The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD explained

Following my comments on The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD, Autodesk’s Dieter Schlapfer has sought to explain the reasoning behind it. Here’s what he has to say: As mentioned previously, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD is designed for occasional AutoCAD users and those coming back from their initial training. These are people who just need a base level of knowledge in 2D AutoCAD to get things done, and who don’t necessarily want to become experts. To make future versions more effective, I really want to get some input on the 42 AutoCAD commands, and any descriptions or illustrations that are not clear. Especially valuable to me is feedback coming from occasional users. Here’s some history. Believe it or not, the 42 commands came first! I kept flaunting this number, which was based on an internal AutoCAD overview class that I taught a while back, in response to people who complained about how hard it is to learn AutoCAD. Based on that interesting number, two of my colleagues made the connection to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the title of which was based on Ken Welch’s book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe (I have the 1986 edition). Creating a hitchhiker’s guide to AutoCAD was a terrific idea and the next thing I knew, I was writing it. Most of the 42 commands were no-brainer choices, but there were several that I knew would be controversial among experienced AutoCAD users. Based on internal feedback and CIP popularity, I made a number of revisions to my original list but I’m open to being persuaded to make additional changes. My biggest challenge was handling scaling and layouts. As you know, there are four primary ways to annotate drawings. It was tough, but I ended up choosing the one that was easiest to learn, the trans-spatial…

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AutoCAD 2013 Help shock – it no longer sucks

Some months ago, I gave Autodesk several damn good (and thoroughly well-deserved) thrashings over its hopelessly inadequate AutoCAD 2013 Help system. When Autodesk’s Dieter Schlaepfer responded and asked for feedback, he sure got it. There are 142 comments on that one post to date, most of them leaving nobody under any illusions about how short of the mark the new system was. There is now an updated version of the AutoCAD 2013 Help system. It has been an interminably long time coming, a fact made far worse by Autodesk’s stubborn refusal to provide a CHM stopgap (which could have easily been done on the ship date with minimal resources if the will had been there), but at least an update is here now. Is it any good, though? I’ve seen fit to give the online version of the updated system a few minutes of my time and I have to say that it’s now way, way better than it was before. In a remarkable turnaround from current standard Autodesk practice, it would appear that customer feedback has not just been listened to, but actually acted on. Honest! Search results make sense. Performance is generally way better than I expected from an online system. There are links to useful things like lists of commands. Things like forward/back mouse buttons work as expected. Various things I expected to suck, simply didn’t. Huh? What’s going on here? It’s not all brilliant. There are occasional unexpected pauses, but not to excess. A Douglas Adams fan (Dieter?) is clearly responsible for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD. It’s fun, but I’m not convinced it’s particularly useful. The layout is confusing and the content has me somewhat baffled. Is DRAWORDER really one of the first things a beginner needs to know about AutoCAD? Or were there 41…

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AutoCAD 2013 Service Pack 1 – Now you see it, now you don’t

Last week, Autodesk released Service Pack 1 for AutoCAD 2013, and then removed it a few days later. Service Pack 1 for AutoCAD 2013 has been temporarily removed due to a newly discovered fatal error. The AutoCAD team is actively working on resolving this and a new service pack will be posted here as soon as it is available. This is the sort of thing that Beta testing is supposed to prevent, but in this case it obviously didn’t. Somebody in a position of influence at Autodesk needs to investigate whether this is just a freak one-off, or if there is some systemic weakness within the Beta testing program. One of the supposed benefits of Cloud software is that there are no updates for users to worry about. It’s all taken care of on the vendor’s server and you’re always using the most up to date version. OK, now fast forward five years and imagine how this scenario would have panned out if AutoCAD was a SaaS product. You come in one morning to find your AutoCAD keeps crashing, or worse, corrupting your files. It keeps doing this for several days until Autodesk is convinced that the problem lies at its end and reverts the changes on its server while it works out how to fix it. In the meantime, there’s nothing you can do to keep your business running except use one of those old-fashioned copies of AutoCAD you have lying around the place. Except your Subscription agreement only allows you to go back 3 releases. Autodesk no longer supports the release you happen to have handy, and won’t allow the software to be activated. You don’t have a 30-day window because you once evaluated that release on your PC and your 30 days are well and truly gone. Oh, and the file…

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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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AutoCAD 2013 – An Autodesk Help writer responds

Following some email discussions, I am happy to present a response from a relevant Autodesk person to the posts and comments here about AutoCAD 2013’s Help. Thanks for the opportunity to respond to your readers, Steve. First, I want to assure you that we’re listening to your comments about AutoCAD 2013 Help. We are adding it to the valuable feedback we’ve already received from users who participated in our Beta program. I responded promptly to every comment from each Beta user and will now address a wider audience. Here are some of the trends we’ve seen so far in the suggestions users are making about AutoCAD Help: Additional navigation to supplement our Search function Alphabetical listings of AutoCAD commands and system variables Improved precision from the Search function Access to information about new features We are working right now on our update plans. We invite your additional comments about any other problems you’ve had so that we can have a broad view of your needs as we define the scope of our update. I’m glad to say that Help updates will no longer have to wait until the next product release. I’d also like to emphasize that the software industry, Autodesk included, is trending toward online delivery of both software and documentation, and that these technology changes pose significant challenges to all of us. We always appreciate your feedback and we take it seriously. Thanks and best regards, Dieter Schlaepfer Principal Content Developer Autodesk, Inc. As Dieter suggests, please comment here with your problems and suggestions. Please be as brutally honest as you wish about Autodesk, its offerings and its future plans. However, I ask that you remain civil. I have ‘known’ Dieter on-line for about 20 years and can attest to his integrity, intelligence and intense desire to do…

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Autodesk Cloud-based structural engineering software review

As I’ve already discussed, one of the areas where CAD on the Cloud shows potential is in handling specific tasks that require performing intensive calculations that are suitable for sharing among many processors. That sounds great in theory, and a lot of Cloud marketing (e.g. Virtually Infinite Computing) emphasises that point. OK, that sounds promising, but how does it pan out in real life? One problem dissuading me from finding out is that Autodesk is being very restrictive with access to many of its Autodesk Cloud products (I’d probably throw a few sample render jobs into the Cloud and compare the performance, but I’m not the right kind of Subscription customer so I’m not allowed). Another problem is that I’m not qualified to review things like structural engineering software where the greatest computational potential appears to lie. Fortunately, Alex Bausk is qualified, so it was interesting to read his review of Autodesk’s Project Storm software. It’s important to point out here that anything Autodesk with ‘Project’ in the name is not a finished product. It’s an Autodesk Labs thing, designed to attract feedback rather than use in production. I very much approve of this process. It’s one area in which I’m happy to endorse the way Autodesk is approaching the whole Cloud thing, and has several benefits over the flawed private Beta process that Autodesk uses for its mainstream products such as AutoCAD. The downside for Autodesk when it comes to doing pre-release things publicly is that the criticism can be public, too. For example, selected from Alex’s review: …the product is, for reasons unknown, available only in selected countries… …utterly meaningless popups… Options for analysis settings are, to put it short, appalling. Project Storm is nothing more than a web envelope for our good old ARSA package. It is basically…

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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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Do you think Migration sucks?

I do. If you’ve added a couple of toolbars and changed a few settings, it’s probably fine for you. But I think it’s been effectively broken for significantly customised setups ever since Autodesk “improved” it by introducing the CUI mechanism in AutoCAD 2006. It’s undocumented and whenever I’ve tried it, unreliable. I ran some polls on it a couple of years ago which had few responses. What do you think now? If you’re unhappy with migration, don’t just vent here. Autodesk now wants to hear from you. Here’s the announcement: Dear AutoCAD User! AutoCAD Product Design & Usability Team is looking for participants for the study. Topic: focus on Migration process, Migration tool and results of migration. Our Goal To gain the most complete understanding about problems and requests AutoCAD users may have while migrating their settings and customization from a previous release of AutoCAD. Who Should Participate? We are looking for individual contributors or CAD managers with small number of seats (less than 5- either standalone or multi-seat standalone) with unsatisfying experience using Migration tool to migrate settings from a previous version of AutoCAD. How the Study will be Conducted? We will schedule ~1 h interview session with you (remotely) and discuss your experience with migration, results you expected, outcome you’ve got. When? We are planning research between May 27 and June 2, 2010. How To Sign Up? Please submit qualification data and indicate your availability here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MigrationSignUp I’m a bit concerned about the restriction of this study to individual users and CAD managers with a handful of users, as I would have thought CAD managers with significant numbers of users would be the least satisfied group, and the group with the greatest need for a working Migration system. However, as with other such Autodesk research, I encourage your…

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Autodesk wants more feedback, this time on Array

Autodesk is looking for: General AutoCAD users of any discipline (latest release or older versions of AutoCAD), who are familiar with the Array command and use grips to edit their drawings. Optional/additional requirements: Users that are familiar with parametric drawing (geometric and dimensional constraints in AutoCAD) Users familiar with 3D Familiar with the DIVIDE and MEASURE commands. Autodesk is planning to conduct this study on the week starting 17 May. Sign up here.

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Programmers, have your say

Autodesk wants your input in its annual API survey. What used to be a closed survey for Autodesk Developer Network (ADN) members has been open to all for the last couple of years, and if you do any Autodesk-based development at all I encourage you to take part. Yes, that includes those of us who do most of our development in LISP. In fact, I am especially keen to see LISP developers adequately represented in this survey. This is a one-page survey and it doesn’t take long. The full list of API surveys is on Kean Walmsley’s Through the Interface blog. Most of you would be interested in the AutoCAD survey, so here’s a direct link to that. Kean assures us that our feedback will not fall on deaf ears, although I have yet to see any evidence of that in terms of any change to Autodesk’s decade-long policy of total LISP neglect. I guess many of us gave up hope of any improvement years ago and can’t be bothered providing feedback any more. Please don’t give up. Fill in the survey and let Autodesk know you still exist.

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Autodesk Knowledge Base – rapid response converts fail to win

Credit where credit is due. Following my rant about the uselessness of using a 16-minute YouTube video as the AutoCAD 2011 system requirements resource, the relevant people at Autodesk quickly fixed it and let me know. Now we just need the other releases covered and we’ll be all set. Autodesk is still officially supporting AutoCAD releases back to 2008, and those people who parted with a big slab of cash a decade ago are Autodesk customers, too. I’m sure Autodesk would like potential new buyers of its current products to know that they will be at least minimally looked after in future. I commend Autodesk’s Leo Casado for reacting politely and constructively to what was undoubtedly harsh feedback. Some Adeskers (by no means all) have been known to get extremely defensive when faced with criticism, insisting that all feedback should be expressed constructively. That’s nonsense, of course. Frank expressions of viewpoints are essential in order to resolve problems. Negative feedback, including harsh criticism, can be among the most useful forms of communication. Congratulations to Leo for showing how it can be handled positively, to the benefit of all.

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Full RSS feeds restored

Apologies to those of you who have stated that you prefer truncated feeds, but I have now restored full RSS feeds. I will attempt to deal with the issue of blog scraping in ways that do not have an impact on blog nauseam readers. Thanks to all of you who provided feedback about this change, both in comments and by email. Negative feedback is very often the most useful kind, and this is no exception.

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Send your screen to Autodesk

No, I don’t mean Autodesk is now so impoverished that it is running short of monitors for its staff, I mean send a capture of your screen to Autodesk. Guillermo Melantoni, one of AutoCAD’s Product Managers, would like to see how you arrange your user interface for production use. As I’ve mentioned before, Guillermo is a very smart guy who is responsible for recent 3D enhancements to AutoCAD. He is open to listening to customers and trying to accommodate their needs. Here’s what he has to say: I would like to ask all of you to send me screen capture of your AutoCAD in production. I’d like to understand how you organize the diverse components, how you use the Ribbon and/or the toolbars, if you display the command line or not, if you use tool palettes. I’m very happy Guillermo is seeking to gain a fuller understanding of the diverse ways in which we use AutoCAD, and I encourage you to send him a screen capture of your working environment. If you have several workspaces, send him several screen captures explaining what each capture is showing and how often it is used. If you are a CAD manager or other person with access to several users who set up their interfaces differently, then please send in examples from those other users too. There are many ways of creating screen captures, but the good old Print Scrn button should do the job fine here, capturing both screens if you use a dual-monitor setup. You can then fire up any graphics app such as Paint (e.g. in XP, Start > Run > mspaint [Enter]) and paste in your capture. Please don’t save it as a BMP file even if that’s the default, as that’s extremely space-inefficient. The PNG format works well for…

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The 12-month cycle and shipping software with known bugs

In a recent blog post, Deelip Menezes appears to be shocked by the very idea that a particular CAD company (no, not Autodesk) would ship software that contains known bugs. I thought he was joking, because he’s surely aware that practically all software companies with highly complex products release software with known bugs. As Deelip points out, those companies with 12-month cycles are particularly prone to doing this. There is no possible way any company can release something as complex as a CAD application within a fixed 12-month cycle without it containing dozens* of known bugs (because there isn’t time to fix them after discovery) and dozens* of unknown ones (because of insufficient Beta testing time). Reading Deelip’s post and subsequent comments more carefully, it becomes clear that he doesn’t mean what a casual glance might lead you to believe he means. Deelip makes a specific distinction between “bugs” and “known issues”. He states that if a bug is discovered and the software is then adjusted such that it does not abort the software in a badly-behaved way, and this is then documented, then the bug ceases to be a bug and becomes a “known issue”. I disagree. Bugs can cause crashes or not; they can cause “nice” crashes or not; they can be known about prior to release or not; they can be documented internally or not; they can be documented publicly or not. As far as I’m concerned, if the software doesn’t act “as designed” or “as intended”, then that’s a bug. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say, and I concur: A software bug is the common term used to describe an error, flaw, mistake, failure, or fault in a computer program that prevents it from behaving as intended (e.g., producing an incorrect or unexpected result). That doesn’t…

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Autodesk discussion groups – signs of life?

After an extraordinarily long period of total silence about the dreadful state of the appallingly-updated Autodesk discussion groups, it seems that the sleeping monster has raised an eyelid. Although it unfortunately indicates that Autodesk intends to try to patch up the new system rather than throwing it away, there is now a “sticky” post at the top of each forum containing the following text: Your continued patience is appreciated as we work to resolve the discussion group issues you have been reporting. We understand the impact these issues have on your productivity, and want to assure you we are continuing to troubleshoot and resolve. We’ve posted an update under “Help” to provide awareness and status of the issues we are working on. We’ll regularly update this as improvements are made. Never mind the glacial nature of the response, it’s good to see that an acknowledgment has finally been made of the problems. However, picking on the Help link reveals that there’s a long way to go yet before all the problems are even fully understood by the team responsible, let alone fixed. Only three “Known Issues” are listed, and four issues are allegedly resolved. At least one of those, shown as resolved on 7 October, is still very much broken right now. At least one of the FAQ items, “Why can’t I stay signed in?”, gives false information. Discussion group team, you will find a lot more than seven issues listed on this blog alone. To see them, just click on the Newsgroups link in the Tags section on the right. Alternatively, you could use the Search box at the top and enter something like “discussion groups”. A search that actually finds everything? There’s a novel idea.

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The Autodesk discussion groups are awful

Yes, the Autodesk discussion groups are still awful. In other breaking news, the Pacific Ocean continues to be wet. I seldom visit them any more, but I just hopped on to the Autodesk discussion groups to see what progress had been made in fixing the many problems that have been pointed out here, on the groups themselves, in official problem reports, and elsewhere. Little or none, it seems. Search? There are still apparently only 188 uses of the word “autocad” in the tens of thousands of posts in the AutoCAD groups, ever. Editor? It not only still vacuums, when I just tried it out it vacuumed even harder than before, with delays of over a minute when switching between tabs and nasty screen formatting issues when the switch eventually occurred. Attachments that can’t be viewed? Check. Visible email addresses? Yup, still there. Everything I looked at was just as bad as it was last time I looked. Maybe something has been improved somewhere, but I gave up looking. I know there’s an Autodesk cultural tendency to pretend problems don’t exist for the sake of saving face, but that just doesn’t cut it here. (Actually, it doesn’t cut it anywhere, but that’s another story). What kind of face does this debacle present to the world? What does it make Autodesk look like? A company that doesn’t understand the Internet. A company that doesn’t know how to write software that works. A company that fails to seek user feedback on changes until it is too late. A company that can’t fix things that are broken. A company that doesn’t care about its customers’ privacy. A company that refuses to listen to customers who point out problems. Now I happen to know that this is not a fair and accurate representation of everyone…

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My autodesk.com site survey experience

I just tried out the new discussion groups to see if anything has been fixed. After entering my password (yet again), instead of placing me back in the discussion groups with my 100-topics-per-page settings, I was transported to the main Autodesk page and given the chance to provide feedback. I was informed that a new browser window would be opened, and then… nothing. I waited a while, but still nothing. Or so it seemed. Actually, the new browser window appeared behind my existing browser window, so I found it eventually. I clicked on it, it opened another, bigger window and the survey started. Here are the questions and my responses: Which of the following best describes your primary purpose for today’s visit? . Other To see if the discussion groups are still broken How often have you visited Autodesk.com in the past 6 months? . 6 times or more A question about my industry group that didn’t want to copy and paste… . Other Question is not relevant Do you currently own an Autodesk product? . Yes Are you planning to make a purchase decision related to an Autodesk product? (I don’t know what choice to make here, none of them really fit. I’m on Subscription but that doesn’t mean I’m not involved in purchasing decisions; I am. I don’t know when the next purchasing decision will be, though. I picked:) . No. Which of the following titles best describes your role in your company? . IT Manager From which region are you accessing this site? (Can’t you tell?) . Australia / New Zealand / South Pacific How would you rate your overall experience with Autodesk.com today? . Very bad (Actually, I don’t really know because because I haven’t yet got to the discussion groups I asked for, so I’m…

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Slight improvement in discussion group search

While almost all of the problems with the Autodesk discussion groups remain, there are some signs of movement in one area at least. The search facility, which until recently refused to find anything from before the update, now finds some earlier posts. It would appear that some kind of search index is very slowly being built, but it’s a long way short of being finished. For example, if I do the standard default search for “autocad” in all the AutoCAD groups, there are 83 found in the last 90 days. This seems plausible, but I don’t trust it. Changing the time option to “All” now does actually return something rather than nothing at all, so I guess that’s an improvement. But 188 messages containing “autocad”? Since 1998? There should surely be thousands. Also, there are apparently no messages at all containing the word “it”. Or “is”. Ever. Some way to go there, then. If the people fixing the search happen to be reading this, please note that a maximum possible number of 30 results per page is much too low and makes it very hard to work with the search results. 100 would be better. There are still email addresses being exposed to the spam trawlers, but I guess by now that horse has well and truly bolted. Although I haven’t done a scientific study of post frequency, it looks to me as if the discussion groups are now significantly less active than they were before the update. Given the slightly functional search, the persistence of the awful editor, and the terrible runeverythingintooneline formatting of the existing message database (particularly important for the many posts containing code), I can’t say I’m surprised at the exodus.

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