AutoCAD Help suckage to continue – confirmed

In a recent post on Between the Lines, Shaan passed on the following response from the AutoCAD Team: There has been some recent discussions about the built-in help system in AutoCAD 2013, both positive and some criticism.  As our longtime users know, AutoCAD help has been through many evolutions. We are particularly proud of the new AutoCAD 2013 online learning environment we recently released (AutoCAD Online Help Mid-Year Updates.) This update addressed several user requested fixes and changes, and we will continue to take our direction from our user’s feedback. We do recognize that the online learning environment may not be the solution for every user, so while we are focused on creating a rich and personalized online experience, we will continue to maintain our current basic offline experience. (The emphasis is mine). This statement, although couched in marketingspeak, confirms what I’ve had to say on the subject. Here’s my translation into plain English: AutoCAD 2013 Help sucked, the customers said so, the recent update improved matters somewhat for online users, but the awful old system stays in place for offline users. The offline system is in maintenance mode, and the experience will continue to remain basic (i.e. it will suck long-term). There’s no mention of correcting this situation; it’s clearly a matter of policy rather than some unfortunate accident. Today, I was using Autodesk Navisworks Manage 2013. As you might expect from an Autodesk product, it’s powerful but unstable. In addition to the lockups and crashes, it has various bugs and annoyances. In looking for a way of working around one of the annoyances, I delved into the Help system. Strangely enough, this product (much younger than AutoCAD) uses something that looks remarkably like an old-fashioned CHM-based Help system. It worked offline. It was quick. It had contents, search…

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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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Should Autodesk provide a CHM version of its AutoCAD 2013 Help?

I’ve added a poll asking this question over on the right. I would like to see this done as soon as possible as a courtesy for those customers who find the current AutoCAD 2013 Help system inadequate. If you agree, vote Yes. If you disagree (for example, you think Autodesk should instead concentrate on improving the current system), vote No. If you wish to make a comment on this specific issue, feel free.

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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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AutoCAD 2013 – Using Help in anger

Trying to be fair, I decided to put aside my initial hostility to the AutoCAD 2013 Help system and use it for real. I used it in a realistic situation, to find out how to work with something new or changed (model documentation) as I was working through it with my own example drawing. Try as I might to give it a fair go, I could only get so far before I got irritated. Using it in anger might not be an entirely appropriate phrase for it, but it’s not that far off. Using it in annoyance, perhaps? Here’s how it went. I hit F1, wait for it to finish loading itself, click in the search box (because that’s not where the focus is to start with), type ‘model documentation’ and pick Search (because Enter doesn’t work). I then wait again, for about 10 seconds, even though I’ve configured it for offline use. Eventually, there is a huge mass of results displayed, almost all of which are totally (totally!) irrelevant to model documentation. Most of them are relevant only to ARX programmers dealing with completely unrelated matters. If I use the “phrase” option rather than “and”, the list is much shorter and has a much higher proportion of results that have some relevance, but there are still completely pointless results. For example, the 4th result is About Performance Considerations (AutoLISP), which does not contain the phrase at all. It does contain the words ModelSpace and Document, but not together. It does not contain any information remotely related to model documentation. Didn’t Autodesk buy a search technology company a while back? If that company’s technology is in use here, then Autodesk bought a dud. At least the top two results directly relate to what I need, so I’ll move on with those. They are Commands…

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AutoCAD 2013 – Help improved in one area

There’s one important area in which AutoCAD 2013’s Help shines when compared with its immediate predecessors. If you’re a Visual LISP user, you’ll be pleased to know that if you select a function name in the editor (e.g. (vla-get-ActiveDocument)) and hit Ctrl+F1, this now takes you to the appropriate page in the ActiveX and VBA Reference, as it should. In AutoCAD 2011 you just got a cryptic message or a 404 error, depending on the context. In AutoCAD 2012, you were just taken to the front page of Help and expected to find it yourself. Props to Autodesk for fixing this problem. As a bonus, the reference you’re taken to is still a CHM so it works nicely. The Search tab doesn’t work in Windows 7, but that applies to all CHM Help and it’s Microsoft’s fault, not Autodesk’s. The structured contents and index are fully functional, which makes the whole thing usable even without the search facility.

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AutoCAD 2013 – Autodesk video tutorial for Help

Autodesk has produced a 2-minute video explaining the features of the new Help system in AutoCAD 2013 that I recently panned. As you might expect, it’s kind of upbeat and chirpy, but the fact that Autodesk feels the need to provide a tutorial on how to use Help says it all, really. Whatever, it may be useful to you, so here it is. It’s hosted on the Autodesk site, unlike many other Autodesk videos (and my own, to be fair), so those of you who have YouTube blocked at work may still be able to watch it. If you’re having trouble watching the tutorial, don’t panic. I expect Autodesk will soon produce another tutorial explaining how to use the tutorial explaining how to use Help explaining how to use the product to actually do work.

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AutoCAD 2013 – Autodesk pulls off a miracle with Help

In AutoCAD 2011, Autodesk introduced on-line Help. It was badly done and poorly received. It was slow and generally awful to use, and so obviously inferior to the generally well-crafted old CHM-based system in so many ways, that there were squeals of joy when somebody discovered that one of the AutoCAD-based vertical products hadn’t been updated to the new regime and still provided a CHM file. That file became hot property, being posted by users on Autodesk’s own discussion groups and other places. Eventually, the outcry was loud enough that Autodesk was forced to make the CHM version of Help available for download. Those of us who actually use the documentation from time to time (or support people who do) breathed a sigh of relief and got on with our work, grateful that Autodesk had seen the error of its ways. But had it, really? No. In AutoCAD 2012, Help was not only online, but integrated with AutoCAD Exchange in Autodesk’s dodgy version of a pseudo-browser. How good is Autodesk at writing browsers? About as good as you’d expect, sadly. No AutoCAD 2012 CHM was provided with the product at launch time, or even later as a download. So how well did this new and improved attempt at on-line Help go down with the punters? In my poll on the worst AutoCAD features of all time, Help (on line / 2012) came in third, which gives you some idea. Third worst of all time! That’s a really, really bad place to be. There’s only one place to go from there, surely? With AutoCAD 2013, Autodesk has wrought a miracle, taking this terrible failure of a system and completely revamping it. Somehow, incredibly, impossibly, Autodesk has managed to make it even worse. Not slightly worse, either. Much worse. AutoCAD Help has…

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The worst feature ever added to AutoCAD is…

…the Ribbon, according to your selections in the What are the worst features ever added to AutoCAD? poll. As in the best ever poll, the winner (loser?) in this race had no serious competition. I’ve listed eleven top (bottom?) features here rather than ten, partly because the popular (unpopular?) choice Memory Overuse isn’t exactly a feature. But it’s mainly because I’d hate to see Action Recorder unfairly miss out on a well-deserved mention. Ribbon (30%) CUI (20%) Help (on line / 2012) (18%) Memory Overuse (17%) AutoCAD Today (2000i/2002) (16%) White / Cream Drawing Background (16%) Unreconciled Layers (16%) Nudge (10%) Blipmode (9%) Proxy Object Compatibility (9%) Action Recorder (8%) Given the reception the Ribbon received when it was introduced, maybe it’s unsurprising to see it top the lists here. Cloud observers may find it interesting to note that that Autodesk’s attempt to move AutoCAD’s Help on line has been very poorly received. Yo Autodesk with your Cloud an’ all, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but on-line Help has been voted one of the worst features of all time! Of all time! The dislike of the intrusive, useful-to-some but short-lived AutoCAD Today feature remains strong a decade later. Light drawing backgrounds remain unpopular, which should not be a surprise to anyone, except maybe some people at Autodesk who thought it was a good idea to rehash old mistakes in a new and exciting way (“This time it’s magnolia!“). History, doomed to repeat, etc. As for poor old Action Recorder, that has to be the ultimate brochure feature. It’s something for Autodesk to boast about rather than something for customers to actually use; “We responded to customer requests and fulfilled AUGI wishlists for a macro recorder!” Well, you did, kind of, by giving us something that’s about as useful as a chocolate…

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AutoCAD 2012 – How’s the Help now?

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

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AutoCAD 2011 online Help changes – a curate’s egg

As announced by Shaan Hurley, Autodesk has made some changes to the AutoCAD 2011 online Help system. Please check it out and see what you think. After a short time with it, here are my experiences using IE6 (yes, I know). As this is a dynamic system and dependent on browser characteristics, Internet connectivity and any changes Autodesk may make between me writing this and you reading it, your mileage will vary. There are some cosmetic changes,  including a fixup of the Autodesk logo in IE6 that was done a couple of weeks ago. Sadly, my pink Comic Sans logo has not been adopted.  As I can’t do a direct side-by-side comparison with the pre-change setup under identical conditions, I can’t make a definitive statement about performance. I can say that it does appear to have improved somewhat. It now takes about 3.5 seconds from hitting F1 to seeing a complete landing screen. Once cached, I’m seeing it in come up in just under 2 seconds. The main change from a usability point of view is that the Search facility now defaults to searching All Books rather than whatever document you happen to have highlighted over on the left sidebar. That’s welcome. Also, the searches generally appear to give better results. For example, a simple search for LINE in the original 2011 online system gave a list of 199 results, of which the actual LINE command was 26th! Now, a search for LINE puts the LINE command third in the list; much better. The results come up faster than before (2.5 seconds in this example), but I have seen widely varying search times reported so I would be interested to hear about your experiences. The way the search results are presented is now significantly different. Instead of a single line for each result, 4 lines…

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Filling the holes in Autodesk’s CHM Help stopgap

It was good to see Autodesk react to criticism of AutoCAD 2011’s browser-based Help with an acknowledgement of the problems and an attempt to provide a workaround by making a zip file of CHM files available for download. That’s much better than ignoring people’s concerns, denying the validity of those concerns or shooting the messenger, which has been known to happen in the past. However, there are some holes in the workaround, only some of which can be filled. Under 64-bit Windows 7, the Search pane is blank, as it is in the CHM Help for earlier releases on that platform. This is stated on the download page. Index works well, but Search doesn’t. As Search is one of the worst aspects of the browser-based Help, this is a rather unfortunate. There is no obvious way of making the CHMs provide contextual help. Don’t bother pointing at acad181.chm in the Files tab of Options, it doesn’t work. Edit: See Chris Cowgill’s post on the AUGI forums for a partial workaround. Even without contextual help, no advice is provided for calling the CHMs from within AutoCAD; you are only told that you can set up a shortcut on your desktop and double-click on that when you need it. However, you can set up an alias command in AutoCAD. To do this, edit the acad.pgp file or use the Express Tools Aliasedit command to set up a shell command. The alias name can be whatever you like (e.g. HEL), the command name should simply be the path and filename of the main acad181.chm file. The CHM files are currently available only in English. The set of CHM files is incomplete. See below for more details and what you can do about it. These are the CHM files provided with AutoCAD 2011: acet.chm – Express…

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Autodesk provides CHM-based Help for AutoCAD 2011

In a comment in response to my AutoCAD 2011 Help system is not popular post, Autodesk’s Diane Serda acknowledged the problems, offered apologies and posted a link to a CHM version of the Help. From Diane’s comment: We have posted the zip file for download here: http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/ps/dl/item?id=15068206&siteID=123112&linkID=9240618 Instructions: 1. Download the AutoCAD2011CHMHelp.zip to your local drive (such as My Documents\AutoCAD2011Help). 2. Extract the zip file to this same folder. 3. To access the CHM Help, you’ll need to click on acad181.chm or create a desktop shortcut. You can also point to the locally installed HTML help by turning on the local help checkbox under Options, System. You can also access the PDF’s from the Online Help Home page under Online Resources. http://docs.autodesk.com/ACD/2011/ENU Thanks, Diane! That saves people from having to do inconvenient and dodgy things like downloading a demo version of an AutoCAD 2011-based vertical (Civil 3D 2011 has CHM-based Help for the AutoCAD bits) and grabbing the CHM out of there. Edit: when running under Windows 7 64-bit, the Search pane is blank, as it is in the CHM Help for earlier releases. That’s unfortunate, because searching is a major thing at which the browser-based system is currently very poor. The Index panel works, though, and it’s quick. The PDF link is currently broken for me, but I expect it will be working before too long. In the meantime, the direct link to the list of available AutoCAD 2011 PDF documentation is http://docs.autodesk.com/ACD/2011/ENU/pdfs/PDF Documentation.html (beware, space in URL).

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AutoCAD 2011 Help system is not popular

My poll on this subject is still running (see right), but so far about 2/3 of respondents rate AutoCAD 2011’s new browser-based Help system as 0, 1 or 2 stars out of 5 (total fail, very poor or poor). Frankly, I’m surprised it’s doing as well as that. Have a look at this discussion group thread to get an idea of the sort of reaction I was expecting it to receive. (Kudos to Autodesk’s moderators for allowing the discussion to continue with relatively little obvious censorship, at least so far). There are many good new things in AutoCAD 2011, but Help isn’t one of them. Even if you like the concept of online help, this implementation of that concept is a failure. Even when used offline, this release’s browser-based Help is manifestly inferior to its CHM-based predecessor. Yet another victim of the 12-month release cycle, this feature is horribly undercooked and should not have been included in the finished product. As an advertisment for Autodesk’s ability to provide efficient cloud-based and/or platform-independent software, it could hardly be worse. I intend to pull Help to shreds in more detail in a later post, but feel free to add your own observations.

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AutoCAD 2011’s new Help system – what do you think?

With all this talk of clouds in the air, it is interesting to note that Autodesk has moved AutoCAD’s Help system to a browser-based format, with online access as the default. So, how has Autodesk done with this first dipping of its toes into the cloudy waters with its primary mainstream product? I’ve already had a couple of unsolicited comments on the subject, and I’d like to hear from you. How do you rate the following, compared with previous releases? Performance (online) Performance (offline) Search results Content completeness and accuracy Ease of manual browsing Efficiency of user interface Concept of online Help Anything else you want to mention Please comment to express your views and use the poll on the right to provide an overall rating of the new system.

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