AutoCAD 2009 – What’s good about it?

I’ve added a poll that asks you to choose the best things about AutoCAD 2009. I’ve come up with a list of 25 features that are new, improved or otherwise changed in AutoCAD 2009. You can choose up to 3 items from the list.

What’s the best thing about AutoCAD 2009?

It’s starting to look a bit negative around here, and it is only going to get more negative when I start describing the details of my still-unresolved Autodesk customer service debacle. So here’s something to provide a bit of balance.

What do you like best about AutoCAD 2009? What is better, faster, easier, more cool or just plain fixed when compared with the release you were using previously? I have a few ideas of my own, and will run a poll when I get a few suggestions from you.

Autodesk’s 12-month release cycle – Is it harmful?

I’ve opened a poll asking for your opinion about whether the 12-month release cycle of AutoCAD and its variants is harmful to the quality of the software that Autodesk is providing. I won’t express my own opinion on this subject here yet, but will do so later, once the poll is closed. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject.

Gaahl’s Tr00 Life Adventures Week 8

This week, save the last dance for Gaahl.

Gaahl Week 8

The original Gaahl photograph is by Peter Beste.

AutoCAD 2009 – Top reasons to be Ribbonless

I’ve closed the poll for those of you who are using 2009 with the Ribbon turned off to show us the reasons why. The top 10 choices were:

  1. Tab concept means extra clicks (65%)
  2. Uses up too much screen space (64%)
  3. No advantage over existing methods (64%)
  4. Dislike concept of hiding tools – want buttons to stay visible (60%)
  5. Too hard to find things (51%)
  6. Using it minimised requires an extra click/hover (47%)
  7. Doesn’t make good use of my screen size/shape (45%)
  8. Tab switching is too slow (45%)
  9. Customising it is too difficult (44%)
  10. Ribbon content doesn’t match my needs (44%)

I was hoping that the poll would help Autodesk in deciding how best to improve the Ribbon in future releases, but it’s pretty hard to do much about the top 7 choices here. Except number 2, perhaps; the Ribbon could be considerably tightened to remove waste space, in the same way as the excellent AutoCAD 2009 floating toolbars.

The new poll is slightly related to item 5 above. Autodesk combined the Ribbon with a change to the button images. Personally, I don’t think this was a good idea. If you move people’s stuff around, changing the appearance of that stuff is only going to make it harder to find things and reduce people’s acceptance of the changed interface. Enough of my opinion, what do you think?

I like Bill Gates a little more now

I recently enjoyed reading what appears to be a genuine and not at all atypical internal Microsoft email from Bill Gates. I always enjoy seeing an honest opinion expressed in a way that cuts through the glossy corporate PR image, and this one certainly does that. Actually, it reminds me of the sort of thing I write in MyFeedback when evaluating pre-release versions of AutoCAD. It’s honest, it’s negative or even cutting where it needs to be, it represents a real user’s viewpoint, and most of all, it’s useful.

I don’t think this sort of exposure does any harm at all to a company. It’s unlikely to change anybody’s opinion. Microsoft haters will still hate Microsoft, fanboys will still be fanboys. People like me who sit in the middle somewhere are likely to admire the honest self-evaluation shown here. Here’s the Big Cheese looking at things like a user. Great! I’m sure the spin merchants wince when something like this makes it into public view, but that can only be a good thing, right?

I’d like to think Carl Bass fires off this sort of email within Autodesk from time to time. If such a thing went public, would it hurt Autodesk? Absolutely not. Autodesk haters will still hate, fanboys will still, er, fan, but there will be no lasting measurable effect on Autodesk. I bet a lot of real world users would like Carl Bass a little more, though. Frustrated users would probably like him a lot more.

AutoCAD 2009 – How many people really are using the Ribbon?

I was interested to see Shaan Hurley reporting the Ribbon usage figures from the Customer Involvement Program (CIP). Shaan’s figures show Ribbon non-users at 46%, my poll results show it as 71%. Why the discrepancy? Is somebody telling fibs? I don’t think so.

First, blog nauseam poll respondents represent a biased sample, comprising people who are more interested in AutoCAD than average users. Dare I say more knowledgeable? More likely to be power users or CAD Managers, anyway. They are probably more likely than average users to make changes from the default AutoCAD settings. But Shaan’s CIP users are also a biased sample, comprising those AutoCAD users who have CIP turned on. Are users who go with the flow and have CIP on also more likely to go with the flow and leave the Ribbon on? Possibly, but I would have thought the CIP-on bias would be less significant than the blog-reader bias.

Second, Shaan’s sample size is likely to be very substantially larger than mine. I currently get about 5000 unique visitors to this site each month, with only up to about a hundred bothering to respond to a given poll. Shaan’s numbers are likely to be in the hundreds of thousands, and thus much less prone to a few people skewing the results.

Finally, the method of measurement differs. My poll is totally open and transparent, but requires active participation by the respondent. This means that the more strongly you feel about something, the more likely you are to be measured.

Shaan’s measurement method avoids that pitfall. However, because the details of the CIP measurement mechanism aren’t public, its accuracy is open to conjecture. For example, if somebody spends 8 hours working in a Ribbonless session and then tries out the Ribbon in another session for a few minutes, does that count as a score of 1-1, or is the time used taken into account? If somebody works Ribbonless except when using the Block Editor (personally, I think the Ribbon works well there), is a flag raised that says the Ribbon was used during the session? Does that then count as one Ribbon Session and no Ribbonless sessions? (Shaan, you’re very welcome to put that speculation to rest with some details of how it works). In any case, the number of part-time Ribbon users is likely to be small enough not to make a huge difference.

In summary, I’m quite prepared to accept that Shaan’s CIP numbers are likely to be closer to reality than my poll results. I think “about half and half” is a decent compromise answer to the question posed by the title of this post.

The question is, is that a good result? Shaan says he was surprised by the results, but doesn’t state whether he thought the Ribbon would be more or less popular than that. Before I ran my poll, I would have said that a significant minority, say a third of users, were going Ribbonless, and that a good result for the new interface would have been if less than 20% of AutoCAD 2009 users were going out of their way to turn it off. Whichever numbers you choose, the Ribbon is doing a lot worse than that. Why? Please fill in the poll on the right and let us all know. Whatever the reasons, we should be grateful that unlike many software companies, Autodesk has at least given us the choice.

Totally abysmal customer service from Autodesk

I’ve been dealing with Autodesk in various ways for 23 years and have had a variety of experiences as a result; some good, some bad. The provision of the license codes needed to keep AutoCAD running has historically been pretty good. No longer. I’m currently going through the worst Autodesk customer service experience in my career. I’ve been trying for many weeks to obtain a few codes, without success.

I’ll spare you the details for the time being to give Autodesk one last chance to come good. For now I’ll just say that a combination of restrictive policies, inflexibility in the administration of those policies and downright incompetence has left Autodesk’s Subscription service looking very poor indeed. It’s a shocking abuse of legitimate customers; something that pirate users don’t have to put up with.

Autodesk Asia Pacific Product Registration & Activation Centre, your efforts to date have not been anywhere close to adequate. Get your finger out and start providing some customer service. If you can’t do so, escalate it to someone who can. Now. Before I let on how I really feel.

Update: I would just like to clarify that I have no problem with the service provided at a dealer level.

Gaahl’s Tr00 Life Adventures Week 7

This week, Gaahl visits JB Hi-Fi, which is the place to go in Australia if you’re after bargain CDs and DVDs.

Gaahl Week 7

The original Gaahl photograph is by Peter Beste.

AutoCAD 2009 – Why aren’t you using the Ribbon?

Following on from the earlier poll to find out what you were doing with the Ribbon (mostly turning it off, apparently), I’ve added a poll for those of you who are using AutoCAD 2009 Ribbonless. I hope I’ve covered all the bases with my 23 possible reasons! You can pick as many or as few as you like.

Firefox 3.0 Download Day

I use the Firefox web browser when I have a choice. I’ve tried Safari and it’s fine once I turn off the horrible fuzzy text, but whatever I try I always come back to Firefox. Today, FireFox 3.0 is released and the Mozilla people are hoping to set a world record for downloads. I’ve done my bit (it was a surprisingly quick download), over to you.

AutoCAD 2009 – Why do you hate the Ribbon?

Judging from the results of the Ribbon usage poll (and the usual poll caveats apply), you are turning off AutoCAD 2009’s Ribbon in droves. I’m surprised. I thought there would be a significant minority of 2009 users who turned it off, but it looks I was wrong and it’s a large majority. The non-Ribbon numbers have hovered around the two-thirds mark right from the start and have now settled above the 70% mark. If nothing else, this validates Autodesk’s decision to make the Ribbon optional and keep all the old user interface elements.

Now I’m curious about the reasons. Why do so many of you dislike the Ribbon so much? Is it an unwillingness to change, a reaction against Microsoft’s influence, or are there more practical reasons? Is it screen space, extra picks, performance, customisation difficulties, difficulty in finding things, or something else? Did you turn it off straight away or did you give it a fair go first? Is the whole idea a write-off as far as you’re concerned, or is there something Autodesk could do that might convince you to use it?

Please comment and let me know. If I get enough responses, I’ll post a multiple-choice poll to get a better idea about how many of you have the various reasons for going Ribbonless.

The Ribbon Man interview – fluff?

Looking at the comments, it seems not everyone is happy with the Matt Stein interview. If so, I’m sorry you feel that way about the piece. In my own defence, I would point out the following:

  1. I like to think my work at Cadalyst represents a balanced viewpoint. I pride myself on being fair. Whether Autodesk deserves praise or criticism for something, I provide it. But an interview isn’t really the place to do that. An interview is supposed to be an opportunity for the interviewee to say things, not a platform for the interviewer’s opinions. My job as an interviewer is to extract information, not provide it. In my opinion, the best TV interviewers listen a lot and say very little. Confrontational interviewers can be fun to watch, though.
  2. I have many other opportunities, both here and in Bug Watch, to express viewpoints that may conflict with what Matt had to say. Matt doesn’t have a blog or a regular Cadalyst column, he has this one chance to put his point across to Cadalyst readers. I think it’s fair to let Matt make best use of that opportunity and not beat him down with a confrontational style.
  3. I think it’s important for readers to understand the thinking behind the user interface changes. You may not agree with Autodesk’s thinking (in fact, I often don’t), but if you know what the thinking is, you can argue against it more convincingly.
  4. I don’t want to go into too much detail about this because it involves private correspondence, but getting this interview published at all was an effort and a half. Anyone who wants to get access to an Autodesk employee’s comments for publication has to go through Autodesk’s PR people. While the people I dealt with were pleasant and cooperative, the pace at which things happened is best described as glacial.
  5. As a result, one of the first set of questions I asked and a whole set of follow-up questions didn’t get answered in time for publication. Cadalyst could have waited for that to happen before publishing, but AutoCAD 2010 would probably have come out first, rendering the answers somewhat irrelevant…
  6. With all that said, I actually agree that part 1 of the interview comes across as a bit soft on Autodesk. The very fact that Shaan Hurley thinks it’s unbiased is a bit of a worry. ;) However, I think some of the questions in part 2 are fairly probing. Have a look around and see how many comments you can find by Autodesk employees that are critical in any way of the current product line-up. Getting a public admission that “Ribbon customisation should be easier” out of the AutoCAD Ribbon’s number one fanboy and past Autodesk’s PR people is, in relative terms, something of a triumph.

Enough from me, what would you have asked? Let’s hear what questions you think the interview is missing. Maybe there will be a chance to ask them one day.

AutoCAD 2009 – Ribbon content for Express Tools

One of the many unfinished aspects of the AutoCAD 2009 Ribbon is the lack of Express Tools content. One enterprising user has put the effort into correcting this, and has posted an Express Tools CUI replacement in this Autodesk newsgroup thread. I have not tested this myself. As usual with CUI, be paranoid. Back up everything before you touch anything.

While I wouldn’t normally suggest you do any Ribbon custom work in 2009 in its current state, it shouldn’t hurt in this case as it should be easily redoable once Autodesk has fixed up the worst of the 2009 CUI problems. Anything else you do should be considered as disposable. The problems with 2009’s CUI are so fundamental that it is quite likely a restructure will be required to fix them, either in a service pack or in 2010. That means your 2009 CUI efforts may need to be redone, just like your AutoCAD 2008 Dashboard modifications.

The Ribbon Man interview – part 2

The second and final part of my interview of Matt Stein has now been published on the Cadalyst site. There were some other questions I would have liked Matt to answer, but some unfortunate logistical problems prevented that from happening. Never mind, I guess it ended up plenty long enough anyway!

Gaahl’s Tr00 Life Adventures Week 6

At home with Gaahl.

Gaahl Week 6

I have done ten of these, and I like this one the best.

The original Gaahl photograph is by Peter Beste.

The Ribbon Man interview – part 1

Over on the Cadalyst site you will find the first part of a two-part interview I did with Autodesk’s Matt Stein, the man responsible for making the Ribbon interface work in AutoCAD 2009. I hope you find it interesting.

AutoCAD 2009 – Do your old drawings need recovery?

I’ve seen quite a few complaints that AutoCAD 2009 refuses to open some drawings saved in 2000 or 2004 format unless the Recover command has been used on them. Autodesk has now issued a Knowledge Base item about this issue.

There’s no real fix in AutoCAD 2009 yet, just an external workaround. You will have to fix up the drawings in AutoCAD 2008 or TrueView. Either save the drawings in 2007 format or set the system variable 3DCONVERSIONMODE to 0 and then save them in the old format.

Video – Misheard lyrics

This blog is supposed to a strange mix of AutoCAD, music, image manipulation and video, but so far it has been a bit light on in the latter three categories. This post will redress the balance a little.

This is a silly video I made based on the song Ghost of Perdition from the album Ghost Reveries by Swedish metal band Opeth. I’m sure the music won’t be to the liking of many of you, particularly as the vocals are partly in the “death grunt” style. If you’ve never heard a death grunt, just try to imagine Cookie Monster singing while he’s really, really angry about something. For the record, I prefer my vocals “clean” but this style is easy to mishear, leading to general amusement (hopefully).

Parental guidance: contains very mild nudity, very slightly offensive language and an oblique drug reference. You’ll have to be quick to spot them, though. I consider this safe to show to kids (as long as you think the vocals won’t give them nightmares), but some of you may not agree.

YouTube link.

AutoCAD 2009 – How do you use the Ribbon?

It would appear from comments made on the Autodesk newsgroups that a lot of AutoCAD 2009 users have their Ribbons turned off. That’s actually one of eight possible states for the Ribbon to be in. Is it really the most popular configuration? Does it apply to 12.5% of you or is it more than that? I’ve added a poll to find out. Please vote only if you’re an active AutoCAD 2009 user, as I want to see what people use in production.


Autodesk orphans, how well were you looked after?

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How good is Autodesk's customer focus?

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How good is Autodesk at the Internet?

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What is your relationship to Autodesk?

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