Autodesk Introduces Flexible Software Delivery

21 Aug, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

The pick-and-choose installation option may alleviate some headaches associated with annual release cycles.

This week, taking its cue from the way Microsoft delivers Windows updates and Symantec delivers Norton Antivirus updates, Autodesk introduced what it calls Flexible Software Delivery. According to the announcement, the new method gives users "earlier access to new features, delivered on demand," and the option to "choose which features to install and use." Though currently confined to AutoCAD, the format serves as a test bed for other products, according to company officials.

Because of the demands of new software testing, evaluation, and training, CAD managers typically like to skip a release or two between upgrades. Some Cadalyst readers have pointed out Autodesk's annual release cycles are at odds with their preferences. (Read "Cadalyst Readers Balk at Yearly AutoCAD Upgrades," June 30, 2006.) The company anticipates that Flexible Software Delivery will serve these customers better.

How It Works
Flexible Software Delivery comes at no extra cost to customers. Under this option, the updates arrive in two forms: as Subscription Bonus Packs and Automatic Product Updates. The company explained, "Subscription Bonus Packs will be released regularly and customers will be able to pick and choose which bonus packs to install. [Automatic] Product Updates are now automatically delivered to all licensed AutoCAD customers [on subscription and on perpetual licenses], providing faster and more regular access to patches and fixes."

"The bonus packs are bundled together by theme," explained Eric Stover, product line manager for the Autodesk Platform Group. "For example, the first bonus pack made available under the new delivery model is for quantity takeoff calculation."

If you're an AutoCAD user on subscription, whenever new downloads become available, you can expect to see a bubble notice with a link. "At that point, you can see an explanation about the content of the bonus pack," Stover said. "So you can decide if you want to install it right away or skip." If you're an AutoCAD user who's not on subscription, you'll receive the content of these bonus packs when you upgrade to the next version.

"Imagine a customer who's got a three-year project," Stover suggested. "They might not want to upgrade to each new version. [With Flexible Software Delivery] they get the infrastructure updates [bug fixes and critical updates] while they remain on the same version a lot longer. When new bonus packs become available, they can decide if these minifeatures are relevant to the kind of work they're doing and choose to install, without the overhead of deploying a whole new version."

Automatic Product Updates are the AutoCAD equivalent of critical updates for Windows. They contain patches and fixes prompted by feedback received through the company's Customer Involvement Program and Customer Error Reporting utilities. The ability to receive and install them in between regular release cycles is a welcome change, especially for those who are not on subscription and those who don't plan to upgrade with every new release.

The Evolving Autodesk Licenses
In 1997, when perpetual software licenses were still the norm, Autodesk launched what it called the Autodesk VIP Subscription program in the United States and Canada. In the announcement dated February 27, 1997, the company touted that the program "assures Autodesk direct delivery of major software upgrades immediately upon release."

At the time, bandwidth limitations made instantaneous download impractical, so Autodesk shipped CDs loaded with new features, patches, support documents, and training modules to its VIP subscribers.

In 2001, four years after the birth of the VIP Program, Autodesk began pushing the subscription model to all customers across the board. Along with the subscription model, the company also experimented with a software rental model, which let users rent selected Autodesk titles for 30, 60, or 90 days. This licensing option is no longer available.

The bonus packs offered under the current Flexible Software Delivery are not entirely new. Autodesk has offered similar extensions, or modular enhancements, to customers on subscription from time to time.