AutoCAD 2011 online Help changes – a curate’s egg

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…

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Restoring Hatch double-click in AutoCAD 2011

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…

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Filling the holes in Autodesk’s CHM Help stopgap

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…

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How is your AutoCAD 2011 hatching?

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…

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Autodesk provides CHM-based Help for AutoCAD 2011

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 Instructions: 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).

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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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AutoCAD for Mac under construction

Despite it being A Bad Idea, it look like Autodesk is going ahead with making some kind of OS X variant of AutoCAD, as has been hinted at for a while now. Owen Wengerd has pointed out a few dead giveaways in the AutoCAD API. Another giveaway is the move to the browser-based Help system. OK, it may perform hopelessly and have terrible functionality, but hey, it’s platform-independent! If you still doubt my assertion that the development of AutoCAD for Mac would be a bad thing for AutoCAD, just go and search for a few things in the new AutoCAD 2011 Help system. Then go back to an earlier release (one that uses Windows-specific Help) for a comparison. Once you’ve seen how platform-independence has “improved” Help, just imagine that level of “improvement” applied to the rest of AutoCAD.

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We have a winner

Congratulations to Brian Benton from CAD-a-Blog. His alternative name for AutoCAD 2011, R.E.A.L. (Real Expensive AutoCAD License) was clearly the most popular among those who voted in the pin the name on the product competition. Brian is now the proud (or otherwise) owner of a virtual album, uniVers by Voyager: I’m not sure what Brian will make of the opening moments of the album, where accordion music leads into part-grunty vocals. Maybe it would be best to start with track 8, Falling, instead.

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Competition poll now open

In a shock move, Autodesk’s general design product for this year was named AutoCAD 2011. I thought AutoCAD Banana or Generic CADD 7 stood a chance, but it was not to be. Maybe next year? Over on the right is a poll to allow you to choose who of the 14 entrants wins the prize in the pin the name on the product competition to come up with an alternative name. I’ll leave the poll open for about a week. Entrants can vote for themselves, but only once. Please vote for the entry you like the best!

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AutoCAD 2011’s new Help system – what do you think?

With all this talk of clouds in the air, it is interesting to note that Autodesk has moved AutoCAD’s Help system to a browser-based format, with online access as the default. So, how has Autodesk done with this first dipping of its toes into the cloudy waters with its primary mainstream product? I’ve already had a couple of unsolicited comments on the subject, and I’d like to hear from you. How do you rate the following, compared with previous releases? Performance (online) Performance (offline) Search results Content completeness and accuracy Ease of manual browsing Efficiency of user interface Concept of online Help Anything else you want to mention Please comment to express your views and use the poll on the right to provide an overall rating of the new system.

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Some meaningless AutoCAD 2011 numbers

According to David Cohn, at yesterday’s blogger event in San Fransisco prior to the 2011 launch, Autodesk provided the following figures: 76,000 man hours spent on Q/A of the new release 6,000 total code reviews of new release 2,000 commands tested 4,600 Beta customers involved in AutoCAD 2011 1.4M lines of old code were removed Well, that’s all very nice, but those numbers are completely meaningless without context. Autodesk may as well have just published the equivalent numbers for Release 13; I’m sure they would have looked impressive in isolation. Did anybody in the blogger audience ask the obvious question? How do these numbers compare with previous releases? If so, I’d be interested to see the answer. If not, why not? I’d like to think that I would have asked such a question rather than sitting there unquestionably accepting whatever was being presented. I’d like to think that, but I can’t. I’m in no position to throw stones. I had a similar opportunity at the equivalent event last year and failed to take advantage of it. I was operating at a very sub-optimal level for a variety of reasons (some of which were entirely of my own making, so no excuses there). It was a small, fairly informal event at which Autodesk actively and repeatedly encouraged two-way communication. But sitting there absorbing what I was told was pretty much all I did. I even caught myself on video doing this (i.e. very little), so I have absolutely no right to expect anything better from anyone else this year. Still, it would have been nice to have had that question asked. It would be even nicer to have it answered. Otherwise, the numbers will remain meaningless.

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Summary of AutoCAD 2011 features

No, I haven’t written a post containing a summary of AutoCAD 2011 features. I won’t be doing so, either. Instead, I’ll just point you at R.K. McSwain’s excellent AutoCAD 2011 in 3 minutes post on his CAD Panacea blog. I won’t be ignoring the new release; I will be covering selected AutoCAD 2011 features in more detail in future posts. I just don’t see much point in doing a “me too” post when somebody else has already done such a fine job of it.

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Downloading AutoCAD 2011

Apparently, AutoCAD 2011 has been available for download for the best part of a day. Here’s my experience so far. As a Subscription customer, I can see a bright new Get Your Upgrade button, and if I click on that I get an AutoCAD 2011 English link to click on. So far so good. If I click on that link, I get only this: Error Message You are currently not authorized to download from this Account. I have contacted my reseller to try to work out what is going on. In the meantime, I’d be interested to know if any of you are having the same problem. What has your download experience been like? Did it work? If so, how long did it take? Any issues with Autodesk download manager or your own? Did you do a Subscription download or the trial version? Did you choose to receive a DVD? Are you located outside North America? Any feedback is welcome.

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AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal”

Easily the most popular post on this blog, in terms of both hits and comments, is AutoCAD 2009 – Putting things back to “normal”. Not too far behind it is AutoCAD 2010 – Putting things back to “normal”. Apparently, lots of people find these posts useful, so here’s an updated version for the latest release. Some of this post is based on the originals, but there are significant additions and differences in this year’s Luddite post. Note: there is an updated version of this post for AutoCAD 2012. One thing that’s regularly asked whenever a new AutoCAD release hits the streets is how to make it work like earlier releases. As I stated in my original post, I think you should give any new features a fighting chance before turning them off or ignoring them. But it’s entirely your choice. We should be grateful that in AutoCAD 2011 at least (unlike some Autodesk products), you do still have that choice. Let’s assume you’ve made the decision to put your environment back to AutoCAD 2008 or earlier; how do you do it? Workspace. In vanilla AutoCAD, you can restore much of the user interface by just switching workspaces. The main Workspace control is now located near the top right corner. If you have turned this off (right-click, Remove from Quick Access Toolbar) or if you just prefer working with interface elements in the same place year by year, there is another Workspace control in the bottom right corner. This is a little button that looks like a gearwheel. Every odd-numbered release seems to have the current workspace name missing from this button, so this year we miss out. If you want the name, this year you need to look in the QAT. In either case, click on the Workspace control and pick the…

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Pin the name on the product and win a prize!

This post is announcing a real competition with a real prize (well, nearly real). The prize will be the album uniVers by my favourite Australian band, Voyager. This will be provided to the winner in the form of a virtual download card which will be emailed to the winner, providing legal access to 320 kbps mp3 files of all the album tracks. In my previous post, I stated that Autodesk’s 25 March product launch is for AutoCAD 2011 (and other products that I’m not that interested in). I just want to make it clear that that’s a guess and not based on inside information. It’s actually speculation on two levels; first, that the “general design” mentioned in the link means AutoCAD, and second, that the next AutoCAD is going to be called AutoCAD 2011. OK, maybe that looks like a pretty safe bet. After all, the last few Autodesk general design flagship products have been called AutoCAD 2004, AutoCAD 2005, AutoCAD 2006, AutoCAD 2007 (anybody notice a pattern yet?), AutoCAD 2008, AutoCAD 2009 and AutoCAD 2010. But maybe not! Maybe Autodesk is going to surprise everybody and call the next general design product something else altogether? I was certainly surprised when Version 2.6 was replaced by Release 9, and when Release 14 was replaced by AutoCAD 2000, so history has proven that the unpredictable can definitely happen as far as Autodesk general design product names go. That’s the basis for this competition. I want you to come up with a name for the next Autodesk general design product. I will determine the winner by choosing the name I like best. If I can’t decide, I will run a poll. Points will be added for being amusing and deducted for accuracy, so entering “AutoCAD 2011” is unlikely to be a winning…

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AutoCAD 2011 launch on 25 March

Just announced by Shaan Hurley via Twitter and Facebook: Busy on the final details for a special Autodesk event next week in San Francisco with some bloggers. http://www.autodesk.com/webcast Follow the link and you will find this: Autodesk Webcast Date: 3/25/10 Start Time: 9:00 SF/12:00 New York/16:00 UK/17:00 CET Register today to join Autodesk CEO Carl Bass and Senior Vice President Amar Hanspal for an exclusive live webcast to learn about updates to Autodesk’s portfolio of design software for the AEC, manufacturing and general design industries. In Autodeskspeak, “general design” means AutoCAD (AEC = Revit, manufacturing = Inventor), so you can expect this to be the same kind of thing as the AutoCAD 2010 launch I attended last year. (Note: ‘launch’ does not mean ‘release’). At this event, selected bloggers will probably get to see the big production effort that goes into the launch webcast (no, it’s not done on Shaan’s laptop webcam). They can expect to be transported, housed, fed and watered by Autodesk, which I trust we’ll see disclosed by everybody this year. More importantly, they will most likely be given access to various significant Autodesk people, such as my video interview on the Autodesk Listening theme. These events are both worthwhile and great fun, and my best wishes go out to those bloggers who will be attending this time round. For the previous three years, you will have seen bloggers reporting on the contents of the new release in early February, but this has not happened not this time. Why is the information being held back so long this time, with the launch 48 days later this year than last? I genuinely have absolutely no idea. Feel free to speculate.

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