Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Backward Compatibilty (or rather the lack of it)

Revit does not save backward. Said another way, you cannot save from "this" version to a previous version's format. It never has..maybe never will...but never say never?

One common concern or comment is based on working with consultants, "What if my consultant is using the previous version of Revit? What then?"

The only thing preventing a consultant that is currently using 2008 from collaborating with "you" using 2009 is their subscription status (that and a willingness to install it). They can work with you using 2009 even if all their other projects are in 2008 as long as their subscription is in force. Technically all they'd need is a single seat installed for 2009 (for each user) and a valid subscription for that seat, even if they didn't have a valid subscription for their remaining seats.

(I should clarify that I'm not a reseller and you really need to make sure that your firm is in compliance with the Autodesk End User License Agreement(s), EULA for your products. You really don't want a visit from the piracy folks. Please don't make such decisions on the basis of my post alone! Agreed??)

This means for "your" project the consultant would need to renew their subscription for each necessary seat to get the current version up and running apart from the "EyeTee" department exerting some effort. How much cash is required depends on how many people will need to work on the project and how long ago they stopped subscribing.

Note: In effect a Revit firm that abandons subscription is truly deciding NOT to collaborate... Autodesk definitely has us coming and going on this point.

A "team" of firms using Revit really MUST agree WHEN to upgrade to another version. One part of the team arbitrarily deciding to do so will unfairly burden the others with the timing of an upgrade. It is not necessarily a hard thing to do, normally, but it is very likely to be inconvenient depending how soon the next deadline is.

No backward compatibility has been and continues to be motivated by a greater urgency for moving forward than working out the complexity of supporting firms that don't "want" to upgrade. Anyone trying to truly collaborate with all disciplines right now will agree there is MUCH that needs to be done for every discipline to allow greater and tighter integration of our data.

Some might say that Autodesk "likes" or "enjoys" this situation, being necessary to maintain subscription, and perhaps there is some truth in that. The reality is that in order to progress they must be able to focus forward. If we demand that each release must save back to earlier releases then a considerable force must be applied to make that possible.

Consider that features added in 2009 might not be possible to create in earlier releases at all. A Swept Blend did not exist in an earlier release, what shall it become when saved to an earlier release? Just delete it? Recreate it unfaithfully because the geometry can't be represented? Create an ACIS "exported" and then "imported" instance in the model that can't ever be altered? I imagine that whatever elements are affected by such conditions that the resulting form(s) will not have the same fidelity as the original which calls into question the logic of doing so at all.

An enormous amount of effort would be necessary to permit this when the much "easier" (for Autodesk perhaps) solution is for customers to use the same release. Compare the few hundred dollars for a subscription per seat required of the customer as opposed to the kind effort required to make this possible in any fashion and you'll see it isn't a very motivating project for them.

Seth Godin wrote about Love and Annoying the other day. He wrote this:

...The goal is to create a product that people love. If people love it, they'll forgive a lot. They'll talk about it. They'll promote it. They'll come back. They'll be less price sensitive. They'll bring their friends. They'll work with you to make it better.

If you can't do that, though, perhaps you can make your service or product less annoying...

Read more...he goes on to say that Apple makes products people love as an example and that an Airline ought to work hard to make air travel less annoying. Seems to me that this issue and Revit as a product is on that "fence" now. People have been and continue to be passionate about Revit and willing to forgive its quirkiness. Increasingly many users however are more interested in it becoming less annoying.

Seth closes with this:

...Put a sign on your office door, or send a memo to the team. It should say either, "Everything we do needs to make our product less annoying" or "Everything we do should be idiosyncratic and engage people and invite them to fall in love with us. That's not easy, which is why it's worth it." Can't have both. Must do one...

It might seem that I am apologizing for something that Autodesk should just "do". Perhaps. At this time I am much more interested in Autodesk spending time and resources to add functionality so that firms can collaborate better. Every penny spent to support backward motion is "negative equity" and as we know that sort of equity has been contributing to the current state of our economy in a fairly significant way.


Johann H. said...

your point is right, when you talk about mayor changes (as the sweep you mentioned). but what when the new versions have really only minor changes? as environment, or interface??


A very interesting post, Mr. Stafford. Very much. And very important, also.
But... that "negative equity" concept... sounds rather hard,... like reality is, maybe, I agree. So "negative equity" goes for those actions in favour of those that could not keep the rhythm? And "positive equity" for the more solvent and, for that, better prepared to compete? I'am affraid your post "puts a finger in the wound" of the reality of architects and engineers of this far south part of the world. It establishes very clearly what determines the real limits of collaboration and progress.

But, anyway, I know, Iknow... if one falls in love with Revit, sooner o later, one has to be prepared for a broken hart. ;)

Steve said...

Minor changes rarely truly occur in Revit releases. Of course the backward compatibility issue stalks other software too. Autodesk doesn't support backward compatibility for other products too and they eventually retire support for some versions of even AutoCAD.

As for the burden or expense of subscription on economically challenged firms I empathize. To maintain the ability to collaborate they need to maintain at least some of their total seats so they can upgrade as easily as possible when necessary otherwise they will be burdened further by either not getting work or having to expend more cash than they would have otherwise.

The phrase penny wise pound foolish is relevant but may still feel harsh or hard when faced with choosing to pay people or your software company. I wish them the best!

Ed Pitt said...

Interesting stuff. I would imagine a by-product of this policy (which I'm firmly sitting on the fence about) is a lumpy revenue stream for Autodesk. If firms know that they once they adopt Revit then they must upgrade at some point to continue to collaborate with clients or suppliers, then surely nobody buys in the last few months of a release and everyone waits for the next one? Perhaps this happens anyway, I don't know.

Also, I wonder if anyone's working on any backward-compatibility plugins? Now there's an idea..it could be BIG :)

Richard Binning said...

Backward compatibility leaves alot to be desired on many fronts and autodesk isn't the only one afflicting this on us. I was planning to work on a spreadsheet for AUGI last night, only to discover that all my painstaking work would not gracefully save back to a previous version. In fact the spreadsheet would be virtually useless in the previous version. So rather than opening the workbook on my laptop, I tunneled into the company and edited remotely on my workstation.

Spinnacre said...

While Revit is not backward compatible, there is some wiggle-room on this issue. I would like to point-out that for firms using Network Licensing (I'm not sure about Individual Licensing) are permitted to run current and previous versions of Revit on the same machine under the same license as long as only one version is running at a time (in order to check-out a single network license). Therefore, a new version of Revit can be installed and used while on-going projects will continue to use the previous version.

From my experience: when the 2009 versions rolled-out, we installed each flavor immediately, while some of our consultants were not in a position to do so. Therefore, we left the 2008 Revits in place while we installed the 2009 Revits on the same machines. All of the Network Licenses were upgraded as well. These licenses allow for previous versions, therefore we were able to run any Revit 2008 or 2009 to work on a project.

Also, since we have multiple licenses of Revit Architecture (for example), I was able to run 2008 and 2009 Revit Architecture at the same time for multi-tasking on separate projects (although this scenario checks-out two Revit Architecture licenses while both programs are open).

Of course, it is still critical that when a project needs to remain on a certain version of Revit, none of the models may be upgraded.

Michael David Rubin said...

Second the "dual licensing" experience.
At home office, 2008 seems OK w/ 2009 (individual license).
As to "annoying," my observation is that much of that accrues to former AutoCAD persons, out of their painfully acquired comfort zones.
As to Apple, it is an entertainment company; of course people, especially in junior high school, love its products, given the fad-driven marketing.
Revit is an accomplished instrument for achieving real-world results, a giant step beyond 2D drafting, and awkward variants like ADT.
Accomplished already, and still adding to functionality; of course its development has gaps and bugs.
So does evey other digital product.
As an example, the BlackBerry I bought for business functions turns out to play higher-quality music than an iPod, + videos, etc.
I think Steve's point is that innovation requires punishing tradeoffs in time and resources.

Anonymous said...

I still believe the main objective is for the firm to make money. I have been using Autodesk products since 1984 and have contributed a considerable amount of money to the cause. I calculated the amount about 6 months ago, and learned I could have bought a used Ferrari. So I am asking myself if the continuous upkeep of Autodesk is worth what I have made off of the products. The answer is yes. But just barely. In the last several years I am asking myself that question frequently as the word "Work Around" has been used more and more.

I have one real BITCH about Revit. The real lack of drawing recovery. I had a file get corrupted and no way to get it back. The recover in Revit is non-existent. I went back 3 backups before I could get a file that would not corrupt after editing for 30 minutes or so. Don't know what caused it. And of course I was trying to beat a deadline.