Disaster in progress – Autodesk’s all-rental plans are failing

It has been observed elsewhere that Autodesk’s decision to stop selling software has had the expected results. (Expected by me and others, but apparently not by Autodesk). Rental? We’re not buying it. Literally. What does this (and a bunch of other factors) mean for Autodesk’s profitability? Numbers from Tenlinks (with FY corrected), data accumulated from Autodesk sources. Autodesk lost $486m over the last 4 quarters, compared with a profit of $73m the 4 quarters before that and a profit of $202m the 4 quarters before that. Looks like a nose dive to me. But things are just wonderful, according to Carl Bass: We had a strong first quarter, which builds on last quarter’s momentum and is a great start to the fiscal year. Our customers and partners continue to embrace Autodesk’s transition to a subscription-based business model and cloud-based software. We continue to diligently control our costs while investing in the transition. We’re striking a healthy balance in achieving both short-term and long-term goals. Disclaimer: I’m not a business analyst and nobody should make financial decisions based on anything I have to say. But it seems to me that Carl’s whistling past the graveyard and disaster for Autodesk isn’t just looming, it’s well under way. I doubt the board is unaware of this, whatever spin they feel obliged to put on things. I wonder what action Autodesk will take? Here are my guesses in descending order of probability: 1. Keep steering the plane downwards and continue to pretend the flight plan is a good one. Carefully arrange golden parachutes for the pilots so they can jump out of the plane just before it hits the ground. 2. Go even harder at the customers, aggressively pressuring every customer into rental much earlier than originally planned. There are various methods that could…

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Autodesk Answer Day – 18 May 2016

Autodesk is encouraging you to use the Autodesk Community (formerly know as forums, discussion groups, newsgroups, etc.) to get answers to your questions by setting up a special day where Autodesk people will attend and be responsive. I don’t know if this includes responding to people’s concerns over Autodesk ending the sale of perpetual licenses, but it’s worth a try anyway. The forum for discussing that particular issue is somewhat hidden. It doesn’t appear among the list of forums, so you would only know it existed if you happened to pick on the Installation and Licensing link and had a look at the header to see the Perpetual License Changes link. But now you know it’s there, you can go and ask your questions. Meaningful answers are not guaranteed. Here is the announcement. When is this event, exactly? Join us at our first “Big Bang” Answer Day online event on Wednesday, May 18th from 6:00am to 6:00pm Pacific Time. Pacific Time is currently UTC (GMT) -7 hours, so for people outside North America, that means UTC 1 PM Wednesday 18 May to 1 AM Thursday 19 May. To calculate the times in your own location, I suggest using the very handy timeanddate.com site or thetimenow.com.

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LISP programmers, have your say again

Autodesk wants your input again in its annual API survey. This used to be a closed survey for Autodesk Developer Network (ADN) members, but has been open to all for the last few years. If you do any AutoCAD-based development at all, I encourage you to take part. That includes those of us who do most of our development in LISP. Here’s the direct link to the survey. As you can see if you click the link, there’s a lot of stuff in there that assumes you’re keen to get developing for AutoCAD WS. If you’re not quite so filled with Cloudy enthusiasm and would prefer Autodesk to expend its resources elsewhere (on fixing and improving Visual LISP, for example), please fill in the short survey and say so. It closes on 22 June, so you only have a week. Why bother, when it’s obvious that Autodesk is determined to ignore to death its most popular API regardless of whatever anyone says or does? I’m not sure, really. Maybe I’m an eternal optimist. (Ha!) Maybe I just want them to at least feel slightly guilty about sticking their fingers in their ears and going “LALALALALA! NOT LISTENING! WE HAVE A VISION, NOT LISTENING! LALALALALA!”

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Cloud concerns – Security – Autodesk puts its arguments on line

I’ve made the point before that while Cloud proponents like Autodesk have been happy to talk big on the potential benefits, they have been conspicuously (suspiciously?) silent on the legitimate concerns their customers have raised. The best responses you have been likely to see regarding such concerns can best be characterised as “glossing over”. So it’s good to see that Autodesk has put together a white-paper-type-thing called Autodesk® 360: Work Wherever You Are – Safely. This 275 KB PDF, with 5 pages of actual content, puts Autodesk’s point of view about one of the aspects of Cloud that people commonly raise as a concern. This is a good start, but of course there are quite a few potential dealbreakers that need addressing yet. How well does this document address this issue? As you’d expect from Autodesk, it’s gung-ho positive, but there is at least some acknowledgement of Cloud concerns, e.g. “Customer experiences, however, can be largely impacted by the speed and quality of their Internet connection”. In addition to such occasional connections with the real world, there are some categorical assurances that may make some potential users happier. Here are some examples: Autodesk 360 is delivered from data centers in the United States. Files and identities are safe during storage, transit, and usage. As part of Autodesk‟s due diligence for customer security and protection, prospective Autodesk personnel with potential access to sensitive data are screened through background checks before being employed. Once purged, your data may persist in backup copies for a reasonable period of time but will not be recovered or read by anyone. Customers own the content they create. While that’s all well and good, Autodesk needs to get its legal team reading off the same page and fix up its terms and conditions to make them less…

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Trusting Autodesk – poll results

I have closed the polls asking if you trusted various companies to do the right thing by their customers. Here is a summary of the results, showing the percentage of “Yes” votes for each company. The most trusted company is at the top, the least trusted is at the bottom. Honda 69% Amazon 65% Target 52% Bricsys 43% Apple 36% Autodesk 23% Remember, this is not a scientific poll and as with all polls and surveys there will be some self-selection bias. Does anyone find anything about the above results surprising?

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Why don’t you trust Autodesk?

As I mentioned earlier, any company that wants to move its customers to the Cloud is going to need the trust of those customers. Three months ago, I started a poll to try to get some measure of how trustworthy you consider Autodesk to be, in terms of doing the right thing by its customers. The results of that poll look pretty awful for Autodesk. Right from the start, the distrusters have outnumbered the trusters by three to one, with the current results showing an overwhelming majority of respondents (77%) not trusting Autodesk. Why? What has Autodesk done in the past, or is doing now, that leads people to this level of distrust? If you have voted in this poll, I’d like to know your reasons, so please add your comments whichever way you voted. If you think there’s an issue with the question wording and/or its simple Yes/No choice, feel free to say so. There will be a number of people who have an inherent distrust of corporations, so as a control I’ve added a number of polls to try to see how much that influences the results. There are near-identical polls for a wide range of different corporations. There’s a poll for an on-line retailer and Cloud service provider (Amazon), one for a computer and gadget maker (Apple), one for another CAD company (Bricsys, makers of Bricscad), one for a maker of cars, motorbikes etc. (Honda), and one for a traditional retailer (Target). I’ll be interested to see how trustworthy you consider those corporations to be, and how they compare to Autodesk.

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Cloud concerns – trust

Using any software involves some degree of trust in the vendor. Using the Cloud requires a much higher level of trust. Autodesk boss Carl Bass is a maker of carefully crafted things, so I’ll use that as an analogy. Using standalone software requires the sort of trust that a maker has in a tool manufacturer. Will the tools work properly and last a long time? Or will they break, potentially damaging the materials or even the user? Using SaaS requires that same kind of trust, plus others. Will the tool manufacturer keep making that tool? If not, will spare parts continue to be available? Will the manufacturer change the tool design so it doesn’t suit your hand any more, or doesn’t work as well on the materials you use? Beyond that, there are some aspects of the relationship that stretch this analogy somewhat. For example, a SaaS vendor resembles a manufacturer that won’t allow you to buy tools, only lease them. Except the manufacturer can change the lease terms or end it any time it likes, and then come into your workshop and take all your tools away. Oh, and this take-your-tools-away right also applies to the company that delivers the tools to your door. Using Cloud storage requires yet further levels of trust. It’s not tool manufacturer trust, it’s bank safety deposit trust. Will your carefully crafted creations be kept safe? Or will they be stolen or damaged? If they are, will you be compensated? If you can’t afford to pay the bank fees or want to use another banker because the teller was rude to you, will the bank politely return your valuables to your safe keeping or transfer them to the new bank? Or will they end up in the dumpster at the back of the bank? Trust is vital.…

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Poll of evil

I have closed the Which of these is most evil? poll, which had been running from 20 February 2009. It attracted 2,351 voters, each of whom could distribute up to three votes among thirteen (yes, that number was deliberate) candidates. Here are the ranked results: Satan (36%, 846 Votes) Microsoft (31%, 721 Votes) Apple (26%, 614 Votes) RIAA/IFPI/MPAA (26%, 601 Votes) Miley Cyrus (23%, 546 Votes) Autodesk (23%, 536 Votes) Disney (16%, 382 Votes) Google (10%, 230 Votes) Dell (7%, 172 Votes) The Pirate Bay (6%, 147 Votes) Sony (6%, 140 Votes) Steve Johnson (4%, 89 Votes) Gaahl (3%, 82 Votes) That top three is not going to shock anyone (except perhaps some fanbois), but are some surprises in the list. For example, more than a quarter of voters were aware enough of the evils of Big Content to be able to decipher the alphabet soup RIAA/IFPI/MPAA choice and select it. More than four times as many people think this litigious pack of demons is voteworthy than think the same about arch enemies The Pirate Bay. That’s not so shocking for those of us with our fingers on the pulse of popular opinion, but I was surprised to see so few people choose Big Content arch-villain Sony. Rootkit, anyone? For Autodesk, this poll is something of a triumph, with less than a quarter of voters putting the company in the top three. Mind you, Autodesk was faced with some very stiff competition, being very narrowly edged out of fifth place by Miley Cyrus. Only one in ten of you thought Google was worthy of selection. This is Google, a company that knows more about you than you do. Google, which passes out your information whenever it feels it might gain some strategic advantage from doing so, and really doesn’t care when it violates your privacy.…

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Autodesk Cloud interview May 2010 – Part 3

Steve: Another issue I have with Cloud-based environments is the lack of customisation. One of the things that makes AutoCAD so efficient for people is that they can get it exactly the way they want it. With a browser-based environment, we’re pretty much stuck with what you guys decide to give us. Can you see any solution to that in the longer term? Tal: From a pure technical point of view, there’s not a lot of difference in terms of the way you can customise an application on the desktop versus customising it on the web. I think AutoCAD, having a very mature application has a lot of functionality which has built up over the years to provide customisation capabilities to the nth degree. So I think it has less to do with the platform of your choice and more to do with the maturity of the solution and how much customisation the people who designed the product wanted to put in there. Steve: I guess you have the issue of where does that customisation live? Does it live on the PC or on the Cloud? Tal: A good thing about moving it to the Cloud would be that if you moved to another computer, the app would still be customised to your needs. Guri: I was going to say the same. It’s actually an advantage to store it in the Cloud because regardless of where you are accessing it from, you can still have your customisation go with you wherever you go. To address your previous question about customisation, I think it’s a pretty relevant request to be able customise this application. But at the same time, remember who is the target audience for that. If you are an AutoCAD user, we assume you have AutoCAD with all the…

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Autodesk Cloud interview May 2010 – Part 2

Steve: Autodesk is currently giving away these Cloud-based services, Butterfly for example. Presumably you’re not going to keep doing that for ever. Are you going to start charging for these services eventually? Guri: Again, you’re pushing us to talk about future. Currently, for as long as this is in a Labs environment, we’re encouraging users to use it and we’re giving it free in the Labs environment and we’re not putting any limits on it during the Labs experiment. Once we make it a commercial product we may change that. Steve: I put a poll on my blog asking readers what they thought about CAD on the Cloud, and most of them are either concerned or frightened. Solidworks users are in revolt about what they see as being forced onto the Cloud. Why do you think there is this fear or apprehension of CAD on the Cloud? Guri: I’m not sure. I’m curious myself about this type of reaction. Maybe it’s fear of the unknown, it’s a new environment, maybe there is some fear about security of documents while they are in the Cloud, it’s just “it’s a new thing”. We believe the approaches we are taking in providing a complementary product to the desktop environment which takes advantage of the latest and greatest web technology and enables those advantages to the user actually will make them feel more at ease. We’re not changing their normal CAD tools, we’re adding to them by enhancing them to take advantage of the capability of infinite storage and infinite CPU that the Cloud brings to them. So in a way, it’s a mixed environment. It’s probably easier to think about moving from desktop only to a mix of desktop and Cloud rather than a step-function where you move entirely to the Cloud. Tal:…

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Autodesk Cloud interview May 2010 – Part 1

On 26 May 2010, I had the opportunity to ask Autodesk some questions about the Cloud in general and what was then Project Butterfly (now AutoCAD WS) in particular. The Autodesk people were: Guri Stark,Vice President, AutoCAD & Platform Products Tal Weiss, R&D Center Manager (Israel) Noah Cole, Corporate Media Relations The interview was conducted by phone conference with no prior notice of the questions. Here is the first part of the interview, which I will be posting in three sections. Steve: Guri, are you responsible for all of Autodesk’s Cloud-based offerings? Guri: Tal and I are responsible for Butterfly, that’s the only Cloud-based offering that we are responsible for. Noah: Steve, you can put the cloud-based offerings into three categories, those that are related to current products and therefore come out of the same organisations and divisions that those products come out of. So Butterfly which is related to AutoCAD so it’s coming out of the AutoCAD group. Similarly what you’d see happening with manufacturing and those projects. You also have the more emerging Cloud solutions like Dragonfly was (that’s now Homestyler) that’s coming out of Labs. So you see projects coming out of either the divisions if it’s related to product or the Labs group if it’s more forward-looking. Steve: Can you give me a one-sentence summary of each of the Cloud-based offerings and what market it’s intended to fill? Guri: Butterfly is one we’ll talk about in more detail in a minute. One we just launched as a product is Autodesk Homestyler (previously Project Dragonfly). It’s a SaaS-based offering done completely in a browser, targeting the home improvement market. It’s free to the end user so users who want to redecorate or remodel their kitchen or their living room can access this product, do a layout, place in…

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Autodesk Cloud – don’t panic, business as usual

Autodesk recently made a big announcement about its Cloud initiatives, and reactions have been all over the place. Some people can barely contain their breathless excitement while others are outraged to the point of passing out the pitchforks. Why? It’s pretty much business as usual. It’s nothing like Dassault’s disastrous we’re-moving-you-to-the-Cloud FUD campaign against its own product, SolidWorks. There’s no hint here of AutoCAD (real AutoCAD, I mean, not “AutoCAD” WS) being moved to the Cloud, or anything as radical as that. (Yes, I know there’s a limited experiment along those lines but that’s nothing to do with this announcement). It’s just a collection of relatively minor changes to Autodesk’s existing on-line services, collected together to make a newsworthy press release. (As an aside, I must say this was a much more worthwhile announcement than the ridiculously over-hyped DE8.16N thing. So I was supposed to get excited about a routine upgrade of a product I have already been using for months, on an OS I don’t use, when the upgraded product is still half-baked just like the first underwhelming effort? Fortunately, I didn’t get sucked in by the pre-announcement build-up so I wasn’t disappointed, just amused when the truth was revealed. Autodesk PR, please don’t cry wolf so often; keep the hype in reserve for the hypeworthy stuff.) Back to the Cloud thing, and putting aside hype and horror, here’s the stuff that has just happened: Autodesk Cloud documents lets anybody store up to 1 GB documents on-line, or 3 GB if you’re a Subscription customer. This isn’t new, but until recently it was an Autodesk Labs project called Nitrous. The infrastructure is provided via Amazon and Citrix. AutoCAD WS has been updated to integrate its storage with Autodesk Cloud documents. Remember, WS isn’t anything like real AutoCAD, but rather a limited on-line DWG editing tool.…

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Will Autodesk have to explain itself to the SEC?

The observant among you may have noticed that for many years, Autodesk’s free patches, service packs and updates haven’t added any new functionality. Bugs may get fixed, severe performance issues may be addressed, but design errors generally have to wait for the next release (at the earliest), and new features definitely don’t get added. The last time new functionality was added to AutoCAD in a free maintenance release was Release 13’s c4 update which shipped on 12 February 1996. (There was a public beta available some months earlier; I picked up a copy at Autodesk University 1995). That free update contained not only a host of bug fixes, but also more useful new features than some later full-price upgrades (e.g. AutoCAD 2000i). In an outbreak of outstanding customer service, a c4 CD was shipped free to all registered users. Maybe Autodesk was trying to recover from disastrously shipping Release 13 prematurely, but issuing such a comprehensive update free of charge was still highly commendable. Why did Autodesk stop providing new functionality in free updates? While it involves more work for Autodesk and hardly encourages paid upgrades or Subscription, the reason we’ve been given over the years is that there are accounting regulations that prevent Autodesk from providing new functionality in free updates. This does not apply to benefits from paid Subscription, and various new features for Subscription users have indeed appeared (albeit in fits and starts) over the intervening years. I have to admit that I have always thought that this accounting thing was a pretty unlikely-sounding excuse for Autodesk’s inactivity. This attitude was reinforced by a lack of Autodesk response to my requests for further information about the alleged regulations. Until recently, I didn’t care enough about this matter to bother finding out for myself, but something extraordinary just happened…

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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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More Autodesk deception over LT productivity study

Following on from the AutoCAD 2011 productivity study I critiqued earlier, there is now an LT version. Do the same credibility problems apply to this study too? Yes, and then some. In addition to the drawings and operations being deliberately hand-picked to demonstrate new features, no direct comparison is performed at all between the two releases on the same platforms. Every single quoted “productivity improvement” figure includes, free of charge, three years of hardware and operating system progress and a more upmarket graphics card. If you read business “news” sources that just reprint press releases, such as this Yahoo! Finance one (thanks, Carol Bartz), you won’t see this mentioned. Instead, you will see deceptive statements like these: David S. Cohn, an independent consultant Er, no, in this context he’s not independent, he’s an Autodesk consultant. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. overall productivity gains of 44 percent for users moving from AutoCAD LT 2008 or earlier versions to AutoCAD LT 2011 …as long as you only ever perform certain carefully selected operations and upgrade your hardware and operating system. Like the other study, the 44% figure is totally meaningless and quoting it without qualification is downright deceptive. Most users will be able to get more work done faster by upgrading to AutoCAD LT 2011 This statement is totally unsupported. There is no analysis of what “most users” do with the software, and no attempt to quantify the portion of time such users spend on these hand-picked operations. Neither is there any analysis performed on more common operations to see if the new releases introduced any detriment to productivity in those areas. Improvements to the graphical user interface deliver a 43 percent productivity increase. If that’s true, why do so many users of 2009 to 2011 immediately turn off the new user…

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More Autodesk research – Groups

Here’s an announcement from the AutoCAD Product Design & User Experience Team: AutoCAD User Research Study: “AutoCAD Groups”(AutoCAD Group command) AutoCAD Product Design & User Experience Team is looking for your input regarding the AutoCAD GROUP command usage. The GROUP command (Object Grouping Dialog) in AutoCAD allows creating a selection set of objects called a group. When an object belongs to a group, if any object in the group is selected, all the objects in the group are selected. Groups can be named or unnamed. Groups can be ungrouped/(exploded), which removes the relationship between the objects in the group. Autodesk wants to better understand how you use Groups so we can improve the feature. http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/AutoCAD_GroupCommand Go to it, people. It’s good to see some attention being given to some long-neglected parts of AutoCAD. What next, LISP?

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Autodesk discussion group update – what do you think?

On 4 June 2010, Autodesk turned off NNTP access to its discussion groups as part of the process of updating its software to use a different engine (the new one is from Lithium – here are its own forums). I am preparing a large post about what I think of the new web interface, but for now let’s hear from you on that subject. Please vote in the poll on the right, and add your comments once you’ve had a chance to put the “state-of-the-art web experience Autodesk customers have come to expect” through its paces. In related news, I have now closed the short-lived poll about the end of NNTP access to these groups. The results were: Should Autodesk shut down NNTP access to its discussion groups? Yes (8.8%, 5 Votes) No (59.6%, 34 Votes) Don’t care (31.6%, 18 Votes) Total Voters: 57 This is a small sample and must have some self-selection bias, in that those who cared about this move were more likely to read my post on the subject and vote about it. I attempted to temper this by including a “Don’t care” option, but some bias is still bound to be there. There is also likely to be some bias in the opposite direction, because people are less inclined to bother voting to try to fight a decision that had clearly already been set in concrete and which was never going to change. That said, it does seem remarkable that only 5 people could be found who supported Autodesk’s decision to drop NNTP access. According to my long-running What is your relationship to Autodesk? poll, There are at least 25 (claimed) Autodesk employees who are active enough on this blog to respond to its polls! Without wishing to compromise the private nature of my polls,…

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What proportion of Autodesk customers really are on Subscription?

In my recent interview of Autodesk Subscription VP Callan Carpenter, he made these statements: …there is a very small fraction of our revenue that comes from upgrades at this point in time. We’re down to very low single digits of customers who upgrade, and of those only half of those upgrade 1 or 2 years back. So we’re talking about approximately 1.5% of our revenue that comes from customers upgrading 1 and 2 versions back. …[customers who upgrade] 1 or 2 [releases] back, a very small percentage of our customer base, less than 2% of our customer base that was buying those upgrades. Others are calling those numbers into doubt. Deelip Menezes (SYCODE, Print 3D) estimated the numbers of AutoCAD users not on Subscription at 66% (or 43%, depending on which bit of the post you read), by counting the AutoCAD releases used by his customers and making assumptions about their Subscription status from that. That’s an extremely suspect methodology, as I pointed out: Your numbers don’t really tell us anything about Subscription v. upgrade proportions. All they tell us is that large numbers of people wait a while before installing a new release. We all knew that, surely. However, Deelip’s post did prompt me to point out this: …there is a fair point to be made about people on earlier releases who have hopped off the upgrade train altogether, or at least for a significant number of years. How would they be counted in Callan’s figures? They wouldn’t exist at all, as far as his income percentages are concerned. Owen Wengerd (ManuSoft, CADLock) asked a random sample of his customers and came up with 82% of them as non-Subscription customers. He also noted that he could come up with a 3% non-Subscription figure if he cooked the books by…

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Autodesk to kill NNTP discussion groups

As of 4 June, Autodesk intends to update its discussion group software to something that does not support newsgroup (NNTP) access. From an email by Autodesk’s Eric Wright to NNTP users: “As an active NNTP user, we wanted to reach out to you directly. We recognize this will change your experience participating in the forums and want to help you transition to the new web interface. Improvements include a simpler, more intuitive interface to post & reply, bookmarking and e-mail notification features to track favorite posts, and more powerful search tools and filtering. While not a substitute for the NNTP experience, the streamlined capabilities of our enhanced RSS feeds can also provide an alternative offline forum reading experience.” As you can see, we are significantly investing to improve the platform behind the web-based experince to address many of the shortfalls reported by users over the last few years. Rich text vs Plain text confusion, formatting issues (like I just experienced cutting and pasting this message), logout issues, search, in-line image support, and robust RSS capabilities are just a few areas of improvements in an update planned for June 4. A public announcement will be posted in the forums in a few days. I hope you will give it a try after launch, and provide any feedback or best practices to help in the transition. Eric Wright Product Manager – Support & Learning Web & eBusiness Autodesk, Inc. The public announcement mentioned above can be found here. As you might expect, this decision has been a hot topic of conversation. A survey has been set up (by Tony Tanzillo, not by Autodesk), and the running results are here. I’ve added a poll of my own (on the right). Feel free to express your views here, too. I have some sympathy for…

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