Why One AutoCAD is smart strategy

OK, so Autodesk may have blown the AutoCAD 2019 rollout, triggering an apology from CEO Andrew Anagnost.

OK, AutoCAD 2019 may have the smallest set of significant advances in the history of AutoCAD releases. If you’re wondering, I give it 1/10. The “there can be only one” hype could easily refer to meaningful improvements to the product per year. This year’s improvement is… drawing compare!

Still, AutoCAD 2019 is a significant release for reasons beyond the content of the core product. An examination of the One AutoCAD strategy reveals a collective corporate mind that’s smarter than it’s being given credit for.

In case you’ve missed it, the idea behind One AutoCAD is that if you subscribe to AutoCAD, you can now also get a bunch of vertical variants of AutoCAD thrown in, renamed as “Toolsets”. You need to ask for it, and it’s for renters only, no perpetual license owners need apply. Oh, and Civil 3D isn’t part of the deal.

This concept has been received less than enthusiastically among respected independent observers such as Ralph Grabowski and Robert Green. I’m going to go against the trend a little and point out several ways in which this is a smart move for Autodesk.

  • It represents the first time Autodesk has had anything of substance to positively differentiate between maintenance and subscription. Until now, it’s all been negative: give away your perpetual licenses to avoid forthcoming maintenance price increases.
  • It provides some substance to Dr Anagnost’s “give us a year to show the value of subscription” request to customers. OK, it may have taken a lot more than a year, but at least it’s now possible to point to something that customers can gain by subscribing, rather than having the embarrassment of an empty promise hanging around.
  • It acts as an effective distraction from yet another price rise (7% on top of Autodesk’s already sky-high subscription costs). Yes, this new price still applies even if you don’t use the toolsets. Yes, it still applies even if you’re a Mac user who doesn’t have these toolsets available.
  • It will almost certainly be used as justification for future subscription price rises. How can you complain about a few more dollars when you get all those products included in the price?
  • This stuff has already been developed to a point that Autodesk considers mature (web apps excluded), and it isn’t costing Autodesk anything to “give it away”.
  • It means that the glacial or non-existent rate of improvement of AutoCAD and its variants suddenly appears less important. How can you complain that nothing worthwhile has been added to your AutoCAD variant this year when you now have access to hundreds more commands than you used to have? This line has already been tried with me on Twitter.
  • It provides a marketing counter-argument against competitors who sell DWG-based AutoCAD-compatible products that provide above-AutoCAD standards of functionality (e.g. BricsCAD).
  • If an increased number of users start using the vertical variants, there will be increased pressure on those competitors to handle the custom objects created using those variants. This will act as a distraction and reduce the ability of those competitors to out-develop Autodesk at the rate that has been occurring for the past few years.

There are a couple of flies in Autodesk’s One AutoCAD ointment:

  • Critical mass – it has yet to be seen how many customers are so won over by this concept that they sign up for it. Remember that it’s only available to a minority of customers anyway, and if the bulk of customers remain reluctant to give up their perpetual licenses then all this is moot. If the move-to-rental numbers are small, then the anti-competitive nature of this move is negated. The marketing gains still apply, though.
  • Interoperability – traditionally, the AutoCAD-based verticals add custom objects to the core AutoCAD objects, which when opened in vanilla AutoCAD or another vertical, appear as proxy objects that either don’t appear or will provide very limited access. Improved but still limited access can be provided if Object Enablers are installed. Object Enablers are not always available for the AutoCAD variant you want to use. LT? Mac? Old releases? Forget it.This has always been a highly unsatisfactory arrangement. I have worked for a company that explicitly prohibits drawings containing proxy objects and rejects any it receives, and that has proven to be a smart policy. Also, the vertical variants of AutoCAD have always had hidden DWG incompatibilities built in. AutoCAD 2015 user? Try to use a DWG file that has been created in a 2017 vertical variant. Good luck with that, even though all those releases supposedly use 2013 format DWG. Paradoxically, you can expect to experience much better DWG interoperability with non-Autodesk products and their add-ons than you will with AutoCAD and its verticals, because the non-Autodesk products are forced to work with AutoCAD native objects. It remains to be seen how, when, or even if Autodesk addresses these issues.

In summary, this strategy has potential to significantly benefit Autodesk. Will it work? That will largely depend on how many customers are prepared to put aside their mistrust enough to hand over their perpetual licenses to Autodesk. That mistrust is mighty large (Autodesk’s been working hard for years on building it up) and recent sorry-we-broke-your-rental-software events have reiterated just how valuable those perpetual licenses are.

Autodesk has produced what it considers to be a very attractive carrot. Is it big and juicy enough to attract you?

3 Comments

    1. Steve Johnson

      According to Kean, a huge effort has gone into platform independence for years. Not much to show for it yet, though. Unless you count massive bloat…

      The BricCAD architecture is completely different, which is why the installer is a tenth of the size, it generally runs much faster, and the Mac and Linux versions are fully featured and more AutoCAD compatible than AutoCAD for Mac.

  1. James Maeding

    Steve, the problem is no vanilla acad user cares about the verticals much. Those that do care will already have map or the others. So it does not change anything in terms of momentum. The much bigger issue going on is speed of Bricscad. I just switched our office from acad 2015 to 2018, and had so many problems I implemented bricscad earlier than intended. Holy cow, it zooms twice as fast and none of the slowdowns of acad or crashes. We deal with lots of xrefs so things are heavy. When people see that, acad is in more trouble than before.

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