Quest for input device

Until I get a touch screen I can run SolidWorks on, I feel that every other input device I use is going to come up short. I”ve hated mice ever since I was dragged into Windows (from DOS) in 1989. I can”t tell you how much money I”ve spent on mice in the hope that this new function or new button or new (X) would finally redeem mice, but none has ever done it. My most recent mouse was a Logitech MX Laser. Shapely, cordless, great materials, quality construction. But it was also heavy and had a honkin” huge recharger. That was probably 7 years ago when I first got it. It lasted a long time for a mouse. But the MMB broke and then the LMB broke, and a mouse isn”t much of a mouse without an LMB.

So I started (another) thread on the SW Forums in search of a mouse. Lots of recommendations, but most of them looked astonishingly like everything else I”ve seen for years. There”s really not much all that exciting happening in mouse design these days, not even for gaming mice, and certainly not for CAD specific mice. Isn”t that something? CAD users don”t even get a mouse specifically purposed for us? I mean, CAD users do all of this design work, but we have never designed ourselves a mouse. Why is that? Do you have to count potential market in the millions to justify getting a mouse made for you? It seems to me there is some money to be made if someone could make a CAD mouse that solves problems game mice don”t solve for CAD users. It looks to me that most CAD users use the hell out of mice that are meant for people who mainly surf the internet and delete email. Whatever. What do I know.

So, this past summer, I started having some problems with my right forearm, and I quickly blamed it on the amazing number of hours I was racking up on the computer. Some of the recommendations I was getting from that mouse thread were from that crazy lot, the trackball users. I have always lumped trackball users in with chronic hypochondriacs, always looking for diseases for whatever cure they like, and the irrational fanboy mentality. Unfair? Yeah, maybe, but we all have our little prejudices. But you know what? This pain in my arm was real, and it was really coming from a heavy mouse, and I really didn”t like the mouse concept that much anyway. So who”s to say that turning a 10-year old roller mouse upside down, and fiddling with its ball would be any better than sliding a laserized puck around a desk?
There are a lot of choices when it comes to trackballs. In the end, I chose the Logitech Trackman, which arrived by post today.This is what comes in the box. I swear, when I opened it, I had a flashback to a job I had 13 years ago. That PS2 connector, the huge “wireless” receiver, the batteries for a device that doesn”t move, even the detail of the battery compartment cover. This is a design that hasn”t changed in over a decade. So if mouse design hasn”t changed much, I guess trackball design has changed even less. The devices pictured above ranged in price from about $20 to almost $500. This one was about $50 on Amazon.com. So far, the only things about the design that don”t scream “loser” are the ergonomics and the materials. The device buttons are actually well laid out. The one thing I”m getting used to is the LMB on the thumb instead of the forefinger.

I”m curious why this needs to be wireless if it doesn”t move, especially when the receiver takes up a USB port ( only because I don”t have any PS2 ports…). My main gripe about wired mice was getting the wire caught in things because of the motion, which isn”t going to happen here. Because it”s wireless, it also requires batteries, which is another unnecessary annoyance. There”s no battery indicator or lights on the thing. How very 1990s. Anyway, despite some of what seem obvious design oversights, I want to give this thing a chance. I want to like it. I think rotating stuff in SolidWorks has the potential to be much easier with this. I think my arm already feels better. I think running the ball with the fingers is better than the models where you run the ball with your thumb.

So, I have some questions for those of you who use or love trackballs:

    1. How do you like to set the sensitivity? (fast motion, high acceleration?)
  • Do you use any other settings with the trackball that you don”t use with the mouse?
  • Do you have any tricks for rotating the model in SW/CAD?
  • Do you like the precision for drawing in CAD?
  • Is the attraction mainly an ergonomic thing?
  • Do you find the trackball or the mouse to give you more direct control over the cursor?
  • Which model trackball do you use and why?
  • What”s your favorite thing about the trackball?
  • Do you have any ergonomic issues/solutions with the device?
  • Why aren”t these more popular?
  • Why is the design so dated?

 

4 Replies to “Quest for input device”

  1. Hi,

    Thanks Matt for your “database hacking” skills (http://www.dezignstuff.com/blog/?page_id=6507#comment-3218000) in getting this blog back

    Thanks Jess; I too have settled on the Evoluent vertical mouse

    It has a much smaller learning curve (and cheaper) than ones like:

    – 3DConnexion’s SpaceNavigator http://www.3dconnexion.com/products/spacenavigator.html – this one would be great for non-SolidWorks Software that doesn’t have the same easy view manipulation of a 3-button mouse

    – Fentek’s high performance Laser Trackball http://www.fentek-ind.com/laser-trackball.htm#mltracub – great mouse, but this might be OK with a foot operated set of buttons

    I found these guys http://www.ergonomicoffice.com.au/catalogue_list.asp?catID=1&nav=workstationessentials to be a great help in understanding what’s available too

    Good luck everyone

  2. Hi Matt,
    Skimmed through this article on mice and noticed you had issues with your arm. So did I and shoulder. Have you looked at a vertical mouse. http://www.evoluent.com, I went with a right veritical small mouse. my arm and shoulder are a lot happier.
    good luck.
    jess

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37 Replies to “Off Topic Catchall”

  1. I agree with much of what you said. While all AE’s need general knowledge, specialization is critical to providing top notch support.

  2. @Cadjunkie
    Yeah, lots of this makes sense. Just because it makes sense doesn’t mean folks have to like it. I don’t suppose there is much chance of it changing for the better, from the user’s point of view. Anyway.

    I should just make this an entirely off-topic blog. This discussion is going better than most. I love thinking about the reseller and support ideas. I think they have a lot of potential for improvement, mainly because they I don’t think there has every been a meaningful change to the SW VAR system since it started, and I doubt that’s because it started perfect.

    At the last reseller I worked for, I was an advocate for each person learning a specialty. This did several things. First, it meant that the reseller organization as a whole would have access to much greater depth of information in several different fields. Instead of everybody being mediocre at everything, it meant that you would have go-to people for topics like plastics, weldments, sheet metal, machining, FEA, CFD, ETC. An added benefit for the employee was that they would gain a real marketable expertise. Face it, the only employment perk for a reseller tech is to gain access to information, software and customers. To me, working as an AE was an extended job interview. Specializing in “tech support” won’t get you anywhere in life. Specializing in plastics and being able to do tech support, training and demos were the seeds of skills you can use in almost every area of an engineering career.

    I think the specialist route benefits the employee, the organization and the customer. Having depth within the organization in various topics is a real reason for a customer to want to have a relationship with the VAR. Having 10 people who are all equally able to tell you to update your video driver is not.

    Reseller customers have complained to me about support and have hired me to visit them and solve problems their resellers’ tech support should be able to handle. I remember when I worked at one resellers there was a fellow who did support who was utterly unqualified to answer SW questions at any level. I won’t mention his name because he’s still in the industry. In fact, when I was first hired to work at a reseller, with a grand total of 3 weeks of SolidWorks experience, I was turned loose to do training.

    Anyway, regardless of the weaknesses of the system, and the misguided technical apathy of most owners/managers (look to JohnP and LouG as positive role models), I really enjoyed most of my experience as a reseller employee. Not to say that I was always the best thing for users. I learned a lot from my days working for resellers. I learned mainly from customers, truth be told, but I also learned a lot from individuals at SW Corp whom I still have a lot of respect for.

    In some ways I would almost like to be a technical manager at a reseller again, just to prove that all it takes is the will to do it in a way that is actually a benefit to all involved: employee, organization and customer. Sometimes I had to learn things, and I’ll grant you I made a lot of mistakes. I worked for folks I respected and for folks I didn’t respect. I worked with other techs who actually made an effort and those who I thought were unemployable in any customer facing role.

    And here is the part of the whole inside support thing that no one has mentioned yet. There is a definite pecking order. The SolidWorks guys have a lot of tools that they don’t pass on. They have access to the developers, product mgmt, QA, training, and everybody. Reseller folks don’t have any of this. SW direct tech support in a lot of cases don’t act like they’re on the same team with the reseller people. SW direct folks are superior, and many of them seemed to want to make sure you knew that. I usually put up with that crap just to get access to their information.

    The pecking order continues, too, because reseller folks tend to do the same thing to customers. Many AEs have the attitude that customers don’t know a boss from a cut. Part of the difficulty of being an AE is that you don’t know what you are dealing with. Someone who calls in could be hallucinating, or they could be 10x as smart as you. You never know. The AE has to find a way to communicate with either end of the spectrum, distinguish the technical problem from the personal problem, and find an appropriate solution. It’s hard work being an AE, and you have to be as much a psychologist as anything else to be good at tech support.

    I don’t put the blame on the low level techs who deliver the bad support, I put it on the management that is supposed to assemble a team and deliver a product worth paying for, and the owners, who should give a $#!+ about the reputation of their organization.

  3. I’d actually push it to 1 year to have a fully versed AE. And there is the question of what is an AE’s role in terms of what they should cover. As you know some VAR’s keep things completely separate i.e. some AE’s only do tech support and that’s all they do. Others are “allowed” to do demos or training. I’ve heard that some other VAR’s will have AE’s doing all of the above. Which is a better method is really hard to say. “Jacks of All, Masters of none” can be all fine and good, but start going past the first few layers and what’s underneath is quite shallow. Not good or bad, just is….

    Should a VAR have a separate group for each add-in? Enterprise and Simulation alone can be HUGE beast unto themselves. On top of that an AE should be able to do any and all SW training courses, what’s new in SW XXX, and provide great customer service to some who call on the phone ready to slice your throat because something in the software is not working the way it should. Somethings gonna give…what incentives are VAR’s really offering techs in way of upward mobility?

    The nailed head: the system has be set up to have this suits vs techs. Sales brings in the $$ and techs are the after thought to support what’s been sold, we all know this, but really what is it that is gratifying after 3 or more years having to sometimes deal with just really outrageous expectations coming from customers/sales and what their idea of what support is? Yes it’s your “job” and you are being a professional about it. But I don’t think one would considerate it a career path because it is not laid out that way. It’s actually surprising that the turn over rate for AE’s isn’t hired. And let us not forget that in some cases a VAR may have a non-compete clause possibly set in place that would not allow an AE to go to another VAR to work, though I think that’s be just tantamount to driving off a cliff on a segway.

    The wealth of tools in the program have gone well past the point of anyone really knowing past the threshold of more than 70%. This is being inclusive of everything in the Premium package of SW. Anyone AE who answers the phone is human and can make mistakes. Customers sometime act as if the AE is a robotic computer with every answer completely memorized….when, in reality, customer use the program in ways not even originally intended for what Solidworks HQ programmed.

    I digress and am not trying to defend piss poor quality tech support from a VAR but adding the combination with this sense of having to have “what I want, when I want it, HOW I want it” does not make for a two way street worth a hill of beans.

  4. Being both a “suit” and a “tech”, I’m empathetic towards both groups.

    I guess I’m glad to work where I do. It’s not perfect, but it sounds a lot better than where you have been.

  5. @Matt

    I was not aware so many in the conversation were former SolidWorks techs.

    I did not address this in my last comment, but you and I are definitely in agreement regarding VAR owners, CEOs, and management.

    I also absolutely agree that a lateral move to sales/presales is no promotion. It is usually technical suicide because you become a demo monkey.

    @Matt and @John

    For the sake of discussion, I will refer to VAR owners, CEOs, and management as “Suits”. I will refer to support technicians (and more generally engineers, technologists, and technicians) as “Techs”. Presales AEs live somewhere in between Suits and Techs.

    I can’t speak for all VARs, but in my experience, the Suits were one of the biggest obstacles to us Techs being able to provide the highest quality support possible. Most of us Techs inherently like to provide quality work so when the Suits got in the way, it was very frustrating.

    Here are a few challenges created by the Suits at my VAR that made it difficult for us Techs to provide quality support:

    • Matt is dead on correct. Tech support was always an after thought and at the bottom of the resource pile. Now, most of us on the Tech side understand that in order to properly run a business, you have to have at least two things – 1) A product or service, and 2) Someone to sell the product or service. Techs may not always see eye-to-eye with the Suits, but we understand that Suits are just as valuable as we are. However, Suits seem to think they are much more valuable than Techs. The Suits set up a system that rewards Suits and sales far more than Techs. This is probably due to fragile egos and greed. All the time they forget that without a product or service, they would not have a job or a bloated income. To be fair, this is not unique to SolidWorks VARs. This is a major problem in corporate America (one that will likely contribute to its demise). However John, just because this is the way it is does not mean this is the way it should continue to be.

    • The Suits did not properly staff the tech support department. Because our VAR was one of the biggest VARs in North America, we regularly acquired other SolidWorks VARs and their customers/active software seats. I remember one acquisition that roughly doubled the number of active software seats we needed to support. At the time, we had about five or six support technicians and were able to accommodate our support load. However, after the acquisition, we only acquired or hired two more techs to support double the seats. That is insane. Although, the VAR surprisingly had enough money to continue to acquire more VARs (without a commensurate increase in support technicians) and hire as many sales personnel as possible.

    • Suits love their metrics, but Suits don’t often appear to know how to interpret those metrics. The Suits frequently chastised us for not generating more tickets (taking calls and replying to emails), for not reducing wait times, and for not providing more quality to the customer. It is simple math, but they (Suits) don’t seem to understand that quality and wait times are inversely proportional when you are understaffed.

    • Suits are not good at compensating Techs or giving Techs the necessary resources to grow and maintain their skills. Most of our Techs with an engineering degree could walk into industry and make $20,000-$30,000 more per year. Most of our Techs without an engineering degree could walk into industry and make $10,000-$15,000 more per year. If we wanted to complete a new certification, learn a new major add-in, or simply maintain our existing knowledge, we had to study on our own personal time.

    The first two or three years of my tech support career, I loved it. However, I eventually became burned out and finally left because I was tired of dealing with the Suit issues above, I was tired of SolidWorks Corporate becoming more of an obstacle than a help, and I was tired of dealing with an increase of difficult customers who did not truly appreciate what we had to do to provide them quality support.

    I have never been happier or healthier.

  6. How about some decent documentation for the software. Every feature has intended uses and a range of cases where it works well. SW should let us know what the feature is supposed to do, and how it does it. Tutorials are ok in the beginning. I prefer the conceptual method that Matt uses in his surfacing bible. It need to be honest and suggest work arounds when the features fail.

  7. Smart VAR owners give decent salaries & benefits, plus bonuses to their support staff based on subscription renewals.

    I agree there are limited opportunities for upward mobility, but that is also true for sales staff. Most VAR organizations have flat management structures.

    At the end of the day, sales people are compensated to sell more. This is not unique to the CAD industry. You may not like or respect it, but it’s the world we live in.

  8. @Former SWX VAR Tech
    Well, you know, there are several former var tech support folks here. Including me. I worked for 3 different resellers for a combined total of about 7 years. Working for customers and as an independent consultant thrown in there for another 8 years.

    You’re right about a few things, like tech support being at the bottom of the pile. But that’s because VAR owners set it up that way. They don’t pay for that position, and once someone gets good, they are promoted to teaching, then to demos. Reseller owners who are salesmen think that moving a tech guy into a sales position is a promotion. I’ve got news for you – it’s not a promotion.

    I put the responsibility for sucky tech support on the heads of var owners. They don’t value it, they see it as wasted money. Meanwhile they throw money at salesmen who may not have any idea about what they are selling (JohnP, this is not aimed at you, please don’t take this personally. I have seen plenty of it, and have been there). That’s why tech support sux. Its because owners priorities are different from their customer’s.

    If business were centered around pride and competence instead of greed, it would make more sense to technical people in the business world, and we’d all feel bit more human and a bit less like sheep.

  9. John why would outsourced support anywhere in the world not work? I call my bank now and it is answered in Mumbia. When I used think3 software 10 years ago I was getting WebEx support from India, Italy or the USA, depending on the time of day I raised the query. Ditto for the Alibre Assistant.

    My point was that that the payback is based on the service calls answered. if your company invests in quality staff to handle detailed, specific support requests and you are dealing with requests from the USA, the UK, Germany, wherever, you should be rewarded by the support you provide. This is exactly what other software companies have been doing for years.

    I’m all for face to face stuff but the reality is that when the shit hits the fan you want answers immediately. Currently the best way for this is “support” via the SolidWorks user forum.

    I am not knocking VARs, but VARs are best at strategic support, onsite face to face issue planning and classroom training. Direct issue support is always going to come down to who can answer the query and 9 times out of 10 that requires a call back to SolidWorks anyway once you get beyond the basics.

    Yes they handle all the licensing stuff but let’s be frank here. Why? Why can’t I do that myself? it is all web based anyway. What pisses me off is that I cannot even submit a change of address without sending Solidworks a FAX!! I mean come on. I have a secure login to my customer area so why make me do a dance, triple somersault and bend over backwards to do a simple address change? I can even do my tax online!! BTW I have just gone through this experience so it is excactly what happened and I did submit a PCR!

    Support will always be a hot potato and to be honest every VAR I know hates offering telephone support as it is a pain in the ass. I think in reality many would take a hit on the revenue for subs in return for not having to do it.

  10. I worked as a SolidWorks VAR Support Technician for one of the biggest VARs in North America for over six years before I moved on. Here are a few of my thoughts.

    So everyone is clear, the system is designed so the VARs are the first level of tech support and SolidWorks Corporate is the second level of tech support. The VARs are there to weed out as many issues as possible and, to the best of their ability, find answers to as many of the complicated issues as possible. If the VAR is unable to resolve the issue, then the VAR contacts and works with the SolidWorks Corporate Support Technicians to find the answer. The idea is that the VAR technician is your SolidWorks representative and point-of-contact from first report of the issue to the resolution.

    Here are a few challenges to this system (in no particular order):

    1) I don’t remember a time when everyone (customers, VARs, and SolidWorks Corporate) was on the same page about the expectations of VAR tech support. It is very difficult to deliver a product (support) if not all parties are in agreement.
    2) SolidWorks tech support involves more than an extensive knowledge of the software. It involves customer service skills, troubleshooting skills, hardware knowledge, basic network knowledge, administrative knowledge, general software knowledge, 2D and 3D engineering design and drafting knowledge, and basic manufacturing knowledge at the least.
    3) Cadjunkie is correct, no matter how much previous experience a new tech may have, it takes, on average, nine months to one year before a new VAR Support Technician is really able to pull any weight supporting just core SolidWorks.
    4) No matter how qualified (degrees earned, certifications earned, etc.) or how experienced, VAR support technicians usually receive less compensation than their industry counterparts (the customers). Also, there is almost no upward mobility in tech support.
    5) Most customers want an answer right now and few are really willing to help the technician troubleshoot the issue.
    6) Many customers use tech support for training and not support. This means increased wait times for phone and email support.
    7) Cadjunkie hit the nail on the head – in this day and age, there is no way any one support tech can possibly and properly support all the SolidWorks related software. When I first started, there were few add-ins and many of the support issues were “how to” questions that were easily answered in a quick manner. When I left the job, we were dealing with PDM and Simulation issues that would take weeks and sometimes months to fully resolve. This means you have to have a properly staffed support team whose members can all support core SolidWorks and then allow each of those members the time to become experts in one or two main areas of the software (PDM, Simulation, CAM, PhotoWorks/PhotoView 360, Routing, Toolbox, etc.). This costs money and time.

    8) Again, as Cadjunkie stated, SolidWorks Corporate does not have the resources to provide QUALITY direct support to everyone. Those of you who have been able to get SolidWorks to directly support you without having to contact your VAR received great support because of the following reasons – 1) They are not dealing with the barrage of calls that are dispersed to the VARs. 2) They have more tools to diagnose issues (tools they don’t share with VAR tech support). 3) and They have direct access to the developers. However, I can tell you that one to two years before I left tech support, even the quality of SolidWorks Corporate tech support began to diminish. This was due to the fact that they were receiving an increase of issues from the VARs, and they had to quickly hire many new support technicians. The core of experienced techs at SolidWorks Corporate was always a pleasure with whom to work because they had EXPERIENCE. Unfortunately, the mass of new techs did not have the same experience, and they often gave us poor answers or found a way to brush us off and force us to find the answer elsewhere. If SolidWorks were to provide all support directly, they would have to hire another mass of new un-experienced techs who would perpetuate the existing issue of poor quality support. Plus, this would cost a lot of money.
    9) Often, SolidWorks will acquire a new software/add-in and give the VARs very little notice (sometimes one or two weeks) before they are expected to fully support that new add-in (i.e. Enterprise PDM). This is simply not a sufficient amount of time for a VAR to properly support the software.

    I am not an advocate for or an opponent to the current tech support model. It has its pros and cons. However, before you go blaming everything on VAR tech support, it is very important to spread the blame where it is due. I am not excusing poor quality support from VARs (I know it exists), but there is more to the quality issue than meets the customers eyes. SolidWorks does little to help the VARs maintain quality or standardized tech support. VARs are not always good at training techs and providing incentives for qualified support techs to grow and stay in the field. Also, customers are not always willing to be realistic about the nature of SolidWorks tech support they desire.

    I still believe SolidWorks maintenance is a good investment. My question to SolidWorks Support customers is this – Are you willing to sacrifice more time (for better quality), more money (to hire and train more qualified techs), or more quality (for a quicker response) to receive SolidWorks tech support? The truth is you will have to sacrifice at least one of these. You can’t have it all.

  11. @Ken
    It’s amazing the stuff you can learn from face to face interactions. That’s one of the the biggest advantages to the VAR model in my opinion.

    Direct vendors would have a very hard time offering this level of service to the “mainstream” market.

  12. @John
    Yes, the ability to actually visit the client is quite an advantage and something you probably won’t get directly from the application vendor. There is also definetely no shortage of convenient desktop sharing tools.

  13. @Kevin Quigley
    Our preference is to use web conferencing software. We use GoToMeeting with great success. IT departments trust it, and the setup requirements have been transparent.

    We also go on-site when the problem requires (FYI – this has always been done at no charge to the customer). If support was outsourced to anywhere in the world, this obviously would not work.

  14. Totally unacceptable!

    Have you contacted SolidWorks to report your issues?

    I would suggest you send an email to Richard Welch (rwelch@solidworks.com).

  15. I can attest to the poor reliability of VAR’s being able to handle even some of the most simplistic of problems. I work with a prototyping shop that mainly deals with aerospace products. We have called our VAR only about 5 times in the last 2 years, and each time it seems that we have been more knowledgeable than their SW operators. In fact we have generally stopped calling them for lack of faith that they can help.

    One particular case, we had searched through the help directories, and looked through google for a few hours to find out how to use the hole wizard to install a hole not normal to surface contour. We figured we were missing something simple and decided to call our VAR to get a quick answer and stop wasting time. The response that we received was that this was impossible to do in SW.

    That night at home still bothered by not finding a solution, I came across a site and it showed how to do exactly what we were needing to do. We called our VAR back to let him know that we found out how to do it, and he implied that we had not actually achieved what we were telling him because it was not possible. We had to send him an example file to show him it was possible.

    We have had a few more cases where we had trouble shot a problem, found that it was SolidWorks specific (not a network/config issue) problem, and then calling into the VAR to be told that we were just doing something wrong with our settings, though they could not produce a set of settings that could make the problem go away, but were not willing to report the bug to SolidWorks.

    We had sent a guy up for training, to the advanced class, and the first instructor which seemed knowledgeable had to leave for some reason. His replacement ended up having problems completing the tutorials straight out of the book. He later admitted that he was just learning the system himself.

    Perhaps these are just issues that a SW user in the south east of Virginia encounters, but I can say that I am more than just hearsay. Oh, and when we try and call SW direct they just ask us where we are located, ask us to hold, and then transfer us to the VAR. We tried that once.

  16. From my perspective SolidWorks has outgrown the ability of even the largest VARs to keep up. I’ve used SolidWorks since 1997 and have been involved with customer installations, so I have been exposed to working with a range of VARs and SolidWorks directly. The truth of the matter is that you get great support when you get an answer to the problems you face. Anything else is frustrating.

    There is no way a typical VAR with perhaps 5 or 6 active support people can hope to cover the entire gamut of SolidWorks products, let alone any add ons they might sell as well. If I look back over the last few years I have made 3 calls to my VAR. Two were installation queries – more a reassurance thing than anything. One was a persistent crashing issue on startup. They answered the first two immediately, the other they wanted to refer to SolidWorks, so I uninstalled and reinstalled SolidWorks instead – problem solved.

    When it comes to actual usage my VAR runs update training within the subs package. I’ve only made it to one of these events due to work commitments. It was very good, I did pick up a lot of tips, but these tips were more to do with the general application usage rather than specific modelling techniques.

    I think as SolidWorks evolves the support infrastructure will change.

    The big issue for me is the sheer time it takes to raise issues. What I want is to work within the SW screen and call support from there and say “how do I do that” or “why is this happening”. SolidJot kind of does this now but the best method I used for this was Alibre Design when it was initially relaunched as a modelling solution. Back then they used to have the Alibre Assistant. This was a live help system, with a chat window built into the model screen. As you worked you could request help, the assistant would come online and literally show you what to do by taking over your model. I don’t use Alibre so I don’t know if this is still available, but back then it was very very impressive.

    What I fail to understand about VARs and CAD vendors is why they rely on the telephone so much. In this day and age web conferencing is commonplace. I have used a system called Glance for the best part of 10 years now (www.glance.net). Unlike systems like GoToMeeting there is no set up involved. I can get a phone call from a customer or potential customer, ask them to go to my glance website, enter the session key and seconds later they see my screen, they can take over my screen, and I can take over their screen. Simple effective quick.

    Yet when I request support for virtually any software I need to endure the telephone waltz trying to explain what I am doing, waiting for the AE to interpret that, trying to work a solution etc etc.

    So when I use SolidWorks I should have a Glance like control to open a support session. This could be routed to a VAR anywhere in the world who specialises in the nature of my problem. SolidWorks would pay VARs based on the level of support they offer. And perhaps this also opens up options for payback from other users as well?

  17. You have to take support with a grain of salt. The issues being raised by a large majority of user today, when compared to just 5 years ago let alone 10 is night and day due the saturation level of the program. You can hire an AE that has been using the program for 5 years or longer and they wouldn’t know 30% of the program because they only used it for their respective industry.

    Even if you had a “standard” for what an AE should know, the level of complexities that customers are using the program vary larger than most can imagine. Questions like “how to do an extrusion” ended a long time ago. People are taking the program to levels that not even SW HQ thought would be possible.

    @Matt and John
    There is a two part issue here that a “meeting of the minds” could be talked about. In this case one being that there are people that try to make the program do what they want, HOW they want. This is key in that just trying to apply past knowledge does not translate 1:1 to how SW HQ has implemented the features. Two: getting creative with the program once you know what the rules are to bend it to your will. There are a lot of people that call support, that if they thought about it for more than 5 seconds they would realize the answer themselves. But they blame their VAR for not answering the phones or emails “right” away. Sure they are paying for it, and I don’t think any VAR would think it in their best interest to not get back in contact with their customer.

    There aren’t enough AE’s in SW HQ to handle the support load if it came direct. The talent pool would be much weaker if support did come direct. Part of the reason WHY the support from SW HQ is better is because they are not being swallowed up support calls like “where’d my toolbar disappear too?”. They are answering a much higher level of complex calls that are filtered out because the VAR’s are in place.

    This notion that people feel entitled that because you pay for support that you are owed an answer is a bit much….. in that there are times when the technical problem that is happening IS not just “Hey do this and it’s solved”. There are times when, yeah, an AE at a VAR just hasn’t been around the block enough to know the answer like an AE at SW HQ is. But again, take it with a grain of salt, yes people need to get the problem resolved and the job done. No the program shouldn’t _________ (fill in the blank with what ever problem is happening at the moment) but when or where has anything ever worked perfectly? I say this in a moderately sarcastic tone, because this notion that it should “work right all the time” just seems a bit like a “too good to be true”.

    To switch from one VAR to another actually cost $$$ along with the paper work that has to be filled out. There has to be a “reason” why company A wants to switch to another VAR. So not it’s not just a phone call, but if but voting with your dollar says something about the original support then yeah go for it. But grass can be greener on the other side really does apply here…

  18. Ken, I really was joking!

    I do agree with the comment from “smartin” that the reponses can vary depending on who you ask. Unfortunately, that is true in all professions.

    I wish there was a perfect solution to the issues raised, but feel that moving to direct support model does not guarantee any improvements.

  19. I won’t go into whether VAR support or direct is better. There are pros and cons to either system, and in the end I think for the most part you end up with the same quality of people answering your questions (or not answering them, depending). I like my some of my VAR’s support offerings (regular webinars on various topics mostly) but am not particularly fond of their tech support, which is very hit-or-miss depending largely on who gets assigned to my case.

    I will say that the current VAR system needs to be more uniform. Depending on geographic location, my company’s SolidWorks seats are split between two VARs. In a quasi-admin position I occasionally have to deal with what to me is the ‘other’ VAR. I have found that the answer to some questions differs depending on which VAR I have to ask.

  20. I would be thrilled to be able to contact SW support directly. Mostly, to report bugs. I have a good VAR, but that is irrelevant. I have never had the VAR solve my problem (except to reset a license once). They have *always* had to forward it on to SolidWorks support. This is for about 7 cases that I have submitted.

    I even came upon something recently: https://forum.solidworks.com/message/182505#182505

    If you read that thread it explains my issue. Do I bother to submit it? No, it’s not worth the hassle of going through my VAR.

  21. The price for a basic SolidWorks license hasn’t changed since 1995.

    Fortunately VAR’s can offset inflation by hiring less intelligent people that don’t demand as much compensation.

    (BTW, that last part was my attempt at a joke.)

  22. Years ago I would occasionally call my Solidworks VAR with a technical question. I remember asking were the toolbox went. He patiently explained that if I clicked on the second horizontal line of the flyout section and dragged this line down it would appear. Stupid user interface. I have since found that the forums are better support.

    It remains perplexing that there is no price list for CAD software. I think that this is a way to obscure price fixing. Catia is amazing in this respect. The software is sold as a bunch of items that overlap in functions. By selecting a unique group from this set they can get the price to be anything they think that you can pay. When there are 30 items there are 2^30 special combinations. Since your quotation is unique there is no price fixing. The functions and prices of these chunks of software is not revealed to the customer. In this way the VAR prevents the customer from getting what they want at a price that is a good value.

  23. I don’t have any hard data, but I do know that several of the folks where I used to work (before I took over CAD support for the company) would call SolidWorks direct whenever they had issues, instead of the VAR. In their words, they were frustrated with having to deal with the VAR and the responses they got, and the time it took to get in touch with an AE.

    I personally never had many issues with the VAR we use, and think a lot of them. (Although I never have to call them much, either.) There are some great VAR’s out there, but there are also some bad apples.

    As far as switching VAR’s, it’s not that difficult, but it’s also not as easy as just picking up the phone and calling another VAR either. There are some hoops to jump through with SolidWorks and paperwork to fill out. I just went through that this past year with my customer.

  24. @matt

    Matt, like I said, it’s been years since I’ve had my hands on Solidworks. The things I do know that I’d like to play with, are some of the surfacing capabilities I’ve seen you show off, and while Inventor can do some surfacing, there are some things I’ve seen you do I can’t in it. But for me in the industries I see down here in Houston, where I’ve needed surfacing (volutes for pumps, some valves) I’ve not had any issues.

    That’s where I wonder where that statement came from, that’s all, if you’d prefer I can just send you an email instead of throwing questions here on the blog, even if this is now off topic.

  25. @matt
    We just see the world from different vantage points.

    Our customers appreciate what we do, and don’t have the negative view of SolidWorks that you do. If that changed, then I would as well.

  26. @matt
    While I understand you want to stay “on topic”, twas you that made the disparaging comments about SolidWorks VAR support.

    As you know, I take pride in what I do, and bristle at your frequent comments about how bad SolidWorks VAR’s are.

  27. @Donovan
    Ok, I’ll tell you what, I’ll take that up next time I do an Inventor post. If you don’t dive very far into the software, it’s completely believable that you don’t notice the difference. In fact, you might not even notice that Alibre is vastly different as well.

    I apologize for bringing up Inventor. I made an off-hand passing comment, and tripped a zealot. Sorry.

    Focus, people! This is not about resellers, this is not about inventor, this is not even really about whether you can actually make stew with chicken. This is about Solid Edge, with my point of reference being SolidWorks. I know every one has a little stake to claim, and are willing to take me to task for just about anything. Let’s try to stay on topic. Donovan, if you want to talk about Inventor, it’s a big internet, and you can type, so you can have a blog too.

  28. @matt

    Matt, can you clear this up for me

    “Inventor looks like SolidWorks about skin deep, and beyond that, there isn’t any real substance.”

    it’s been years (7 to be somewhat exact) since I’ve had my hands on SW, and it’s been Inventor the entire time, so I can’t see how this is valid.

  29. We’ve picked up customers from other VAR’s, and probably have had a customer or two switch to other VAR’s. It is not a difficult process as you indicate.

    The reality is SOME customers don’t like their VAR’s. That is true for all CAD vendors. It’s also true regarding direct support relationships.

    FYI – SolidWorks does have consulting partners that provide technical services (e.g. implementation & software development), but not software.

  30. @John
    If there is any research on this, it was done by Solidworks, and it is certainly not publicly available.

    If you don’t like your VAR, stop buying their products and using their services.

    I think the point here is that people don’t like their vars and they are trying to stop using their products and services. Glad we agree. SolidWorks doesn’t allow folks to separate products (software updates) and services (support). And they make it kind of miserable to switch vars. So the system is definitely not set up to be your traditional “customer friendly” arrangement that suppliers generally strive for (unless you’re a big fan of OPEC and Mexican drug cartels).

    This is not the thread where we talk about reseller support quality. That was a while back.

  31. Anecdotal evidence is not particularly compelling to me. Neither are blog posts about how great the other vendors are.

    I’ve dealt with many direct support people in my 23+ year CAD support career. Not all of them were good, and ALL of them were limited in the depth they would take an issue. Some by lack of knowledge, some by corporate policy, some because they were just not personally connected to the issue.

    The standards for reseller support are ultimately dictated by the customer. If you don’t like your VAR, stop buying their products and using their services.

  32. @John
    Well, given that many people feel the support they get from their reseller is not satisfactory, direct support is the only alternative, aside from self-support, or hiring a consultant that SolidWorks will not certify to offer support.

    Reseller support is far more variable than direct. There really are no standards for who is allowed to sit and answer the phone. SW resellers have to have a certified tech support guy on staff, but he could be out doing demos, there is no requirement for him to answer questions.

    I have to say that the best support I ever received was direct from corporate. Local chaps just ask me what video driver version I’m using, and typically have no idea about advanced topics. We’ve been through this a million times, and being a reseller, I don’t expect you to agree. Everyone else I’m sure at least recognizes the issues.

    Notice I did say SW resellers are probably better than SE resellers.

  33. What data do you have to support the view that direct support is better?

    Ultimately support tech’s are human. If they learn their craft and care about their customers, they can do a very good job.

    To think that direct support is better is simply naive in my opinion. Personally, I feel the opposite is true.

    I think its just a “grass is greener” mentality.

  34. @John
    I have a hard time seeing how you think I have a negative view of SolidWorks. I am one of the “civilians” who has done the most to show some of the unbelievable capability of the software. I’ve contributed for years to the community. And I don’t know if you read it at all, or if you just tune in for train wrecks, but I give SolidWorks a lot of glowing praise when they deserve it. I know this doesn’t live up to the standards of salesman optimism, but for folks based in reality, I think I do a decent job of bringing out SolidWorks nicer points.

    Sometimes I do say less than flattering things about the software. And usually the software deserves it. But read my books. If you want to see someone who is enthusiastic about the software, read the surfacing book. Really read it. I accept a lot of criticism that might have some value and might not, but I don’t accept the “negative” criticism.

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