Discover the customer portal

I spend a fair amount of time lamenting the state of the documentation around the SolidWorks software. It’s part of what motivated me to write the book. I tried to use the Help in some of the research for the book, but it was often woefully inadequate. It seems to go in cycles, and there are definitely areas of it that are better than others. For example, in the Help index, type in “spline”. You get a capitalized entry with the most useless generic information imaginable, and then two entries down is a lower case entry “splines” with many sub topics. Too many cooks in the stew. Sloppy work.

Next look at the help for the Task Scheduler function called Update Custom Properties. Nice entry. Long. Lots of information. But if you don’t already know, you won’t find out what it does by reading this Help entry. To even find this, you can’t do it through the Index using Task Scheduler or Update Custom Properties. In fact, you can’t get to it from the SolidWorks Help at all, you have to start the scheduler and open the Help from there. And once you get there, what does it say that the Update Custom Properties function does? Well, of course, it “updates custom properties”. What it actually does is add or change a custom property in specific files or an entire directory. Why couldn’t they just say that. I had to use it to figure it out.
And then why is it that some items have a set of sub topics which are displayed and indented from the top level topic, and some have a pop-up  with the subtopics? This, to me anyway, is really annoying. It’s another area of the software where the interface changes depending on the settings. Did you know that there is a place in SolidWorks to set settings for import and export? Where would you find that? You have to actually try to import or export a file before the option even presents itself. The settings are not in Tools, Options where you would expect them to be, they are on a hidden part of the interface. The settings used to be in Tools, Options, but they were removed and hidden many releases ago. In an interesting twist, the Help actually tells you all about this, if you go to the Index topic Export Options.

Here’s a good one. In the Index search box, enter the word “surface”. First, in the result there is a combination of singular and plural. That just adds confusion. Look down at the first sub topic under “surfaceS”, which is “Automatic Surface Creation”. Wow, I’ve never heard of that. Check it out. Now that’s cool, but what in the hell are they talking about? You have to go all the way to the end of the entry to learn that this is a ScanTo3D function. It isn’t listed in the Index list the way it is if you do a search, and it isn’t in the header for the topic.

Some areas where the Help is highly useful are in sheet metal, configurations. The Smart Fasteners section is the only Help topic I have ever seen which makes an attempt at being honest about the shortcomings of the software. It has a list of “unsupported hole types”.

So it’s not all bad news. When I learned the software, in SW97, I learned completely from the Help and the tutorials, the company I worked for would not send me to training. I’ll bet that there are a lot of people in that same boat today. The software is far more complex now than it was 10 years ago, and learning from the Help is probably not a good plan.

I’m going to make this a two-part entry. Check back tomorrow to read the good news about where to find official SW information on the software, short of paid reseller training…

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