Did you ever wonder what press release writers do in their spare time? Given Autodesk’s recent trademark litigation with SolidWorks and related efforts by Autodesk to trademark “DWG”, and given the fact that US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) trademark examiners are known to use Wikipedia during their research, it doesn’t take an evil genius to realize that a little subversive editing here and there might be helpful to the corporate cause. So, I decided to use Wikiscanner to go spelunking through the labyrinth of Wikipedia editing history to see if I could unearth any nuggets.
It didn’t take long to find some interesting edits. For example, in the edit history for “SolidWorks” you can see that someone from an Autodesk IP address changed “and has since been copied by others like [[Autodesk Inventor]]” to “and is now part of the midrange CAD market along with [[Autodesk Inventor]]”. Eventually this changes to “and is currently a leader in the ‘midrange’ CAD market”, and from that to “It is currently one of the most popular products in the 3D mechanical CAD market” with a citation to a SolidWorks web page as evidence of the claim.
I expected to find plenty of quid pro quo, but I have to say, either SolidWorks’ press release writers are a lot sneakier than Autodesk’s, or they have a lot less free time. According to this list of edits from SolidWorks IP addresses, there haven’t been any edits made to Autodesk entries since about March of 2007. In October of 2006 someone from SolidWorks changed a few things in the entry for “Autodesk Inventor”, but then things appear to have cooled off considerably.
So what about “DWG”? The entry for “AutoCAD DWG” contains this edit from an Autodesk IP address made in January of 2007, but not much since. Two months later, someone from Autodesk changed “for that reason they constituted a consortium ([[OpenDWG]]) to develop open tools to access DWG data” to “for that reason they constituted a consortium ([[OpenDWG]]) to reverse engineer Autodesk’s technology and access DWG data”. Since then, things have been fairly quiet on the “DWG” front.
My conclusion is that blog posts like this one from Franco Folini at NOVEDGE Blog may have resulted in more strict internal controls being instituted over the editing of Wikipedia content. I have no doubt that it still goes on, but covertly enough to provide plausible deniability.
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’être 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.
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.
The recently filed lawsuit has been a hot topic lately, and I’ve been following it along with everyone else. As a little side project, I decided to create a parallel blog dedicated to the ongoing battle between Autodesk and ODA. The new blog is at http://www.cadcourt.com.
The site is still a work in progress, but I hope you’ll check it out, and offer suggestions for improvements. Click on the Lawsuit Tracker link to view all the court documents in the case, and subscribe to the site’s feed to stay informed of new developments.
No matter the communication protocol used to transmit it, most information gets packaged into a file format for consumption. File formats are like virtual checkpoints along the information superhighway, and we would do well to pay attention to who is manning the gates.
We’ve heard a lot of noise lately about the need for “open” file formats, but documenting a file format is not the same thing as relinquishing control of the format. The key consideration is who decides when and how the file format changes. This is a dirty little secret about file formats that you are not supposed to know. By controlling when and how a file format changes, an organization can maintain a mindshare monopoly over consumers of its file format — even when the format is “open”.
It may be that the relative anarchy of the internet has given us a false sense of security. We happily use “open” formats like PDF, DWF, DXF, HTM, and others with relatively little concern about who controls them, but all of those formats (HTM perhaps to a lesser degree) are controlled by corporations whose allegiance is first and foremost to their shareholders. For example, PDF is “open”, but did you know that third party developers need a digital ID signed by Adobe in order to create forms-enabled PDF files that can be opened in the free Acrobat Reader?
In April of 2006, Autodesk filed a trademark application for the word “DWG” when used to refer to DWG files. This may seem benign on the surface, but if successful it will give Autodesk more legal leverage in “defending” the file format. A few weeks ago, Autodesk filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the Open Design Alliance claiming that the ODA infringed their “AUTODESK” trademark by embedding the mark inside DWG files created with its DWGdirect libraries.
Much has been written by the pundits about the pros and cons of the ODA lawsuit, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation predictably suggests that Autodesk is using trademark claims to stymie interoperability, but the bottom line is that the contention centers around a file format — a file format that Autodesk considers valuable enough to wage war over.