Clearing up the Autodesk rental / subscription / maintenance naming confusion

Some people are confused by Autodesk’s naming terminology about subscription, maintenance and rental. This is entirely Autodesk’s fault, because it took a name (Subscription) which had a long-established meaning (including perpetual licensing) and used that name (but without its initial capital) to mean the opposite (no perpetual licensing).

There was a brief period, only last year, where the S word meant both things at the same time and differentiation between the opposing meanings was achieved using different prefixes.

Confused yet?

I’m not sure whether it’s kinder to view Autodesk doing something so obviously confusing as merely incompetence in communication or a deliberate attempt to confuse and deceive customers and/or the share market. Or maybe it was an inspired choice and I’m too obtuse to comprehend its genius. Choose whichever explanation you prefer.

In an attempt to clear things up, but at the risk of confusing matters further, Autodesk’s naming history …

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What’s in a name? AutoCAD 360 / mobile app confusion

Has Autodesk’s online DWG viewer/markup tool had yet another rename? It’s hard to tell. I suspect there’s a rename process going on that’s not yet complete.

Here’s the list of names so far. I think.

  • Visual Tau (when acquired by Autodesk)
  • Project Butterfly (Autodesk Labs name)
  • AutoCAD WS
  • AutoCAD 360
  • AutoCAD mobile app

The last two names appear to be interchangeable right now. What led me to this confusion is the very sub-optimal customer experience I had in attempting to try out AutoCAD 360. The best way to describe it is a wild goose chase.

I started from a point familiar to current AutoCAD maintenance and subscription customers, the Autodesk Accounts page. Like the majority of AutoCAD users, I accessed this using a browser on a Windows PC. Among the options in there was this. Hmm, AutoCAD® 360, free, Access now. Let’s try that out.

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When is a subscription-only update not a subscription-only update?

Before I get started, I want to clarify the meaning of the word ‘subscription’. For about 15 years, the word Subscription (note the initial capital) meant something specific for Autodesk customers. It meant you had bought a perpetual license and instead of paying for periodical updates, you paid for a year’s Subscription in advance. In allowed access to any new release that appeared during that year plus various other benefits.

That thing that was once called ‘Subscription’ has now been renamed ‘maintenance’ (no initial capital) in Autodeskspeak. So what does ‘subscription’ (no initial capital) mean? Rental. You pay in advance for use of the product for a period and when you stop paying, you stop using the product. This is now the only way to obtain Autodesk software you don’t already own. In addition to access to any new release that appears during the subscription period, it provides other benefits …

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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 …

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