Trusting Autodesk? Contemplating a new product

Trusting Autodesk? Contemplating a new product

Last week, in my capacity as a de facto CAD manager for a large public utility company, I was having a chat with an Autodesk Australia person (he’s a nice guy and very honest, by the way). The topic of conversation moved to the new AutoCAD-based vertical, Plant 3D 2010. At that stage, I had not even installed the 30-day trial, but I still raised some of the issues that potentially stood in the way of the company adopting this apparently highly suitable product.

In a word, it comes down to trust. Each drawing used or issued by this utility is a legal document with a potentially very long life ahead of it. I showed the Autodesk person a drawing issued in 1901. The assets documented by that drawing are still in use today; indeed, many thousands of people daily depend heavily on them. Before we invest our money, time and training in Plant 3D, we need to know that the electronic drawings produced with it are going to be fully functional in the long term.

In terms of a new product like Plant 3D, can we trust Autodesk to do the following?

  1. Still be around and providing CAD software for many years?
  2. Go on supporting this new product for many years?
  3. In the event that the product is discontinued, provide an alternative, together with a migration path that retains full drawing intelligence?
  4. In the event that the product is discontinued, continue to provide ongoing support at least to the level of allowing the product to run and be transferred from one computer to another?
  5. Provide a product that works as well in real life as it does in demos?
  6. Provide a product that, from first release, works without crippling restrictions or bugs that render the product unusable?
  7. Include adequate support for national standards?
  8. Sell the product for a reasonable price on an ongoing basis?
  9. Provide Subscription for a reasonable price on an ongoing basis?
  10. Provide the product in such a way that we have flexibility in our use of network and standalone licensing long-term?
  11. Continue to allow the licensed use of earlier releases and use at home?
  12. Provide full API access to the custom objects, including ActiveX?
  13. Provide adequate object enablers for all recent AutoCAD releases and variants?
  14. Support the ongoing use of DWG files by other releases of this product freely up and down within a 3-release DWG version bracket?
  15. Provide full visual integrity, editability of proxy objects and round-tripping of intelligence, when saving to plain AutoCAD, including earlier releases?
  16. Provide mechanisms that allow any company-based custom work to be distributed easily to internal and external users and carried forward to new releases reliably?
  17. Avoid introducing problems and restrictions that would interfere with customisation and other aspects of CAD management?

Feel free to add to my list in your comments. If you go down the list giving a Yes, No or Maybe, how well does Autodesk do? Before looking at the product, I’ve got one Yes, a few Maybes and a very large number of Nos. That’s not based on paranoia or hatred, just on past history, including very recent history.

For example, can Autodesk be trusted to still be selling Plant 3D in a few years’ time? Ask the users of Autodesk FMDesktop. The same can be said of any of the other products in a long list of Autodesk abandonments that goes back to the dark ages. Generic CADD, anyone? What do I do with all my old Graphic Impact files?

Is it likely that Plant 3D will work properly in the real world in the first release or two? Ask the users of Civil 3D who tried to get any grading done for the first few releases. Very major and obvious problems in new products can go on for years before being addressed.

I’d be interested to hear how well you think Autodesk rates for new-product trustworthiness. There are other aspects to trusting Autodesk, and I will cover these in a future post. Please wait for that one before launching into any generic tirades; for now I just want to know about your level of Autodesk trust, purely in relation to new products and continued support for existing ones.


  1. Two snivels in one evening. A landmark…

    Mechanical Desktop and I had an illicit affair ever since it was an underage Designer/AutoSurf way back in 1992. It was put to sleep with the (see recent 2010 whine) 2009 release. We had sixteen out of seventeen happy years together. Sharing those MDT files with others was never easy. Won’t be a problem in the future.

    Autodesk wants me to embrace Inventor. I’ve had Inventor since June of 1999. Ten years. It has never worked for me during that decade. Won’t allow me to work the way I want. Takes four to five times longer than vanilla ACAD to make some of the odd-ball thingies I make. Results are okay if I don’t mind the huge time hit. And just like MDT, there’s no promise that it’ll be there next year. I have low expectations… But there is an upside! Just like Microstation and Solidworks – nobody has ever requested any of my projects be done with Inventor.

    Then there’s Mechanical. Lots of features that should make my output better. But, same file differences and proxies that MDT choked on. Other companies need object enablers for many different ACAD versions and a handful of other CAD packages. They can all read some level of standard DWG files and most can work with DXF if need be. Too much bother for simple 2d enhancements that a fistful of LSP and blocks can cover without the file drama.

    So, the plug has been pulled on MDT. I have no faith in Inventor, and there’s no guarantee that Mechanical will be an ongoing vertical. I do feel comfortable using straight (‘tho heavily customized) vanilla AutoCAD. Almost everybody can read the files in one manner or another.

  2. I s’pose you could ask the same of any other related product. Fer instance, this press release headline of yesterday:

    “COADE releases CADWorx P&ID Professional 2010 for process and instrumentation diagrams with support for AutoCAD 2010 plus other enhancements”

    All your questions can be boiled down to one: “Is the data portable?”

  3. David Kozina

    A few years ago, I read the book “Dark Ages II: When the Digital Data Die”, by Bryan Bergeron.

    If you haven’t already read it, you might find it a good read. And yes, kind of scary, too. It would seem to relate to many of the issues you raise. One of the things I found fascinating was how much faith we currently place on time-UNTESTED storage equipment. While many archives exist containing many centuries old paper/parchment documents, electronic archives are only decades old at most. Is it logical to rely so heavily on them? Yet, what other choices do we have?

  4. R. Paul Waddington

    When marketing drivers development there will always be an issue relating to the longevity of products and trust. Consumable marketeers’ rely on people getting tired of their ‘new’ product but when it come to design and draughting tools – these are not consumables and need to stay put for much longer than most companies have proven willing or able to cope with.

    Wm. J. Townsend hit the nail squarely and, if you look closely into what he outlines. Compare the reality – in relation to the development of MDT/Inventor and Mechanical – with the marketeers’ comments relating to product development, maintenance and life and you will very quickly conclude if you are going to trust Autodesk, it is for reasons other than their history.

    It is well past time for consumers and users of software tools to take a more professional approach seeking assurances, from companies like Autodesk, in relation to their products ‘performance’ they can and will be held accountable for, in a tangible manner. Only when this happens will products of this type, and their developers (Autodesk), garner the level of trust that should exist.

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