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 www.cadhistory.net.

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.

Autodesk and Bentley – kiss, kiss!

OK, so I’m a long way from being the first to comment on this, but maybe I’ll be the last? Don’t count on it. In the unlikely event that this is the only CAD blog you ever read, you may be unaware that Autodesk and Bentley have decided to swap code so their respective products can make a better job of writing each other’s drawing formats.

The MicroStation DWG interface has traditionally been imperfect. (I remember raising the ire of one of the Bentley brothers in person many years ago on the CompuServe ACAD forum when I described Bentley’s DWG/DXF interface developers as incompetent (accurately, I may add). The brother in question was one of the said developers…) The AutoCAD DGN interface (which was available in Map for many years before making it into AutoCAD) has been rather less perfect than that, so this move should lead to benefits for customers of both products in future releases. Whether or not it actually will improve matters remains to be seen. That relies on the future competence of both parties in using ‘foreign’ code. The first versions could be, er, interesting. Or maybe they’ll be great.

Assuming the best, who should we thank for this development? Autodesk? Bentley? Maybe not. I think we should thank the Open Design Alliance (ODA). If Autodesk hadn’t been so keen to do damage to the ODA in its belated but increasingly urgent battle to win complete control over DWG, do you think this would have ever happened? I don’t think so. It hadn’t happened in the preceding couple of decades.

Thank you, ODA, for making this happen. May you live long and prosper, and continue to apply pressure to improve interoperability for all. But in the interests of fairness, don’t you think you should at least mention this development in your newsroom?

Video – Deciphered lyrics

Here’s another video I have done to the music of Swedish metal band Opeth (the first one is here). This band’s latest album, Watershed, does not come with conventional lyrics in the booklet, but rather a page full of rune-type characters. There are actually two different pages in different editions of the album, and in order to work out the lyrics you need to rotate the pages, work out a substitution cipher and combine the two sources.

To save you the trouble of doing all that, here are the lyrics of Heir Apparent. This is the only song on the album that contains only angry Cookie Monster vocals (beware!), so without my expert deciphering efforts (ahem!) it would be rather difficult for the uninitiated to know what the song was all about. If you can put up with the vocals, I think you’ll enjoy this!

YouTube link.

You don’t think much of AutoCAD 2009’s buttons

I’ve closed the poll about the button images. It’s a general thumbs-down from you on that particular change, albeit not a spectacularly vehement one.

I agree with most of you. The images themselves don’t offend me greatly, but their role in making things harder to find means that Autodesk erected another unnecessary barrier to Ribbon acceptance. The images themselves have crisper edges, but are sadly devoid of colour, making them harder to tell apart. One exception is with the object snap buttons, which I consider an improvement over their predecessors.

More important than that is the fact that there were many, many things Autodesk could (and should) have done instead of putting development resources into this area. I know from personal experience that creating button images can be a very time-consuming job. I have some sympathy for the poor Autodesk people who put the effort into producing these images, only to have customers wishing they had never bothered. Nobody likes wasting their time.

This sort of thing (there are many other examples), makes it obvious that Autodesk needs to obtain customer feedback on design decisions much earlier in the development cycle, while there is still time to throw out the dumb ideas. Doing so would offer Autodesk a lot of potential for more efficiently targeting its resources, to the benefit of both Autodesk and its customers.

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.

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.