Part 4 of 5 in this series.
SJ: There is always the fear that once you have all of your customer base on Subscription, you’re not going to need to offer those benefits any more. Can you assure people that that’s not going to be the case, that you are going to keep being “nice” to your customers?
CC: Absolutely. I think my team and I spend as much time and brain energy trying to figure out how to enhance the program as anything else. Our goal is to make Subscription a compelling value proposition; to make it not only cost-effective but valuable in other ways. An example would be the Advantage Pack program. We had a history of Subscription including extensions and other little technology bonuses for subscribers. But last year, we said we’re going to do something different with that. One of the problems with our historical technical Extensions program is that it was optional for product line managers to either participate or not. It was optional for product line managers to localise those Extensions in languages other than English. It was optional to make those Extensions incremental install as opposed to requiring a full reinstallation of a product.
So last year, we turned a lot of our product development upside down and produced the Advantage Pack with a whole new set of requirements. A product had to be localised, it had to be incremental install, and the top 26 or 27 product lines all had to participate in delivering that value. We saw the impact in the form of a 150% increase in the downloads of that Advantage Pack. That’s an example of trying to improve the value, and you’re going to see some additional fairly significant moves on our part on the Advantage Pack this year that are going to have a lasting impact on Subscription and how people look at it. Next year, we plan to improve it yet more, and so on. I don’t see any end in sight. It’s a competitive world out there and the only way you survive is by continuing to improve and grow and add value, otherwise you get replaced, and nobody’s immune to that. No company, no market.
SJ: You said that there was a 150% increase in Advantage Pack downloads. What was increasing over what?
CC: Prior to Advantage Pack, we had the Extensions program. If you took all the Extensions for the various products for the prior year, the last year we had Extensions (2008), and you compare that to the number of downloads of the Advantage Pack, it’s a 150% increase of Advantage Pack downloads over Extensions.
SJ: But there had been no Extensions for AutoCAD since the very early years, right?
CC: No, there were Extensions for AutoCAD. For example, there was an AutoCAD Extension 2 years ago for PDF writing. This year, I don’t want to give the cat away, but you’re going to see some very interesting technology that is being made exclusively available to subscribers for no additional charge, that I think they will find quite interesting.
SJ: I was scratching my head to think of Extensions; after the initial burst when they first came out there was practically nothing. There was a trickle of them that came through for the various verticals, but I’m struggling to think of AutoCAD ones between, say, 2002 and 2007.
CC: I think you’re highlighting a potential example of a challenge that we had with the old Extensions program in that it was optional for product line managers to participate or not. Today, that’s not the case and that includes AutoCAD. They do participate in the Advantage Pack program and will continue to do so, along with Revit, Inventor and 20-odd other products that are our biggest sellers.
SJ: So that’s a permanent fixture as far as you’re concerned? The Advantage Packs aren’t going to disappear?
CC: Not unless we can come up with something better.
SJ: So there are no other nasties you have planned for customers? You’re not going to, for example, change the EULA so that Subscription is going to have to be paid otherwise your licenses don’t work any more?
CC: No, at this stage we don’t see any change to the perpetual license model if that’s what you’re referring to. We have a hybrid model, which is different from some industries. Some industries are all perpetual, some industries are all term-based licensing, we are still perpetual, plus Subscription or maintenance. I don’t see that changing. It’s hard to predict 50 years into the future, but we have no plans for that.
Callan Carpenter interview 1 – Autodesk and social media
Callan Carpenter interview 2 – upgrades a tiny minority
Callan Carpenter interview 3 – the cost of complexity
Part 3 of 5 in this series.
SJ: In one of my blog posts, I was pretty cynical about one of the phrases used in the press release: “the streamlining of upgrade pricing based on feedback from customers and resellers”. Was I wrong to be cynical about that? Did your customers really ask for upgrade prices to be increased to some nice round number?
CC: What our customers have asked for is simplified purchasing. We have a very complex price book and it leads to thousands of prices items, maybe tens of thousands when you have all the permutations across all the different geographies in which we sell software. A lot of that complexity came from having multiple-step upgrades, multiple-step crossgrades. There is a cost to maintaining that kind of a system. So our resellers certainly were asking for simplification and streamlining explicitly. Our customers were asking to find ways to make it easier to do business with Autodesk; can it be less expensive? One of the costs of doing business is maintaining a very complex pricing scheme as we have in the past. So while we may not have a customer say, “Gosh, I wish you would simplify your upgrade pricing” explicitly, it is implicit in trying to offer an easier path to buying and less cost in the long run because we’re not maintaining a very complex system that only serves a very small percentage of our customer base.
SJ: So there’s a real cost associated with this. Can you put a number on that as a percentage of the cost of the upgrade? Is it 1%? 10%? Is a big amount that customers need to be worried about?
CC: You know, I’ve never tried to put it as a percentage of the cost of an upgrade and tried to figure it out. Some of these things are a little difficult to untangle, but you can look at the complexity of your back office software, the staff that it takes to maintain it, the cost of the releases; our customers are simply aware of our releases of our software products, but they’re not aware of the fact that of course we have numerous releases of our internal systems for tracking and matching assets, price books, things like this. All of those have a cost associated with them. People, software, systems and so on. I haven’t ever tried to calculate that as a percentage of the cost of an upgrade, but it’s certainly a real cost nonetheless.
SJ: So let’s say it was costing people 5%. Why didn’t you reduce the prices by 5% instead of trebling them?
CC: Well, we didn’t really treble the prices. What we did was we said, remember for 3 or more versions back, the price is essentially unchanged. It may be a couple of hundred dollars more expensive or less expensive depending on the product and the market for the third version back. The big change was really in 1 or 2 back, a very small percentage of our customer base, less than 2% of our customer base that was buying those upgrades. It didn’t really make sense to us to maintain the complexity for that small percentage of our customer base.
I think that it’s an interesting point that we’re in because if you go back far enough in time, and you don’t have to go back that far, about 8 or 9 years I guess, with Subscription we could have been arguing the other extreme. We could have been arguing that, “My goodness, why are you making me pay for upgrades?”, and this Subscription thing either didn’t exist or it was very, very expensive. And then we designed Subscription to actually be very cost-effective, to be the most cost-effective to get access to this technology. So it’s an interesting inversion. I think it would be an interesting mind-experiment to wonder what would happen if we took away our Subscription pricing tomorrow, which is typically somewhere between 10% and 18% of list price of the product, depending on the product and the market. If we took that option away tomorrow, I think we actually would create tremendous havoc in the marketplace, because that’s really where the majority of our customers are today in terms of buying our software.
SJ: There are people who do still want to buy upgrades, those who want to have that choice. Do you understand the mindset of people who say, “I want to see what the product is before I pay for it”?
CC: I can appreciate that sentiment. I’d like to believe that our 25+ years of history has generally shown that our pace of advancement is generally up and to the right. Certainly there have been hiccups along the way; some releases have more functionality than others, but generally it’s up and to the right. But the customers who wish to do that, I certainly can appreciate that and that’s as good a reason as any for why we’ve kept upgrade and Subscription pricing as opposed to one or the other, because it gives customers a choice. For those customers who tend to want to wait and see, again the vast majority of them are doing it 3 or more versions back. If they’re doing it less than that, they’re on Subscription, by and large. So they still have that option. Even with the simplified upgrade pricing, I think it’s important to point out that we announced it over a year ago, and even today, if a customer goes off Subscription, they have up to a year to retroactively attach it. So the hope is with that timeframe, questions of, “Is the economy going to turn back up?”, those sort of things will be answered. If it takes 2 years for those questions to be answered, well then you’re back to 3 versions back pricing or more, and that has hardly changed, if at all. So I think that those kind of customers that want to wait and see what the product is going to be before they buy it, they have that option.
You have to also realise that there are also other benefits that come from Subscription in addition to the upgrade. Access to our product support teams, access to prior version usage, home use licenses, the prerequisite to global floating network licenses and other types of benefits, those are a very significant proportion of the value.
Callan Carpenter interview 1 – Autodesk and social media
Callan Carpenter interview 2 – upgrades a tiny minority
Part 2 of 5 in this series.
SJ: Is there anything specific you want to say about what I have written in my blog?
CC: There are a number of things we can do to put Subscription questions and Simplified Upgrade Pricing into context. I think the first thing we need to recognise is that there is a very small fraction of our revenue that comes from upgrades at this point in time. For the last 8 years or so, our customers have fairly well self-selected to either prefer to be on Subscription and have the latest version and technology available to them, or to not do that, in which case they tend to upgrade 3 years or more after the current release. 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. And so I think there’s clearly been a natural selection, a natural fallout over time of customers choosing; do I prefer to be on Subscription or do I prefer to pay for an upgrade?
If you look at the real impact of upgrade pricing, the real impact is the customers who prefer to upgrade from 1 or 2 versions back, that’s a very very small percentage of our business. For those who are 3 versions back or more, there’s really no change at all. For subscribers, which is the majority of the customer base, there is no change at all either. I just wanted to start by kind of putting that in perspective.
I think the other thing we should look at is that the history of the Subscription program is one of actually creating more value over time. It started out as simply an upgrade path, a cheaper path to upgrade than buying upgrades. Over time we’ve added more value in terms of additional support options, additional licensing benefits that come with Subscription and later on this year you are going to see things like a very enhanced Advantage Pack program, which started last year.
So as I read through a lot of the blogs, I was struck by a kind of lack of perspective on how the program has grown over time and how very few of our customers were actually buying upgrades.
SJ: There are some of your customers that don’t have any option but to be on Subscription, aren’t there? There are some markets and some products where Subscription is compulsory, right?
CC: No, with a few exceptions, I don’t believe we have any compulsory Subscription left. There may be a few in some emerging countries where software piracy is a particular issue, but generally speaking, the vast majority of our customers have the option to either be on Subscription or not.
SJ: For some years here in Australia, if you wanted to upgrade to the latest release, Subscription has been compulsory. Is this unique to Australia or does this happen elsewhere?
In Australia we do have a unique experiment, but that is fairly unusual. No other country comes to the top of my mind.
SJ: Is this experiment going to continue or does the point become moot now that the price of upgrading has been increased?
CC: I don’t think we’re going to be changing the way we do business in Australia.
Callan Carpenter interview 1 – Autodesk and social media
A couple of weeks ago, Angela Simoes from the Autodesk Corporate PR team invited me to interview Callan Carpenter, Autodesk’s Vice President of Global Subscription and Support. Callan is responsible for the sales, marketing operations and product support associated with Subscription. He is also Vice President in charge of Jim Quanci’s Autodesk Developer Network. This morning, we had a very extensive discussion about Subscription and other topics that I intend to publish in several parts over the next few days. Deelip has already published a Callan interview, but mine is quite different.
In this post, I will let Callan introduce himself and then move into some questions about social media that I asked at the end of the interview. In this post, both Callan Carpenter (CC) and Angela Simoes (AS) responded to my questions.
SJ: Callan, can you give me some background on yourself?
CC: I’ve been at Autodesk since November 2008. Prior to that, I spent 20-odd years in the semiconductor and semiconductor-CAD software business: technologies in many ways analogous to what we have for our manufacturing, civil and media/entertainment markets here. I was focused on semiconductor design, manufacturing, electrical properties and so forth. I’m an electrical engineer by training. I’ve spent about half of my time in startups and about half in big companies. Everything from designing silicon to sales and marketing to engineering to you-name-it.
SJ: It’s kind of unusual for me as a mere blogger to be approached by a Vice President, but I’ve had this happen twice in the past couple of weeks. Is there a move within Autodesk to engage more with bloggers and social media?
CC: We’re definitely more conscious of social media than we have been historically. We are becoming more cognisant of the power of social media, whether it’s tweets or blogs or other forms. Like any company we have to adapt to that, respond to that and participate in the conversation.
AS: There’s no doubt that the line between what you would call traditional media and social media or bloggers is really blurring, and has been blurring over the last 5 to 10 years. You can’t deny that there are some bloggers, like yourself, Steve, who are quite influential in their industries. So it’s a natural move for us to start engaging more closely with bloggers, especially the ones that are clearly using our product every day, have a very engaged audience, who are really discussing some meaty issues on their blogs. Because we want to ensure that you have just as much information and access to our executives as someone in the traditional media would. Yes, we’re absolutely engaging more closely with bloggers.
SJ: Is this a policy decision or has it just naturally happened?
AS: It just sort of naturally happened. I’ve been here for 4 years now and ever since I’ve been here we’ve always engaged with bloggers in some capacity. This has increased over the past 2 or 3 years, significantly.
CC: I think it’s fair to say that Carl, our CEO and Chris Bradshaw, our Chief Marketing Officer, are very cognisant, very sensitive to… we have to adapt to the way our customers, and our next generation and next generation of customers are using technology, using social networks. They challenge us to not stay stuck in the old paradigms. So there’s a lot of support from the top for engaging in social media.
AS: I think you’d be surprised how many people at the top actually read various blogs and follow what people are saying. They definitely pay attention.
SJ: I read an interesting article the other day about who should be running social media for a corporation; should they have a specific department for it or whatever? How is that happening in Autodesk? Is that a PR function or does everybody do it?
AS: We as a company across all departments have put a lot of effort into looking at what other companies are doing, what works for large companies, trying to find the model that fits best for us. We found that there were already a lot of people across departments participating in Twitter and Facebook, posting videos on YouTube, and so the coordinating functions will sit within marketing, but each department or industry division will have a representative on a social web council, where we are collectively making decisions together. But there isn’t one person doing all this.
CC: So for example, in my capacity with product support, there is an element of social media to our strategy there as well, starting with an improved set of forums and new methodology there that we will be unrolling there later this year as part of our new comprehensive remake of our self-help infrastructure. Then I don’t know where it’s going to evolve to, I think that’s one of the interesting things about social media is, who knows where this is going to end? But we’re definitely looking at it from a support perspective, a marketing perspective, a PR perspective, even from a sales perspective, so there’s so many different dimensions to it. It’s coordinated by marketing, but it’s starting to enthuse almost all aspects of the business and that’s a very interesting thing. Who could have predicted that 10 years ago?
AS: We want to make sure if someone is tweeting about a problem with a download, or somebody isn’t able to log in to the Subscription Center for some reason, or even can’t find information on a product they’re looking for, all of those are different problems to be solved by different groups, and so we are putting into place listening mechanisms so that we are listening to our customers and addressing their concerns and questions in a timely manner. And that does take a lot of coordination internally but we’re working hard at it.
CC: A good example was over a year ago, we did our first major software download for the upgrades in 3 trial countries. One of the feedback mechanisms we used to improve the design of the download experience was listening to tweets.
I just wanted to get on the record that I don’t trust claims based on statistical data without being able to review in detail the methods used to obtain and interpret the data. Even with the best intentions, full integrity and honesty, it is not difficult to come to completely the wrong conclusions based on apparently compelling statistical evidence.
This isn’t just theory, I’ve seen it happen. Detailed percentages presented at upper governmental levels, based on huge sample sets, giving a totally false impression because of errors and assumptions that occur at various places in the process. The exact same question asked twice in the same survey, giving very different results depending on the section in which the question appeared, providing an unstated context to the question. The devil is in the details, and the details can be extremely subtle.
I have a “put up or shut up” rule that applies to anybody who makes claims based on unrevealed statistical evidence. It applies to corporations, news outlets, bloggers, government ministers, everybody. Without allowing scrutiny of the full details, all statistical claims are null and void, as far as I’m concerned. “Trust me” doesn’t cut it. Sorry, no exceptions.
What does this have to do with the title? Those familiar with Isaac Asimov’s short story of that name will understand. I’m sure Robin Capper worked it out immediately.
For the past couple of months, I have been running a poll about the command line. I ran it using wording copied directly from a Project Butterfly poll, to get some kind of comparison between the poll respondents on this blog and those on the Project Butterfly blog.
It’s fair to say that I don’t like the wording of the available options, which appear designed to influence the result rather than find out what people really think. The “I can’t work with…” option has negative connotations; if I pick this choice, it implies that my abilities fall short in some way and I lack flexibility. On the other hand, the “I think it’s time for a new way…” option has a positive feel about it. If I pick this choice, I’m a thinker, I’m progressive, I’m looking to the future. It’s no accident that marketing people love to plaster “NEW!” over their products.
Despite the push-poll options, the command line was the clear winner on both blogs. Here are the Project Butterfly results (unknown number of voters):
I can’t work without the command line (66%)
I think it’s time for a new way to draw without the command line (34%)
Here are my results (378 voters):
I can’t work without the command line (81.7%)
I think it’s time for a new way to draw without the command line (18.3%)
I expected to see a greater preference for the command line among readers of this blog (largely command-line-using AutoCAD users) than among readers of the Project Butterfly blog (largely command-line-less Project Butterfly users). My expectation has been met. Instead of about a 2:1 majority there, command-line people here have about a 4.5:1 majority.
Now let’s try a similar poll, hopefully without biased options, and see if that affects the result. I have replaced the above poll with this one:
Should CAD software have a command line?
There are several ways in which this question could have been asked (do you prefer, is it more efficient, is it better, etc.), but the above appears to be the least biased I can come up with. Please have a look at this and other polls over on the right and vote if you feel so moved.
You may have seen Shaan Hurley and I having a discussion (ahem) over the validity of his statement:
I really do use the ribbon now with AutoCAD 2010 along with most users as evidenced by the CIP data we receive daily from thousands of AutoCAD users who choose to send the great data.
So, now you know. Most of you use the Ribbon now, Shaan said so. Shaan, as he always has done in the past, declined my invitation to back up this assertion with more details. He has vast amounts of data collected from huge numbers of users. How could that possibly be wrong?
Here’s how. CIP data is biased.
How can millions of data points be biased? Actually, all samples are biased. Only the degree of bias varies. The polls on this blog are no exception. I do my best to keep the questions and options neutral; the only leading questions you’ll see here in serious polls are the ones I copy and paste from Autodesk blogs. But readers of this blog are one self-selecting small portion of Autodesk customers, and people who vote in my polls represent another self-selecting portion of that portion.
The question is, how biased is Autodesk’s CIP data? Without access to Autodesk’s data (which it won’t provide) and resources for alternative data collection from its customers (ditto), the best I can do is use my own biased sample (that’s you lot out there) as a cross-check.
Let’s examine it in light of Ribbon use among AutoCAD 2010 users. In an earlier comparison of my 2009 poll figures and Shaan’s CIP data, I wrote this:
But Shaan’s CIP users are also a biased sample, comprising those AutoCAD users who have CIP turned on. Are users who go with the flow and have CIP on also more likely to go with the flow and leave the Ribbon on? Possibly, but I would have thought the CIP-on bias would be less significant than the blog-reader bias.
I have recently run a poll to try to determine if that “possibly”, that hunch, has any basis. Let’s examine the results I got.
AutoCAD 2010 users, what are your Ribbon and CIP settings?
Ribbon on, CIP on (24.7%, 65 Votes)
Ribbon on, CIP off (19.4%, 51 Votes)
Ribbon off, CIP on (11%, 29 Votes)
Ribbon off, CIP off (44.9%, 118 Votes)
Total Voters: 263
For the sake of argument, let’s make the assumption that my poll sample is unbiased. It’s not, and the degree of bias is unknown, but let’s see what it would mean if it was. Let’s see what kind of results Autodesk would see from its CIP sample:
CIP-on voters (94):
Ribbon on 69% (65)
Ribbon off 31% (29)
Shaan would see from this result that 69% of AutoCAD 2010 users have the Ribbon on, and would be tempted to say stuff like “use the ribbon now with AutoCAD 2010 along with most users”. Understandable. That’s just CIP users, but non-CIP users can’t be that different, surely? Or can they?
CIP-off voters (169):
Ribbon on 30% (51)
Ribbon off 70% (118)
Wow. That’s a huge discrepancy, and it implies that a sample selection based on CIP use introduces a massive bias. I’ve watched this poll grow over the weeks, half-expecting things to even out as the sample size increased. It didn’t. It has been pretty constant, with non-Ribbon non-CIP users outnumbering Ribbonite non-CIP users by a substantial margin.
Let’s put the groups together, shall we?
All voters (263)
Ribbon on 44% (116)
Ribbon off 56% (147)
So, if the voters in my poll were observed by Autodesk via CIP they would appear to be 69% Ribbon users. In fact, only 44% of these voters are Ribbon users.
How many AutoCAD 2010 users really have the Ribbon on? 69%? 30%? 44%? Some other number? I don’t know, and that’s not the point. The point is, Autodesk doesn’t know either. It can take some smart guesses, but just assuming CIP is accurate isn’t smart, it’s just a guess.
Why does this matter? Because Autodesk makes decisions based on this stuff. Decisions that affect you and me and how we use our tools. Have a look at this statement from Autodesk’s Teresa Anania, Director of Industry Management (taken from her interview with Deelip Menezes about Inventor):
…we had data that suggested that the new ribbon UI was well received and would be absolutely all that customers needed …. And now since we have the CIP data that shows us how our customers are using the software, we can analyze this before we permanently turn anything off.
Comments like this (and others from other Adeskers) seem to indicate that there is an unspoken assumption that CIP users accurately represent a true cross-section of users in general.
I know that Autodesk doesn’t rely solely on CIP; it uses a wide range of research tools to find out what users are up to and what they need. I regularly encourage you to participate in various Autodesk surveys, for example. But there are problems of accuracy inherent in all those methods. It would be natural, when faced with a set of apparently conflicting results from different sources, for Autodesk decision-makers to simply assume that the source with the biggest sample size is the most accurate. That could be a dangerous mistake, for both Autodesk and its customers.
Note: my arithmetic was off in several places when I posted this, and I have edited the post to correct some of the figures. These corrections do not invalidate the arguments; the substantial bias is still evident.
As announced by Shaan Hurley, Autodesk has made some changes to the AutoCAD 2011 online Help system. Please check it out and see what you think. After a short time with it, here are my experiences using IE6 (yes, I know). As this is a dynamic system and dependent on browser characteristics, Internet connectivity and any changes Autodesk may make between me writing this and you reading it, your mileage will vary.
There are some cosmetic changes, including a fixup of the Autodesk logo in IE6 that was done a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, my pink Comic Sans logo has not been adopted. As I can’t do a direct side-by-side comparison with the pre-change setup under identical conditions, I can’t make a definitive statement about performance. I can say that it does appear to have improved somewhat. It now takes about 3.5 seconds from hitting F1 to seeing a complete landing screen. Once cached, I’m seeing it in come up in just under 2 seconds.
The main change from a usability point of view is that the Search facility now defaults to searching All Books rather than whatever document you happen to have highlighted over on the left sidebar. That’s welcome. Also, the searches generally appear to give better results. For example, a simple search for LINE in the original 2011 online system gave a list of 199 results, of which the actual LINE command was 26th! Now, a search for LINE puts the LINE command third in the list; much better. The results come up faster than before (2.5 seconds in this example), but I have seen widely varying search times reported so I would be interested to hear about your experiences.
The way the search results are presented is now significantly different. Instead of a single line for each result, 4 lines are now used. There is a descriptive hyperlink line, a line containing sample of text from the page the link points to, a spelled-out link line and a blank line. The second line appears to be randomly chosen. In our LINE example, the text starts with “If the most recently drawn object is an arc…”, which is a fairly long way down the LINE command page itself. The third line’s only function appears to be to waste space. I can right-click on the main link if I want that information. I can’t even copy and paste that third line; attempting to click and drag in the search results pane selects the whole lot.
Because of the newly verbose display format, it obviously doesn’t make sense to display 199 results, as there would be too much scrolling. What is now displayed is 8 results, with links to another 7 pages (I’m not sure what happened to the 199 – 64 = 135 other results). If your desired result is in the first 8, that’s fine. If it’s not, then you have a harder job now to find what you’re after. You can’t use your browser’s find feature to look for a specific word among the full set of results. You will have to click on each page in turn and wait for it to appear before scanning the results. Fortunately, each page comes up fairly quickly (about 1 second), but I would much prefer to have the option of seeing more results displayed on each page. I suspect things have been arranged this way to improve performance (fair enough) and make it work better on mobile devices. While that’s all nice and cool and trendy and geeky and everything, I don’t intend to ever use AutoCAD on an iPhone. I would much prefer it if Autodesk prioritised its user interface design based on what the vast majority of its users are going to be using when they need the documentation.
Choosing a different page within the search results and then using the Back button takes me back to the main landing page rather than my previous results page. Using the Forward button to try to get back where I was, just puts me back on page 1 again. This is obviously not good.
That’s enough of the changes in isolation, how does today’s system compare with what went before? I did a quick test to see what was involved in finding out about a given command. I chose the WBLOCK command. Other commands and other users may give better or worse results.
AutoCAD 2010 CHM Help
Method: F1, type W, double-click on WBLOCK
Time taken: 2.6 seconds
AutoCAD 2011 offline Help (as shipped)
Method: F1, click in search box, type W, Enter, click on W commands, click on WBLOCK, click on Write Block Dialog Box
Time taken: 12.1 seconds
AutoCAD 2010 online Help (as at 12 May 2010)
Method: F1, click in search box, type W, click outside search box, click on search arrow, click on W commands, click on WBLOCK, click on Write Block Dialog Box
Time taken: 16.0 seconds
Given those results, it would be pretty hard to argue that the new system is more efficient for users. Again, this is just a sample command and method, and if you can find a different one where the new stuff works better than the old, I’m all ears. The method I ended up using for testing the 2011 online search actually required a fair bit of trial and error. Here are some things I tried first:
- F1, click in search box, type W, autocomplete gives me ‘wireless’ (left over from some other search I used on an unrelated site), Enter, nothing happens
- F1, click in search box, type W, click outside search box so I just have W, Enter, nothing happens
- F1, click on search arrow, click in search box, type W, it gets added to the end of the word Search, giving me ‘SearchW’!
A few minutes after my tests, I tried again to see if there was a better way. What I found was that the W Commands link I needed was completely absent from the search results!
W System variables, check. W Methods, check. W commands? Nope. Not on this page. Not on any of the other 7. Where did it go? Will it return one day? Who knows?
One of the risks of online-based software is that it can be a moving target. Stuff that you used in the past may not be there the next time you need it. It’s easy to see users getting confused and frustrated by this kind of stuff. After all, it’s supposed to be Help, not Hinder.
In summary, some of the changes are welcome, but the system is still a long way short of being anywhere near as efficient or friendly as the one it replaced. The performance is better than it was, but still slow. The interface contains some clangers that tell me that user feedback has been absent, inadequate and/or ignored.
I suggest this system be withdrawn, and soon. AutoCAD 2011 Update 1 should contain a complete and properly integrated CHM-based Help system, and Autodesk should go back to the drawing board with the whole browser-based Help idea.
If, after due consideration and extensive user consultation, Autodesk still thinks that online Help is a good idea, it should spend the time required to make it work properly, introduce it only when Beta testers are satisfied that it is at least as good as what it is replacing, and then introduce it alongside the CHM system. The two systems should be run in parallel for as many releases as it takes to convince the vast bulk of users that online is best, at which point the losing system can be discarded.
Right now, it’s abundantly clear which system should be ditched, and it’s not the CHM one.
Autodesk is looking for:
General AutoCAD users of any discipline (latest release or older versions of AutoCAD), who are familiar with the Array command and use grips to edit their drawings.
- Users that are familiar with parametric drawing (geometric and dimensional constraints in AutoCAD)
- Users familiar with 3D
- Familiar with the DIVIDE and MEASURE commands.
Autodesk is planning to conduct this study on the week starting 17 May. Sign up here.
Autodesk wants your input in its annual API survey. What used to be a closed survey for Autodesk Developer Network (ADN) members has been open to all for the last couple of years, and if you do any Autodesk-based development at all I encourage you to take part. Yes, that includes those of us who do most of our development in LISP. In fact, I am especially keen to see LISP developers adequately represented in this survey.
This is a one-page survey and it doesn’t take long. The full list of API surveys is on Kean Walmsley’s Through the Interface blog. Most of you would be interested in the AutoCAD survey, so here’s a direct link to that.
Kean assures us that our feedback will not fall on deaf ears, although I have yet to see any evidence of that in terms of any change to Autodesk’s decade-long policy of total LISP neglect. I guess many of us gave up hope of any improvement years ago and can’t be bothered providing feedback any more. Please don’t give up. Fill in the survey and let Autodesk know you still exist.
In AutoCAD 2011, the default action when double-clicking on a hatch object is to invoke the Properties palette for that object. In previous releases, it would invoke the Hatch Edit dialog box. In my AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal” post, I briefly described how to restore the old double-click action. I have since seen some incorrect advice being given out about how to do this, so this post describes the correct process in full detail.
What to do
- Invoke the CUI command.
- In the top left pane, find the [+] next to Double Click Actions and left-click on it.
- Scroll down that top left pane a little until you can see Hatch.
- In the bottom left pane (Command list), click on any command and type H. This should take you down to the Hatch Edit command. If not, just scroll down a little more until you can see it.
- Left-click on the Hatch Edit command in the bottom left pane, hold down the mouse button and drag the command up onto the top right pane until it hovers over the Hatch item you exposed in step 3. When the little blue triangle is pointing to Hatch, let go of the mouse button, thereby dropping the Hatch Edit command onto Hatch.
Hint: you may find that the top left pane scrolls crazily while you attempt this step. Unfortunately, this is a “feature” of the CUI interface. If this happens, keep your mouse button held down and move your cursor up and down in the left pane until the scrolling comes under control and you are hovering over the right spot. You can avoid this if instead of dragging the command directly upwards, you move in a curcuitous route to the left or right, moving on to the top left pane from the side rather than the bottom.
- Pick OK and that should be it. Double-click on a hatch object and see what happens.
What not to do
You may see some advice telling you to find the Hatch double-click action (step 3 above) and then edit the macro of the Properties command found therein from “^C^C_properties” to “^C^C_hatchedit”. Do not do this.
Why not to do it
If you edit the macro then try it out, it works fine. Why, then, does it matter which method you use? Because if you edit the macro, you are changing the action that occurs not just for the Hatch double-click, but for every place the Properties command is used. This means it will have undesirable side-effects in many places. For example, double-click on a circle after changing the macro and you will see something like this:
Selected object must be a hatch object or associative hatch block.
HATCHEDIT does not support old-format non-associative hatch blocks.
Select hatch object:
What to do if you’ve already done it
If you have already changed the Properties macro, go back into CUI and reverse the process, changing the macro back to “^C^C_properties” (without the quotes). When you are happy that you’ve fixed that up, use the click-and-drag method described above.
Screen captures created and modified using SnagIt 8 by TechSmith. Disclosure: Shaan Hurley gave me a free copy of this software (and Camtasia Studio 4, and a long-sleeved T-shirt which I promptly ruined by spilling red wine on it) at Autodesk University 2006.
Over on the oft-entertaining Deelip.com, there was an interesting comment made by Autodesk’s Scott Sheppard. After going back and forth a few times over Autodesk’s then-failure to allow Indian customers legal access to certain free Autodesk software downloads, Scott said this:
I defer to Autodesk Legal on these matters which is where I get my guidance. This is not a topic to be debated publicly. As one of our most active Labs participants, I was just sharing some information with you and your readers.
On the face of it, Scott’s “not a topic to be debated publicly” comment seems pretty silly. Ralph Grabowski certainly saw it that way. In these blog-happy days, a lot of things that Autodesk may not like to see discussed are going to be discussed publicly. Autodesk needs to get used to that fact. Attempting to suppress public discussion of Autodesk policies is not just ineffectual, it’s counterproductive and harmful to Autodesk’s image. The very fact that this problem was fixed as a direct result of being discussed publicly shows that such discussion was not only appropriate, it was positively useful to everyone concerned.
That’s on the face of it. Actually, I don’t think the comment is anywhere near as sinister as it seems. I think it was more of a throwaway comment along the lines of, “I can’t continue discussing this because it really isn’t my area”.
Recently, I have noticed Autodesk opening up somewhat and demonstrating increased responsiveness to publicly aired concerns. I know that Scott is quite open to constructively discussing points of disagreement in public comments on his own blog. So I think we should cut him a bit of slack and just put this down as one of those “it may be what I said but it’s not what I meant” moments that we all have from time to time.
It was good to see Autodesk react to criticism of AutoCAD 2011’s browser-based Help with an acknowledgement of the problems and an attempt to provide a workaround by making a zip file of CHM files available for download. That’s much better than ignoring people’s concerns, denying the validity of those concerns or shooting the messenger, which has been known to happen in the past.
However, there are some holes in the workaround, only some of which can be filled.
- Under 64-bit Windows 7, the Search pane is blank, as it is in the CHM Help for earlier releases on that platform. This is stated on the download page. Index works well, but Search doesn’t. As Search is one of the worst aspects of the browser-based Help, this is a rather unfortunate.
- There is no obvious way of making the CHMs provide contextual help. Don’t bother pointing at acad181.chm in the Files tab of Options, it doesn’t work. Edit: See Chris Cowgill’s post on the AUGI forums for a partial workaround.
- Even without contextual help, no advice is provided for calling the CHMs from within AutoCAD; you are only told that you can set up a shortcut on your desktop and double-click on that when you need it. However, you can set up an alias command in AutoCAD. To do this, edit the acad.pgp file or use the Express Tools Aliasedit command to set up a shell command. The alias name can be whatever you like (e.g. HEL), the command name should simply be the path and filename of the main acad181.chm file.
- The CHM files are currently available only in English.
- The set of CHM files is incomplete. See below for more details and what you can do about it.
These are the CHM files provided with AutoCAD 2011:
acet.chm – Express Tools
AdRefMan.chm – Autodesk Reference Manager
adrefmanctxt.chm – Not to be launched manually
ole_err.chm – Not to be launched manually
webbrw.chm – Not to be launched manually
These are the CHM files provided in the zip file download:
acad181.chm – Main AutoCAD 2011 Help file
acad.readme.chm – Readme
acad_acg.chm – Customization Guide
acad_acr.chm – Command Reference
acad_aug.chm – User’s Guide
acad_dpg.chm – Driver and Peripheral Guide
acad_install.chm – Installation
acad_nfw.chm – New Features Workshop
adsk_lic.chm – Licensing
These are the CHM files that are missing:
acad_aag.chm – ActiveX and VBA Developer’s Guide
acad_alg.chm – AutoLISP Developer’s Guide
acad_alr.chm – AutoLISP Functions
acad_alt.chm – AutoLISP Tutorial
acad_car.chm – Connectivity Automation Reference
acad_dev181.chm – Developer Documentation
acad_dxf.chm – DXF Reference
acad_sso.chm – Sheet Set Objects Reference
acadauto.chm – ActiveX and VBA Reference
adsk_brw.chm – Licensing – (this appears to be a later version of adsk_lic.chm).
Do you need any of the above? I did. To obtain a full set of AutoCAD 2011 CHM files, I had to do the following:
- Download a vertical AutoCAD 2011-based variant. I used AutoCAD Civil 3D 2011, because I am entitled to download that from the Subscription Center. You may need to download an evaluation copy of a vertical. If so, make sure you delete the files after your evaluation period of 30 days, won’t you? Hopefully, Autodesk will have provided a better workaround by then.
- Double-click on the downloaded executable (which is actually a self-extracting archive). You will be prompted for a location for the files to be unzipped to. I accepted the default of C:\Autodesk\AutoCAD_Civil3D_2011_English_32bit.
- After the unzipping process is complete, the installtion window will appear. Pick Exit; you do not need to go ahead with the whole installation.
- Search for the CHM files in the unzip location. There are a variety of locations, some of them containing duplicate files, but I was able to find what I needed in C:\Autodesk\AutoCAD_Civil3D_2011_English_32bit\x86\en-US\C3D\Acad\Help.
- Copy the files from here to a safe location, and set up shortcuts and/or alias commands to access them.
Note that I can’t vouch for the completeness or correctness of these files (which may be why Autodesk didn’t include them), but I can’t do that for the HTML versions either. For those of you in non-English-speaking locations, I would be interested in finding out if you can use this method to obtain non-English CHM files. Are there non-English AutoCAD 2011-based verticals available for download yet? If so, are the CHMs in your language?
Finally, if you are having trouble reading CHMs over a network, check out this Microsoft document on a security update that may be the cause.
A couple of days ago, my web hosting server was down. This is pretty unusual with the hosting company I use, but these things can happen to the best from time to time. This site was up again after a couple of hours, during which I received the excellent customer service that is par for the course at Saratoga Hosting. It’s when things go wrong you really learn how good a company’s customer service is. Saratoga’s customer service is the best I have seen from any company in any field, ever.
I have had one person email me to let me know that they could not add a comment yesterday. Anyone else have such issues over the past 48 hours? Feel free to use this post to mention any other issues you have with commenting, reading, navigating, searching or otherwise using this site.
Hatching is the poster child for AutoCAD 2011’s 2D drafting feature changes (although there are several other significant ones), and also for demonstrating the advantages of providing a contextual interface via the Ribbon. It looks great at first glance when working with simple demo drawings, but how are things going in the real world? I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences.
- Is the hatch Ribbon tab snapping into place and going away quickly enough, both the first time it is used in a session and subsequently?
- Is the Ribbon interface easy to use, efficient and complete?
- Does the hatch preview always match what’s actually hatched when you accept the preview? If not, how often is it wrong?
- Are you happy with the new default double-click hatch action? (If not, see the Hatch double-click section of my AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal” post).
- Does the hatch preview work quickly and accurately in simple areas? How about more complex areas? How about areas bounded by complex polylines with lots of vertices?
- Is the performance up to scratch when creating and editing both associative and non-associative hatches? How about when grips are visible on complex bounding areas? How about when you make changes to hatches using the Properties palette?
- Is boundary detection working reliably in finding and filling a closed hatch area? Even when using a solid or gradient hatch pattern?
- How is your zoom and pan performance in drawings with a lot of hatching?
- Have you noticed any problems with the new transparency and background features?
- Have you experienced any hatch-induced crashes or lockups?
- Are any of your hatch problems new to 2011, or do they also exist in earlier releases on the same PC when using the same drawings?
If your hatching performance is poor, have you tried changing the values of system variables to turn off features to see if the problems persist? Try HPQUICKPREVIEW = 0, HPDLGMODE = 1 and SELECTIONPREVIEW = 0. Also, if you are having display performance issues, try VTENABLE =0 and check using 3DCONFIG to see if your graphics card/driver combination is certified.
There are areas of Autodesk’s treatment of customers that leaves much to be desired, and I will most likely continue to be critical of that until a) I die; b) Autodesk dies; or c) the bad stuff stops happening. One thing for which Autodesk deserves praise is the distribution of bug fixes to its customers, without imposing the sort of conditions that SolidWorks customers have to put up with.
- Do Autodesk customers need to be on Subscription to receive bug fixes? No, they do not.
- Do Autodesk customers need to have purchased the software within the last 90 days to receive bug fixes? No, they do not.
- Do Autodesk customers need to have reported certain specific bugs to receive bug fixes? No, they do not.
- Do Autodesk customers even need to be running the current release to receive bug fixes? No, they do not.
AutoCAD 2010 Update 2 (that’s Service Pack 2 in the old language) has just been released for the users of last year’s software. This includes the Update 1 changes. The usual caveats apply, including reading the Readme first. As usual, Autodesk’s oddball numbering system means that after installation, Update 1 shows up as Version 2 and Update 2 shows up as Version 3 in the About screen.
This Update applies to straight AutoCAD (and LT), not the vertical variants.
I have no news about non-English versions. Patrick Emin informs me these updates are language-independent.
In a comment in response to my AutoCAD 2011 Help system is not popular post, Autodesk’s Diane Serda acknowledged the problems, offered apologies and posted a link to a CHM version of the Help. From Diane’s comment:
We have posted the zip file for download here: http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/ps/dl/item?id=15068206&siteID=123112&linkID=9240618
1. Download the AutoCAD2011CHMHelp.zip to your local drive (such as My Documents\AutoCAD2011Help).
2. Extract the zip file to this same folder.
3. To access the CHM Help, you’ll need to click on acad181.chm or create a desktop shortcut.
You can also point to the locally installed HTML help by turning on the local help checkbox under Options, System. You can also access the PDF’s from the Online Help Home page under Online Resources. http://docs.autodesk.com/ACD/2011/ENU
Thanks, Diane! That saves people from having to do inconvenient and dodgy things like downloading a demo version of an AutoCAD 2011-based vertical (Civil 3D 2011 has CHM-based Help for the AutoCAD bits) and grabbing the CHM out of there.
Edit: when running under Windows 7 64-bit, the Search pane is blank, as it is in the CHM Help for earlier releases. That’s unfortunate, because searching is a major thing at which the browser-based system is currently very poor. The Index panel works, though, and it’s quick.
The PDF link is currently broken for me, but I expect it will be working before too long. In the meantime, the direct link to the list of available AutoCAD 2011 PDF documentation is http://docs.autodesk.com/ACD/2011/ENU/pdfs/PDF Documentation.html (beware, space in URL).
I spotted this on the AutoCAD Research Twitter feed:
Autodesk wants to know your views on web content and how it relates to AutoCAD and your work. It’s a fairly big survey, but I encourage you to take part.
You can also sign up to participate in user research sessions here. This is a pretty direct way of letting Autodesk know what you think.
My poll on this subject is still running (see right), but so far about 2/3 of respondents rate AutoCAD 2011’s new browser-based Help system as 0, 1 or 2 stars out of 5 (total fail, very poor or poor). Frankly, I’m surprised it’s doing as well as that. Have a look at this discussion group thread to get an idea of the sort of reaction I was expecting it to receive. (Kudos to Autodesk’s moderators for allowing the discussion to continue with relatively little obvious censorship, at least so far).
There are many good new things in AutoCAD 2011, but Help isn’t one of them. Even if you like the concept of online help, this implementation of that concept is a failure. Even when used offline, this release’s browser-based Help is manifestly inferior to its CHM-based predecessor. Yet another victim of the 12-month release cycle, this feature is horribly undercooked and should not have been included in the finished product. As an advertisment for Autodesk’s ability to provide efficient cloud-based and/or platform-independent software, it could hardly be worse.
I intend to pull Help to shreds in more detail in a later post, but feel free to add your own observations.