Autodesk Resale Prohibition Under Attack

I’ve just posted at CAD/Court about a new lawsuit filed by Timothy S. Vernor of Seattle accusing Autodesk of using fraudulent means to enforce its license agreement prohibition on reselling legitimately purchased software. This subject comes up often, and I think there is a lot of grass roots support for Mr. Vernor’s argument extending well beyond Autodesk customers.

The license agreement is not the central tenet of the lawsuit, but questions about its legitimacy do come into play. The legal principle involved is called the First Sale Doctrine, which essentially exempts buyers of copyrighted works from copyright infringement claims when they resell the work. The nebulous legal framework around so-called “shrink-wrap” software licenses, and the degree to which the First Sale Doctrine applies to software, is still an open question here in the US.

For those of you interested in learning more about the First Sale Doctrine, listen to this podcast discussion on the Technology Liberation Front web site.

Brutal

I’ve heard the word “brutal” used more than once during conversations with Autodesk employees about the Autodesk sponsored discussion groups. It’s true that raw unfiltered feedback can be brutal, and it can also hurt your ego if you happen to be the target of criticism. The trick is to learn how to interpret the feedback. If you can master that skill, that raw feedback is a fast, unbiased, low noise-to-signal-ratio predictor of the future.

I’ve seen many recognizable Autodesk names come and go since the days of Autodesk’s original online discussion group, the CompuServe ACAD forum. Oftentimes, they came espousing the virtues of such a vibrant community, only to wilt away after they got singed a few times in the inevitable flame wars. Some Autodesk names (Art Cooney comes to mind) have been around forever, and still take it all in stride. Personally, I view the discussion groups as one of Autodesk’s biggest competitive advantages, even while they go largely untapped.

This week saw too issues erupt into what could fairly be termed brutal feedback. The first was caused by the Autodesk University registration site failing under the load of opening day registration. Several threads (“Dear Carl Bass” and “AU2007 Registration is now open!!!”) called Autodesk to the carpet for blowing it again, after a similar fiasco in 2006.

The second event occurred when AutoCAD product manager Eric Stover announced a new “bonus” tool called CommandComplete. I pity the poor guy or gal that wrote this tool (on their own time, I’m sure), all excited to see how it is received, only to become the victim of a flame war. Okay, not really a flame war in this case because Eric employed his finely tuned flame retardant diplomacy skills to prevent it from getting out of hand — so let’s just call it a “venomous reaction”.

There is a moral to this story. Some companies would kill to have access to this kind of critical, unfiltered, instantaneous feedback from the unwashed masses. I hope Autodesk recognizes the goose that lays the golden egg.

I’ll take web sites for $200, Alex: Part I

I’m one of those throwbacks that learned HTML by typing it in Notepad. I’ve since moved up to using the Visual Studio editor; it does syntax coloring, error highlighting, and has a “design” mode for previewing the page, yet it’s a very utilitarian editor that I feel comfortable with. I do use FrontPage when I need to manage connections between multiple HTML pages, but mostly in raw HTML mode. When I use WYSIWYG design mode in FrontPage, I inevitably end up cleaning out a lot of unnecessary junk that it includes in the generated HTML. I think it’s fair to say that my obsession with clean HTML results in utilitarian, functional, and standards conformant presentations — but with a decided lack of graphic appeal.

The ManuSoft and CADLock web sites are examples of this utilitarian approach. The ManuSoft site uses no fancy graphics and relies very little on client side scripting, and it supports a hierarchical navigation system using only standard hyperlinks. I like that minimalist approach, but the price for clean HTML being served to clients is a lot of work on the server to maintain the site. As a result, I don’t update the site very often because it’s just too difficult.

This blog was the first step toward realizing a goal of making it easier to add new content. After all, the raison d’ĂȘtre of blogs is to minimize the latency between the writer’s stream of consciousness and words on the web by making it irresistibly easy to add new content. This is precisely why blogs have become so popular.

Unfortunately, I soon found limitations with my blog. Tabular lists of data still require manual HTML input, it is difficult to customize the content area outside the individual posts on the blog page, and most aspects of the hosted blog software are outside my control. I wanted more.

The Autodesk vs. Open Design Alliance lawsuit gave me an excuse to take the next step: implement the “blog” concept across an entire web site with software that I control. So, I decided to swallow my pride and learn how to create an entire web site that would be so easy to update that I would actually update it frequently — even if it meant messy HTML code. Stay tuned for Part II, choosing a hosting service and deciding which software to use.

AutoCAD LT Upgrade Windfall

Did you know that Autodesk is offering a promotional upgrade price to AutoCAD LT users until January 19th? Check out http://www.adskhost.net/43404/solution.php. According to that web page, you can upgrade an AutoCAD LT 2004/2005/2006 license to any one of several AutoCAD 2007 based software offerings from AutoCAD 2007 to Inventor Series — for $1995. If you have an LT license, now might be a good time to upgrade it.

Coming up for air

While the rest of you were busy enjoying the holiday break, I’ve had my nose to the grindstone. I had been looking for an opportunity to learn more about ASP.NET and web site content management, and the Autodesk vs. ODA web site that I started recently was a perfect opportunity. After 3 weeks of sometimes frustrating adventures, the new site is now live (although still not quite finished).

Total cost of the site, including hosting for 2 years? About $200 and a lot of lost sleep. Over the next week or so I will be documenting some of the things I learned along the way.