As of this date, I do not believe that anybody within Autodesk has a firm grasp on the constitution of the next release of AutoCAD. The only firm statement is that it will not run in 640K, though what it will run under on 16 bit platforms seems presently up in the air. One long meeting was held which resulted in an enormous wish-list of disparate features, but little or no winnowing or aggregation of that list into concrete implementation proposals has been done to my knowledge.
To date, no implementation of Release 11 is underway, scheduled, or contemplated. I think we've grown to the point that we can't afford to develop our mainstream product in the kind of cycle that we did in the past. Typically development of an AutoCAD release has focused around one or a small group of central features. Development work would start on these features, with a small number of senior developers working on them. As development progressed, other features would be contributed by those developers or others, often chosen by shooting targets of opportunity off the wish list while making other changes in related areas of the program. As a release date came into focus, usually aimed at a major trade show, Duff would focus on documentation while other developers would devote their efforts almost exclusively to testing and fixing bugs generated by the in-house QA and beta testing process. The effort would reach a crescendo at the release date, with a coda devoted to getting all the other hardware platforms shipped. A period of exhaustion would ensue, followed by gearing-up for the next release. This cycle describes the development of Release 10 to date just as well as it does Version 1.4.
This is how most small companies develop software, and it permits efficient utilisation of limited manpower, minimisation of management overhead, and eases the always-difficult task of product configuration management. The question is whether a company in our position, facing the competition we do, can afford to develop our product in a manner that spends less than half the available time actually enhancing the capabilities of our product. I am sure that Cadkey and Versacad do their development the same way we do, but I seriously doubt that our mainframe colleagues at IBM, Intergraph, and Prime engage in this kind of half-wave development (on the other hand, maybe I'm wrong, but in any case we're the ones playing catch-up, and we can ill-afford to waste any time).
We now have more than 50 people in our software development department, not counting those in other departments who are dedicated to the process of getting new releases of AutoCAD out the door. Should we not move to concurrent development of AutoCAD while stabilising a release for shipment? Yes, this makes source code control, project management, resource allocation, personnel management, and everything else far more difficult. But doesn't maintaining the technological leadership of a product that's bringing in 100 million dollars a year justify doing some difficult things?
Editor: John Walker