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AutoCAD Release 10

    AutoCAD Release 10 was conceived as the generalisation of AutoCAD to   three dimensions. In early 1987 Scott Heath suggested focusing our previously ill-defined and stagnant 3D project on the goal of first generalising AutoCAD to operations in any plane in space, then extending that base into a modest 3D feature set. A programmers' meeting was held on March 8, 1987 to attempt to make both the short- and long-term goals concrete, and development began shortly thereafter (with significant disruption and diversion from Release 9 final development and debugging which was underway concurrently).

During the development of the product, several major new features were developed and integrated into the product, including dialogue box versions of viewing commands, entity database handles, dynamic 3D viewing operations, multiple on-screen windows, three-dimensional polylines and surface meshes, and an extended memory version of AutoLisp. These features, and several others, were added to the product based on perceptions of competitive products, comments from potential users shown prereleases of the product, general feel for the market, or just at the urging of the developer of the code--in short, in the same way the design of AutoCAD has proceeded since Version 1.0.

Based on a statement that all coding for Release 10 would be completed by April 30th, 1988, a tentative shipment date of June 25th, 1988 was set for the product and announcement was slated for AutoCAD Expo 1988. As the announcement neared, it became clear that major code submissions were still underway--in no sense was the product development close to complete by the originally-scheduled ``code cutoff'', and the originally-slated release date was unachievable. As testing of the product progressed, it became evident that several serious upward compatibility issues had been inadequately addressed, and that ignoring these problems in the final product would disrupt existing applications and user-customisation, and as a consequence major effort was applied to implementing FLATLAND mode which attempts to preserve compatibility with Release 9.

A period of reevaluation and slippage ensued, resulting in a current best-case shipment date more than three months after the original date, with some programmers remaining very skeptical about the stability of any product shipped on that date. Now even if the product slips to November,[Footnote] it will not break any Autodesk record for late shipment of a product--Version 2.6 was announced in November 1986 with an internal shipment target of January 1987 and finally shipped in April of 1987. But in the intervening time the stakes have risen enormously, and Release 10 is not like Version 2.6. Release 10 is arguably the most important release of AutoCAD ever; for years we have been assailed for our lack of 3D, and Release 10 constitutes our statement of just what a ``full 3D AutoCAD'' means. Version 2.6 was conceived, presented, and interpreted by the market as a minor update, so it placed much less of our reputation on the line, and the potential for order deferral if it were late was much less.

With Release 10, we are going forth to do battle with Cadkey, which we have allowed to establish itself as a strong competitor by our lack of 3D capability, and with the mainframe systems coming down, on their own three dimensional home ground. If Release 10 fails to deliver on our promises for it, is seen as slipping from release date to release date, or develops a reputation for unreliability either through user-encountered problems, application incompatibility, or the perception created by product recalls even if prompted by minor problems, it will be a serious blow to our efforts to regain the momentum in the market we have lost during the years our development efforts have ignored 3D features.

In addition, the financial stakes for late shipment and a possible recall of Release 10 are enormous--we have publicly announced the product, promoted it as one of the most significant enhancements of AutoCAD ever, positioned it as part of our major account strategy, and committed to free updates for all AutoCADs sold after Expo, creating both an update liability that grows every month and guaranteeing that any product recall, if one occurs, will be highly visible both to our users and the financial community.

What can we conclude from examining AutoCAD Release 10? The development of Release 10 to date is not a story of mismangement, incompetence, or inattention to detail. It is simply the result of Autodesk conducting its product definition, development, and refinement in precisely the same way we did for Releases 2.0 through Version 9, with similar consequences for product focus, timeliness, and quality risks.

The definition of the features in the product was largely left to the programmers writing the code. Major features were included only because individuals ran off, developed them, and them dumped them into the product stream. Features were coded, in some cases involving significant expenditures of time, then discarded when perceived as unworkable (DDVIEW is one example). Product definition was driven little, if at all, by formal guidance by the marketing and sales organisation, increasing the influence of random encounters with users, developers, and sales people on individual programmers. As an example of this process, Coons patches were included in the product because I had read about them in a book and wanted some kind of easy-to-create sculptured surface to demonstrate 3D surface patches. Making the data base recoverable after a random clobber, considered a major shortcoming of the product, is a project of the same magnitude and was not done because I did not think of it at the time. The following is an incomplete list of features which could have been included in Release 10 by trading off development time with some other features or by assigning additional manpower to the project but which were omitted largely because nobody argued for them. Every one of these features has also been omitted from a release prior to Release 10 by being forgotten until it was too late.

This is not to imply that any of these items are more important than those included in Release 10, but simply to point out that they represent the ``Release 10 that never was'' purely by having eluded the attention of the programmers while coding, not through any conscious market-driven decision on what capabilities we need in our product to defend and expand our market share.[Footnote]

If we seriously intend to compete with Intergraph, IBM, and Prime, I do not believe we can afford to continue to develop our products in this manner.

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Editor: John Walker