Vernor v. Autodesk – right decision, wrong reason

As I have stated before, I believe Autodesk to be in the right (morally, not legally) in its battle to prevent Vernor’s resale of old, upgraded copies of Release 14. In the latest installment, Autodesk has won its appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. There will be be further legal moves yet, but Vernor’s chances of winning this case are now more slender. So the right side has won (at this stage). I should be happy, right?

Wrong. Although I think the latest court to look at this has picked the right side, it has done so for entirely the wrong reasons. (Again, morally wrong, not legally. I have no qualifications on legal matters, but I can spot an injustice a mile off). In a diabolical, dangerous, far-reaching decision, it has concluded that the doctrine of First Sale does not exist at all for products where the copyright owner merely claims not to sell its products, but rather to license them.

So all those programs, games, maybe even CDs, DVDs, books etc. you have at home and thought you owned? How about that laptop with its pre-installed Windows? Or that iThing with its iOs? If you’re in the jurisdiction covered by this ruling, you quite possibly now don’t own them at all. Check out the fine print on each of those items; if it includes the magic word “license”, then you may not legally own it, or be allowed to sell it if you no longer need it. If you’re not outraged by this attack on your private property rights, you should be.

What’s more, the Court ruling explicitly rewards companies for making the “license” terms as ridiculously restrictive as they can:

We hold today that a software user is a licensee rather than an owner of a copy where the copyright owner (1) specifies that the user is granted a license; (2) significantly restricts the user’s ability to transfer the software; and (3) imposes notable use restrictions.

One of the Autodesk EULA’s more unconscionable and unenforceable restrictions, that of only being able to use the software within a certain geographical region, wasn’t used to point out the unreasonableness of Autodesk’s claimed power over its customers. Instead, it was actually used by the court to help justify its decision!

Amazingly, this ludicrous outcome wasn’t decided in ignorance. The court carefully considered the effects this decision would likely have, but apparently for reasons of legal nicety, decided to go ahead anyway. Common sense and justice be damned, a convoluted and narrow interpretation of partially-relevant previous decisions just had to rule the day.

We can only hope that this case is reviewed and overthrown (again). While such a revised outcome might be unfortunate in terms of failing to right a wrong (Vernor’s sale of already-upgraded software), that would be much preferable to the terrible damage that the 9th Circuit’s decision has inflicted on the people it is supposed to serve. I’m only glad I’m not one of those people.

Other commentary:

EFF: “Magic Words” Trump User Rights: Ninth Circuit Ruling in Vernor v. Autodesk

Wired: Guess What, You Don’t Own That Software You Bought

Techdirt: Appeals Court Destroys First Sale; You Don’t Own Your Software Anymore

ars technica: No, you don’t own it: Court upholds EULAs, threatens digital resale

Lawgarithms: In Autodesk case, 9th Circuit missed better reason to bar resales

Public Citizen: Ninth Circuit says consumers may not own their software

Right of reply

From time to time, I have been known to be critical of companies, products, policies, publications, and even people (although I do try to “play the ball, not the man”). If somebody objects to what I write here, what can they do about it? They have several possible options.

  1. Post a comment in direct response to the allegedly objectionable post.
  2. Contact me by email to point out any inaccuracies or any other perceived unfairness in my post. If I consider the objections valid, I will amend the post and/or apologise as appropriate. If I disagree, I will explain my position. Such correspondence will remain private if requested.
  3. Contact me by email, requesting equal-exposure right of reply. If I consider such a request reasonable under the circumstances, even if I disagree with the objection, then I will either append the reply to the post in question, or create a new post containing the requested reply, verbatim and in full.
  4. Those with their own blogs, sites, newsletters or other media can of course use those to reply. Those without such facilities can raise objections using media controlled by others, such as discussion groups and other online forums.

None of the above options apply to obvious trolls and other spammers; they have no rights at all here.

I guess it’s also possible to threaten legal action, without first trying any of the above. That hasn’t happened to me yet, but if it does, it promises to be quite entertaining. I take an extremely dim view of those who use legal threats to suppress free speech and other legitimate activity. The gloves will be off. Any such threats will be deemed “correspondence for publication”, to be reproduced in full, with commentary (probably laced with heavy sarcasm).

Executive summary of Deelip’s AutoCAD for Mac interview

Deelip has just published an extensive interview with several Autodesk people about AutoCAD for the Mac. Deelip had a good set of questions and I suggest you read the whole thing, but if it’s all too tl;dr for you, then here is the lazy reader’s version of what Autodesk had to say:

  • The AutoCAD code was split up into 3 sections: the core CAD engine (platform-independent), the Windows-specific (MFC) parts and the Mac-specific (Cocoa) ones.
  • AutoCAD for Mac is incomplete. Choosing which features to leave out was done with the aid of CIP (oh, dear) and Beta feedback. (Hang on a minute, I thought CIP said most people were using the Ribbon…)
  • No comment on when or if AutoCAD for Mac functionality will catch up with its Windows counterpart.
  • No comment on the stability or performance of the Mac version.
  • Buying Visual Tau wasn’t a complete waste of money.
  • If Mac users want Windows-level functionality, they should use Bootcamp.
  • The Mac version is intended to expand the AutoCAD market to those Mac users who are frustrated by Bootcamp or who find it too hard.
  • Some mind-blowing spin was attempted in a valiant but vain attempt to explain away the Ribbon = productivity, Mac <> Ribbon marketing problem. You will really have to read it for yourself, as I can’t do it justice here. But “just because 2+2=4 doesn’t mean 4-2=2” will give you some idea of what to expect.
  • The Mac version is the same price as the Windows version, despite being incomplete, because Mac users won’t know or care about the missing stuff.
  • There are no plans for a Linux port, or any other platforms.
  • Autodesk will wait and see how AutoCAD for Mac does before porting any of the vertical products. (Very sensible).
  • Autodesk closed off the AutoCAD for Mac Beta program on announcement day because it wouldn’t have been able to cope with the mass of feedback from new users.
  • Autodesk will not allow dual use (Windows + Mac) licenses. If you want to have both products available to you, you will need to buy the software twice.
  • You can cross-grade AutoCAD from Windows to Mac for a nominal fee, or for nothing extra if you upgrade at the same time. (Although at 50% of the retail price of a whole new license, such an upgrade hardly represents a bargain).
  • Autodesk really doesn’t have any idea what is going to happen in the Mac CAD marketplace. (Refreshingly honest).
  • Little comment on why AutoCAD WS is called AutoCAD, other than iOs users not expecting their apps to do much anyway, plus it’s “part of the AutoCAD family.”
  • WS doesn’t stand for anything.

AutoCAD WS contest poll added

Thanks to all entrants in the AutoCAD WS contest. I have now closed the entries and added a poll (see right). Although I did state that there would be no prize for this contest, I have some exciting news! I am happy to announce that thanks to an exclusive* arrangement with Autodesk, the winner of this contest will receive a free** copy of AutoCAD!*** I will keep the poll open until I feel like closing it or the entry I like best is winning, whichever is the most convenient.

* Exclusive to people with Internet access.
** Excluding any Internet access expenses the winner may incur.
*** AutoCAD WS. If the winner is unable to use AutoCAD WS due to iThing insufficiency, browser-based access to Project Butterfly will be provided instead.

AutoCAD 2011 Update 1.1

As I described earlier, Autodesk recalled AutoCAD 2011 Update 1 because it killed AutoCAD under certain circumstances (e.g. plotting with the layer palette open). Now there’s a fixed version available for AutoCAD and LT. There is no news yet about Updates for vertical AutoCAD variants.

If you have installed Update 1 and the hotfix, you don’t need to do anything. If you have not installed Update 1, you should install Update 1.1. If you have installed Update 1 but not the hotfix, you can either install the hotfix or uninstall Update 1 and then install Update 1.1.

For the full story, I suggest you read Tom Stoeckel’s Without a Net post. At the risk of sounding like a broken record (remember those?), make sure you read the readme before installing or uninstalling anything.

AutoCAD WS Contest

Autodesk’s linking app to allow iThings to connect to Project Butterfly is called AutoCAD WS. Never mind the “AutoCAD”, that’s just there to confuse matters. What does the “WS” stand for? William Shatner, perhaps?

There’s no official answer, but I thought it might be fun to run a contest for the most appropriate and/or amusing answer. I have some ideas of my own, but most of them are rude so I’ll keep them to myself.

Please just add a comment with your idea(s), up to 3 per person. When I have enough responses, I’ll run a poll. No prizes, this is just for fun.

Apple – Autodesk history revisited

In a post on WorldCAD Access, Jay Vleeschhouwer makes some reasonable observations. However, the timing of the 1990s Autodesk / Mac history looks all wrong to me. Jay quotes himself from a 2008 note:

…until about the mid-1990s Autodesk did have a reasonable presence on the Mac … commitment waned when Apple’s fortunes faded a dozen or so years ago

The last of the original Mac AutoCADs was Release 12, a 1992 product. Apple market share continued to increase after that; indeed, 1994 was a bumper year. However, Autodesk’s commitment had already vanished by then, and its 1994 product, Release 13, had no Mac version.

Apple’s fortunes did indeed fall away “a dozen or so years” before Jay’s note, largely as a result of the success of Windows 95. But this decline could not have been the cause of Autodesk’s lack of commitment to Apple; by that time the parting of the ways was already well in the past.

What did cause Autodesk’s commitment to vanish? According to what Adeskers told me at the time, Apple did.

Because of the relatively tiny Mac market share, Autodesk relied on Apple to effectively subsidise the Mac AutoCAD development work by providing significant development resources. Apple, which in the early 90s was in a state of internal turmoil, decided to cut back on those resources and expected Autodesk to go it alone with Mac development. Instead, Autodesk killed it off as an unprofitable distraction.

Although at the time I was critical of Autodesk orphaning its recently-acquired Mac customers, it was almost certainly the right thing to do from a business perspective. It would be interesting to know how much Apple is subsidising Autodesk’s current Mac development effort, but I guess we will never know.

iPad, iPhone app – good and bad news

Good news! Autodesk has announced an app that will link iPads and iPhones to Project Butterfly. This provides viewing, markup and limited editing facilities.

Bad news! Autodesk has decide to call it AutoCAD WS, which is bordering on the fraudulent. It’s not AutoCAD, is nothing like it, and is unlikely to ever be anything like it. I can call my dog Prince, but that doesn’t make him royalty. Unfortunately, much of the mainstream media appears to be blissfully unaware of this. This is gaining Autodesk some short-term column inches, but at the longer-term expense of furthering the myth that “AutoCAD” is going to run on iPhone and iPads. People will start using Butterfly, think it’s AutoCAD, and then, if they need CAD for their Macs, wonder why they should spend thousands on something so basic and limited.

Good news! It will be available Real Soon Now, and you can sign up for it at http://butterfly.autodesk.com/mobile/.

Bad news! You can’t sign up for it using your iPhone or iPad (unless it’s jailbroken). Apple may be convinced you don’t need Flash, but Autodesk disagrees. The Butterfly signup page requires Flash, you see. It wants to send you off to adobe.com.

Ouch! You have to admit, that’s pretty funny. Cluelessness? There’s an app for that. I guess iUsers will just have to use their Macbook Pros to sign up.

AutoCAD for Mac – what’s missing?

According to Autodesk, the forthcoming OS X version of AutoCAD has “many of the powerful AutoCAD features and functionality.” So what doesn’t it have? What are the holes? Autodesk hasn’t bothered to let me know a single thing about this software, so I guess I’ll just indulge in some irresponsible and uninformed speculation, based on what I can glean from marketing materials and various better-informed sources. I could have just asked, but who knows if I would have ever got any real answers? Besides, this way is more fun.

First, here’s a quick list of some things that don’t appear to be missing, but which might have been lost in translation:

  • Command line (in fact, the Mac one appears to be better than the Windows one).
  • Xrefs.
  • 3D, including visual styles and rendering.
  • Some kind of Quick View Layouts and/or Drawings feature.
  • Navcube.
  • Constraints.
  • Dynamic Input.
  • Selection highlighting.
  • LISP (at least some form of it).

Now for speculation on things that are possibly missing or not fully functional (based largely on screenshots, which is not a reliable indicator):

  • I don’t see a Communications Center, but I do see an Online Contact pull-down. Maybe that gives access to the same functionality, maybe it doesn’t.
  • Navbar.
  • Coordinate display in status bar.
  • Layout tabs (there’s a control instead)
  • The layer palette, in its docked form as shown in screenshots, looks very cut-down and would be tricky to use productively in complex drawings. It’s not clear if the old layer dialogue box is supported, but it needs to be.
  • Action Recorder? As this is a “brochure feature”, it’s no great loss if it’s absent.
  • Visual LISP? It’s not mentioned, so maybe it’s missing, or lacking the ActiveX bits. That would be a big problem for many organisations. Edit: I have since seen it confirmed that the Visual LISP environment is missing, as are the COM APIs.
  • Other APIs? DCL? ActiveARX? Deelip’s developing stuff using something, but the blurb just mentions a “flexible development platform” without giving any indication of what that means. Which leads to…
  • Add-ons, large and small. Many of us use various third-party utilities for making our AutoCAD lives more productive. Will they work? Probably not. Can the developer make them work? Maybe. But only if they want to, and feel the need to make the investments required. For small developers, that may not be the case.
  • Will your tablet, image and screen menus work in this environment? I don’t know, but here’s a guess: no.
  • Profiles? I couldn’t possibly work without being able to store and switch between profiles.
  • Object enablers. Has it got a full set? Or any at all? Dunno, but Autodesk’s object support for DWGs from its own AutoCAD verticals has been patchy, even on Windows.
  • Performance. Has it got any? Dunno.
  • Reliability. Has it got any? Dunno.
  • Longevity. Has it got any? Dunno. I think we can confidently expect an AutoCAD for Mac 2012, and probably 2013 too. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. Maybe I should run a book on it?

Finally, things that do appear to missing:

  • Ribbon, QAT and The Big Red A. What, no Next Big Thing in UI Design, embraced wholeheartedly by Autodesk from AutoCAD 2009 onwards and still spreading out to the outer reaches of the product range? How will Mac users be able to live with the terrible loss of productivity when compared with their Windows-using colleagues?
  • CUI. There is a screenshot of a very cut-down interface customisation thing, but it’s not the CUI interface you’ve grown to love. Seriously, it looks extremely limited.
  • Express Tools. Last time Autodesk tried to sell an AutoCAD without these was 2000i. Remember that? Maybe not, because the i apparently stood for ignore and upgraders avoided it in droves.
  • AutoCAD verticals. Civil 3D for Mac, anyone? Mechanical? Architecture? Not yet. Verticals, if they ever arrive, are likely to be years away.
  • Network licensing. All of your Macs will need individial licenses.

It will be amusing to see how the various omissions are spun or glossed over. My guess is that they will be ignored altogether, or some vague indication being given to them being investigated for possible inclusion in a future release. But maybe you can think of more interesting ways of handling it. How about something like this for the missing Ribbon?

Mac, Windows. Chalk, Cheese. Ribbon, no Ribbon. Oil, Water. Creative, Productive. Cat, Dog. Trendy, Nerdy. Choose one. Be whatever you want to be. Because with AutoCAD®, it’s your choice™.

Have a go with your own Spin Segment. Who knows? Autodesk may even use your ideas.

When is AutoCAD not AutoCAD?

When is AutoCAD nor AutoCAD? When it’s AutoCAD WS. But it’s not quite that simple.

I’ve been correcting people for months when they say things like “Project Butterfly is AutoCAD on the Cloud.” No, it’s not. It’s a DWG editor of sorts, but anybody who has used both will know that it’s not AutoCAD or anything like it. Although it’s useful for viewing and markup and is improving all the time, Project Butterfly is still very restricted and is likely to remain so for a long time. You wouldn’t want to spend a significant portion of your day drawing with it.

OK, so Project Butterfly isn’t AutoCAD. I’m glad we’ve cleared that up. But wait! Now it is AutoCAD! AutoCAD WS, that is. AutoCAD WS is the recently-announced free iPod/iPhone/iPad app to access Project Butterfly. But it’s not really AutoCAD either, despite being named thus. Confused yet?

AutoCAD is Autodesk’s strongest brand name, but it has been diluted a great deal in recent times. Let’s have a look at things that are called AutoCAD or somehow based on AutoCAD, and try to make some sense of it all. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

  • AutoCAD – the real thing
  • AutoCAD Architecture – AutoCAD-based vertical
  • AutoCAD Civil – AutoCAD-based vertical
  • AutoCAD Civil 3D – AutoCAD-based vertical
  • AutoCAD Electrical – AutoCAD-based vertical
  • AutoCAD for Mac – AutoCAD with a few bits missing
  • AutoCAD Freestyle – a cheap and simple DWG editor, not much like real AutoCAD
  • AutoCAD Inventor Suite – this is basically Autodesk Inventor, which is neither AutoCAD nor based on AutoCAD. But a real AutoCAD and AutoCAD Mechanical also comes in the box.
  • AutoCAD LT – AutoCAD with some features disabled to make it fit into a lower price bracket
  • AutoCAD Map 3D – AutoCAD-based vertical
  • AutoCAD Mechanical – AutoCAD-based vertical
  • AutoCAD MEP – AutoCAD-based vertical
  • AutoCAD OEM – development platform for using AutoCAD subsets as a basis for 3rd-party applications
  • AutoCAD P&ID – AutoCAD-based vertical
  • AutoCAD Plant 3D – AutoCAD-based vertical
  • AutoCAD Raster Design – not AutoCAD, but adds features to AutoCAD and various AutoCAD-based verticals
  • AutoCAD Revit Architecture Suite – Autodesk Revit Architecture, which is neither AutoCAD nor based on AutoCAD. But AutoCAD and AutoCAD Architecture come in the box.
  • AutoCAD Revit Structure Suite – Autodesk Revit Structure, which is neither AutoCAD nor based on AutoCAD. But AutoCAD Structural Detailing comes in the box.
  • AutoCAD Revit MEP Suite – Autodesk Revit MEP, which is neither AutoCAD nor based on AutoCAD. But AutoCAD and AutoCAD MEP come in the box.
  • AutoCAD Structural Detailing – AutoCAD-based vertical
  • AutoCAD WS – not AutoCAD, but an iPod/iPhone/iPad app to access Project Butterfly
  • Autodesk Design Review – not AutoCAD, but a DWF viewer & markup tool, works with DWG TrueView to allow DWG markup
  • DWG TrueView – a very heavily cut-down AutoCAD to provide a free DWG viewer and release converter (includes DWG TrueConvert)
  • Project Butterfly – not AutoCAD, but rather a cloud/browser-based DWG viewer/editor

That’s a lot of products, but I haven’t even included all the various new suites that include AutoCAD. I’m not sure this plethora is such a great thing, leading as it does to customer confusion and brand dilution. When “AutoCAD” can mean almost anything, does it still really mean something?

AutoCAD 2011 for Mac announced

According to Macworld, Autodesk has now made its worst-kept secret, AutoCAD for Mac OS X, official. There are also goodies for those with cute little rectangles:

Autodesk also announced that the new Mac version of AutoCAD would be accompanied by the AutoCAD WS mobile application, a new app for iPad, iPhone, and the iPod touch…

When?

AutoCAD for Mac and the AutoCAD WS mobile application will be available in North America and Europe sometime between August and October. Users can pre-order the app starting Wednesday, September 1.

Huh? August is pretty much over. September or October, then.

AutoCAD 2011 Update 1 recalled

If you click on the link I posted about earlier, you will get this:

On August 23, 2010, Autodesk released Update 1 for AutoCAD 2011. Unfortunately, Update 1 introduced an issue when conducting certain operations that may cause AutoCAD to shut down. This issue affects a small number of users.

We have removed Update 1 and will reintroduce it in the near future when the issue has been resolved. For customers who have already installed Update 1, the hotfix that resolves this issue has been posted at the following location:

AutoCAD and AutoCAD LT Layer Manager Hotfix

Please be assured that Autodesk is wholly committed to the quality of AutoCAD, and regrets this error.

Having been pretty critical of Autodesk lately, you might expect me to dish out another serve for this. But I won’t. With the best of intentions, this stuff happens. Autodesk has done the right thing in recalling the update and providing a workaround for customers who have already applied it, and a fixed Update 1 should get released soon enough.

Why we keep upgrading

In a comment in response to a Deelip post yesterday, Brad Holtz pointed to an article he wrote in 1999. It’s interesting to note that while much of the computing world today bears little resemblance to the scene at the end of the last century, this article remains almost completely accurate and relevant. Indeed, it’s so right that you might even be tempted to think, “Duh, isn’t that obvious?”

One section that stood out to me had this to say:

Many software systems never even get beyond the acceptable stage …. vendors of these systems are continually coming out with new versions, never stopping long enough to fix the problems with the existing systems.

It’s fascinating to me that this observation came at the very time that Autodesk was switching from a company that wasn’t exactly like that to one that very much was (and still is today), thanks to the 12-month release cycle.

More Autodesk deception over LT productivity study

Following on from the AutoCAD 2011 productivity study I critiqued earlier, there is now an LT version. Do the same credibility problems apply to this study too? Yes, and then some.

In addition to the drawings and operations being deliberately hand-picked to demonstrate new features, no direct comparison is performed at all between the two releases on the same platforms. Every single quoted “productivity improvement” figure includes, free of charge, three years of hardware and operating system progress and a more upmarket graphics card.

If you read business “news” sources that just reprint press releases, such as this Yahoo! Finance one (thanks, Carol Bartz), you won’t see this mentioned. Instead, you will see deceptive statements like these:

David S. Cohn, an independent consultant

Er, no, in this context he’s not independent, he’s an Autodesk consultant. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

overall productivity gains of 44 percent for users moving from AutoCAD LT 2008 or earlier versions to AutoCAD LT 2011

…as long as you only ever perform certain carefully selected operations and upgrade your hardware and operating system. Like the other study, the 44% figure is totally meaningless and quoting it without qualification is downright deceptive.

Most users will be able to get more work done faster by upgrading to AutoCAD LT 2011

This statement is totally unsupported. There is no analysis of what “most users” do with the software, and no attempt to quantify the portion of time such users spend on these hand-picked operations. Neither is there any analysis performed on more common operations to see if the new releases introduced any detriment to productivity in those areas.

Improvements to the graphical user interface deliver a 43 percent productivity increase.

If that’s true, why do so many users of 2009 to 2011 immediately turn off the new user interface? Are they all stupid Luddites who have a burning desire to work much less efficiently? This study, like its non-LT counterpart, contains many unqualified statements about the Ribbon improving productivity and providing other benefits. I’d really like to see a proper independent study done into that.

To sum up, Autodesk is quite prepared to say misleading stuff about its products that will be regurgitated unquestioningly by those who don’t know any better, in the hope that it will be believed by those who do, and not exposed by those who care. But it’s not prepared to answer straightforward legitimate questions about its business, offering a pile of spin instead. This, supposedly because “management in publicly trade companies are forbidden by US laws and accounting regulations to discuss some topics”.

I think I’ll borrow a phrase from Deelip here, as it seems appropriate.

Bottom line. This is bullshit.

It just so happens that right now I’m in a no-bullshit mood. I’ve been exposed to more than enough of it lately. Unfortunate timing, Autodesk.

I know this sort of marketing device is nothing new, and maybe that’s the point. This kind of thing is so 20th century. In the good old days, negative commentary about stuff like this would be seen by few, and largely confined to company-controlled environments and one-way media such as printed magazines. Things aren’t like that any more. This sort of nonsense is being increasingly noticed, criticised and derided in blogs and social media. I have hope that the point will soon come when companies’ PR consultants work out that the negatives of spewing bullshit outweigh the positives. When that point is reached, the bullshit will stop. And won’t that be great?

Autodesk user community survey

Autodesk is running a web survey to try to find out which user communities (including blogs) its customers find valuable. If you are interested in participating, the survey is here. If you want to specify any blogs, you will need to type or paste their names into various “other comments” boxes. As the number of blogs I read far exceeds a reasonable type-in requirement, I couldn’t accurately give an idea of my web habits. So I’m not sure how much can be accurately read into the results.

(Source: CAD Panacea).

I saw Shaan asking about this kind of thing a while back, but not getting much response. It looks like Autodesk is trying to work out exactly where its customers go these days for support, discussion, networking, training, etc. I can’t speak for other bloggers, but I’d be happy to provide my site statistics on request. Anybody can also get an idea of how much of a “community” a blog is by the number of comments.

One point I found strange in the survey was the order of “valuableness” in one of the questions. It went something like:

  • Not at all valuable
  • Not very valuable
  • Valuable
  • Somewhat valuable
  • Very valuable
  • Exceedingly valuable (or whatever)

The ordering of “somewhat valuable” and “valuable” was the opposite to what I would have expected. What do you think? Is “somewhat valuable” more valuable than “valuable”, as the survey suggests?

I got into a fight. Caught on video.

Last weekend, I competed for the first time in a national-level fencing competition, the “Be Active” Western Australian International Fencing Tournament (AFF#3). Most people compete in one or two events within a competition, but I thought I would challenge myself and had a go at all six of the individual events available to me. I set myself what I thought were realistic goals for each event. Here is how I did at chasing those goals:

Open Men’s Foil – goal: top 32 – result: 22nd – achieved.
Open Men’s Epee – goal: top 32 – result: 42nd – failed.
Open Men’s Sabre – goal: top 16 – result: 16th – achieved.
Veteran Men’s Foil – goal: top 8 – result: 3rd= – exceeded.
Veteran Men’s Epee – goal: top 8 – result: 6th – achieved.
Veteran Men’s Sabre – goal: top 4 – result: made the final – exceeded.

If you are interested, have 5 minutes to spare, and your access is not blocked at work, you can have a look at me competing in the final of the Veteran Men’s Sabre using this YouTube link. Hopefully, you should find it a pretty entertaining contest, even if you don’t entirely understand what’s going on. If I hit him you will see a red light, if he hits me it’s green, and if both lights go on that means we have both hit each other within 120 milliseconds and the referee decides the point based on right-of-way rules.

I have only been fencing sabre for about a year, so I was very happy to reach the final. That I did so is all down to my sabre coach at my club Excalibur, legendary Hungarian master Frank Kocsis. You can see him briefly on the video as he approaches me during the break to calm me down and get me to focus. I don’t think I’ve ever been that pumped!

Not answering the question

Here in Australia, we’re in election mode, so I have even more reasons to avoid watching TV. On those occasions when I do watch it, I am often annoyed by what I see. This is not a novel observation, but one of the things that annoys me about many politicians is their habit of sidestepping questions when interviewed. It also annoys me when interviewers fail to follow up these non-answers and let them slide. Depending on the circumstances (e.g. limited timeframe, more important questions to ask, etc.), there may be valid reasons for journalists failing to chase after legitimate answers in a live interview situation. But I would much prefer to see a non-answering interviewee tied down and not allowed to wriggle free. Squirm, baby, squirm!

For on-line journalists and bloggers, there are few excuses for letting non-answers go unchallenged. There is virtually unlimited time, opportunity and column space in which things can be chased down. With that in mind, this post is an analysis of the response Callan Carpenter gave to the four specific questions I raised, and three points of dispute raised by others and passed on by me for a response. I have marked each response (or non-response) out of 10.

Questions

Please clarify in as much detail as possible exactly how you arrive at your figures.

Answer: none given. 0/10

A percentage is derived by dividing one number by another; what exactly are you dividing by what to come up with 1.5%?

Answer: none given. 0/10

Please explain why your statements appear to contradict Autodesk’s own published figures.

Answer: Callan explained that he did not intend to suggest what it seemed he was implying, but didn’t clearly explain exactly what it was that he actually was suggesting. 5/10

How large is Autodesk’s total installed base?

Answer: none given. 0/10

Points of dispute

Because Autodesk made Subscription cheaper than upgrading, it is no surprise that upgrading became less popular. This doesn’t indicate that customers prefer doing business in that way, merely that Autodesk made it the cheapest alternative.

Response: this statement was pretty much repeated back as if it were an answer: “the majority of customers buying over the past few years have opted to leverage the Subscription program…the most cost effective way possible”. 1/10

If the idea of Subscription is such an attractive proposition, why do you need to sweeten the deal with tools that you don’t allow upgraders to have?

Response: this statement was also pretty much repeated back as if it were an answer: “…there is much more to the program than cost savings…just some of the value-added aspects of the program”. 1/10

Your assertion that the 12-month cycle is driven by the product teams is incorrect. It was chosen for business reasons and the product cycle was forced to fit the Subscription model.

Response: none given. 0/10

Overall “answering the question” mark: 7/70 or 10%.

Callan, thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to provide some kind of a response. If you want to have another bite at the cherry and actually answer what you’ve been asked this time, you are welcome to do so. You know where to find me.

Readers, am I being too harsh here?

Studying Autodesk’s productivity study

Heidi Hewett just reported the following on her blog, about a productivity study:

According to a recent independent study, AutoCAD® 2011 can help you work up to 44% faster with the latest productivity enhancements.

I have a couple of problems with that sentence. First, it’s not an independent study. It’s a study conducted by long-time respected CAD figure David Cohn, but it was specified and paid for by Autodesk:

This productivity study was performed at the request of Autodesk Inc., which funded this work.

That’s not exactly independent then, is it? Second, the study does not state that AutoCAD 2011 is responsible for a 44% improvement. That’s a figure that combines both the effects of AutoCAD 2011 (over AutoCAD 2008), plus the effects of using a newer, faster PC. Just stating that figure wthout such a disclaimer is misleading.

Now to the study itself. Let me make it clear that I have no problem with David Cohn, who is respected, experienced and honest. I do not doubt that his study accurately describes his observations of the time taken to perform the chosen operations on the chosen drawings. The problem is that the study is designed to concentrate purely on a set of AutoCAD operations that benefit from the changes of the last three releases. In other words, the dice are very heavily loaded. To David’s credit, he states that very clearly in the study report:

Each drawing was chosen based on a number of criteria designed to showcase one or more features of the software that did not exist in AutoCAD 2008 but were added in subsequent releases. While each drawing could certainly be produced using the features and functions available in AutoCAD 2008, the advanced capabilities added in subsequent releases would likely enable a typical user to produce the drawing faster using AutoCAD 2011.

Since the premise of the test was to determine how much time could be saved by using a new feature, the test itself was already predisposed to show that using AutoCAD 2011 is more productive than using AutoCAD 2008.

A quick skim-read shows that there are several other problems with the study. For example, it doesn’t attempt to measure the productivity of those operations that are common to both releases, which are much more likely to be used in bulk by typical users. The report states that the Ribbon interface is likely to be more productive, but makes no attempt to justify that by comparing the exact same operations performed using the two interfaces.

In addition, both AutoCAD 2008 and 2011 are measured on a typical middle-age PC using XP, but only 2011 is measured on a modern PC running Windows 7. The report states that the latter tests were performed after the former tests, so the times will also be biased by familiarity with AutoCAD 2011, the drawings and the operations required. That’s where the 44% figure comes from, and it doesn’t mean anything.

What’s the point of studies like this, that are self-evidently designed to produce a good-looking outcome? Who are they supposed to fool?  Come on Autodesk, either do these things properly or don’t do them at all. Please.

Magic vanishing images

In a thread in the Feedback & Questions about the Discussion Groups section of the Autodesk discussion groups, somebody called ACADuser contributed what I thought was a highly amusing bar graph as a test image. Inspired by this, I contributed a couple of test images of my own.

A few hours later, the whole thread magically disappeared! It seems a shame that I went to the effort of making those images, and all for nothing. The handful of people who would have seen them on the discussion groups have now missed out on the experience. So I’ve decided to make up for that by posting them here, where thousands of people can look at them instead.

Here’s the first one (not that amusing):

Discussion group upgrade poll results

Here’s the second one. Given the circumstances, it seems somewhat prescient:

Clue train pie graph

If ACADuser wants to get in touch, I’ll be quite happy to post his image too.