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Out with the old...

Another year, another AutoCAD tool forced into retirement - a risky strategy for Autodesk and one that may cost it dearly Welcome to 2004 - a new year and a new CAD tool. I have often wondered why Autodesk names its latest CAD tools a year ahead of time (the 'AutoCAD 2004 product family' was launched in March 2003) but I have now figured it out. Just like the start of last year when Autodesk (in its own words) 'retired' r14 and 'strongarmed' users to persuade them to upgrade, Autodesk is once again starting the year by forcing the retirement of another version: AutoCAD 2000. The replacement is naturally AutoCAD 2004, a product that now sounds 'fresh and of the moment'.

In simple terms, the deal is 'upgrade now or forever hold your piece' (where 'piece' equals the Release 2000 version of AutoCAD, which can only be upgraded after 15 January by purchasing a new version for full market value). One does not have to think too hard to see the benefits for Autodesk: a guaranteed income for upgrades from users who would have continued happily with the older version; and reduced support overheads, as Autodesk only needs to recruit and train staff in a maximum of three versions.

I can see the benefit for Autodesk but I struggle to understand what users get out of the deal. Users get the expenditure and upheaval of buying and installing new versions of software, of retraining staff and all the 'out of office' and 'getting up to speed' time associated with the training.

In its defence, Autodesk may argue that most users have long since left behind AutoCAD 2000, and that its move to upgrade the rest of the user base is really just a 'road sweeping' exercise to pick up the odd copy still in use and convert it to a more current version. But the reality is a little more complicated. One in two new versions of AutoCAD sports a new file format, and each of the now-annual retirements of an old version precedes the removal of that version from the 'Save As' dialogue of the next release of AutoCAD. In short, this means that even if you choose to keep your old version of AutoCAD, as you are perfectly entitled to with your perpetual licence agreement, and you do not wish to upgrade, you will soon be unable to communicate with other designers. Users with the latest version will not be able to save their data in your older file format. This is not then a retirement; it is euthanasia.

Autodesk is not putting the old version out to grass; it is killing it by proxy.What use is a perpetual licence if that licence becomes effectively unusable after just a few years?

Autodesk has, in my opinion, overlooked two issues: winning new customers and retaining existing ones - fundamental for long-term stability and growth. Users who fall off the upgrade conveyor belt will find themselves having to shell out the full price for the latest version of a product they already own, and then a bit more for upgrade training. If users know they will have to undergo the same painful ritual again in a few years, they would be foolish not to take a good look at the market before making any firm decisions. Similarly, any user or large project that is assessing the available CAD tools in the market may well steer clear of the AutoCAD file format for reasons of extensibility and longevity. I know of one very large project that recently selected another CAD tool for exactly this reason.

If I were a Release 2000 user of AutoCAD, I would seriously consider some of the competition before paying up for 2004.And if after reviewing the competition I decided Autodesk was still the way to go, I would plump for LT as the value option. LT is so much cheaper than AutoCAD that it costs less to buy over three years than the AutoCAD upgrades would over the same period. Furthermore, you would not then have to swap your old version for the new (you could simply buy another and retain the first).

So projects that started with one file format could continue through to completion.

Autodesk take note. Forcing people to upgrade may bolster income in the short term, but as more users switch to LT and others leave the DWG fold for other file formats, your real user base will diminish, along with your annual turnover. Stop forcing your users to spend and start working towards beating the competition with improved features, dependability and file longevity. You never know, users may then choose to invest further with a friendly Autodesk.

Joe Croser can be contacted at Joe@Croser. net

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