Autodesk’s Callan Carpenter responds to Subscription follow-up

You may remember a month ago I raised the question What proportion of Autodesk customers really are on Subscription? Shortly after that, I sent Autodesk Subscription VP Callan Carpenter these questions following up on the interview:

I have a request for follow-up information arising from this interview. I hope you can find the time to provide some answers.

Preamble: Several people have called into doubt your assertion that the simplified upgrade policy affects only a tiny minority of your customers (you seemed to imply a figure of around 3% non-Subscription customers, with 1.5% who upgrade within a year or two). My own calculations based on Autodesk’s latest published financial results indicate that of upgrades represent 21% of the combined income from Subscription and upgrades, which is 7 times greater than the impression you gave in your answer. Please see this post for more discussion.


  • Please clarify in as much detail as possible exactly how you arrive at your figures.
  • A percentage is derived by dividing one number by another; what exactly are you dividing by what to come up with 1.5%?
  • Please explain why your statements appear to contradict Autodesk’s own published figures.
  • How large is Autodesk’s total installed base?

Other points of dispute have been raised by various commenters, which I have paraphrased here. I invite your response.

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • 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.

After a few follow-ups, I received a response yesterday. I reproduce that response here verbatim and without comment:

My sincere apologies for the delay. I have been travelling quite extensively, and this response has been sitting in my drafts email folder, and I just kept getting sidetracked with customer matters.
Nonetheless, I appreciate the opportunity to respond to some of the feedback you received after our discussion last month. During that first interview we discussed, among other things, the rationale behind the Simplified Upgrade Pricing program. I argued that SUP impacts only a small subset of our customers, and quoted figures to support the case. It appears those figures have been challenged by a few of your readers who feel their experience is different. Is it possible that both points of view are right? I believe it is.
By my prior statements I do not mean to suggest that the vast majority of all customers are on Subscription. Autodesk has a very large base of customers that has grown over the past 28 years. The subscription program as it exists today is only about 8 years old, so we had 20 years to develop a large base of customers, many of whom are not on Subscription. (Yes, there were forerunner programs like VIP, but they were structured quite differently and never generated an appreciable amount of business.) This is important because the SUP program only really impacts those customers upgrading from one and two versions back, which is a very small percentage of the already small upgrade revenue. Subscribers and customers upgrading from four or more versions back see no change to their pricing, and customers upgrading from 3 versions back see either no change or a very nominal one (up or down) depending on their specific product or country.
Most of the non-subscribing customer base does not purchase upgrades one or two versions back. In other words, most of these customers either haven’t bought anything from us in a long time, or when they do, they fall into the 98.5% of the revenue that includes upgrades from three or more versions back.
History is one thing, but the current trend line is another. For 8 years the Subscription program has coexisted with the Upgrade program. During that time our customers have been free to chose either strategy for keeping their technology current. Based on the results, their choice was clear: the majority of customers buying over the past few years have opted to leverage the Subscription program to stay on the latest technology in the most cost effective way possible. Only a few have elected to stay current through one and two version upgrades. The rest upgraded from older versions – three or more back. Of course Autodesk still offers all those choices going forward, albeit with a slimmed down price sheet.
There is one last point that I would like to make: While we believe Subscription is the most cost effective way to stay on the latest design technology, there is much more to the program than cost savings. Direct access to Autodesk product support specialists, Advantage Pack© bonus features, and free software for home use are just some of the value-added aspects of the program. In short, we are committed to an ongoing, continuous reevaluation of both the cost and benefit components of the Subscription value equation in order to make it an attractive option for as many customers as possible.
Thanks, again Steve for allowing me the time to speak with your readers.

This spam amuses me

Any Internet resource that allows public comment has to deal with spam. Fortunately, Akismet takes care of the vast majority of the spam on this blog so I don’t have to worry about it. Most spam is just moronic and I’m saddened that there are still some people around who are clueless enough to fall for it, making it worthwhile for the spammers to continue their evil ways.

Today, Akismet caught the first spam I’ve seen for a long time that actually made me LOL. Here it is:

HELP! I’m currently being held prisoner by the Russian mafia xyzrxyz pxxxx enlargement xyzrxyz and being forced to post spam comments on blogs and forum! If you don’t approve this they will kill me. xyzrxyz pxxxx enlargement xyzrxyz They’re coming back now. xyzrxyz vxxxx xyzrxyz Please send help! nitip vxxxx

I removed the bits that would make this useful to the spammer, so I guess I’m now responsible for some poor schmuck suffering a hideous fate at the hands of the Russian Mafia. Oh dear, what a shame, never mind.

Missing language pack fixes compared

Having tried out the cleanup fixes from both Autodesk and Owen Wengerd, they both appear to work fine. Here are some points of comparison:

  • Owen’s utility will work with any AutoCAD variant from 2007 on; Autodesk’s fix is currently restricted to Civil 3D 2009, 2010 and 2011. As this problem is definitely not confined to Civil 3D, and may need to be dealt with by non-Civil 3D users, that could be the dealbreaker right there.
  • Owen’s can be installed by anyone by simply copying a file and loading it when needed or in the Startup Suite; Autodesk’s requires admin rights to either run an installer program or manual replacement of a program component, depending on the release.
  • Owen’s loads and runs as the user requires; Autodesk’s runs automatically when opening and saving a drawing.
  • Owen’s provides some information about what is getting cleaned up; Autodesk’s operates in total silence.
  • Owen’s utility can take a while to scan through everything in a complex drawing; Autodesk’s appears to take no longer to open the drawing than normal. To give you some idea of the times involved, in one test in Civil 3D 2011, opening a blank ( but 2.2 MB!) drawing based on the Civil 3D template took 3.6 s with or without the fix; Owen’s cleanup took 0.7 s. In another test on an oldish PC with AutoCAD 2010, cleaning up a drawing with 2.8 MB of real content took Owen’s utility about 15 seconds.

For my purposes, Owen’s utility is what I need, because the users who need to clean up these drawings use AutoCAD, not Civil 3D. I’ve set up a batch process for these users, which opens each selected drawing, runs Owen’s utility and saves the drawing. However, I suggest Civil 3D users install the relevant updates and patches anyway, as they fix more than just this problem. In addition, in Civil 3D 2011 without the Autodesk fix, one of the problems fixed by Owen’s cleanup (a AeccDbNetworkCatalogDef one) is then immediately recreated by Civil 3D.

The upshot is that Civil 3D users should at least apply Autodesk’s fixes; everybody else should use Owen’s.

Using Owen’s fix, it is interesting to see what it reports as being the problem in particular drawings. Here’s what one of my non-Civil 3D problem drawings shows up:

Command: cleanlanguage
Scanning drawing for corrupt objects...
Corrupt object AecDbScheduleDataFormat<2F84> CLEANED
Found 1 corrupt object

Here’s what the Civil 3D 2011 ANZ template shows up when cleaned:

Command: cleanlanguage
Scanning drawing for corrupt objects...
Corrupt object AeccDbNetworkCatalogDef<8B7> ERASED
Corrupt object AeccDbLegendScheduleTableStyle<1619> CLEANED
Corrupt object AeccDbLegendScheduleTableStyle<161B> CLEANED
Corrupt object AeccDbLegendScheduleTableStyle<161A> CLEANED
Corrupt object AeccDbLegendScheduleTableStyle<161F> CLEANED
Found 5 corrupt objects

It looks like every Civil 3D 2011 drawing based on these templates has been going out corrupt in 5 different places. Hopefully, Autodesk will quickly get on to fixing up the Civil 3D template situation, and will incorporate the automated open/save cleanup in future updates to AutoCAD itself and all the other AutoCAD-based verticals.

Another language pack cleanup solution

My CADLock, Inc. colleague, Owen Wengerd has posted about a fix utility he has written to help clean up drawings infested with the language pack problem discussed here. I have not yet tested Owen’s utility*, but as this should run in any AutoCAD-based product from 2007 on, it could well be a better partial solution than Autodesk’s Civil 3D-only (so far) patches. Autodesk still needs to sort out its dodgy templates, of course, and should probably provide its own non-Civil 3D fixes, if only to maintain a little corporate self-respect.

As Owen has a long and distinguished history of being consistently and demonstrably better at AutoCAD programming than Autodesk’s own programmers, I’d be tempted to try this one first. However, Civil 3D users should probably apply the patches and updates anyway to help resolve other issues.

To find Owen’s utility, go to the ManuSoft ARX freebies page and look for While you’re there, use the Software menu to check out some of the other stuff Owen has done.

* Edit: I have now tested it, and it works beautifully in both AutoCAD 2010 and Civil 3D 2011.

Partial fix for language pack problem

The Civil 3D group within Autodesk has moved impressively quickly in providing a partial solution to the language pack problem I described earlier. What has been provided so far is a set of patches for Civil 3D 2009, 2010 and 2011 that allow Civil 3D users to remove the spurious language pack flag by opening and re-saving the affected drawings. I have not yet tested this, but I am informed that it works.

What’s left to do? Obviously, not all recipients of these drawings are going to have Civil 3D. In fact, prior to isolating Civil 3D as one definite source of the problem, I had spent a lot of time helping out AutoCAD users clean up language-pack-infected drawings, using awkward and dangerous copy-and-paste methods. So Autodesk has AutoCAD and all its vertical variants to work through yet as far as a cleanup mechanism goes. Also, the problem needs resolving at the source end. All “infected” templates (in Civil 3D and any other verticals that may have the problem) need fixing and distributing to users as quickly and effectively as possible, in order to reduce the number of drawings being created with the problem. I know individual users can do this for themselves, but large numbers of users won’t do so if left to their own devices, causing problems for everyone else. As the originator of the problem, Autodesk has a duty to do its very best to resolve it.

Thanks, Autodesk, for quickly getting started on fixing the problem and providing a partial solution in a timely manner. I hope you can provide the rest of the solution equally efficiently.

Civil 3D 2011 ANZ comes complete with “virus”

If you install Civil 3D 2011 using the ANZ (Australia/New Zealand) profile, when you start it up for the first time, you will see a large warning indicating that the drawing requires an Asian language pack to be installed. It also warns that this is a symptom of the acad.vlx virus:

Language Pack warning

Now I know that in this case it’s not an actual virus causing the problem, but rather the ANZ template drawing being “infected” with this Language Pack requirement. I have had to deal with quite a few incoming drawings in this state, and that’s painful enough without Autodesk also infecting every Australasian Civil 3D drawing with the problem. Other profiles may be similarly infected, but at the moment I don’t know. Edit: Matt Anderson reports that the problem occurs on US systems too.

Autodesk, I suggest that as a matter of great urgency you create a clean ANZ template file, post it as a hotfix and warn all your Civil 3D customers of the SNAFU. Neither “install the language pack” nor “turn off the warning” are adequate workarounds. Your customers do not want to send out or receive any drawings in this state.

Beyond the immediate issue of Autodesk shipping software that on first use warns the user that they may have a virus (and encourages the creation of drawings that spread that warning far and wide), I would appreciate some assistance in dealing with “infected” drawings, whether in Civil 3D or plain AutoCAD.

First, I need to be able to detect such drawings using LISP so I ensure they are rejected rather than allowed into our drawing management system, and this detection will need to work in releases at least as far back as AutoCAD 2004.

Second, I need a mechanism of cleaning up such drawings. The only thing I have discovered that works so far is the manual, time-consuming and dangerous process of recreating the drawings by starting from scratch and Copy/Paste in each layout. With big jobs using nested xrefs, this is fraught. I need to be able to provide a LISP-based cleanup mechanism that I can set up to work in batch mode on a set of drawings.

I would be grateful for any clues anyone might have about the above detect & cleanup needs.

Edit: see the comments for further important information.

Any Bricscad users out there?

I would be very interested to hear from any of you who have adopted Bricscad (either partially or fully replacing AutoCAD or AutoCAD LT in your organisation), or at least seriously investigated using the product. This post is aimed at users and CAD managers rather than third party developers, who I expect to cover in future posts.

Why did you investigate changing over? How far have you gone? What are your experiences? What are the pros and cons? How is performance? Reliability? Bugs? Ease of use? Familiarity? Support and other aspects of customer service? Total cost of ownership? Are you experiencing interoperability problems when exchanging drawings with Autodesk software users? How did you go with incorporating in-house customisation and third party tools?

Please add a comment, or if you prefer, email me using my contact form.

Edwin’s 100 tips, plus my own

Over at Edwin Prakaso’s CAD Notes site, he has collected 100 AutoCAD tips and published them in a highly useful post. Very nice job, Edo.

While you blog readers are collecting tips, you might as well have a look at mine, too: (and page 2)

I was surprised how many tips I have posted over the couple of years this blog has been running, although not all of them are for AutoCAD. Anyway, I hope you find some of them useful. If you don’t want to wade through all that lot, maybe you can get started on this five and five more tips from the early days of this blog.

Autodesk discussion group changes – user reaction

I will be airing my own views on the Autodesk discussion group changes in a future post. In the meantime, I have collected some reactions from other users. For the record, there has been only a little censorship in this area. Here are some of the comments that made it through unhindered:

  • I’ve given it a fair shake and it’s just as bad as I imagined
  • Goodbye, people. It was nice while it lasted
  • it sucks
  • it doesn’t look like you have any intention to meet the expectations of these people
  • not [as] much traffic as there was before the change.  I hope things improve
  • I’m sure you’ve noticed the sourness many folks are having with this interface
  • What a f’in f-up
  • This is so aggravating that I am resorting to posting questions that may have already been answered vs. trying to find them via the search tool
  • Very annoying
  • We use NNTP because it’s easy and fast, and better
  • very slow, compared to “other” html forums
  • This was hyped as a “state-of-art web experience”. It is clearly not
  • Extremely slow compared to the previous web forum
  • we are screwed with this interface
  • This is like having your high performance vehicle (NNTP) stolen and having to take the bus to get to your destination
  • 4 days later, still sucks
  • Still very slow, cumbersome, difficult to track and navigate, unintuitive
  • It took me literally 30 seconds to get that smiley to insert
  • I really was expecting something better
  • I see too many people who may not be around anymore. In most cases their expertise far outweighs any improvements to the forums
  • Welcome to the new and improved Autodesk forum brought to you by high school students near you
  • You keep using that word [“upgrade”]. I do not think it means what you think it means
  • Better? Wanna bet? It’s cumbersome, at best
  • Another annoying thing here is that I can’t seem to find a way to show threading
  • Very, VERRRY slow, compared to forums using PHP and the like
  • Why even have an edit feature at all, when it’s virtually useless?
  • the “experts” are being alienated and having a harder time contributing to aid the beginners
  • I don’t like reading this forum in a browser. NNTP was and is much better
  • This sucks
  • about 40 unanswerable questions that have popped up in the first 30 (wasted) minutes of trying to “give it a chance”
  • If we aren’t going to get our newsgroups back at least attempt to make this forum professional
  • Sorry folks but I just don’t have the time to log in and browse thru all the different pages required now
  • Map 3d is “losing” its best contributor because of a dumb forum update
  • Autodesk prove again if something works  they will find something to make wrong
  • I stopped posting here after the change for the same reasons.  Just logged in for this
  • since the demise of the NNTP feed I rarely visit several of the forums I used to watch
  • It is just too time consuming now. This is really discouraging
  • I cannot be nearly as productive as I could with a newsreader…it takes no less than 4-5x longer
  • getting rid of the NNTP server was one of the worst things Autodesk has done in years
  • Goodbye
  • your update and support policy really force me into alternatives to Autodesk

That’s going down well, then. To be fair, there have been a few people who are relatively supportive of at least some of the changes. As usual with any unpopular change, there are a couple of asinine comments attacking the critics as just a bunch of old whiners who are resistant to all change. But the selection of comments above reflects the overwhelming negative sentiment, and that’s from those people who bothered to stick around long enough to make their views known.

I would have thought Autodesk would have learned its lesson after the well-deserved thrashing it got the last time round, but apparently not.

Automated anti-telemarketer script – brilliant!

Annoyed by telemarketers? Too polite to abuse them or just hang up? Can’t be bothered wasting their time in person? Then you need AstyCrapper. If you’re using the open-source Asterisk PBX, it will crap on for ages on your behalf. It works by detecting responses from the telemarketer and silence gaps and responding with a series of recorded samples. It’s pretty convincing!

OK, maybe that doesn’t apply to you, but you can still have a good laugh at the example calls.

Raster Design 2011 due out on 20 July?

After an interminable delay and a complete absence of information from Autodesk (no, “contact your reseller” doesn’t count, especially when they don’t know anything either), it seems Raster Design 2011 is going to be released on 20 July. If that’s correct, those of you who use, say, image formats not directly supported by AutoCAD (e.g. ECW, MrSID) are finally going to be able to start using AutoCAD 2011, “only” 117 days after its release.

Don’t worry, I’m sure Autodesk will be refunding 1/3 of this year’s Subscription fees for both products. (Yes, that’s a joke).

I only hope the delay has given Autodesk enough time to fully fix the network/standalone SNAFU that blighted the Raster Design 2010 release. It’s still broken for users of network AutoCAD 2010 (or related vertical) and standalone Raster Design 2010. As there appears to be nothing new in the product except Windows 7 and 2011 support, and 2011 support should have been very easy to add, what else could Autodesk have spent all this time doing? Unless it’s related to this law suit?

While this unannounced delay isn’t much of an advertisement for the 12-month release cycle, it does indicate the need to keep the release dates for AutoCAD and its related products closely aligned, regardless of the cycle length.

Disclaimer: it should go without saying, but just in case anyone’s wondering, none of the content of this post is based on privileged information. My source is this document (181 KB PDF), mentioned in this thread.

Censorship on the Autodesk discussion groups

The Autodesk discussion groups have quite a few problems at the moment, which I will discuss at length in future. One unnecessary problem that has been added to the mix is censorship. Having praised Autodesk in the past for allowing discussion to go unhindered, it’s only fair to slam heavy-handed moderation when I see it.

Before I get started, let me just say that Autodesk is entitled to moderate its discussion groups as it sees fit. The forum belongs to Autodesk and it can do what it likes with it. But just because Autodesk can censor its forums, that doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to do so. Neither does that it mean that Autodesk is immune to public criticism of that censorship. There is no First Amendment obligation on Autodesk, but there are many other places that censored viewpoints can be repeated. Here, for example.

In this particular case, a section was deleted from a reply I made in a thread about the educational plot stamp. In that section, I mentioned that the educational plot stamp is very easy to remove with an everyday AutoCAD command. I didn’t name that command or give any details of how to use it to remove the stamp.

Now I understand that Autodesk gets the twitches when people discuss circumvention of its educational stamp “virus”, but I didn’t mention anything that isn’t already public knowledge. I discussed this issue at length in Cadalyst some five years ago, again without giving away the details. If you really want to know the details, please don’t ask me because I won’t reply. Google it, it’s out there. You probably don’t even need to do that. It’s a pretty obvious thing to attempt. It was, in fact, the very first thing I tried when I first saw an example of an infected file. It worked perfectly.

Back to the censorship. My post was edited, and I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t contacted about it, so it was not possible to have a reasoned discussion about it with the moderator (as I have done in the past on the AUGI forums and elsewhere). Annoyed, I made a further post, this one objecting to the censorship. In that post, among other things, I pointed out that the Autodesk position on the plot stamp was fictional. Here is what the Autodesk knowledge base item TS63668 (which I can no longer find) had to say on the subject:

When you plot a drawing that was created in or that contains drawing data that was created in the Educational (Student and Faculty) version of AutoCAD® or AutoCAD-based software, the following plot stamp or watermark appears in the plot:

For Educational Use Only


There is no way to circumvent the plot stamp. This is as designed to discourage the commercial use of an educational version of an AutoCAD product. Autodesk sells educational versions of software on the premise that the software will be used for educational purposes only.

The statement above in italics is a blatant lie. Hopefully, the knowledge base item is now missing because somebody sensible at Autodesk decided that it’s not a good look to have such fraudulent nonsense on its site, dishonestly masquerading as technical support. Or maybe it’s not missing but I can’t find it because the search engine is bad. After all, Autodesk really, really sucks at search. Perhaps it should buy a search engine company?

I digress; back to the censorship issue again. My post objecting to the first censorship was deleted. I was not contacted to discuss this deletion. I made another post objecting to the second censorship of my objection to the first censorship. This post made no reference whatsoever to the plot stamp issue itself. This post was deleted, too. In a surprise development, I was not contacted to discuss this deletion. Three levels of censorship to cover up an Autodesk lie. I can’t see a problem with that, can you? Except for this:

The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. — John Gilmore

Discussion_Admin, you were entirely within your rights to perform this censorship. Your moderation guidelines may even require it. But as a result, my statement about the plot stamp being easily removed has been read by a much larger number of people. So it really wasn’t such a good idea to censor it, was it?

Readers, if you have your own Autodesk censorship tales to tell, feel free to tell them here. It should be a fun read.

More Autodesk research – Groups

Here’s an announcement from the AutoCAD Product Design & User Experience Team:

AutoCAD User Research Study: “AutoCAD Groups”(AutoCAD Group command)

AutoCAD Product Design & User Experience Team is looking for your input regarding the AutoCAD GROUP command usage.

The GROUP command (Object Grouping Dialog) in AutoCAD allows creating a selection set of objects called a group.
When an object belongs to a group, if any object in the group is selected, all the objects in the group are selected.
Groups can be named or unnamed. Groups can be ungrouped/(exploded), which removes the relationship between the objects in the group.

Autodesk wants to better understand how you use Groups so we can improve the feature.

Go to it, people. It’s good to see some attention being given to some long-neglected parts of AutoCAD. What next, LISP?

Autodesk discussion group update – what do you think?

On 4 June 2010, Autodesk turned off NNTP access to its discussion groups as part of the process of updating its software to use a different engine (the new one is from Lithium – here are its own forums). I am preparing a large post about what I think of the new web interface, but for now let’s hear from you on that subject. Please vote in the poll on the right, and add your comments once you’ve had a chance to put the “state-of-the-art web experience Autodesk customers have come to expect” through its paces.

In related news, I have now closed the short-lived poll about the end of NNTP access to these groups. The results were:

Should Autodesk shut down NNTP access to its discussion groups?
Yes (8.8%, 5 Votes)
No (59.6%, 34 Votes)
Don’t care (31.6%, 18 Votes)
Total Voters: 57

This is a small sample and must have some self-selection bias, in that those who cared about this move were more likely to read my post on the subject and vote about it. I attempted to temper this by including a “Don’t care” option, but some bias is still bound to be there. There is also likely to be some bias in the opposite direction, because people are less inclined to bother voting to try to fight a decision that had clearly already been set in concrete and which was never going to change.

That said, it does seem remarkable that only 5 people could be found who supported Autodesk’s decision to drop NNTP access. According to my long-running What is your relationship to Autodesk? poll, There are at least 25 (claimed) Autodesk employees who are active enough on this blog to respond to its polls! Without wishing to compromise the private nature of my polls, I can reveal that the 5 Yes votes included Autodesk employees and at least one non-Autodesk person (that’s as specific as I will ever get). There did not appear to be any attempt to distort the voting from either camp. I mention this because the survey mentioned in my previous post was disrupted in this way.

What proportion of Autodesk customers really are on Subscription?

In my recent interview of Autodesk Subscription VP Callan Carpenter, he made these statements:

…there is a very small fraction of our revenue that comes from upgrades at this point in time.

We’re down to very low single digits of customers who upgrade, and of those only half of those upgrade 1 or 2 years back. So we’re talking about approximately 1.5% of our revenue that comes from customers upgrading 1 and 2 versions back.

…[customers who upgrade] 1 or 2 [releases] back, a very small percentage of our customer base, less than 2% of our customer base that was buying those upgrades.

Others are calling those numbers into doubt. Deelip Menezes (SYCODE, Print 3D) estimated the numbers of AutoCAD users not on Subscription at 66% (or 43%, depending on which bit of the post you read), by counting the AutoCAD releases used by his customers and making assumptions about their Subscription status from that. That’s an extremely suspect methodology, as I pointed out:

Your numbers don’t really tell us anything about Subscription v. upgrade proportions. All they tell us is that large numbers of people wait a while before installing a new release. We all knew that, surely.

However, Deelip’s post did prompt me to point out this:

…there is a fair point to be made about people on earlier releases who have hopped off the upgrade train altogether, or at least for a significant number of years. How would they be counted in Callan’s figures? They wouldn’t exist at all, as far as his income percentages are concerned.

Owen Wengerd (ManuSoft, CADLock) asked a random sample of his customers and came up with 82% of them as non-Subscription customers. He also noted that he could come up with a 3% non-Subscription figure if he cooked the books by selectively choosing a convenient time slice. Owen doesn’t state the numbers in his sample, or indicate (or know) how many of the non-Subscribers are also non-upgraders.

I’ve added my own poll (see right) just to add to the mix.

Nothing we can hang a conclusion on yet, then. But Ralph Grabowski (WorldCAD Access, upFront.eZine) uses Autodesk’s own figures to point out that upgrade revenue has increased 18% and Subscription revenue only 7% in the last year. I’m not qualified to perform an analysis of the 2011 Q1 fiscal results, but I can find the figures listed as Maintenance revenue ($195 M) and Upgrade revenue ($51 M). That looks to me like about 21% of the Subscription/upgrade income is coming from upgrades.

Also, according to the published figures, Autodesk has 2,383,000 customers on Subscription. If that represents about 97% of customers, does that really mean Autodesk has only about 2.5 M customers? If I’m looking at these figures in the wrong way, feel free to put me right.

So, what’s the truth? What proportion of Autodesk customers really are on Subscription? 3%? 21%? 43%? 66%? 82%? I’m going to ask Callan a follow-up question about this and will report back on what he has to say. In the spirit of this post, I’ll be asking him for a lot more detail. Watch this space.

Autodesk to kill NNTP discussion groups

As of 4 June, Autodesk intends to update its discussion group software to something that does not support newsgroup (NNTP) access. From an email by Autodesk’s Eric Wright to NNTP users:

“As an active NNTP user, we wanted to reach out to you directly. We recognize this will change your experience participating in the forums and want to help you transition to the new web interface. Improvements include a simpler, more intuitive interface to post & reply, bookmarking and e-mail notification features to track favorite posts, and more powerful search tools and filtering. While not a substitute for the NNTP experience, the streamlined capabilities of our enhanced RSS feeds can also provide an alternative offline forum reading experience.”

As you can see, we are significantly investing to improve the platform behind the web-based experince to address many of the shortfalls reported by users over the last few years. Rich text vs Plain text confusion, formatting issues (like I just experienced cutting and pasting this message), logout issues, search, in-line image support, and robust RSS capabilities are just a few areas of improvements in an update planned for June 4.

A public announcement will be posted in the forums in a few days. I hope you will give it a try after launch, and provide any feedback or best practices to help in the transition.

Eric Wright

Product Manager – Support & Learning
Web & eBusiness
Autodesk, Inc.

The public announcement mentioned above can be found here.

As you might expect, this decision has been a hot topic of conversation. A survey has been set up (by Tony Tanzillo, not by Autodesk), and the running results are here. I’ve added a poll of my own (on the right). Feel free to express your views here, too.

I have some sympathy for Autodesk in this situation. One of the reasons the disastrous discussion group update of 2008 bombed so badly is that Autodesk was restricted in what software was available that supported both NNTP and web access. By taking the decision to dump NNTP, there is a much better chance of providing a system that works adequately (although Microsoft appears to be able to manage both). Whether an adequate web forum system actually happens or not remains to be seen, but I can understand the thought process that would lead to the decision, which Eric admits was “difficult and bittersweet”.

On the other hand, I am in no doubt that this is going to hurt the discussion groups. I don’t have any figures on the proportion of users that use NNTP, but I do know that a very significant number of the most active and expert users use NNTP. They do this because it’s vastly more efficient to work that way when dealing with large numbers of messages. Occasional users like myself are content enough to hop in from time to time and browse around using the web interface, maybe answering a question or two. The people who live on there, the people who are the groups’ primary resource as a free-to-Autodesk support mechanism? NNTP users, mostly. And what’s the point of a self-help group without a knowledgeable community of people to do the helping?

Adobe went through something similar a while back (links courtesy of CAD Panacea). I don’t know how many good people Adobe lost or how many Autodesk is going to lose now, but I know it’s going to be greater than zero. It will be interesting to see how useful the Autodesk discussion groups are after this change, and not just in terms of the interface and access to existing content. How useful are they going to be as a place to ask questions and stand a chance of getting a knowledgeable answer? I know Autodesk has been experimenting in having some support people respond in the new Installation & Licensing group. Maybe that’s the plan for the future? Time to start hiring back some of the 10% of people Autodesk lost early last year?

Does Autodesk discuss future plans?

According to Shaan, Autodesk does not discuss its future plans. Or does it? In a comment, Ralph reckoned it does. Putting aside technology previews and various NDA-bound circumstances (e.g. Beta testing), can you think of cases where Autodesk has revealed what it intends to do in future? Here are a few off the top of my head:

  • I’ve been to AU sessions dating back to 1995 that pretty much give away the contents of the next release of AutoCAD, using a vague cover-my-butt session title and a disclaimer at the start of the session. I understand that these days, attendees need to sign an NDA before entering such sessions.
  • Last year in San Francisco, an international blogger audience was given all sorts of information about Autodesk’s future directions (preceded by a similar disclaimer), with no NDA and nothing off the record. I assume something similar happened at this year’s North American bloggers’ event.
  • The Subscription (Advantage) Packs of the last couple of years have been a dead giveaway about some of the features that are going to make their way into the next release.
  • The new 50%-cost upgrade policy was announced a year in advance.
  • Surveys and other customer feedback mechanisms provide a very big clue about what Autodesk is looking at changing next. Some of these are covered by NDA, others are not.
  • In the specific case that triggered this discussion, Autodesk has been gradually building up expectation of a Mac AutoCAD for quite a while. Yes, it required a little reading Between the Lines, but for some time it has been pretty obvious where all the Mac love was leading to.

Feel free to add your own examples, but it seems to me that Autodesk is perfectly happy to reveal future plans as and when it sees fit. And that’s fine. In each of the above cases, the revelations have been A Good Thing. Good for Autodesk, good for customers.

Maybe the question should be, “Why doesn’t Autodesk discuss future plans much more often?” Stock market regulations, perhaps? But hang on, there are some very major publicly traded corporations that seem to get away with revealing all sorts of things about their future products. For example, Microsoft regularly conducts very widespread public Beta programs that let people know in great detail what’s very likely to appear in the next release, and seems to have survived the experience so far. There’s surely no reason why Autodesk couldn’t do the same if it wanted to.

Ultimately, it comes down to a desire for secrecy; a culture of concealment and control. Of course Autodesk may have legitimate reasons for keeping some of its plans from its competitors, but the culture can be so pervasive as to cause some bizarre side effects. You may find this difficult to comprehend, but there are those in Autodesk who got into a tizzy about me speculating in my launch announcement that Autodesk’s general design product (AutoCAD 2010) was going to be followed by something called AutoCAD 2011. There was something of a surreal drama behind the scenes. There were apparently people within Autodesk who genuinely thought I needed privileged information to work out that 10+1=11. No, I’m not making this up.

I’m not sure Autodesk’s secrecy is doing any good for anyone. It’s surely harder to maintain these days and it’s only going to get harder. I suspect several Autodesk blood vessels were burst when AutoCAD Mac Beta 1 was leaked. On the one hand, I can understand that; somebody broke an NDA, a legitimate agreement was freely entered into and then broken. Some people at Autodesk probably had their carefully planned marketing timelines disrupted.

On the other hand, this provided a whole heap of free and largely positive publicity. Potential AutoCAD for Mac users are now hovering in anticipation, filling the Mac forums, spreading the good news among themselves, putting off the purchase of competitive products, considering entering the official Beta program, and so on. At the same time, the news of performance issues in the early Beta is helping to put a dampener on expectations in that area. Lowered customer expectations may turn out to be very useful when the product is actually released. All considered, a good thing for Autodesk, then.

I’m convinced that Autodesk is opening up. That’s great, but there’s a way to go yet.