Shout out to Robert McNeel & Associates

Let’s start the rebirth of this blog on a positive note. I’d like to express my gratitude to Robert McNeel & Associates for what must surely be the most outstanding example of long-term customer service in the CAD industry. These days, McNeel is best known for the 3D modelling software Rhino. I have heard good things about this product, but have never used it. However, I am a long-term user of another McNeel product, DOSLib. This is an extensive set of functions that adds greatly to the functionality of AutoLISP. It all works very well and has saved me many hours of work that I would have spent reproducing that functionality. Of course, many LISP programmers could write functions to calculate a cube root, or read a text file, or display a date in whatever format you like, or copy files, or generate a GUID, or toggle the Caps Lock status, or display an HTML file, or return a list of OLE objects in the drawing, or display a multi-select file dialog, or return a list of Windows printers, or a hundred other handy things. The point is, they don’t have to because all that has been done for them and handed over for nothing. The documentation is straightforward and accurate, and is provided in the form of a good old-fashioned local CHM file. This Help system may be unfashionable, but it remains infinitely superior to the still-awful system that paying AutoCAD customers have had to put up with for the last few years. For those investigating alternatives to AutoCAD for whatever reason, the availability of DOSLib for Bricscad may help make that particular alternative a more attractive proposition. Despite McNeel and Autodesk breaking ties many years ago, McNeel’s Dale Fugier has continued to provide, maintain and improve DOSLib. What’s more, DOSLib has…

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AutoCAD 2012 Service Pack 1

The first update for AutoCAD 2012 is now available on the Autodesk site. As usual, read the readme first and exercise the usual paranoia. Make sure you install the right version (32 or 64 bit). The update is also available for AutoCAD LT 2012. There is no news yet on equivalent updates for vertical variants of AutoCAD, so just talk amongst yourselves for a while until Autodesk gets around to it. Autodesk has, thankfully, abandoned the confusing nomenclature for its service packs. So this is not 2012 Update 1 with a filename that includes SP1 and which results in the software being considered 2012 Version 2. It is 2012 Service Pack 1 with a filename that includes SP1 and which results in the software being considered 2012 SP1. Why Autodesk thought the former convention made sense is beyond me, but at least it’s over now. This Service Pack is unusual for more than that, though. It’s the first free update since R13c4 in 1996 to include new functionality, i.e. a new command (ARRAYCLASSIC) and a new system variable (SNAPGRIDLEGACY). I’ll have more to say on that later.

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AutoCAD 2012 – How’s the Help now?

You may have noticed that the much-derided AutoCAD 2011 Help has had something of an update for AutoCAD 2012, integrating it with something called Autodesk Exchange. Rather than critique this myself, I’ll hand it over to you. What do you think of AutoCAD 2012’s Help? Is it all better now? Is it fast, accurate and easy to use with a useful search facility? Or do you hate it and hope someone at Autodesk is scrambling to create a CHM version of it like last year? Please comment.

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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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Dealing with blacked-out leader plots in older AutoCAD

Any drawing created in AutoCAD 2008 and later which uses Multileaders will present problems to users of AutoCAD 2007 and earlier. The users of the earlier release will find that rather than having leaders to deal with, they have proxy objects. As a result, it is impossible to edit these leaders in any way other than erasing them. Also, depending on the setting of the PROXYSHOW system variable in the earlier release, the objects may not display at all, or could display only as rectangles. If the user of 2008 or later used the background mask feature when creating Multileaders, they might appear to be fine on the screen. But when plotting, the text part of each leader will come out as a filled black rectangle. That sort of thing has a long history of happening with wipeouts in some cases, depending on the output device and driver. This problem is different because it happens every time, and with all output devices. What can be done if you are the recipient of such drawings? The -ExportToAutoCAD command, which can be used to create a version of the drawing with most proxy objects converted to standard AutoCAD objects, does not work with Multileaders. So I can see three options, in descending order of desirability: Upgrade to a more recent release of AutoCAD. Depending on your circumstances, this may not be a practicable solution. Forbid the use of Multileaders among your users and all parties producing drawings for you. This also may not be a practicable solution. Explode the leaders. This results in them becoming dumb text and lines, with no background masking. However, the masking can be easily re-established using the Textmask command that is part of the Express Tools. It fills me with horror to suggest something as awful as…

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When is AutoCAD not AutoCAD?

When is AutoCAD nor AutoCAD? When it’s AutoCAD WS. But it’s not quite that simple. I’ve been correcting people for months when they say things like “Project Butterfly is AutoCAD on the Cloud.” No, it’s not. It’s a DWG editor of sorts, but anybody who has used both will know that it’s not AutoCAD or anything like it. Although it’s useful for viewing and markup and is improving all the time, Project Butterfly is still very restricted and is likely to remain so for a long time. You wouldn’t want to spend a significant portion of your day drawing with it. OK, so Project Butterfly isn’t AutoCAD. I’m glad we’ve cleared that up. But wait! Now it is AutoCAD! AutoCAD WS, that is. AutoCAD WS is the recently-announced free iPod/iPhone/iPad app to access Project Butterfly. But it’s not really AutoCAD either, despite being named thus. Confused yet? AutoCAD is Autodesk’s strongest brand name, but it has been diluted a great deal in recent times. Let’s have a look at things that are called AutoCAD or somehow based on AutoCAD, and try to make some sense of it all. Here they are, in alphabetical order: AutoCAD – the real thing AutoCAD Architecture – AutoCAD-based vertical AutoCAD Civil – AutoCAD-based vertical AutoCAD Civil 3D – AutoCAD-based vertical AutoCAD Electrical – AutoCAD-based vertical AutoCAD for Mac – AutoCAD with a few bits missing AutoCAD Freestyle – a cheap and simple DWG editor, not much like real AutoCAD AutoCAD Inventor Suite – this is basically Autodesk Inventor, which is neither AutoCAD nor based on AutoCAD. But a real AutoCAD and AutoCAD Mechanical also comes in the box. AutoCAD LT – AutoCAD with some features disabled to make it fit into a lower price bracket AutoCAD Map 3D – AutoCAD-based vertical AutoCAD Mechanical – AutoCAD-based vertical AutoCAD MEP – AutoCAD-based…

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Missing language pack fixes compared

Having tried out the cleanup fixes from both Autodesk and Owen Wengerd, they both appear to work fine. Here are some points of comparison: Owen’s utility will work with any AutoCAD variant from 2007 on; Autodesk’s fix is currently restricted to Civil 3D 2009, 2010 and 2011. As this problem is definitely not confined to Civil 3D, and may need to be dealt with by non-Civil 3D users, that could be the dealbreaker right there. Owen’s can be installed by anyone by simply copying a file and loading it when needed or in the Startup Suite; Autodesk’s requires admin rights to either run an installer program or manual replacement of a program component, depending on the release. Owen’s loads and runs as the user requires; Autodesk’s runs automatically when opening and saving a drawing. Owen’s provides some information about what is getting cleaned up; Autodesk’s operates in total silence. Owen’s utility can take a while to scan through everything in a complex drawing; Autodesk’s appears to take no longer to open the drawing than normal. To give you some idea of the times involved, in one test in Civil 3D 2011, opening a blank ( but 2.2 MB!) drawing based on the Civil 3D template took 3.6 s with or without the fix; Owen’s cleanup took 0.7 s. In another test on an oldish PC with AutoCAD 2010, cleaning up a drawing with 2.8 MB of real content took Owen’s utility about 15 seconds. For my purposes, Owen’s utility is what I need, because the users who need to clean up these drawings use AutoCAD, not Civil 3D. I’ve set up a batch process for these users, which opens each selected drawing, runs Owen’s utility and saves the drawing. However, I suggest Civil 3D users install the relevant updates and…

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Edwin’s 100 tips, plus my own

Over at Edwin Prakaso’s CAD Notes site, he has collected 100 AutoCAD tips and published them in a highly useful post. Very nice job, Edo. While you blog readers are collecting tips, you might as well have a look at mine, too:  http://www.blog.cadnauseam.com/tag/tip/ (and page 2) I was surprised how many tips I have posted over the couple of years this blog has been running, although not all of them are for AutoCAD. Anyway, I hope you find some of them useful. If you don’t want to wade through all that lot, maybe you can get started on this five and five more tips from the early days of this blog.

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Autodesk’s CIP data – massively biased?

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…

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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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Autodesk shows Dassault how to treat customers

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.

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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 Internet Survey

I spotted this on the AutoCAD Research Twitter feed: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/AutoCAD_Internet 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.

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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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What would you ask Autodesk about Subscription and upgrades?

My post on Autodesk’s new upgrade pricing regime attracted a fair amount of comment, much of it critical of Autodesk. So, let’s follow this up. Let’s say, just hypothetically, that you had an Autodesk high-up in front of you who was willing to answer questions about Subscription and upgrade policy. What would you ask? Please add a comment here with your question. If you want to do so privately, use the Contact link at the top of the page. I would ask that you keep your question civil, relevant and reasonably concise. Other than that, anything goes, so let’s have ‘em. I’ve done this before and did get some answers. Although not all of you liked the answers, they were better than no answers at all. I can’t promise that all your questions will be answered this time, but I’ll see what I can do.

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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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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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