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Author Topic: 'The Autodesk File' redux  (Read 1085 times)

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Offline KE5FX

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'The Autodesk File' redux
« on: January 23, 2017, 11:51:26 AM »
I'll fork this off from the thread about the EAGLE license agreement, because it's more of a general observation than a comment about that particular subject.  TL;DR: the founder of Autodesk could probably have told them what kind of shitstorm they were stirring up, if they'd bothered to ask him.

The other part of my assertion is that the boom/bust financial cycle of the old-school update system is just miserable for those on the development side. Wanting a stable source of revenue is not evil. It is what good people want for their employees.

"It is what good people want for their employees"

That is one seriously generous interpretation to put on these changes.

Me. I'm not nearly so charitable. I won't go so far as condemning them as greedy scumbags. Yet.

It's interesting how things come full circle.  John Walker kept a detailed journal while he was building up the Autodesk organization in the 1980s.  He published it in book form ("The Autodesk File"), and subsequently released it as a .PDF (800+ pages, 6 MB).  Walker's journal is a good historical source for anyone interested in AutoCAD or, really, the PC software industry in general.  It's written in an anecdotal style reminiscent of Michael Abrash's, for those who may have cut their graphics-programming teeth on his books and magazine columns.  Highly approachable and often entertaining. 

Except, that is, when it comes to justifying, defending, and eventually eulogizing the hardware dongle that AutoCAD used for copy protection.  That's when the rhetorical gloves come off.  Less Michael Abrash, more Mein Kampf.  Walker loved his dongle like a good man loves his dog.  But alas, the users to whom he owed his fortune felt otherwise, so it had to go.  It must have been a sad day when he felt compelled to scribe pages 359-361 for posterity, recounting his reluctant decision to remove the hardware lock.  His breezy tone grows bitter, accusing customers and competitors alike of conspiring against not only Autodesk but the entire future of the American software industry.  He concludes:

Quote
I expect that the two weeks after our removing the lock will be very difficult weeks. I expect those who said that
they would re-embrace us as the market leader if we removed the lock will remain silent, while those moralistic
mountebanks who have been reaping profits larger than ours by far as a percentage of sales by selling products
purporting to “break the lock” will crow over their “victory”. Further, I expect some of the very dealers who
have been silent or petulant about the lock will now view its removal as an assault by Autodesk on the viability
of their businesses. And we will be assailed by publicity and cheap shots about our “blunder”, “indecision”
and the “shakeups in Autodesk”. One of the principles I’ve always followed in business is that there’s nothing
wrong with being wrong—if you never try something that entails risk you’re doomed to stagnation and eventual
failure. Catastrophe is engendered by staying wrong in the face of clear evidence that you’re on the wrong
course. I think that we’re far better off putting this episode behind us now. I believe that we are doing the
right thing in getting this over with and getting back to what we do best: developing, selling, and supporting
products which revolutionise the way designers do their work.

History doesn't just rhyme, it almost seems to actively repeat itself.:-DD

There's a lot more good stuff in Walker's journal about the history and rationalization behind the dongle, if you search the entire .pdf for hardware lock.  I originally bought his book in trade-paperback form, and while I can't seem to put my hands on that older edition now, I could've sworn that it included additional entertaining tirades against opponents of the dongle, comparing them to Ayn Rand villains or other fictional miscreants. 

I don't mean to make John Walker sound like some kind of hyper-entitled fruitcake, because he's not.  He deserves a lot of credit for documenting, with sometimes-painful honesty, both the good and bad moves that he made in his career.  Walker and his company really were integral parts of the personal computing revolution.... the one that's now in the process of being disassembled byte by byte, idea by idea, and moved into various walled gardens in the cloud.  Autodesk accomplished some wonderful, groundbreaking work, and they deserve almost all of the success they've achieved. 

But back then, just as now, nothing made good people come unhinged like an argument over copy protection.
 

Offline wilfred

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Re: 'The Autodesk File' redux
« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2017, 12:04:33 PM »
With nothing but that single excerpt to go on I have to say I don't see what you see. Which is not to say I think you are wrong, just that the excerpt alone doesn't illuminate your point strong enough for me to see it. I'm quite prepared to concede there is more to the story than what that paragraph says.

I tend to agree with "there is nothing wrong with being wrong". Blindly remaining so is indeed a path to catastrophe. The last sentence seemed perfectly forward looking and quite reasonable.

As for Ayn Rands villans. I had the propitious good fortune to read Atlas Shrugged (there's a month of my life I won't get back) just after reading Edwin Abbott's  Flatland and I have to say the characters in Flatland had at least one more dimension.
 

Offline KE5FX

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Re: 'The Autodesk File' redux
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2017, 12:10:45 PM »
With nothing but that single excerpt to go on I have to say I don't see what you see. Which is not to say I think you are wrong, just that the excerpt alone doesn't illuminate your point strong enough for me to see it. I'm quite prepared to concede there is more to the story than what that paragraph says.

In addition to pages 359-361, I'd recommend searching the whole document for hardware lock.  The straw men that they pile up and set on fire are brighter than the Beacons of Gondor.

Quote
I tend to agree with "there is nothing wrong with being wrong". Blindly remaining so is indeed a path to catastrophe. The last sentence seemed perfectly forward looking and quite reasonable.

Sure.  But what about deliberately making the same mistakes over and over again, expecting a different result?

Remember that the last lesson in user-hostile licensing that they had to walk back was a LOT more recent than anything from the 1980s-1990s era.

Edit: and frankly, for the record, I never had a problem with hardware locks.  I wasn't a pirate, and in any event, I never ran into a hardware lock I couldn't disarm after spending an hour or two poking around in SoftICE.   The whole controversy was a giant spittle-flecked flamefest about nothing... unlike the present situation, which is a much bigger problem for users.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2017, 12:19:15 PM by KE5FX »
 

Offline CatalinaWOW

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Re: 'The Autodesk File' redux
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2017, 01:08:07 PM »
People undergo remarkable transitions when their pocketbook is threatened.  Very early in the desktop computer revolution (when most of us were literally designing and building our own), a co-worker did much of his engineering work on a very nice computer for the time, with a software suite that he proudly proclaimed came via the "Jolly Roger Software Club".  A couple of years later he had written a couple of his own packages and was absolute death on piracy, sueing people believed to be using his software illegally, and pursuing these cases all the way to the top of our court system.
 

Online timb

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Re: 'The Autodesk File' redux
« Reply #4 on: January 23, 2017, 08:45:44 PM »
One of the main reasons the hardware lock was removed from AutoCAD 2.5 was because, contrary to their expectations, they *didn't* see a noticeable increase in revenue, despite the hardware lock.

I think the same can be said today; people who are going to pirate won't be deterred by the required AutoDesk account or it phoning home (in fact this has already been patched by some creative hackers). However, I *do* think people who would legitimately pay for the software are more likely to be put off by the added expense of a subscription, not to mention the potential of not being able to use software they paid good money for in a few years time.
Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic; e.g., Cheez Whiz, Hot Dogs and RF.
 

Online timb

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Re: 'The Autodesk File' redux
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2017, 01:31:12 AM »
Just came across this in AutoFile:

Proof AutoDesk has been in the EDA business for at least 30 years...


Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic; e.g., Cheez Whiz, Hot Dogs and RF.
 


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