AutoCAD 2013 Help shock – it no longer sucks

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 things in someone’s list and that one was thrown in there to make the number up to 42?

That aside, this thing is looking good. Unlike the last effort, I don’t think it deserves Total Existence Failure. But does it just look good in comparison with what went before? Have I been so shocked by apparent adequacy that I have missed some glaring problem? You tell me. Please, give it a fair go and report back on what you think.

If you want to try the offline version, here it is. It’s not immediately obvious, but you’ll need to uninstall the old one first before the new one will install, don’t bother. It’s still the horrible old thing. See I was wrong about AutoCAD 2013 Help, it still sucks for what I think about that.


  1. It looks very well done. No contents tab, but otherwise I’m pretty impressed. I think it’s fair to call this exceptional work. I have a sneaky suspicion that this is the work of an individual or a small team, not the result of a typical corporate committee.

  2. Chris Cowgill

    How are the delays that were there with online content vs the offline content. Have you had an opportunity to take a look at that aspect? I’m a little swamped, but I’ll take a look when I have a chance. Just so used to not having a help…

  3. Dieter Schlaepfer

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the kind words–I know you don’t mince your opinions, so this means a lot to our team. I also want to say that we’re pleased but still not satisfied. We want to continue to make improvements as we move forward.

    You wrote: “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.”

    A lot of the feedback came directly from the comments posted here, so I want to convey a big thank you to everyone who participated. We certainly couldn’t do everything that everyone requested, but we did prioritize our work based on the realities of time and resources. Again, it doesn’t stop here.

    I’d very much like to get more feedback regarding The Hitchhiker’s Guide to AutoCAD. Would you and your readers be interested in how it came to be, how I arrived at the commands, and why I made some of my other choices? I’m proud of my work (and the work of my internal reviewers and editor), but I’m very much open to making it more effective for the next version.


    1. James Maeding

      Dieter, any time we can get commentary from autodesk on why it did what it did, is very welcome. Talk our ears off please.
      One thing the old help did lousy on was helping me find a catalog of lisp functions.
      The new one seems to give good results, but I have not figured out how to see where I am in the “table of contents”. I am getting a lot of “about this or that”, and it says “the below items are a list of functions…” but there is no link to the list. Its as if it assumes I got there by going through the contents list, and can easily just click the next item from the contents. How should I be handling this from Autodesks point of view?

      Last question, can Autodesk hire you to revamp its discussion group web interface 🙂

      1. Dieter Schlaepfer

        Hi James,

        Thanks! Your observation regarding the new Help regarding LISP functions has definitely been noted, and we’ve also received similar feedback through other channels. From the Autodesk point of view . . . we need to fix it.

        Did you have anything in mind regarding the discussion group UI that you’d like me to pass along?


        1. James Maeding

          Hi Dieter,
          Glad to hear it on the list.
          For the DG UI, I think you should read the thread:

          I started this when the ADN group announced “Open ADN” and said they would participate in the DG’s more. Sounded like a perfect time to bring up the old topic of making the htreading display actually useful. Its badly broken currently, and it discourages the participation the DG’s used to get from busy people with little time to browse 10 pages that you could view at once with previous NNTP readers.

  4. Lloyd

    Have only used it a little bit, but am very impressed with what I’ve seen. The biggest problem for me so far is that I find I’ve become so acustomed to going anywhere but the Help command that I really need to make a conscious effort to use it. What I’ve seen so far though will certainly help me in that regard.

  5. Dieter Schlaepfer

    Steve wrote: “If you want to try the offline version, here it is. It’s not immediately obvious, but you’ll need to uninstall the old one first before the new one will install.”

    Please understand that the offline Help is not being updated between releases, only the online Help.

      1. Good work, not excellent.
        For my main activities (teaching and writing) I have to use the Help system daily. First, I avoid online help and rely always on offline help. So this update will miss lots of users, many are not allowed to access internet while working.
        Still missing:
        Index (somehow solved with Resources), Users Guide, Customization Guide, Developers Documentation (Guides for programming);
        Hyperlink for commands and variables: let’s say, on an About page if I see a variable that I want to investigate I would like (as in previous versions) right-click and choose Open in new tab.

        1. R. Paul Waddington

          I’m with Joao here; teaching on a daily basis in both TAFE and commercially I have stopped using Help. The changes may seem, to some, as an improvement however, they still do not approach the usefulness of the earlier systems. Reference and “researched” documents require sensible indexes: search functions should be – at best – additions and offline Help is very, very important Dieter please fix it post haste.
          Further more, as a long term user/trainer and supporter of Autodesk’s products (28 Years), why are many of we Subscription (paid for from the original system) users and, ones who need to keep our design system separate to the internet, treated as second rate customers?
          Is my Subscription dollar, Dieter, of less value than that of a customer who is joined to Autodesk at the hip?

  6. JG Gerth

    The odd change in terminology is distubing, and I’m really wondering if it’s being driven by marketspeak. Off line help would be printed, not accessible from a computer, and does not exist.

    Both the remotely hosted help system, and the downloadable help files, are On-Line help, the difference being where the content is hosted, and (now) the content of the content. But i suppose that saying ‘remotely hosted help files under somebody else’s control at the far end of a tenuous internet connectin’ does not sound very customer friendly.

    As it stands, I’ll agree that refusing to update the local help system is ‘snatching defeat’. Given the complexity and cost of the software, its’ really inexcusable.

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