ETABS 2013 One Year Later

It’s been a year since CSI released the long-awaited next generation of ETABS. My colleagues and I have poked and prodded ETABS 13 for thirteen months and like what we’ve seen. I’ve watched the release notes and seen many bugs squashed. But as a big fan and longtime user of ETABS, I have a confession to make: I haven’t switched to version 13. Yes, I’ve tried, and even upgraded a number of my production models, only to relapse. Why is this? I offer the following reasons:

Triskaidekaphobia

Not really. I just couldn’t pass up a chance to use a fun word. But there’s a reason buildings don’t have floors labeled ’13’ – apparently people can be superstitious.

Momentum

If learning a new analysis software is like learning a new language, then learning ETABS 13 has been like moving from California to Boston: you can catch the drift, but you’re still wondering what a “cah” is and why it’s “pahked”. The basics are all there, but load cases are now load patterns (not to be confused with the repurposed load cases!), points are now joints, towers are now defined in addition to stories, and so on. In other words, the accents are funny around here. I’ll get over this, but it may be after I figure out how to pahk the cah.

Friction

When you use a program all day long, small annoyances loom large. ETABS 13 has a phenomenal solver and unmatched data export capabilities, but frustrates me with unexpected and sometimes inexplicable behavior throughout the user interface. A few examples:

  1. Dead-end Dialogs – Some of the windows in ETABS 2013 trap the power user, forcing them to reach over and find their long-lost mouse to click through. An example is this dialog that pops up after clicking “OK” in the “Export to Access Database” form:ETABSChooseExportUnitsAt a minimum, the Escape key should always exit the dialog.
  2. Taboo Tab Order – When I hit “Tab”, I expect the cursor to move to the next input box or button. Alas, it often does not. This is a basic usability rule that is violated throughout ETABS 9 and ETABS 2013. Developers: please keep tabs on the tab order.
  3. Faulty Focus – When I’m in the flow, muscle memory takes over, but extra key presses force me to think, dramatically slowing me down (thinking isn’t very quick for me, apparently). An example of this is the “Export to Access Database” dialog, where I have to hit Shift+Tab twice to move the focus to the “OK” button before hitting Enter to move on. (And then I have to go through another dialog to choose the units, rather than choosing them in the main window as in ETABS 9.) The default focus should be on the button that moves the process forward and never the “Cancel” button.
  4. Killed Keys – ETABS 2013 improved the ability to customize keyboard shortcuts, which is greatly appreciated (and big kudos to CSI for making the Escape key clear the selection). However, a number of keys are now off-limits, including those I use heavily in ETABS 9: Insert (3D view), Home (plan view), End (elevation view), Page up (move up in list), and Page Down (move down in list). I’ve been able to work around this using AutoHotKey, but I would rather not have to.
  5. Altered ‘Alt’ – As a companion to direct keyboard shortcuts, Windows programs typically allow a series of key presses starting with ‘Alt’ to dig through the menus to a particular command (for example, Alt-F-E-A opens the “Export to Access Database” dialog). Far too often, though, this breaks down in ETABS 2013: pressing the Alt key does not bring up the underlined letters in the menu and pressing a letter does nothing. The program can be shaken out of its daydream by using the mouse to open a menu, but this defeats the purpose. Also: in ETABS 9, I can press and release the Alt key before hitting the next key; ETABS 2013 seems to require that I hold down the Alt key until the next letter is pressed. This should not be necessary.

It’s worth saying again that I appreciate how difficult a developer’s task is and how much great work CSI has done. My comments are offered in the spirit of helping polish my favorite analysis program.

So, have you made the switch yet? What frustrations have you found? Tell us about it in the comments!

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