Autodesk wants your software to be automatically updated so you’re always running the latest version. Let’s pretend for a moment that this is a good idea and have a look at how Autodesk now attempts to do this. For the previous couple of releases (2015/2016), this has been done using Autodesk Application Manager. For 2017, this has been replaced by Autodesk desktop app. Even if you haven’t installed any 2017 products, you may have already seen this kind of thing pop up. Repeatedly.
Note how there’s no obvious “stop nagging me and leave me alone” option. Autodesk Application Manager’s settings page does include an Alerts tab which allows you to turn off all desktop alerts, but the above message indicates Application Manager has suffered an “end of life” experience so there’s not much point having it on your system.
Before I get onto the new product and how it works, I want to discuss its name. It’s woeful. I have never been less whelmed by any product name than Autodesk desktop app. It’s not even Autodesk Desktop App, it’s Autodesk desktop app (sans initial capitals). It’s dull, generic, uninspired, and it means nothing. AutoCAD is an Autodesk desktop app. Inventor is an Autodesk desktop app. Graphic Impact used to be an Autodesk desktop app. This is the equivalent of Ford naming their next new car “Ford road vehicle”. It says to me, “We couldn’t come up with a name so we just gave up.”
Having got that off my chest, what about the product itself? What does it do? According to Autodesk, this:
Autodesk desktop app is a content delivery solution. The desktop component installs with Microsoft Windows®-based Autodesk 2017 products and suites. It replaces the previous in-product update components and the Autodesk Application Manager.
Autodesk desktop app keeps Autodesk Subscription customers informed of product updates, new releases, new features, and special subscriber-only learning and training materials, as they become available. Autodesk desktop app also delivers and applies critical security patches for all 2015 Autodesk products onwards.
Does it deliver? No. Not for me, anyway. In my secure proxy server environment, it fails to connect, despite Autodesk Application Manager working fine in the same environment. There is a long and unfortunate history of various aspects of Autodesk software switching between working and not working in a secure proxy environment, and this product just added to that history. Things that worked in one release stop working in a new release. Some of them might start magically working again in a later release. I can only assume it’s developers tinkering with stuff and not realising the consequences. Whatever the reason, it inconveniences customers, makes Autodesk look bad at the Internet (again), and throws a spanner in the works as far as Autodesk’s online-driven future plans are concerned.
Besides it having the dumbest name ever and (for some) not doing the one thing it’s designed to do, what else is wrong with it? Here’s a list for starters:
- After an AutoCAD install, unless you specifically choose not to install it, it will be installed and will automatically run, getting right in your face when you probably just want to draw things.
- It automatically sets itself up to run all the time, using your system resources. I intend to go into more detail about Autodesk web stuff abusing your resources in future.
- On systems where it doesn’t work, the user experience is, er, sub-optimal. I won’t bore you with the details, but you are sent on a wild goose chase.
- On systems where it works, it calls home and communicates with Autodesk in undocumented ways (“Collects usage data to support users better.”).
- On systems where it works, it may repeatedly tell you about updates you have already applied.
- On systems where it works, it may not keep you up to date in the advertised manner; some hotfixes are not supported.
- It has a Sign In button, which encourages you to get an Autodesk account if you don’t already have one. It should not be necessary to sign in to anything to keep your products up to date. If you’re managing a corporate environment, you might not want your users all signing up for individual accounts without your knowledge.
- The whole idea of giving Autodesk unfettered access to update your apps when it feels like it is pretty horrific. That would involve a naive level of trust in Autodesk that it has proven repeatedly it does not deserve. The very application that wants to auto-update so it can carry on doing auto-updating other things is itself a classic example of why you really don’t want to allow that sort of thing to happen.
Let’s say you don’t care about any of that and still desperately want this thing working. What to do? At the bottom of the About Autodesk desktop app knowledgebase article, there is a link: Autodesk desktop app is not able to connect to the Internet. When I clicked it, I got this:
Well….this really is embarrassing. To be fair, the link appears to be working now, so you probably won’t see the above. However, what you do see isn’t any better. The advice provided there is terrible. It’s asking for totally unreasonable holes to be punched through your firewall, allowing whitelist access to a myriad of marketing and other undesirable sites (e.g. Akamai, which has a history of sub-optimal online ethics). I don’t think so.
The best thing I can say about Autodesk desktop app is that you can choose to not install it with your 2017 product. That seems like an excellent idea to me, because this product is a crock. Uninstall it if it’s been installed. Uninstall Autodesk Application Manager if that’s installed, because it’s just going to stop working and nag you to death in the meantime. Then store away this little episode at the back of your mind for future reference, because I’m sure Autodesk hasn’t finished pushing us down this path yet. Push back. Hard.