Hotel Autodesk

Steve Johnson asks “where have all the developers gone?“, and Deelip Menezes wonders in a comment whether Autodesk’s annual release cycle for AutoCAD is part of the problem. I’ve always said that an annual release cycle is untenable. The annual release cycle is motivated by Autodesk’s desire to make the subscription program look attractive. Has it worked?

Based on what I’ve read and heard through the grapevine, it has definitely worked. More customers than ever are choosing the subscription model. In many cases, the annual subscription business model actually works well for software like AutoCAD, providing benefits for both Autodesk and their customers. But subscription is not for everyone.

In typical greedy big corporate fashion, Autodesk have overplayed their hand. Instead of concentrating on those customers for whom subscription makes sense and leaving the others to choose a different model, the “more is always better” marketing machine kicked in. Ergo, the annual release cycle carrot and the AutoCAD retirement program stick were invented. [Oh sorry, it’s called the Autodesk Loyalty Program.]

I am already seeing the beginnings of a movement of discontent among Autodesk customers, and I expect the annual release cycle to collapse under its own weight within another year or two. In the meantime, tremendous damage is being done. Customers, third party developers, authors, and consultants all suffer under the strain of the annual release cycle, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

To pull off annual releases, Autodesk have to be working on multiple versions of AutoCAD in parallel. While AutoCAD 2006 was being beta tested, AutoCAD 2007 and 2008 were already under development, and AutoCAD 2009 was already in the planning stages. When CUI was first introduced to the public, the new ribbon UI was likely already in the planning stages. Is it any wonder that the angry feedback about CUI was ignored?

When you have an annual release cycle with 3 or 4 future releases on parallel tracks, you can’t just stop and fix a fundamental design flaw. All you can do is increase your public relations budget. The harm done to third party developers is substantial, but the inability to shift gears and correct fundamental design flaws is the real travesty of the annual release cycle.

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