“The Cloud is Dead” is not what I said

I guess most of this blog’s readers also read WorldCAD Access and upFront.eZine, so it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that in the latest upFront.eZine, Ralph had procalimed “The Cloud is Dead” and referred to some of my recent posts here as supporting evidence. I’d just like to point out that it’s Ralph announcing the death of the Cloud, and not me. Personally, while I agree with some of Ralph’s points, I think there’s life in the Cloud yet and the obituary is somewhat premature.

My own attitude toward the cloud matches that of most of you, judging by the poll results here. I see pros and cons, and have strong concerns about many of the cons. However, I intend to cover both sides objectively. Look out for more coverage soon.

Is a CAD in the Cloud takeover inevitable?

One argument that CAD in the Cloud supporters sometimes make is that the Cloud is taking over regardless of what anybody thinks, so we might as well just embrace it and reap the benefits. Nice try, Nostradamus, but I’ve been around computers long enough to see many Next Big Things come to nothing and am thoroughly unconvinced by such attempts at self-fulfilling prophecy.

How inevitable is a CAD in the Cloud takeover, in terms of Cloud-based applications replacing traditional software? I’ve added a poll with a specific question about that, so it’s your turn to play soothsayer. What are the chances of you using a public Cloud-based application as your primary CAD software in 5 years? Please vote, and as always, your comments are welcome.

Cloud benefits – processing power

A frequently stated advantage of CAD on the Cloud is the access to large amounts of processing power. Instead of relying on your lowly local processor to perform complex tasks, you can instead zap the job up to the Cloud where vast numbers of processors churn away in massively parallel fashion and then zap the results back to you before you’ve even had time to head for the coffee machine.

This is a scenario that applies only for certain types of very complex tasks that are suited to subdividing the calculations among many processors. Autodesk already has a big toe in the waters in several of those areas. The recent Autodesk Cloud changes made available Inventor Optimization, Cloud Rendering, Green Building Studio and Conceptual Energy Analysis to a small subset of Subscription customers. It’s safe to assume that these services will be improved and expanded over the next few years. (Is there anybody out there using Autodesk Cloud services for these processor-intensive tasks? Let’s hear about your real-world experiences.)

What this doesn’t mean is that it makes sense for us all to be using CAD on the Cloud, all the time. The processing time gained by using the Cloud is offset by the communication time spent passing the data back and forth, so any processing gain has to be substantial to make it worthwhile. Twenty years ago, when every zoom extents was followed by a looooong wait, a big swag of extra processing power would have come in very handy. These days, processors are ridiculously fast in comparison. They are also very cheap and getting cheaper. Even low-end PCs have had multiple cores for some years, and these days seeing eight almost unused cores on your performance monitor is pretty normal.

The performance of today’s CPUs and the variable performance of today’s Internet, mean that calculations need to be very substantial to make them worth outsourcing to the Cloud. For the vast majority of tasks associated with using CAD software you simply don’t need to hand the job to somebody else’s hardware, because there is ample capacity right there on your desk.

(As an aside, whether it’s on your desk or a server farm, writing software that takes advantage of all those cores must be really difficult. I say that because today’s CAD software seldom uses more than one or two at the same time. Even a seemingly straightforward split like loading AutoCAD’s Ribbon while allowing you to start drawing appears to be too hard. It took Autodesk four Ribboned AutoCAD releases to even attempt this, and the result is a failure; the cursor lag while background loading the Ribbon is unacceptable.)

For tasks where there is the technical potential to share the load, a remote service still might not be the best solution. How about a private cloud instead, where the processing load gets shared between your company’s idle processors via your LAN, and your data never leaves the premises? It seems to me that such a solution could provide most of the Cloud benefits and remove almost all of the concerns. This has already happened in pilot with some Autodesk software. I’d like to see more emphasis placed on private-cloud-friendly software, because I think it has a much better chance of customer acceptance and the development effort is less likely to be wasted.

Any AutoCAD WS users out there?

In the post Cloud benefits – collaboration, I asked for people’s real-life experiences using, or attempting to use AutoCAD WS. In particular, I’d like to hear about you using its features to collaborate with others, which is a major selling point of the Cloud. As the other post hasn’t seen any replies yet, I’ve added this one to better attract the attention of AutoCAD WS users. Autodesk has put a lot of effort into this and it’s been out for a while, surely somebody’s using it for real work? If so, I encourage you to comment on the other post.

Cloud concerns – downtime

One concern with any SaaS (Software as a Service) product is the potential for downtime. Is this really an issue? After all, big Cloud vendors have multiple server farms as part of their huge infrastructure investment. This provides redundancy to keep things going even in the event of a major local disaster or two. Cloud vendors have a lot of experience handling things such as power outages, hackers, denial-of-service attacks and the like. Amazon, the vendor currently used by Autodesk, promises an annual uptime of 99.95%.  That’s got to be good enough, surely?

Maybe not. The Amazon cloud service has had some noticeable failures, in some cases affecting customers for several days. Amazon may promise a certain average uptime figure, but it provides only credits if it fails to meet its targets. Amazon has been known to be slippery about using fine print to avoid paying those credits, which in any case would go to Autodesk. Joe Drafter, who relies on a Cloud application to do his work and who suffers a significant loss of income and business reputation from a 4-day outage, probably shouldn’t hold his breath while waiting for a big fat compensation check to turn up.

But is a Cloud solution really going to be less reliable than what you have now? Nothing’s 100% reliable, including a standalone PC, so what’s the problem? The problem is that with the Cloud, the potential for downtime is in addition to that you currently experience. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of the sort of things that could stop you producing a design using traditional software:

  • Power failure at your office
  • Your hardware fails
  • Your operating system fails
  • Your CAD software has problems bad enough to prevent you working

Here’s an equivalent similarly non-exhaustive list for a SaaS CAD application:

  • Power failure at your office
  • Your hardware fails
  • Your operating system fails
  • Your browser or thin client software fails
  • Your modem fails
  • Your Internet service provider has an outage
  • Internet connectivity infrastructure failure
  • Cloud vendor infrastructure disaster
  • Cloud-based CAD software is down for maintenance
  • Cloud-based CAD software has problems bad enough to prevent you working

Each of these items may represent a relatively small risk, but the additional potential for disaster adds up and is real.

There’s another aspect to this issue that makes it significant, and that’s the psychological one. People hate feeling powerless when faced with a problem. If your hard drive crashes, even if you don’t have IT people to look after it, you can hop in your car, buy another drive and start working towards getting your problem fixed. If Amazon has a Cloud outage, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it but wait for an unknown amount of time. Even if you were Amazon’s direct customer and not a sub-customer through Autodesk, you could expect to have a very frustrating time even trying to find out what’s going on. I’ve been in that situation when my old web hosting company went through a massive and protracted meltdown, and it’s horrible.

What do you think? If everything else about the Cloud was great, would worries about downtime prevent you from considering a SaaS-only solution? Is it non-negotiable for you to be able to keep working even when “the Internet is broken”?

Cloud benefits – collaboration

The “other” C word – collaboration – was super-trendy in a mildly amusing way a couple of years ago, so I hesitate to use it here. But it seems to me that it represents a real potential benefit of CAD on the Cloud. Not just potential, because it’s already here, free for anyone, thanks to AutoCAD WS. The optional ability to put your designs where they can be worked on by those who are contributing to the design, regardless of their location, has to be a good thing, surely?

Let’s find out how it’s going in the real world. I’d like to hear from people who have used AutoCAD WS, or tried to use it, in order to collaborate with others. What are the benefits and problems? Does the workflow match your needs, or do issues such as contractual and legal responsibility prevent you from working in this way? Are there practical difficulties in areas such as performance and CAD management? Is AutoCAD WS a good enough CAD tool for this job, or does it have a way to go yet?

Cloud concerns – terms and conditions

I just used Autodesk Cloud Documents for the first time, and was asked to confirm my acceptance of the Terms of Service. Fair enough. But just what is in those terms, and what do they mean to you if you are dubious about using the Cloud? Will you be reassured by what you find there? Maybe not. Here are a few clauses that might make you go hmmm…

The terms applicable to a particular service may vary.

Translation: Autodesk can move the goalposts.

Autodesk has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor Your usage of the Service to verify compliance with these Terms.

Translation: Autodesk can keep its eye on you.

You acknowledge and agree that: (a) You will evaluate and bear all risks associated with Your Content; (b) under no circumstances will Autodesk Parties be liable in any way for Your Content, including, but not limited to, any loss or damage, any errors or omissions, or any unauthorized access or use; and (c) You (and not Autodesk) are responsible for backing up and protecting the security and confidentiality of Your Content.

Translation: whatever happens, it’s your problem, not Autodesk’s.

Third Party Content and services may be made available to You, directly or indirectly, through the Service (including Content shared by other users of the Service, through Forums or by any other means). In some cases, such Content and services may appear to be a feature or function within, or extension of, the Services or the Autodesk Software. Accessing such Content or services may cause Your Computer, without additional notice, to communicate with a third-party website … for example, for purposes of providing You with additional information, features and functionality.

Translation: Autodesk and others can use the service to advertise to you.

Autodesk reserves the right to delete inactive accounts or purge related Content (and all backups thereof), without further notice and Autodesk Parties shall have no responsibility or liability for deletion or any failure to store Your Content.

Translation: don’t just leave your stuff up in the clouds and expect it to still be there a few years later.

You acknowledge that Autodesk may use third-party service providers in connection with the Services, including without limitation the use of cloud computing service providers which may transmit, maintain and store Your data using third-party computers and equipment in locations around the globe.

Translation: it’s not just Autodesk here, there is a chain of responsibilities and vulnerabilities.

THE SERVICE OFFERING IS PROVIDED “AS IS” AND “AS AVAILABLE.” AUTODESK PARTIES MAKE NO, AND HEREBY DISCLAIM ALL, REPRESENTATIONS, WARRANTIES, OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND…

YOUR USE OF THE SERVICE OFFERING IS AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION AND RISK.

AUTODESK PARTIES DO NOT WARRANT THAT THE SERVICE OFFERING WILL PERFORM IN ANY PARTICULAR MANNER AND HEREBY DISCLAIM LIABILITY FOR NEGLIGENCE AND GROSS NEGLIGENCE.

Translation: Autodesk lawyers LOVE SHOUTING. Whatever happens, including gross negligence on Autodesk’s part, it’s still all your fault and you’re severely out of luck.

…for all Service Offerings accessed as part of Subscription, these Terms and Your access to the Services will terminate when Your Subscription (and the Subscription Program Terms applicable to Your Subscription) terminates or expires.

Translation: here’s a further disincentive to ever dropping out of Subscription once you’re on it.

It is Your responsibility to retain copies of Your Content. Upon termination Autodesk shall have the right to immediately delete, without notice, Your Content, if any, and all backups thereof, and Autodesk Parties shall not be liable for any loss or damage which may be incurred by You or any third parties as a result of such deletion.

Translation: don’t rely on the Cloud alone.

Autodesk reserves the right, from time to time in its sole discretion, to (a) modify or release subsequent versions of the Service, (b) impose license keys or other means of controlling access to the Service, (c) limit or suspend Your access to the Service, and (d) change, suspend or discontinue the Service at any time.

Translation: Autodesk can do pretty much whatever it likes, including killing the whole thing.

I don’t think any of this means Autodesk is evil. Looked at from the point of view of a corporation that needs to cover its backside and reduce risks to itself, it’s quite understandable. Much of it is just very sensible advice. You can expect similar conditions from other companies providing Cloud services. But what if you’re not happy with using a Cloud service that has such conditions attached? Well, you can use it anyway and keep your fingers crossed, or you stay away from it altogether.

How do you see this? Assuming you were happy with everything else about the Cloud, would clauses like those above be a dealbreaker?

Edit: this post is also being discussed on the Dezignstuff blog.

Note: the above clauses are Autodesk copyright, reproduced here under fair use (comment and criticism).

How do you feel about CAD in the Cloud?

Early last year, I ran a poll to gauge your feelings about CAD in the Cloud. Here are the results of that poll:

Cad in the Cloud 2010 Poll

As you can see, the poll response bell curve was clearly biased toward the frightened end of the spectrum, and there was little in the way of excitement at the Cloudy prospects for CAD. A fair bit has happened since last February (particularly the recent Autodesk Cloud announcement), so I thought I’d see how the ground lies at the moment. Are you feeling more positive about Cloudy CAD than you were 18 months ago? 

I’ve just added a poll for you to vote on, identical to last year’s. In addition, I’d love to see your comments on the subject. Is CAD in the Cloud inevitable, or is it not going to fly? If you don’t think it will take off and take over, why not? Is it going to be Heaven, Hell, or somewhere in between? I have my own views, but I’ll keep them to myself for now; the floor is yours.

This blog is just wonderful, apparently

One of the more interesting things about running a blog that is visited by a reasonable number of people is the fan mail. My immense modesty prevents me from keeping visible the thousands of positive comments that are posted here, but I thought I would give you an idea of the sort of praise I receive (and Akismet hides) on a daily basis. This small sample is all from the past 48 hours, with my comments in blue:

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It’s very difficult to remain grounded when I’m being constantly bombarded with praise like this, but I somehow manage to stop it going to my head. I guess that’s because, well, I am pretty awesome.

Best and worst AutoCAD features ever – polls

Using your suggestions and a few of my own, I have added two polls for you to select what are, in your opinion, the best and worst features ever added to AutoCAD. To help us find The Answer, there are 42 items in each poll, from which you can choose up to three.

A few items (e.g. Action Recorder) made it into both lists, while several items in the ‘worst’ list (e.g. 2012 Array, Ribbon, Annotative Scaling) were suggested multiple times. It will be interesting to see how the poll results pan out.

Autodesk Cloud – don’t panic, business as usual

Autodesk recently made a big announcement about its Cloud initiatives, and reactions have been all over the place. Some people can barely contain their breathless excitement while others are outraged to the point of passing out the pitchforks. Why? It’s pretty much business as usual.

It’s nothing like Dassault’s disastrous we’re-moving-you-to-the-Cloud FUD campaign against its own product, SolidWorks. There’s no hint here of AutoCAD (real AutoCAD, I mean, not “AutoCAD” WS) being moved to the Cloud, or anything as radical as that. (Yes, I know there’s a limited experiment along those lines but that’s nothing to do with this announcement). It’s just a collection of relatively minor changes to Autodesk’s existing on-line services, collected together to make a newsworthy press release.

(As an aside, I must say this was a much more worthwhile announcement than the ridiculously over-hyped DE8.16N thing. So I was supposed to get excited about a routine upgrade of a product I have already been using for months, on an OS I don’t use, when the upgraded product is still half-baked just like the first underwhelming effort? Fortunately, I didn’t get sucked in by the pre-announcement build-up so I wasn’t disappointed, just amused when the truth was revealed. Autodesk PR, please don’t cry wolf so often; keep the hype in reserve for the hypeworthy stuff.)

Back to the Cloud thing, and putting aside hype and horror, here’s the stuff that has just happened:

  • Autodesk Cloud documents lets anybody store up to 1 GB documents on-line, or 3 GB if you’re a Subscription customer. This isn’t new, but until recently it was an Autodesk Labs project called Nitrous. The infrastructure is provided via Amazon and Citrix.
  • AutoCAD WS has been updated to integrate its storage with Autodesk Cloud documents. Remember, WS isn’t anything like real AutoCAD, but rather a limited on-line DWG editing tool. There’s a WS iPhone app, but that’s not new.
  • There’s an Autodesk Design Review iPhone app for reviewing DWF files you’ve stored in Autodesk Cloud. It won’t do DWG; use WS for that.
  • There are several cloud-based services that are available “free” to Subscription-paying users of a small subset of Autodesk software, mostly Revit and Inventor-based suites. They are: 
    • Inventor Optimization
    • Cloud Rendering
    • Green Building Studio
    • Conceptual Energy Analysis
    • Buzzsaw (now bundled with Vault Subscription)

    AutoCAD users need not apply for any of these services.

So some of Autodesk’s on-line services are now being provided only to Subscription customers, and one is offered in improved form for Subscription customers. There are two obvious reasons for this: tie-in and revenue.

First, Autodesk wants its customers tied to the Subscription gravy train, if you’ll excuse a fairly awful mix of metaphors. Offering Subscription benefits like this is preferable to some of the much less pleasant arm-twisting that has been happening recently (e.g. trebling upgrade prices). Is it too much to hope that Autodesk has learned that offering carrots to its customers is a better strategy than threatening them with sticks?

Second, Autodesk needs to start making money out of this stuff somehow. For some years, it has spent several fortunes on buying and developing on-line services and then given them away for nothing, usually as Labs projects. This obviously can’t go on for ever, but just slapping a charge on these services wasn’t going to fly. Bundling Cloud services up with Subscription is a way of easing people into paying for them, and this is something I expect to be expanded in future, for example with AutoCAD WS. Once that’s been established for a few years, it wouldn’t surprise me to then see Subscription for at least some of the services split off, so you’re paying for Cloud services explicitly. By then, enough customers may consider them to be worth paying for and they may therefore survive beyond the short term.

Will it work? I’m not sure. Time will tell which of these services will thrive and which will die, and such uncertainty is one of the many reasons real-world customers aren’t excited about getting their heads in the Cloud. I don’t intend to make use of these services (I’m not even allowed to), so I’m not too bothered what happens to them. Like the vast majority of Autodesk customers, I will just carry on using conventional software in that old-fashioned 20th century way that just happens to work very well. Autodesk will go on providing its software in that way, because that’s what most customers will want for at least a while yet, and Autodesk can’t survive on wisps of Cloudy revenue.

Move along, people, nothing to see here.

What are the best and worst features ever added to AutoCAD?

Audience participation time, I think. A comment on one of AutoCAD 2012’s new features recently set me thinking about what were the worst features ever introduced to AutoCAD. That in turn got me thinking about what were the best.

I’ll keep my opinions to myself for a while, as I’d like your input and don’t want to influence it. Please add a comment with your list of what you consider the best three features ever added to AutoCAD and the worst three. If you can’t think of three of each, you can submit less, but please don’t submit more. By all means discuss at length the things you love or loathe, but make it clear what you’re submitting by using a clear format like this (meaningless examples only):

Best:
1. Content Explorer
2. Online Help
3. Nudge

Worst:
1. AutoLISP
2. Transparent zoom and pan
3. Paper/model space

What do the words “feature”, “best” and “worst” mean? I’ll leave that for you to decide for yourself. You might consider “worst” to be something that’s a bad idea, poorly implemented, slow, inefficient, poorly documented, bloated, buggy, half-baked in the short or long term, clueless in some other way, or some or all of the above. It’s up to you.

When I have enough submissions, I’ll collate the most popular (and unpopular) features into a pair of polls for you all to vote on. Have fun!

Edit: I have now added the polls and closed comments on this post.

Taking control of your command line history

Thanks to Kean Walmsley’s post on his Through the Interface blog, I have learned something that would have been handy to know for the last decade or so, but which somehow escaped my knowledge. I learned how to increase the size of AutoCAD’s command line history cache. It defaults to 400 lines, which isn’t enough for me. I think this information deserves a wider audience than the ubergeek developers who frequent Kean’s blog, so here goes.

Although it’s not directly mentioned on Kean’s post, you can find the current command line history cache length setting like this:

(getenv "CmdHistLines")

This will return a value showing the number of command lines AutoCAD remembers, e.g. “400”. Although this is used as an integer value, it is passed to and from the Registry as a string. You can set a new value as shown below. Again, use a string, and note that values outside the range 25 to 2048 will be ignored:

(setenv "CmdHistLines" "2048")

Also, if you don’t like AutoCAD repeatedly stopping during a long listing (e.g. SETVAR ? *), you can turn off that feature by setting the QAFLAGS system variable to 2. Don’t set it to 8191 as suggested in Kean’s post, because that will change a lot of other settings, few of which are documented publicly.

Will Autodesk have to explain itself to the SEC?

The observant among you may have noticed that for many years, Autodesk’s free patches, service packs and updates haven’t added any new functionality. Bugs may get fixed, severe performance issues may be addressed, but design errors generally have to wait for the next release (at the earliest), and new features definitely don’t get added.

The last time new functionality was added to AutoCAD in a free maintenance release was Release 13’s c4 update which shipped on 12 February 1996. (There was a public beta available some months earlier; I picked up a copy at Autodesk University 1995). That free update contained not only a host of bug fixes, but also more useful new features than some later full-price upgrades (e.g. AutoCAD 2000i). In an outbreak of outstanding customer service, a c4 CD was shipped free to all registered users. Maybe Autodesk was trying to recover from disastrously shipping Release 13 prematurely, but issuing such a comprehensive update free of charge was still highly commendable.

Why did Autodesk stop providing new functionality in free updates? While it involves more work for Autodesk and hardly encourages paid upgrades or Subscription, the reason we’ve been given over the years is that there are accounting regulations that prevent Autodesk from providing new functionality in free updates. This does not apply to benefits from paid Subscription, and various new features for Subscription users have indeed appeared (albeit in fits and starts) over the intervening years.

I have to admit that I have always thought that this accounting thing was a pretty unlikely-sounding excuse for Autodesk’s inactivity. This attitude was reinforced by a lack of Autodesk response to my requests for further information about the alleged regulations. Until recently, I didn’t care enough about this matter to bother finding out for myself, but something extraordinary just happened that piqued my curiosity.

What happened? Autodesk released a free Service Pack that included new functionality for the first time in over 15 years. I was particularly interested in this, because part of what’s new is a new command providing a subset of the functionality of my ClassicArray™ plug-in. When I put in the time and effort to develop this product to fill a hole of Autodesk’s making, I did so on the assumption that Autodesk wasn’t going to provide an Array dialog box until at least AutoCAD 2013. It turns out that this assumption was wrong.

So what’s all this about accounting regulations preventing new functionality being provided free between releases? Was I right to be vaguely cynical about that? After some research, it would appear that I was wrong about that, too. There is an FASB (responsible to the SEC) accounting standard called SOP 97-2, which covers software revenue recognition. I’m no accountant and the regulations are large and complex, but here is my layman’s understanding of the basics.

In a simple case where a vendor (e.g. Autodesk) sells a complete product (e.g. AutoCAD 2012) at a given date, it records and declares the revenue for that product in the appropriate period as a single unit of accounting. If there are multiple elements of the product, things get more complex. If Autodesk ships part of AutoCAD 2012 (the main product) at one time and part (e.g. a Service Pack with new functionality) at another, then it is required to separate the elements into multiple units of accounting. It is required to make available vendor-specific objective evidence (VSOE) for each element of the product. If Autodesk has not done so (which seems likely), there is probably a problem. My understanding is that without VSOE, Autodesk is required to allocate the revenue for AutoCAD 2012 sales not at the point when it was received, but when all the elements have been delivered (i.e. when SP1 was released).

What about an argument that the new ARRAYCLASSIC command and new SNAPGRIDLEGACY system variable are not new functionality in themselves, but merely mechanisms to restore functionality that was available in previous releases? I don’t think that matters. The functionality is new to those customers who purchased AutoCAD 2012 and thereby provided Autodesk with revenue between March and September 2011. If that revenue has been allocated incorrectly, then Autodesk has some revenue shuffling and explaining to do.

I repeat that I’m not an accountant and this is all a layman’s uninformed opinion. It is quite possible that the regulations have recently changed, or that a relaxed interpretation is now permissible, or that I have the wrong end of the stick entirely. I’ve admitted being wrong in this post twice already and it could well be thrice.

If I’m wrong and Autodesk is in the clear, that’s great. Why? Because it means Autodesk customers can look forward to a lot more functionality being provided in future service packs.

AutoCAD 2012 Service Pack 1

The first update for AutoCAD 2012 is now available on the Autodesk site. As usual, read the readme first and exercise the usual paranoia. Make sure you install the right version (32 or 64 bit). The update is also available for AutoCAD LT 2012. There is no news yet on equivalent updates for vertical variants of AutoCAD, so just talk amongst yourselves for a while until Autodesk gets around to it.

Autodesk has, thankfully, abandoned the confusing nomenclature for its service packs. So this is not 2012 Update 1 with a filename that includes SP1 and which results in the software being considered 2012 Version 2. It is 2012 Service Pack 1 with a filename that includes SP1 and which results in the software being considered 2012 SP1. Why Autodesk thought the former convention made sense is beyond me, but at least it’s over now.

This Service Pack is unusual for more than that, though. It’s the first free update since R13c4 in 1996 to include new functionality, i.e. a new command (ARRAYCLASSIC) and a new system variable (SNAPGRIDLEGACY). I’ll have more to say on that later.

Old news – shipping version of ClassicArray released

I have been somewhat neglectful of this blog lately, including a failure to mention that my ClassicArray™ plug-in for AutoCAD 2012 has been shipping since 1 May 2011. Thank you to those people from various places around the world who have been prepared to go to the effort of registering and paying for the product.

Here are some details of the product taken from the ClassicArray page:

ClassicArray is a simple-to use but powerful tool for creating arrays in AutoCAD.

  • Provides a dialog box interface to AutoCAD 2012’s Array command. The familiar interface method provides continuity with earlier releases.
  • Supports the creation of both associative and traditional non-associative arrays.
  • Provides an in-dialog preview panel to give you a quick idea of what your array will look like before any objects are created.
  • Allows creation of a preview array which can be accepted, rejected or modified before the desired array is finally chosen.
  • Base objects can be incorporated into the array or left intact as desired using a simple toggle.
  • Allows simple creation of 3D arrays.
  • Comprehensive Help is available from within the dialog box.
  • Provides Ribbon tabs and toolbars, separated into associative and non-associative sections.
  • Setup routines are provided that support either all users (requires admin rights) or the current user (no admin rights required). Uninstallation is via the standard Windows Control Panel methods (Uninstall a Program, Add/Remove Programs).
  • Uses AutoCAD 2012’s new Plug-in feature to provide application behavior consistent with other add-ins.
  • Acts as a workaround for various AutoCAD 2012 Array bugs and limitations.
  • Supports AutoCAD 2012 for Windows and vertical products derived from it. Sorry, due to Autodesk API restrictions ClassicArray can support neither AutoCAD LT nor AutoCAD for Mac.

See the ClassicArray Help page if you want to see a full description of the product, including screenshots.

One more thing I should mention is that if you have used one of the Beta versions of ClassicArray, please make sure you uninstall it and install the shipping version before registering the product.

AutoCAD 2012 – Autodesk adds an uninstallation analgesic

One of the more painful aspects of dealing with installations of recent releases of AutoCAD and related products is that although you might run a single setup routine to install what you think is a single application, the end result is a mass of different components being installed. Each of these components is considered a separate program by Windows, and needs uninstalling separately. Frankly, this is manifestly antisocial behaviour.

I have complained to Autodesk about this ever since it started happening, but the number of sub-installations has been getting greater rather than smaller. Now Autodesk has provided an uninstallation tool, which you can find here. If you download and run psebuninstalltool.exe, you will be provided with a list of applications to uninstall.

This is a move in the right direction, but it’s still far from ideal. You still have to choose which applications to install and which to leave alone because they’re in use by some other application, and because of the possible complexities you’re not likely to know. Get it wrong and you can break other applications in a way that’s not immediately obvious. Also, it uninstalls English language products only and is provided “as-is” as an unsupported tool.

This is a welcome kludge to help with a problem that shouldn’t exist. Users simply shouldn’t have to deal with this nonsense. If you install one application, you should be able to just uninstall one application and it should be gone, without breaking anything else. Autodesk, thanks for this interim assistance, but I look forward to the problem being removed in future releases, rather than partially patched over.

AutoCAD 2012 – How to “hatch” using any objects

Here’s a trick you can use in AutoCAD 2012 to fill an area with any objects you like. It’s not actually hatching, but it has several advantages over the real thing:

  • You aren’t restricted to straight line segments as you are with real hatching. Circles, splines, even solid objects, you name it, you can use it.
  • To define the pattern, you don’t have to master an arcane file format or use trigonometry to work out the numbers used in it. Just draw the objects you want repeated.
  • You can easily change the spacing between the objects later, or even change the objects themselves.

How is this done? Use the new associative array feature, then use XClip to restrict the displayed objects to within a specified boundary. For example, let’s say you have a polyline you want filled with green spheres, and a green sphere already drawn. The sequence is:

  • Use the Array command to create a rectangular array of spheres that more than covers the whole area you want “hatched”. You might prefer to use my ClassicArray add-on for this, but it will make no difference to the finished objects.
  • Use the XClip command and select the array of spheres. Press Enter to accept the default option of New. Type S [Enter] to select the polyline, then pick the polyline. Done!

Don’t have a handy polyline defining the area? No problem, just create one before you start using the Boundary command.

There are some restrictions to this technique that do not apply to normal hatching. For example, any arc segments in the polyline will be treated as if they were straight lines, which isn’t very useful. But this method will work in most cases, and it sure beats spending hours trying to get your hatch pattern definition just right. You can even use an array of arrays to get some very interesting effects. For example, you could have a series of circles in a wave-form path array, which is then arrayed in a rectangular form before being Xclipped.

Not using AutoCAD 2012? You can do something similar using Minsert. Instead of Array, use the Block command to convert your objects to a block, then the Minsert command to insert it in a series of array-like rows and columns. Finally, Xclip it as described above.

Edit: In a comment, Patrick Emin reminded me of the Express Tools command SuperHatch. This allows you to use an image, block, xref, or wipeout object as a hatch pattern. It also automatically takes care of various details, including converting arcs within the boundary to straight line segments. However, the end result can be hundreds of individual blocks collated into a group, rather than just one configurable object if you use the Array or Minsert methods I describe above.