Keeping up with software upgrades

August 11, 2010

When I learned late last year that Autodesk was releasing yet another version of its flagship product, AutoCAD 2005, along with all of the vertical applications, my initial reaction was, "Oh, no! How can an average design or A/E firm keep up with the moving target of today's technology? And what will it cost them to do so?" I posed these questions to Autodesk executives at the recent Autodesk University in Las Vegas and got some interesting answers.

For years, some design firms, especially smaller offices, have done the minimum to keep up with technology. The main reason: cost. One result is that many new graduates of architectural schools come out ready to take their IT skills to the workplace but find them themselves in offices with 1990s technology. In some cases, these young Turks have pushed their offices to move forward with software and hardware upgrades, as well as flat screen technology, scanners, cameras, and color printers.

Software companies theoretically are in the business of serving their customers with the best and most practical technology for their needs. Of course, this comes at a price. The base price for AutoCAD is still in the thousands for each user. Once that seat is paid for, Autodesk encourages its customers to purchase upgrades as newer versions of the software are released. Such is the case with AutoCAD 2005, released in February.

Under Autodesk's latest plan, new versions are to be rolled out once a year. Traditionally, these upgrade purchases are optional, as many firms elect to skip one or two releases, primarily due to cost and the time required to test and implement the new releases and train staff in their use. To encourage customers to upgrade their technology regularly, the company offers subscription plans that include upgrades, support, patches, utilities, and other services for an annual fee. As part of the subscription package, Autodesk will be releasing new versions more frequently.

At the same time, the company is phasing out support and upgrade options for older versions of its software Release 14 and 2000 to further motivate users to upgrade. To determine whether a pay-as-you-go or subscription plan makes sense for your firm, you should meet with an authorized reseller to compare costs. Resellers usually offer the best package of products, as well as financing and leasing options.

One simple way to reduce costs is to determine which version of AutoCAD best suits your workforce: Autodesk Architectural Desktop for the architect or Autodesk Building Systems for the consulting MEP engineer. For offices that do mostly second drafting, substantial savings can be achieved by selecting AutoCAD LT, which costs a fraction of the mainstream product. For the staff that only needs to view and print AutoCAD drawings, Autodesk previously released Volo View, which offers viewing relining and printing of AutoCAD native dwg and dwf files. It's a free download and is included in previous versions of the product. Design firms that want to design with building information modeling software may want to go with Autodesk REVIT.

Many firms are adopting "network licensing" to share a pool of licenses, which allows them to buy based on usage rather than buying a license for each computer.

Regardless of the choice of software or purchase plan, it is important to resist the temptation to cheat and stay legal. Software is expensive, and it's easy to succumb to the urge to pirate the software. Autodesk and other members of the Business Software Alliance ( have been actively pursuing firms to get them to stay legal. Review your needs, implementing the necessary changes and keeping accurate records, including sales receipts and serial numbers. Then you can get down to the business of design.


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