The Ghost of Releases Past Haunts AutoCAD 2009 (Bug Watch AutoCAD Tutorial)

31 Mar, 2008 By: Steve Johnson

Is AutoCAD 2009 the Release 13 of the 21st century? Not really, says our Bugmeister.

By now, some of you may have seen comments from users and observers of AutoCAD 2009 comparing it to Release 13. That may not mean much to those of you who have arrived on the AutoCAD scene in the past decade, but let me assure you that long-termers at Autodesk cringe whenever that release is mentioned. Is it fair to mention this year's latest and greatest in the same breath as "the most powerful AutoCAD ever"?

This advertisement for Release 13 appeared in Cadalyst in 1995.

Let's compare and contrast the releases. We do indeed see similarities but also significant differences.


  • Both releases added significant new screen-based user interface elements.

  • Both releases were shipped to the public before they were anywhere near finished.

  • Both releases were shipped chock full of bugs. I will be examining them in detail over the coming months.

  • Both releases are significantly slower to use than their predecessors. In both cases, although benchmarks tell part of the story, the most important aspect of this is the "stickiness," or hesitation during drafting activities. The frustration felt by a Release 12 DOS user trying to use Release 13 on Windows 3.1 is very similar to that felt by an AutoCAD 2009 user.

  • The most trivial similarity is that both releases went pale. The first thing most new users of Release 13 for Windows did was to find out how to turn the background color from white to black so they could see the linework in their existing drawings. After negative feedback about that, Autodesk returned Release 14 to the dark side by painting it black again. I find Autodesk's belated repeat of that particular mistake quite amusing. So far, it has been flip-flop-flip. Will AutoCAD 2010 make it flip-flop-flip-flop?


  • Although Release 13 did introduce some half-baked features (Mlines, anyone?), most of the features were fairly complete in terms of design. AutoCAD 2009 not only introduces a swathe of incomplete new features, it also has a legacy of still-incomplete features that date back to the start of the introduction of 12-month release cycles.

  • Release 13 looked pretty good at the time. One of the things that looked finished was the Windows-based user interface. AutoCAD 2009 sports the Ribbon, a much more customizable version of at least one of Microsoft's fashionable user interfaces, but its unfinished nature is visually obvious there and in all sorts of other places. Wasted space and slipshod graphic design elements are the order of the day.

  • Release 13 introduced a new and incompatible drawing format; AutoCAD 2009 does not.

  • In 1994, AutoCAD was pretty much a stand-alone product. In 2008, it forms the base for a wide range of Autodesk vertical applications. These products are far more complex than AutoCAD and have plenty of serious bugs of their own. Yet the vertical product development teams must wait for the AutoCAD team to have its product near completion and then quickly cram their own code on top of that, test it, and try to make it work properly. The vertical products are released very shortly after AutoCAD and this scenario is not one that leads to top-quality software. Unfortunately, it shows.

  • Release 13 is actually much faster than AutoCAD 2009 at some things. Fire up that old clunker on any recent machine and be amazed as you can start drawing in less than two seconds! Recent AutoCAD releases have been getting progressively slower.

  • Release 13 introduced many new features beyond the new interface elements. AutoCAD 2009 is very light in comparison.

  • Here's the most important difference: Release 13 was horribly unstable and AutoCAD 2009 is not. Although it may be possible to make AutoCAD 2009 crash, it's not that common in normal use. When Release 13 shipped, it was almost impossible to use it and not crash. It also corrupted drawings by the thousands. To be fair, Release 13 stability did improve eventually, which brings us to our final difference.

  • Release 13 was followed by 13a, 13c1, 13c2, 13c2a, 13c2b, 13c3, 13c3b, 13c3a (yes, in that order), 13c4, and finally 13c4a. I expect we will see AutoCAD 2009 Service Pack 1 and a few hotfixes, but nothing like the spectacle of Autodesk chasing its tail from 1994 to 1996, removing and introducing bugs like crazy.

Where to from Here?
Release 13 didn't kill Autodesk, and I don't expect AutoCAD 2009 will either. Autodesk, after an initial period of panic, denial, and messenger-shooting, followed up in the only sensible way: by fixing the product. AutoCAD Release 13c4a was actually a pretty good piece of software. Release 14 was a much better piece of software. Autodesk put in a concerted effort to dramatically improve performance and fix the outstanding issues before shipping the next release.

Can Autodesk repeat that product recovery process with AutoCAD 2010? Yes, it can, but not if it carries on with business as usual and ships the next release, along with another spate of unfinished new features, in mid-March 2009. The 12-month cycle does not provide enough time to finish an AutoCAD release. Many people have been saying that for years now, and AutoCAD 2009 is the final proof. It took 28 months for Autodesk to ship Release 14, and Autodesk ultimately benefited greatly from taking that time to get things right. If it takes the same time to fix up the current software base, then so be it.

AutoCAD 2010 released in 2010? What a novel idea! Yes, please.

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