Dialog Box June 2006

8 Jun, 2006 By: Cadalyst Staff

Readers have their say.

To be considered for publication, you must sign your letters and include your company's name, address, and daytime telephone number. Letters are subject to editing for length and clarity. Send letters to:
No Angel
I just received an email about the role BIM is going to play in the future of the AEC industry, as opposed to DAD technology. I do not think Autodesk is the angel here, not where I stand. I still remember when it finally time came to try to computerize myself (sole practitioner), probably some 12 or so years ago, nobody at Autodesk even thought about BIM, and that was the sole reason I chose a different platform.
—Andrzej Weber

Civil 3D Resources Needed
I have enjoyed reading Cadalyst for more than 15 years and am finding the new Tips & Tools Weekly very useful. As a user of AutoCAD Civil 3D (2006), I have found resources for the civil side of AutoCAD to be limited. Do you know of a Web site dedicated mostly to Civil 3D or LDD? Civil 3D is a very robust program and any resources that would enable my office to use it more efficiently would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

—Kelly Rosenbaum
Jacob & Martin Engineers, Abilene, TX

Editors respond
We're glad to hear you're liking the new Tips & Tools Weekly newsletter. I think we have some good news for you regarding your request for more information about civil engineering, specifically Autodesk Civil 3D. These topics seem to be popping up more and more often on the Cadalyst radar. Our popular CAD Clinic tutorial, which has been focusing recently on Civil 3D, will become dedicated to that topic permanently. We're also working with the CAD Clinic authors to develop a guide to civil engineering resources. That article will run in the Cadalyst Daily newsletter, most likely sometime in June. And I would encourage you to post your question on Cadalyst's CAD Questions Discussion Forum as well, to elicit some feedback from other readers who use Civil 3D. Finally, check out Autodesk's Civil 3D Web site for links to related resources.

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Tips & Tools Weekly Scores
I have been receiving Cadalyst information and magazines via regular mail and electronically for years now but I must tell you these Tips & Tools Weekly newsletters are the best! I keep everyone of them in a special folder. They are short and informative, you've hit a home run with this one! Thank you.

—Gary Humrichouser
Southern Company

Editors respond
Click here to subscribe to Cadalyst's Tips & Tools Weekly.

Hiring Help
I really enjoyed Robert's Green's article about improving the hiring process . . . Please keep writing the "CAD Manager" columns. They are very informative and useful. Thanks.

—Jim Smith
CH2M Hill

Editors Note
We received a number of responses to the May 2006 "Bug Watch" column and Editor's Window, which both focused to some degree on Autodesk's annual release cycle.

Releasing updates before bugs are worked out is poor business practice. Forcing customers to update to releases with bugs is unethical. Release 12 is still the best version ever released. We were getting along just fine with Release 14 as well. If my company had the same philosophy, we would no longer be in business.

—Joe Lawless

I personally find the annual upgrade schedule counterproductive. We are a rather bare-bones operation. The time required to bring everyone up to speed on each new release has a significant impact on production. This is particularly true when major changes are implemented with a new release. We probably won't install 2007. I haven't even managed to wean a couple of designers from 2005, and many of the consultants we deal with will not be upgrading. The ability to save back to earlier versions is fine. It is still a pain in the lower regions to have to do that on a regular basis.

I do think that Autodesk is headed in the right direction, and I really like the new features in Map. However, I am irritated by the annual upgrade schedule. I suggest that Autodesk slow down a bit and concentrate on exterminating the ants and spiders.

—Lawrence J. Holt, PLS

We are a small electrical utility. Even though we subscribe, we don't implement every new release of AutoCAD. At the moment we are running on 2004, and the planned upgrade to 2006 has been pushed back several months. We may go straight to 2007.

Besides the problem of taking a new buggy version of AutoCAD, we have the problems of compatibility with all the auxiliary programs. We use Plot Manager in our reprographics department and Meridian for our document management. Until all versions are proven to work together with no major issues, we will sit on what does work. Not to mention the transition period need to bring everyone up to speed. I could easily see a 10% loss in productivity while we fight these upgrade issues.

A rule of thumb that has been used a lot is to upgrade to every other release, but it looks like this is slipping to maybe every third release now. I am not sure there is any advantage to subscribing if we keep to our current practice of upgrading every second or third release. I get the impression that our bang for the buck has turned into a fizzle.

—Tom Hom

I am currently on subscription to Autodesk Map 3D. I would much prefer that Autodesk wait longer between releases to get things right. Currently, upgrading is such a time-consuming and expensive process for me that I often leave every other release on the shelf anyway. I'm far too busy just trying to make a living with CAD. I can't afford to take the time to do even the simple things such a learning to navigate reshuffled menus and renamed commands changed solely for the sake of change.

—Jim Solberg

For all the reasons in Steve Johnson's "Bug Watch" column, plus my reasons below, the 12-month upgrade cycle is bad for AutoCAD users.

  • The learning curve. I'm a proponent of lifelong learning, but the never-ending process of trying to use AutoCAD (or Architectural Desktop in my case) is getting to be too much. By the time I've learned the new features, updated CAD standards, templates and processes and have actually started to gain the productivity, it's time to start over. I haven't spent enough time being productive to pay for the learning curve before beginning a new one.
  • Support and training. What is the time lag between a new release to the publication date for third-party training and manuals? If I wait until the new edition of a book like "Mastering Architectural Desktop" by Paul Aubin, it's at least three months, perhaps more for other published guides and courses. The same is true for subscription e-learning and AUGI courses and Authorized Autodesk training center courses. On release day, training sources are lean, to say the least, and 12 months out, the aggregate of blog tips, courseware, books, classes and support is more robust. I'm still learning things in Architectural Desktop from courses at Autodesk University, AUGI training, books, blogs and other sources that were prepared for ADT 2004, and I've got 2007 on my machine now.
  • Third-party extensions for AutoCAD-based products. Let's say I use third-party software for integrating Architectural Desktop object data into a company standards database and then use another software package to produce cost estimates or specifications. How soon will these third-party developers produce their upgrades that read the new file formats and correspond with the new datasets?
It's more likely I'll spend 6 to 12 months learning the new version by the seat of my pants, augmented by published guides and internet training. Then I'll prepare templates, standards and processes before the rollout to the CAD department and a new wave of training, followed by an implementation schedule to begin using all this in a production environment. I'll be lucky to get all this done before the next release. After all, my job is not to learn and implement AutoCAD -- it's to produce billable hours using AutoCAD.
—David B. Cole, AIA

Please don't buy into the marketing line the CAD companies are trying to sell here. The subscription model has very little benefit to the average user. It's simply a tool to extract additional revenue from customers for the vendor, while adding very little in the way of services from the vendor for the customer.

You mentioned the stable revenue stream it provides the software company, and that is really all it is meant to do. We can look back pretty easily to the feast or famine days of the Autodesk financial statements and see the tie-in to the anticipated release schedules, so as a method of evening out financial results, the subscription model is great, but only for Autodesk.

You also mentioned the availability of online help and training as a benefit. Please. That's the best they could come up with? So basically they're saying, "We need more of your money, but we sure as heck can't step in front of any additional expenses just for allowing you to pay us more money, more frequently".

Doesn't anyone remember when you not only got upgrades and patches when you purchased a software package, but you got phone support and documentation (real books, not just a PDF on a CD)?

Why are we all continuing to accept less and less service for more and more money? All these various businesses are trying to stick their hands deeper into their customers' pockets, but they don't seem to realize that their customers don't always have the freedom to pass those extra costs along. The markets are getting more and more competitive. Costs should be dropping, not increasing. Every time they tighten the screws, they just open the door wider for competitors who appeal to the disgruntled and dissatisfied. How did SolidWorks erode PTC's user base? The company put out a pretty good product for less money. Now it too has embraced the subscription model and is falling into the same trap.

Overall, I can't really blame Autodesk for getting on the bandwagon. Who isn't doing it these days? Look at the moaning that accompanies each new wrinkle in Microsoft's Volume Licensing and Software Assurance program pricing. Microsoft's financials have looked great ever since it got its monopoly and laid out subscription pricing. To its credit, Autodesk actually delivers new releases under its upgrade/subscription plans, Microsoft has a typical move of delaying software updates until contracts are expiring, then announcing new pricing to cover the cost of the next release/version, thereby increasing revenue while avoiding costs.

As for the danger of being locked out of the latest DWG file format, well, competition is rapidly eliminating that problem (for example, DWG Gateway).

Autodesk is spending an awful lot of time and money trying to protect its installed base, instead of listening to users and implementing select options and standards that they would find beneficial, even if they aren't owned by Autodesk (DWF vs. PDF, OpenDWG alliance vs. format tweaks with each new release, etc).

I would also offer this caution to Autodesk regarding its stick you mentioned -- product retirements. The company I work for stayed with AutoCAD 2002 well past the retirement. Then when the local VAR was waving the stick and lamenting how much we'd have to pay to get back to the current release, we went 3D, installed SolidWorks and relegated 2002 to legacy data support.

I'm not anti-Autodesk. Heck, I've used every version of AutoCAD since 10.0, but I am discouraged by the company's current business model and practices.

Just my two cents (all I have left after making our subscription payment, not!).

—Thomas Harvey

Yearly releases have become the normal mode for many of the CAD applications. Thank you for explaining the annual expectation of something in exchange for an annual maintenance fee.

The frequent releases are confusing for customers. Time is needed to become comfortable with the current issue. Software vendors are constantly touting the newest features with the result of losing their credibility. The feature should have been there, or it is really just a fix.

The trouble is the high price for maintenance. The software industry in general would charge 10% per year. Now, I see the CAD vendors expecting 20%.

My shop discontinued paying because our workstations were not ready for Inventor 7. Now, we are expected to pay fees for back years to become current again. It's not happening. We could not buy both hardware and unused maintenance. The hardware cost was addressed as a first step, and we are stuck at Inventor 8, which works well enough except for the Microsoft XP service pack 2 irregularities (SP2 came after Inventor 8 was optimized for old XP).

Users should have continuous update support for their ongoing fees. These updates must be solid improvements that are not calendar dependant.

—John Ehrhardt

Reading your article in the May Cadalyst makes me wonder where AutoCAD is coming from. I would love to be on subscription but never seem to be able to play the catch-up game that Autodesk likes to play. With 6-month releases, it's almost impossible for me to get there, which then leaves me thinking that it may be more economical to wait a couple of years before just buying a new version of AutoCAD plus subscription.

I work as a CAD manager for a small but mighty water and wastewater consulting firm and have six licenses to upgrade as I see fit as long as the company coffers can afford it, which at the present moment is not feasible as the firm is going through a hiccup in the business.

What Autodesk doesn't seem to get is that with an upgrade comes all the time needed to rework menu systems and train people not only with the new version but with the new third-party software to work with AutoCAD. Each release adds at least double the price of a full version of AutoCAD software to the bottom line per license that we hold. Ouch! So far I have been able to upgrade once a year just after AutoCAD issues the next release beyond what I am upgrading to.

My main gripe is that AutoCAD subscription may only be $420, but for two versions back at 2005 I need two upgrades plus the subscription fee per license. I am not sure where your figure of $1195 come from as I believe it is more like $600 + $600 + $420 = $1620. Factor in approximately $2,000 per license per upgrade, which in my case works out to $4,000 for two upgrades, and you have a very large $4,620 price tag for each version. Hmm -- my math tells me I should wait until a couple more releases go by and just start all over from the top. AutoCAD 2009 will be out by end of next year, right?

So it's sour grapes, but it does have merit as our clients are asking for Release 14 deliverables, which is a whole other issue.

—Brian Marsh C.E.T.

I really think Autodesk is out of sync with much of the building industry. We are an architectural/engineering firm. Most of our projects have a time frame of two to four years from start to finish. We are not interested in upgrading CAD two to four times during the life of a project, especially with Autodesk's record of upgrades. Not every upgrade has been an actual upgrade. Many of the increases in productivity are a figment of the imagination. So, now it appears that subscriptions would be more economical than upgrades. I would predict that once everyone is on subscription that subscription prices will go up dramatically and upgrades will slow down. Autodesk's tactics are an insult to its customers. Retirement of products in a mere two to three years is a scam. This is very expensive software. They have also tinkered with the DWG format too many times. It's ironic that with BIM, Autodesk is trying to promote the interoperability of building data when it has played with the DWG format to kill competition.

I don't say these things lightly. I was an avid AutoCAD fan. Personally, I have the first version of AutoCAD LT. At about the same time, I helped convince my company to change to full AutoCAD. We have 20 or 30 network licenses. We had an AutoCAD instructor on staff. We did some beta testing.

The problem with subscriptions is when our business slows, our costs for AutoCAD remain the same. My company has spent many thousands of dollars on AutoCAD, but could not afford to upgrade or subscribe when business slowed. We are stuck with AutoCAD 2002 and now buy later versions only as needed to support a project. Personally, I upgraded AutoCAD LT every upgrade until version 2000. I now use TurboCAD for personal use.

—Roger Otis

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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