Friday, May 13, 2005


traveling backward in time

At the moment I am learning my first "major" software package in perhaps five years. I am trying to learn the mechanical engineering program SolidWorks, which at least some people claim is the easiest to learn of the CAD programs. Perhaps relative to other CAD programs SolidWorks shines, but I am inclined to compare it to products from Microsoft, Adobe and Macromedia. My reactions are a classic case of how players in a different market can raise expectations. People want their to local government Website behave like Amazon, never mind the fact that would be comparing apples and oranges. I want CAD to be as simple as Word. Okay, that's not realistic, but I have become intolerant of some zany things software used to do, and SolidWorks does still.

Exploring SolidWorks has been frustrating, not because I have to learn new labels and new ways of thinking. What is frustrating is never being sure if what I want to do is legal, according to the hidden logic of the program. There are different modes (yuck) where one can do some things in one mode, switch modes, and have these options grayed out on the menu. But if you want to combine activities that involve different modes, you are out of luck.

Another thing is how the program communicates features instead of goals. A very brief online tutorial tells you some of the things you can do, but one is left wondering how to do many things not covered in the tutorial. What feature does one need? It isn't obvious to me. A lot of it involves hunting for some hack that works without giving an message saying it is illegal. Some illegal moves make sense (they violate physics), but others just seem like they product conflict in the code. The programmers decided it couldn't be done, at least they way they designed it.

My raw reactions show a disrespect for the SolidWorks' "model," which people pay thousands of dollars to learn on short courses. I find the SolidWorks documentation, printed and online, inadequate. Too much is undocumented, and not obvious. My expectations have moved on. I can remember going on multiday courses 15 years ago to learn word processing and spreadsheet programs. The idea seems absurd now. Several years back I went on a course to learn Photoshop. Now Adobe sells a discount Photoshop package that involves no training, and easy to use templates. You still need a book for some glitzier effects, but the bar has been lowered significantly.

I feel like I have traveled backward in time, when software was mysterious and cryptic. I'm not nostalgic.

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