is to be expected that some things will get faster and some slower, but what’s your overall impression?

Ease of use and the Ribbon

I have Office 2007 on my newest computer at home, which I bought primarily to familiarise myself with the Ribbon interface and allow me to discuss it from a position other than ignorance. I use Word and Excel 2007 on that computer, and find the ease of use about the same as earlier releases. Some things are easier to find and use, some things are harder.

My 9 year old daughter recently asked if she could use PowerPoint at home, as she had started to use it at her new school for making little presentations and wanted to make her own at home for fun. I put a shortcut on her desktop and let her go for it, and she has produced some pretty impressive stuff with no help from me. Not only that, but my 7 year old daughter is now doing the same thing, having learnt just by looking over my eldest daughter’s shoulder. They don’t ask me for any help, they just get on with it.

A vindication of the Ribbon’s ease-of-use claims? Not exactly. You see, they are using PowerPoint on my old computer, which has the completely Ribbonless Office 2000.

I don’t hate the Ribbon. I just don’t see much benefit in it, even for novice users.

Matt Stein’s Blog and Microsoft’s Mojave Marketing

Thanks to Shaan Hurley for revealing to the wider world the existence of Ribbon Man Matt Stein’s blog. I’m not sure it’s appropriate for a blogging n00b like myself to welcome somebody with a blog four years older than his own, but I’m going to do it anyway. Welcome, Matt (no pun intended).

Some of Matt’s blog posts (particularly the early ones) make for, er, interesting reading, so don’t click if you’re easily offended. Please bear in mind that this is a personal blog, not an Autodesk one.

Matt and I generally get on fine, but we have had some frank exchanges of view and often agree to disagree. One subject where we are unlikely to share the same views is the Microsoft Vista marketing exercise The Mojave Experiment. This is something I planned to post about some weeks ago but then something more important came up and I didn’t bother. Here’s what Matt thinks, and here’s what I think:

While this is a cute marketing ploy and might convince the terminally naive, it pretty obviously qualifies as propaganda rather than any kind of meaningful study. Here’s how it’s done:

Find a selection of people with no experience of a product but with ignorance-based negative feelings about it. Make sure the hardware and software you’re going to show them all works well. Fix up the settings for minimal annoyance. Present an expensively prepared, well-choreographed demo that presents all the best features and none of the worst. Result: oh wow, what a surprise, it’s better than they thought.

A marketing company could reproduce the same results with practically anything if they set it up right. I bet I could do it with Linux, OS X, Windows Me, whatever. Give me Microsoft’s resources and open slather to present things as fairly or unfairly as I like and I will hand you whatever results you request.

For the record, I don’t hate Vista. I have Vista and XP available, dual boot, on hardware that can easily cope with the demands. In my tests on that hardware, Vista runs AutoCAD significantly faster than XP. Vista has been reliable and it looks nice, but I use XP about 95% of the time. Why? A few minor annoyances, but mostly it’s because Vista doesn’t support my mouse fully. Is that Microsoft’s fault or Logitech’s? Who cares? It’s something I have to put up with when I use Vista, therefore I generally avoid using Vista. As Matt rightly points out, Vista has a lot of minor “nice to have” touches, but all of them added together don’t make it worth putting up with a partially functional mouse. Neither do they make it worth buying a new mouse.

Back to the marketing campaign, it reminds me of a productivity “study” paid for by Autodesk an age ago to show how much more productive Release 13 was than Release 12. It was released, accompanied by a poorly worded and deceptive press release (unintentionally deceptive, supposedly), to hoots of derision from a cynical AutoCAD user community. It convinced almost nobody and angered many, and was, all in all, a spectacularly bad idea.

Autodesk marketing people, if by any chance you’re thinking of repeating that old mistake, or even “doing a Mojave” with AutoCAD 2009, please don’t. Just don’t.

What is loaded at AutoCAD startup, and when?

Warning, CAD nerd stuff ahead. This is a long and technical post and if you’re using AutoCAD in a largely out-of-the-box state you probably won’t care about any of it.

If your modification of AutoCAD extends beyond the trivial, you may find it useful to know what AutoCAD loads, and in what order things are loaded. It is possible for LISP files in particular to tread on each other’s toes, so knowing what gets loaded when can be useful information for diagnosing such clashes. This post aims to provide that information. It uses AutoCAD 2009 as an example, but the same principles apply to all releases from AutoCAD 2006 onwards.

On startup, the first things AutoCAD loads are its CUI files. It first loads the Enterprise CUI file, then the Main CUI file, then any partial CUI files attached to the Main, then any partial CUI files attached to the Enterprise. I have no idea of the reasoning behind this slightly strange order, but there it is. The order of the partial CUIs loaded in each case is determined by the order in which they appear in the parent CUI files, which is determined by the order in which you attached them. If you don’t like this order, you can attach and reattach them in the CUI interface, or you can do the same thing much quicker with a text editor if you feel confident enough. If there are LISP files associated with these CUI files, they are not loaded yet. You’ll need to wait a few paragraphs for that.

Next, if you have created a file called acad.rx in AutoCAD’s search path, any ARX files listed in that file will be loaded. There are other ways in which developers can load their ARX files at startup, but I won’t go into that here.

Following that, the acad*.lsp files are loaded. First, Autodesk’s acad2009.lsp file is loaded. Next, if you have created a file called acad.lsp, that is loaded. These two files are only loaded at first startup, unless the ACADLSPASDOC system variable is set to 1, in which case the acad.lsp file is reloaded with each new drawing. Next comes Autodesk’s acad2009doc.lsp and any acaddoc.lsp file you may have created, in that order. These two files are loaded at startup and with every new drawing session.

It’s worth pointing out here that the acad200x.lsp and acaddoc200x.lsp files are Autodesk’s and are not intended to be modified by users. You can modify them, and adding things in there works fine, but updates and hotfixes can overwrite these files, leaving you to patch things up again afterwards. The acad.lsp and acaddoc.lsp files are yours, and that is where you are best advised to put your additions.

I hesitate to mention VBA because I have long avoided that development environment and my knowledge in that area is very limited, but if you’re a VBA developer and have created an acad.dvb file in AutoCAD’s search path, it gets loaded at this point.

Once the acad*.* files are loaded, then come any LISP files associated with the CUI files that were loaded at the beginning. For each CUI file, if there is a *.mnl file of the same name, that will be loaded first (*.mnl files are just *.lsp files renamed). After that, any LISP files that are specified in the CUI file will be loaded, in the order in which they appear in the CUI file itself. This order can be modified in the same ways that the partial CUI loading sequence can be modified; “delete” and “load” (detach and attach, really) the files within the CUI interface, or hack the CUI file with a text editor.

The CUI-associated LISP files are loaded as described in the above paragraph for each CUI file in turn, in the same order as the CUI files themselves: Enterprise, then Main, then partials to Main, then partials to Enterprise.

The Appload command provides a Startup Suite facility, where you can specify any number of files to load (*.arx, *.lsp, *.dvb, *.dbx, *.vlx or *.fas). If you have done so, those files are loaded at this point, in the order in which they appear in the Startup Suite list.

That’s all the actual loading done, but we’re not finished yet. At this point AutoCAD’s environment should be all ready to do pretty much anything, including things that modify the drawing database, including invoking commands. This was not true earlier on, so if you want to do things like change the drawing or run commands, this should be done using a startup routine rather than called directly at load time from any of the files loaded above.

If you’ve defined a VBA sub called AcadStartup(), it will be called now. If starting a new drawing, any sub called AcadDocument_Activate() will be called instead. The caveat about my VBA ignorance still applies here.

If a LISP function called (S::STARTUP) has been defined, it will be called next. Where could that be defined? Anywhere in any of the LISP files mentioned above, or in any LISP or other files that are loaded by any of those files, or by any files that are loaded by any of those files, and so on ad infinitum. It could even be defined in one of the ARX files loaded at any point. This would be unusual, but is quite possible.

If there are multiple (S::STARTUP) functions defined in various places, which one wins? Whichever one loaded last. That’s why the load order can be important, but it’s also why you should never have an unconditional (defun S::STARTUP …) definition in your LISP code. Instead, you should append your startup code to any existing (S::STARTUP) function. That way, your startup can cooperate with any others in your environment rather than walking all over it. If there is some interest in that subject, I can cover it in more detail in a future post.

In summary, here is the AutoCAD startup sequence:

A. CUI files loaded:
1. Enterprise
2. Main
3. Partials to Main
4. Partials to Enterprise

B. acad*.* files loaded:
1. Files listed in acad.rx
2. acad2009.lsp
3. acad.lsp
4. acad2009doc.lsp
5. acaddoc.lsp
6. acad.dvb

C. CUI-associated MNL and LSP files loaded:
1. Enterprise named MNL
2. Enterprise loaded LSP and MNL
3. Main named MNL
4. Main loaded LSP and MNL
5. Partials to Main named MNLs
6. Partials to Main loaded LSPs and MNLs
7. Partials to Enterprise named MNLs
8. Partials to Enterprise loaded LSPs and MNLs

D. Startup suite files loaded

E. Startup routines run:
1. AcadStartup() called (AutoCAD startup)
2. AcadDocument_Activate() called (Drawing startup)
3. (S::STARTUP) called