How do I know most Autodesk customers don’t want rental?

In a recent comment, I was asked how I know Autodesk’s move to all-rental is the opposite of what customers want. Have I conducted research? This is an excellent question and deserves a proper answer. So how do  I know this? Why am I so convinced? There are several independent sources of evidence, one bit of critical thinking and one undeniable proof. They all point in the same direction. First, a bit of evidence. There are many public places on the Internet where this issue has been discussed, including Autodesk’s own discussion groups. The viewpoints expressed everywhere are overwhelmingly against Autodesk’s all-rental plans. There are private places Autodesk customers hang out where I have access, and I receive private emails. Again, the overwhelmingly majority of the viewpoints I see expressed are very strongly against Autodesk’s strategy. There’s a poll right here. How’s it going? None of that is very scientific, but Autodesk has  conducted proper research. Among other things, it gathered customer focus groups at AU to determine the mood regarding going all-rental. I know somebody who went to one of those. The customers present at that particular gathering were 100% against. OK, so you don’t want to accept any of that? Can’t trust the sources? It’s all a bit anecdotal? Fine. How about a bit of critical thinking? Most customers of major Autodesk products are long-term users who would undeniably pay more via rental than perpetual and then have nothing to show for it when they stop paying. What are the chances of most of them wanting  that outcome? Still not convinced? OK. The most concrete way in which it could be determined whether customers prefer rental would be an experiment in which both options were made available and the market were allowed to decide. An expensive experiment, sure, but…

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Disaster in progress – Autodesk continues to lose heavily

This post originally contained assertions about Autodesk’s financials that were based on flawed understanding, and has been removed. It’s not really possible to delete things from the Internet, so if you ever want to relive the joy of seeing me get things spectacularly wrong, feel free to use the Internet Archive to do so.

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Battle of the Bullshit part 3 – Beyond Bentley

Somebody at Autodesk really does seem to have it in for Bentley right now. I thought they were friends? Oh well, times change. Autodesk has launched a campaign to promote its BIM offerings for transportation projects and is promoting this via emails to existing customers, all of which is fair enough. It’s suggesting BIM is a better tool than traditional CAD for such projects. Another reasonable claim, so it’s appropriate for us to evaluate the arguments and examine the options. What did Autodesk decide to call its campaign? Beyond AutoCAD? Beyond CAD? To BIM and Beyond? None of the above. It’s Beyond Bentley. Huh? You may have noticed I’m keen on alliteration, but still, huh? What does Bentley have to do with this? Most Autodesk CAD customers are going to know and care nothing about Bentley products. So why mention them at all? The headline is “Move beyond Bentley to Autodesk, the makers of BIM”. The strong implication is: Bentley only does traditional CAD. You should use BIM instead, and that means you need Autodesk. However, I believe many Autodesk customers will think like this instead: Autodesk seems very concerned about this Bentley mob. I wonder what they’re offering that has the Big A so worried? Bentley must be a big player in this area. I’ve been considering developing an Autodesk exit strategy anyway because of the forced rental thing and I’ve heard Bentley sells perpetual licenses. I must go check them out! Those customers who do check out Bentley will learn that despite Autodesk’s implication, Bentley do in fact provide BIM products, and quite a few products specifically for transportation. I have no idea if Bentley’s BIM and transportation products are any better or worse than Autodesk’s offerings, but I do know you shouldn’t take either vendor’s word for it, including anything…

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Battle of the Bullshit part 2 – Autodesk’s sophistry

In my last post, I gave Bentley a well-deserved slap for, er, saying things that perhaps weren’t entirely factual. Now it’s Autodesk’s turn. What’s this about? Carl White, Senior Director of Business Models at Autodesk, wrote a blog post Not so fast Bentley: Separating fact from fiction responding to statements made by Bentley in its press release Bentley Announces Autodesk License Upgrade Program. Some of Carl’s observations on Bentley’s claims were perfectly valid, but unfortunately he went beyond that and wrote a few more things – “facts” – where he’s on shakier ground. Let’s examine Carl’s interpretation of reality, shall we? Fact #1 – No Autodesk customer ever  loses the right to use the perpetual software license you’ve purchased, it is “evergreen”. This is generally true. There are exceptions (read the EULA), but let’s not split hairs. In the vast majority of cases, we don’t lose the right  to use the software. We can, however, lose the ability  to use the software. That loss is practically inevitable long-term because of the progress of technology. I have several old AutoCAD releases I can’t run for environmental reasons, not licensing ones. This means that if we want to use our licenses long-term, we rely on Autodesk’s ongoing cooperation. That’s where customers have legitimate concerns, because there are no guarantees that Autodesk will continue to provide that cooperation. If it does, there are no guarantees that cooperation will remain free or even affordable. And if you’re on a software maintenance plan, you can continue to receive all of the benefits of software updates and technical support for as long as you’d like. This has been officially promised, and let’s give Autodesk the benefit of the doubt and assume that this promise will be fulfilled to the letter. There’s still an elephant in the room.…

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Battle of the Bullshit part 1 – Bentley’s terminological inexactitudes

I note with interest the blog post Not so fast Bentley: Separating fact from fiction by Carl White, Senior Director of Business Models at Autodesk. In this, he responds to statements made by Bentley in its press release Bentley Announces Autodesk License Upgrade Program, stating: Earlier this week, Bentley announced an “upgrade program” for Autodesk customers. We found the offer to be disingenuous and mischaracterizes what Autodesk offers our customers. OK, let’s have a look at what Carl is complaining about. Here’s one Bentley statement that could be considered questionable: For consideration by owners of Autodesk perpetual licenses facing Autodesk’s imminent deadline for the write-off of the future value of their investment, Bentley Systems is offering recovery of the value otherwise subject to forfeit. Carl has a point here. The “imminent deadline for the write-off of the future value” line is presented as fact, but at this stage it’s not true. While perpetual license owners may legitimately fear for the long-term value of their investments, there is nothing subject to an imminent deadline other than the end of the ability to purchase further perpetual licenses. Likewise, the “subject to forfeit” thing is a scaremongering phrase that deserves Carl’s “disingenuous” label. Autodesk isn’t subjecting anything to forfeit right now. Anything else dubious in Bentley’s statement? Bentley Systems considers purchases of perpetual licenses to be long-term investments by our users, so we continually innovate to increase their value. We are glad to now extend this ‘future-proofing’ to Autodesk license owners who otherwise will lose value in their applications. That’s all pretty reasonable but the “…will lose value in their applications” part is questionable. We might suspect that will happen, but we don’t know  it yet. Perhaps “…may  lose value in their applications” would be more reasonable. Bentley also quotes a customer as saying: Autodesk continually sets…

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

This post originally contained assertions about Autodesk’s financials that were based on flawed understanding, and has been removed. It’s not really possible to delete things from the Internet, so if you ever want to relive the joy of seeing me get things spectacularly wrong, feel free to use the Internet Archive to do so.

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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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