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 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 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

Has AutoCAD 2009 eaten your registry lately?

I’ve had a one-off report from a user of AutoCAD 2009 (actually, it was MDT as part of the Inventor suite pretending to be AutoCAD 2009, which isn’t exactly the same thing) and I’d like to know if anyone else has seen the same thing. His AutoCAD self-destructed and a little investigation showed that the section of the Registry that contains all the settings for that particular release had vanished without trace. This happened again later, but this time he had a backup of the Registry section handy and was able to avoid a second reinstall.  No Registry cleaners were involved.

Have any of you seen this kind of thing happen?

Faster, Stronger, Higher, Bluer, Blooper

I always find it amusing when extensively rehearsed and expensive presentations go wrong, except of course when they are my own. Anyway, presentations don’t get any more extensively rehearsed or expensive than the opening ceremony of the Olympics. So when a technical glitch occurs like Cathy Freeman having to stand around waiting for recalcitrant machinery to start moving, this amuses my sad little mind. It’s funnier for me when the glitch has a computing feel to it, as described in this story of the Olympic BSoD. When XP does this to you, perhaps you could try Li Ning on the Ctrl, Alt and Del keys.

Look out for Update 1 for AutoCAD 2009-based verticals

If you have Communications Center disabled (this is quite common, it seems) or you’re not currently using your 2009-based vertical product, you may be unaware that Autodesk has released versions of Update 1 (formerly known as SP1) for the architectural and civil variants of AutoCAD 2009. Expect the other verticals to follow soon. A visit to the Autodesk site and search for “Update 1” currently returns 18 results. As usual, read the Readme first and exercise caution (or even paranoia) before installing.

Two “new” Autodesk products

Autodesk has announced two “new” products, Stitcher Unlimited 2009 and ImageModeler 2009. Stitcher Unlimited (US$350, Windows and Mac) is for patching photographs to generate panoramic images that can be used in rendering and other virtual-world applications. ImageModeler ($US995, Windows only) generates 3D models from 2D images. Both products are carry-overs from Autodesk’s purchase of REALVIZ.

Neither product is released yet; both are scheduled for October. Autodesk claims a wide range of enhancements for the 2009 releases, but if you’re desperate there’s nothing to stop you ordering the current releases on-line from the REALVIZ site right now. I have seen neither product in the flesh. These are first-release Autodesk products, so the usual caveats apply. The products may or may not be stable, may or may not play nicely with other Autodesk products and they may or may not even have a future beyond a release or two. However, they were established products before Autodesk bought them, Autodesk obviously thinks they were worth investing in, and they do look interesting.

How long should the AutoCAD release cycle be?

I’ve just added a poll asking this question. Actually, the poll question is rather longer than that, because I want to make it as unambiguous as possible. Other polls I’ve seen on this subject, including ones by Autodesk and Cadalyst, have always left room for speculation about what a given answer would actually mean. Sometimes, the question has been so ambiguous that the results have been completely meaningless. I’ve tried hard to avoid that, and if that means the question is rather long, so be it.

In my poll, you’re being asked to consider a scenario where over a long period of time (10 years, say) the total charge from Autodesk for upgrades or Subscription would be the same, no matter what the release cycle. You would also get the same number of major new features, minor new features and other improvements. Your ability to choose to pay either upgrade fees or annual Subscription payments would also be unaffected. If you feel that you would like to answer “however long it takes to get each release finished” rather than a fixed time between releases, please choose a release cycle period that you think would be a reasonable average. The AutoCAD release cycle would also affect the AutoCAD-based verticals, so please take that into consideration.

I will refrain from giving my own opinions on this subject until the poll is closed, but feel free to make your own comments about the pros and cons of different lengths of release cycle.

What you like best about AutoCAD 2009

I’ve closed the poll asking you to choose the top three things you like about AutoCAD 2009. For some reason it wasn’t getting many votes. Only 37 people participated, rather less than many other polls here, and I’ve now put it out of its misery. The small sample size makes the results of dubious value, but here are AutoCAD 2009’s “best things”, as voted by at least five of you.

  • Spell checking in text editor (30%, 11 Votes)
  • ViewCube (22%, 8 Votes)
  • Action Recorder (19%, 7 Votes)
  • Modeless layer interface (19%, 7 Votes)
  • Improvements available only in vertical products (16%, 6 Votes)
  • Rollover tooltips for objects (14%, 5 Votes)
  • LISP bug fixes (14%, 5 Votes)

It came as no surprise to see that there was no love at all for the enlarged tooltips or pale model space, but I would have thought that ShowMotion would have been a useful addition for somebody.

CAD history book

In case you missed it on WorldCAD Access, Dave Weisberg has released a history of CAD as a free book on-line. It is called The Engineering Design Revolution and subtitled The People, Companies and Computer Systems That Changed Forever the Practice of Engineering.

I don’t like regurgitating things from other blogs, but this is an exception for two reasons. First, I find it very interesting. Second, it’s in a good cause and deserves all the publicity it can get. Access to the book in PDF form is free, but Dave is asking for voluntary contributions to the Cancer League of Colorado Foundation.

I’ve skimmed through the Autodesk and AutoCAD chapter of the book, and while I was already familiar with much of the content that particular section and could pedantically quibble with its accuracy in a few places, I still found it highly informative and interesting.

You can find the book at

How much do you exchange data with non-Windows users?

A discussion I’ve been having elsewhere has prompted me to add two new polls (see right). I know that most of you, being AutoCAD users, are also Windows users. I’m interested to know how often you exchange data (e.g. DWG, DXF, DWF, PDF, etc) with users of other operating systems, specifically Linux and Mac users. If you don’t exchange data with anyone then please leave the polls alone, but if you do exchange data but never with non-Windows users, please join in and say so!

When is a Service Pack not a Service Pack?

When it’s an Update. This year, Service Packs are called Updates, and the first one for AutoCAD is out now. The 32-bit version is here and the 64-bit version is here. The Update includes LT, but there is no news yet about Updates for any of the vertical AutoCAD variants.

As usual, read the Readme first. Also, as this Update has had a considerably shorter gestation period than the traditional six-month wait for the first AutoCAD Service Pack, you may be wise to exercise more paranoia than normal. Save and export your AutoCAD profiles, save your workspaces, make backups of your CUI files and put them somewhere safe where AutoCAD and the Update can’t find them.

Does the shortened time before the first Update indicate that there will be more Updates in store? Probably. Although Update 1 (U1) fixes a lot of stuff, there’s still plenty more stuff left to fix in 2009. Oh, and just because it says in the Readme that something is fixed, don’t take it for granted that your particular variant of that problem is fixed. Try it out for yourself.

I know that many of you don’t put an AutoCAD release into production until SP1 is released, so should you go now with U1 or wait for U2? (No, not the band). Or U3, even, if there ever is one? It’s up to you, of course, but in my own CAD management role I won’t be distributing AutoCAD 2009 with U1 to my users. I just don’t think it’s ready yet.