I was wrong about AutoCAD 2013 Help, it still sucks

In my effusive welcome of AutoCAD 2013’s updated Help system, I wondered if I had been shocked into missing some glaring problem. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened. In my enthusiasm, I managed to totally miss the fact that the new system has not been introduced for offline users. If you use the new system, there’s a link on the front page to the offline files. I got as far as downloading and installing what I thought was the offline version of the new system and discovered that it didn’t want to install because the old one was already installed. What I should have then done, and didn’t, was to uninstall the old and install the new, before running it in offline mode. I intended to get around to that to check the performance and responsiveness of the respective versions, but didn’t have the time right then. If I had done so, I would have noticed that my download, uninstall and reinstall would have been in vain, because the offline version pointed to by the new system is still the old version. My apologies to anybody who wasted their time because of what I originally wrote. There are many legitimate reasons why Autodesk customers want or need to use their software, including the documentation, entirely in offline mode. For example, the users I manage can’t access the online Help system from AutoCAD because Autodesk writes its software in such a way as to fail in a secure proxy server environment (yes, this has been reported as a bug, repeatedly). So for my users and many others, it’s true to say that despite the best efforts of Dieter and his team, AutoCAD 2013’s Help still sucks. Look at this from the point of view of such offline AutoCAD 2013 Help users. We…

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AutoCAD 2012 – Array has good and bad points

For many users, the most useful new feature in AutoCAD 2012 is going to be the updated Array command. It adds a great deal of very welcome new functionality that will provide a potential productivity boost for 2D and 3D users. But it’s from an Autodesk wedded to its infernal 12-month product cycle, so of course it’s half-baked. The Good So what’s good about the Array command in AutoCAD 2012? Associativity. By default, arrays are now associative objects. This means that if you want to, say, modify the distance between columns a couple of days after you drew them, you can now do so. If you’re a Ribbon user, it’s easy to change array parameters because when you select an array, you get a Ribbon tab dedicated to just that task. If you’re not, then the Properties palette allows you to do the same thing. Dynamic preview. Once you have set your various options appropriately, you can just move your cursor around and click to choose things like the number of rows and columns. Path option. In addition to rectangular and polar arrays, you can now array along a path such as a polyline, similar to the Measure and Divide commands. But because it’s associative, if you edit the path, the array changes too. 3D functionality. It is now easy to create 2D or 3D arrays with the Array command. You can add levels (Z) to the rows (Y) and columns (X) of arrays, and this applies to all three types of array. You can also provide a elevation increment, which means the items get progressively higher the further they are from the base row. Think of the seating in a stadium as an example, although real seating arrangements are usually more complex than you will see in the Autodesk…

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Why we keep upgrading

In a comment in response to a Deelip post yesterday, Brad Holtz pointed to an article he wrote in 1999. It’s interesting to note that while much of the computing world today bears little resemblance to the scene at the end of the last century, this article remains almost completely accurate and relevant. Indeed, it’s so right that you might even be tempted to think, “Duh, isn’t that obvious?” One section that stood out to me had this to say: Many software systems never even get beyond the acceptable stage …. vendors of these systems are continually coming out with new versions, never stopping long enough to fix the problems with the existing systems. It’s fascinating to me that this observation came at the very time that Autodesk was switching from a company that wasn’t exactly like that to one that very much was (and still is today), thanks to the 12-month release cycle.

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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.

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Callan Carpenter interview 5 – the 12 month cycle

This 5th post concludes the Callan Carpenter interview series. For the record, this interview was done in real time over the phone, with no prior notice of the questions. SJ: The 12-month cycle that you have for most of your software has come under some criticism from all sorts of people, especially me. Once you have your customer base practically all on Subscription, what’s the incentive for the 12-month cycle to persist? CC: In what way have you criticised the 12 month cycle? SJ: In that it damages the product. In that there’s not enough time to release a properly developed product within that 12-month cycle. This is an observation that many people have made going back many years. That’s the basis of the criticism; not that, “Oh no, you’re giving me more software”. Well, there are people who complain about that but I don’t think that’s a valid criticism. I think the valid criticism is that it damages the product. A poll that I ran on my blog asked that question: is the 12-month cycle damaging the product? The answer was a very emphatic yes from the readers of my blog. I know that’s not a scientific survey but it fits in with other viewpoints I’ve seen expressed in various places. CC: The question was, do we intend to continue to do that? SJ: Yes. Once you have effectively have your customers on the Subscription model, so that you’re no longer internally competing with the upgrade model, do you really have to have a 12-month release cycle? CC: Well, I think it’s a very interesting and valid question, do we need to have a 12-month upgrade cycle? I know there are customers who simply cannot absorb technology at that rate. But it’s a bit of a two-edged sword, in…

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AutoCAD 2011 Help system is not popular

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.

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The 12-month cycle and shipping software with known bugs

In a recent blog post, Deelip Menezes appears to be shocked by the very idea that a particular CAD company (no, not Autodesk) would ship software that contains known bugs. I thought he was joking, because he’s surely aware that practically all software companies with highly complex products release software with known bugs. As Deelip points out, those companies with 12-month cycles are particularly prone to doing this. There is no possible way any company can release something as complex as a CAD application within a fixed 12-month cycle without it containing dozens* of known bugs (because there isn’t time to fix them after discovery) and dozens* of unknown ones (because of insufficient Beta testing time). Reading Deelip’s post and subsequent comments more carefully, it becomes clear that he doesn’t mean what a casual glance might lead you to believe he means. Deelip makes a specific distinction between “bugs” and “known issues”. He states that if a bug is discovered and the software is then adjusted such that it does not abort the software in a badly-behaved way, and this is then documented, then the bug ceases to be a bug and becomes a “known issue”. I disagree. Bugs can cause crashes or not; they can cause “nice” crashes or not; they can be known about prior to release or not; they can be documented internally or not; they can be documented publicly or not. As far as I’m concerned, if the software doesn’t act “as designed” or “as intended”, then that’s a bug. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say, and I concur: A software bug is the common term used to describe an error, flaw, mistake, failure, or fault in a computer program that prevents it from behaving as intended (e.g., producing an incorrect or unexpected result). That doesn’t…

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Autodesk’s Revit rebellion reaction

It’s time to examine how Autodesk has reacted to the widespread criticism of Revit 2010. Is Autodesk listening? To be more specific, is Autodesk’s Revit team listening? The Good It has been good to see extensive public participation by Autodesk people in various discussions in different places. The Revit team isn’t hiding. It is asking for feedback on the Autodesk discussion groups, the AUGI forums and its own blogs, and getting lots of it. Much of it is negative, but it is to Autodesk’s credit that I’m not seeing much in the way of denial, or demands that the criticism must be constructive. I’ve been trying in vain for years to convince some people at Autodesk that denial is counterproductive and that criticism doesn’t have to be constructive to be useful. The sort of messenger-shooting that I’ve seen some Autodesk people do from time to over the years (*cough* R13, CUI *cough*) is generally absent. I’m not seeing Adeskers arrogantly accusing users of their criticism being based on a failure to understand the product. I’m not seeing asinine comments that infer that the negativity is simply a symptom of the critics’ resistance to change. Actually, I’ve seen one such comment, but it wasn’t from an Autodesk person. Overall, the Revit team’s responsiveness, openness and level of public availability is impressive. It’s so good that it puts other Autodesk teams to shame. When was the last time you saw an Autodesk person respond to criticism of AutoCAD in the Autodesk discussion groups or AUGI forums? Revit people are doing quite a bit of it, and by looking back I can see that they have been doing it for a while. There was one attempt at a traditional corporate “the product is great, we just need to review our communications” message. Unsurprisingly, it…

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Autodesk answers – 1 of 4

At the end of January, I asked for your questions to put to Autodesk product managers. My intention was to pose your questions in a video interview format while attending the AutoCAD 2010 product launch, but for logistical reasons I was unable to make this happen. Autodesk’s Eric Stover kindly arranged for your questions to be answered anyway. The delay in getting these answers back to you is my responsibility, not Autodesk’s. The answers come courtesy of the following product managers: Diane Li – lead manager on AutoCAD; Guillermo Melantoni – 3D and Parametrics expert; Kathy O’Connell – customer requests, quality improvements, and 2D improvements. I will post each question and answer a day apart, to give you chance to comment on each issue separately. Here is the first question, courtesy of Chris Cowgill: Q: With the current release cycle being so short, has anyone considered suspending a new release for a time, to spend an entire release cycle working on improving/restoring functionality of existing features and fixing bugs, why, or why not? A: With any given release, we aim to deliver a healthy balance of new features & functionality along with improvements to existing functionality, so we can help enable new ways of doing design, but also provide more efficient ways of working the way you do today. We plan to continue this balancing act for future releases, but have also started delivering regular product updates (formerly known as ‘service packs’) throughout the year. So, rather than requiring you to wait for a new release of the product to get product improvements, this year we delivered 3 product updates that included hundreds of bug fixes to existing AutoCAD features and functionality.

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AutoCAD 2010 release date

After my recent attendance at the AutoCAD 2010 launch, I have a few dozen subjects I’d like to blog about, lots of video editing to do, and not enough free time in which to do it. Many of my fellow launch-attending bloggers have beaten me to it with many of the meaty bits, but I’ll be covering much of that stuff in my own way and from my own perspective over the next few weeks. One thing I can do with minimum effort is to pass on an important piece of information I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere yet: the date that Autodesk plans to actually ship AutoCAD 2010. That date is (drumroll)… Tuesday, 24 March 2009 No great surprises there; the 12-month release cycle continues as usual. Although this information was imparted to a room full of bloggers in an on-the-record session, I suspect it may have slipped out accidentally. It’s a planned date and may yet change subject to various circumstances. It applies to AutoCAD and probably AutoCAD LT; the vertical variants of AutoCAD will have later ship dates, probably in mid-April. Interestingly, in a conversation with an Autodesk Australia person today, I was told that the 2010 launch dates are staggered across the globe. (That’s launch dates, not ship dates). So although everybody in Australia with an Internet connection already knows what’s in AutoCAD 2010, Autodesk Australia itself is apparently not allowed to disclose any information about it until Monday, 23 March 2009. That’s kind of bizarre if true, and I suspect it may be based on some kind of misunderstanding, but that’s what I was told.

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How well cooked is the average major new AutoCAD feature these days?

I’ve now closed the poll that asks this question, and the results show a typical bell-curve shape with the peak clearly on “Half-baked”. There is a slight bias to the bottom end, but not a significant one. This result doesn’t surprise me, as I’ve seen and heard a lot of user comments to that effect, and I’ve made such comments myself.  I’m not saying that this poll is definitive proof of anything, but it sits pretty well with my perception of what AutoCAD users generally think. Now I’d like you to consider a related question. If we accept for the sake of argument that the average major new AutoCAD feature is half-baked, is that necessarily a bad thing? There are some valid arguments that can be made for pushing out features before they are complete. I’ll examine the pros and cons from my perspective later, but for now I’d like to hear from you.  What do you think?

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Ways in which the crash could be good for Autodesk

No, I don’t mean the sort of crash where AutoCAD stops working. The current financial crisis, I mean. I must preface these comments with a disclaimer. I have no qualifications in finance and make no claim of financial expertise. These are purely a layman’s thoughts. Don’t buy or sell stock based on what I have to say here. Toss a coin instead. So, what on earth am I thinking? I’m thinking that although Autodesk (along with most other companies) will undoubtedly suffer greatly from the coming economic conditions, it’s not all dark cloud. Here are some potential silver linings. Autodesk is cashed up. If its competitors aren’t all carrying enough fat to survive the lean times, Autodesk could come out of the post-crash period with greater market share than before. Of course, this is contingent on Autodesk having products, customer service and a customer-friendly outlook that are attractive enough to win over any orphans. Some serious reversal of neglect in these areas will be needed, which involves spending more, not less. So it really is a very good thing that Autodesk has large wads of your money lying around for use in times like this. Companies with useful technology might become available cheaply. Some smart acquisitions could give Autodesk products some advantages over the competition. (Edit – Between writing this post and publishing it, I see Autodesk has just done exactly that with Softimage). Autodesk can buy its own shares back while they are cheap. If it needs cash in a few years, it can sell them again at what will undoubtedly be much higher prices. I don’t really care whether Autodesk does any of the above, but I do care about the next one. Autodesk has been living in a Soviet Russia-style fool’s paradise for years with its yearly…

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How long should the AutoCAD release cycle be?

I’ve just added a poll asking this question. Actually, the poll question is rather longer than that, because I want to make it as unambiguous as possible. Other polls I’ve seen on this subject, including ones by Autodesk and Cadalyst, have always left room for speculation about what a given answer would actually mean. Sometimes, the question has been so ambiguous that the results have been completely meaningless. I’ve tried hard to avoid that, and if that means the question is rather long, so be it. In my poll, you’re being asked to consider a scenario where over a long period of time (10 years, say) the total charge from Autodesk for upgrades or Subscription would be the same, no matter what the release cycle. You would also get the same number of major new features, minor new features and other improvements. Your ability to choose to pay either upgrade fees or annual Subscription payments would also be unaffected. If you feel that you would like to answer “however long it takes to get each release finished” rather than a fixed time between releases, please choose a release cycle period that you think would be a reasonable average. The AutoCAD release cycle would also affect the AutoCAD-based verticals, so please take that into consideration. I will refrain from giving my own opinions on this subject until the poll is closed, but feel free to make your own comments about the pros and cons of different lengths of release cycle.

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Autodesk’s 12-month release cycle – Is it harmful?

I’ve opened a poll asking for your opinion about whether the 12-month release cycle of AutoCAD and its variants is harmful to the quality of the software that Autodesk is providing. I won’t express my own opinion on this subject here yet, but will do so later, once the poll is closed. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject.

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AutoCAD 2009 – Action Recorder needs action

One of the banes of AutoCAD over the past few years is the phenomenon of the half-baked feature. A new feature is added to the product with serious design deficiencies and/or bugs and other shortcomings that make it much less useful than it should have been. I’m sure you have your own favourite examples of this. I may expand on this theme in future, but for now let’s concentrate on one brand new and particularly undercooked feature, the Action Recorder. The ability to record and play back macros is undoubtedly something that many users want, and has featured prominently in some wishlists. Autodesk has now provided the Action Recorder. Wish granted, right? A shining example of Autodesk listening to its customers and providing what they want and need? Not exactly. In fact, this wish has only been granted at the most superficial level. Here is the wish as seen on the 2003 AUGI Top Ten AutoCAD Wish List (it’s number 6): “Provide a VBA Macro recorder.” Here it is as it appeared in the February 2006 AUGI Wishlist (it’s number 1): “The ability to record the process of a certain task and assign a quick key to it – similar to Microsoft’s macro recorder for office products.” People were asking for something similar to what they had in Microsoft products. That is, something that not only allows actions to be recorded and played back, but to also create some kind of editable programming language code. Why would people want that? Because recorded macros can be easily examined, modified, combined, changed from one-off to repeating sequences, used as the basis for slightly different routines without requiring re-recording, incorporated into full-blown routines, and so on. The need for editable code is blindingly obvious, really. So, how does Action Recorder store its macros?…

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