Software companies use a variety of differerent methods in their attempts to prevent piracy and restrict use of their software to legitimate paying customers. Yes, these attempts are generally futile. Yes, they can end up inconveniencing legitimate users and providing pirate users with advantages over paying customers. Yes, they add to development costs and detract from the main development aims. Despite all that, I still support the right of software companies to do this. Lots of companies spend money doing futile, counter-productive things; it’s their money, their software, their customer base, their choice.
That doesn’t mean we customers have to like it, and many of us don’t. Some of us happily accept it as part of the price of using our tools, some of us tolerate it with varying degrees of grace, and some of us fume about it but do it anyway because we have no choice. Beyond that …
I just tried out the new discussion groups to see if anything has been fixed. After entering my password (yet again), instead of placing me back in the discussion groups with my 100-topics-per-page settings, I was transported to the main Autodesk page and given the chance to provide feedback. I was informed that a new browser window would be opened, and then… nothing. I waited a while, but still nothing. Or so it seemed. Actually, the new browser window appeared behind my existing browser window, so I found it eventually. I clicked on it, it opened another, bigger window and the survey started. Here are the questions and my responses:
Which of the following best describes your primary purpose for today’s visit?
To see if the discussion groups are still broken
How often have you visited Autodesk.com in the past 6 months?
. 6 times …
It is difficult to find an exact date for LISP’s birthday. It wasn’t so much born in an instant as it was gradually dragged out of the primordial slime during the heady days of late 50s computer research. What is known is that John McCarthy, LISP’s “father”, published a report in October 1958 about his new programming language aimed at providing artificial intelligence capabilities on the IBM 704 mainframe computer. That report, one of a series, was the first one to use the name LISP.
OOPSLA, a major annual conference on object-oriented programming, has decided to celebrate LISP’s 50th birthday on 20 October 2008. Practically everyone at that event is likely to be smarter, geekier and possibly even more pedantic than me. So for now I’m going to go with that date and raise a glass to LISP and John McCarthy in one week’s time.
You may have noticed the poll on the right asking “How well cooked is the average major new AutoCAD feature these days?” Despite the rather frivolous nature of the question and choices, there is a serious side to the question so please let me know what you think.
Note that this doesn’t address the question of how well cooked new features should be, just how well cooked they are. There’s an argument that can be made in support of releasing features before they are honed to perfection, and I will be covering that issue in later posts.
While almost all of the problems with the Autodesk discussion groups remain, there are some signs of movement in one area at least. The search facility, which until recently refused to find anything from before the update, now finds some earlier posts.
It would appear that some kind of search index is very slowly being built, but it’s a long way short of being finished. For example, if I do the standard default search for “autocad” in all the AutoCAD groups, there are 83 found in the last 90 days. This seems plausible, but I don’t trust it. Changing the time option to “All” now does actually return something rather than nothing at all, so I guess that’s an improvement. But 188 messages containing “autocad”? Since 1998? There should surely be thousands. Also, there are apparently no messages at all containing the word “it”. Or “is”. Ever. Some way to go there, then.
I have closed the performance and productivity polls as described in my posts here and here, and the results can be seen in the Polls Archive. As with most of the other polls I’ve run here, the distribution of votes has not changed greatly after the first few days.
It is clear from the very different voting patterns in the two polls that blog nauseam readers are smart enough understand the difference between the two questions. The performance poll has a very clear skew to the “slower” side. This supports the empirical evidence I’ve seen elsewhere that people perceive AutoCAD as getting slower. This is stuff they’ve noticed for themselves, not a few milliseconds here and there.
On the other hand, the productivity poll results show a much more even distribution. The five options are pretty equally represented, except that “a lot more productive” has suffered at the hands of the most popular …
I have been thoroughly enjoying Kean Walmsley’s interview of Autodesk co-founder John Walker, which he has now finished. Kean’s link to part 4 is currently broken (edit: now fixed) and that broken link has been picked up by others (edit: also fixed in Between The Lines), so here are the correct links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.
One of the best things about the interview is that it contains some frank criticism of Autodesk (and Microsoft, for that matter). On an Autodesk blog. Think about that. OK, it may be criticism of some stuff that is now ancient history, and it was made by someone who isn’t actually an Autodesk employee any more, but when was the last time you saw even that? It’s refreshing to see just a tiny crack appear in the never-say-anything-negative Autodesk facade.
I remember a …
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 …
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 …
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 …
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:
- 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 …
Update 2, the latest of Autodesk’s rapid-fire Updates (formerly Service Packs) for AutoCAD 2009 is now out for AutoCAD, AutoCAD LT and the AutoCAD that comes with the Revit Suites (Architecture and Structure). As always, read the Readme first and exercise the usual paranoia.
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.
You’re exposing some people’s email addresses as user names. Not mine, as far as I can tell, but it’s hard to say for sure because the search is broken. Anyway, this is very obviously A Bad Thing and you should not be allowing the site to be publicly visible that state.
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 …
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:
Oops! Server Error 500. The resource you’ve requested is not available.
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 …
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 …
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 …
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
Where to next on Gaahl’s ever-changing career path?
The original Gaahl photograph is by Peter Beste.