Bug Watch: Is AutoCAD's CUI All Better Now?

8 Sep, 2006 By: Steve Johnson

The latest bugs, plus how does AutoCAD 2007's CUI stack up against 2006's

A Lack of Dialog Revisited Yet Again (2005 to 2007)
As I reported in February, March and May, some of AutoCAD's dialog boxes sometimes go AWOL. I have now seen this bug in the flesh and it's likely that plotting to a file triggers it. In my case, I was plotting to an EPS file in AutoCAD 2007, and Xerox devices were definitely not involved.

Workaround: Just one day before I witnessed this shy little bug, I saw this workaround described in an Autodesk newsgroup post. I tried it, and it worked! Bring up the Info Palette via Help / Info Palette, pressing Ctrl+5 or by typing the Assist command. Close the palette by selecting the X at the top right, Ctrl+5 or entering the Assistclose command. Now, see if your dialogs are back.

Grindingly Slow Gradients (2007)
In July, I reported that AutoCAD 2007 takes over 10X longer to create raster plots. If you don't create raster plots, you may not care about that. What you may care about is that AutoCAD 2007 is similarly slow when creating plots containing gradient hatching. How much slower depends on the area of the drawing that is covered by such hatching, but in my tests it's easy to make AutoCAD 2007 plot 7X slower than its predecessors. It is AutoCAD's processing time that is slower, meaning you'll be waiting around longer before you can get on with the next thing you need to do. The amount of data created by the plotting operation, and hence the time spent by the plotter producing the paper article, is very similar to previous releases.

Workaround: None known other than keeping an earlier release handy for dealing with this sort of problem. In my experience, AutoCAD's background plotting is not a viable workaround, as it's too slow and intrusive to use.

Comment: CUI in AutoCAD 2007
You may have read elsewhere that the CUI menu system is better in AutoCAD 2007 than it was in 2006. This is true, but how much better? Let's have a look at the specific criticisms I leveled at AutoCAD 2006's CUI in August 2005 and see how much progress has been made.

Poor performance. The 2007 CUI dialog box is still slow, although it may be fast enough for you. It's faster than 2006 under some circumstances, but slower in others. Using the menu system out of the box, you can expect the 2007 CUI dialog box to take about half the time to appear on first use. Subsequent startups take about three quarters of the time.

The problem arises when you arrange your menus in a more sensible way than AutoCAD's default. Unless you want to make modifications to ACAD.CUI every time you do anything in CUI, you must rearrange things. The only way of leaving ACAD.CUI in a pristine state is to make it a partial menu. Do that, then use the Enterprise menu feature and add a few other partial menus to the mix and the speed issue turns on its head. The following times (in seconds) were taken on a pretty fast machine with nothing else running, and your mileage may vary significantly. I have seen times of more than 20 seconds reported for AutoCAD 2007 CUI first startup.


First Startup (Default)

Next Startup (Default)

First Startup (Customized)

Next Startup (Customized)

AutoCAD 2006





AutoCAD 2007





So, for users who extensively customize their menu systems (surely the heaviest CUI users), AutoCAD 2007's CUI is actually slower than the 2006 version that so many people complained about.

Failure to adequately document the system. The CUI and workspace user documentation is better, with the Help system providing step-by-step animated instructions for many operations. However, the CUI file format is still completely undocumented, and there still appears to be no advice or examples provided to help users set up their menu systems in a structure that makes maintenance easier. If you double-click in the Help index on CUI files / Enterprise CUI files to try and get your head round that concept, you are provided with information about the unrelated Wssave command.

Nonintuitive user interface design. When I raised this point last year, I mentioned that it was open to debate. It seems that Autodesk has fallen on the side of the debate that thinks there is nothing wrong with the intuitiveness of the interface, because it's fundamentally unchanged in 2007. If you fall on the other side of the debate, you'll be disappointed.

Inefficient user interface design. Not much change here, either. Many operations involve more steps in CUI than were required in 2005 and earlier. In particular, it's still not possible to work directly with toolbar buttons. Maybe next year?

Failure to incorporate all customization. Last year, I expected a future release to incorporate Tool palettes and short-form commands. 2007 was not that release. A small step has been taken in that direction, by letting you drag a command from CUI's All Commands pane and drop it onto a Tool palette. Unfortunately, AutoCAD 2007 took a larger step backwards. This release introduced a new user interface concept, the Dashboard. Was this incorporated into the CUI system to make it easy to customize? No, it was not. In fact, it's not possible to customize it at all! Whither open architecture?

Failure to provide a workspace Command-line switch. This issue, at least, has been addressed. There is a /W switch now, and it works.

Failure to provide adequate API support. The new enterprise menu concept is now exposed to ActiveX. There's still no ActiveX support for workspaces. There is apparently a .NET API hidden in the ObjectARX libraries, but that's only useful for a tiny fraction of AutoCAD developers.

Dubious customization migration philosophy. Ease of migrating your customization between releases was touted at the primary reason for the new system. Having seen AutoCAD 2007's CUI migration in action, I'm not convinced that it represents anything like the gain that would be required to make the CUI pain worthwhile. I will return to this theme at a later date.

Instability and bugs. A lot of the worst CUI corruption issues were solved by 2006 SP1, and 2007 improved matters further. Users are still losing parts of their interface from time to time, but complete corruption of the CUI file is now relatively rare. There are still bugs, limitations and annoyances in the interface, but fewer than before.

Other improvements. Autodesk has improved some aspects of CUI that I didn't mention in my original article. These are:

  • Improved support for Accelerator Overrides, allowing customization of key combinations such as Control + Up.
  • Better icon file handling, with the addition of an Icons Folder setting in Options.
  • Ability to reset the CUI files back to the installed version.
  • Automated backup and ability to restore the last modified CUI file.
Summary. How much better is CUI in 2007? Not much. It's still a long way short of being good enough. Given the widespread adverse reaction among users of all skill levels, it's hard to understand why so little progress has been made to date. Perhaps the 12-month release cycle doesn't allow Autodesk enough room to move.

The good news is that Autodesk is now actively seeking feedback about how to improve it. For example, see this thread in the Autodesk newsgroups. Beware, it's a long and sometimes heated thread.

It's interesting to see how many people are suggesting that the best thing to do with CUI is to throw it away and revert to the old system. I don't entirely agree with that, because the new system does have some good points that should be retained. However, I do think it needs a very comprehensive rethink. Tinkering at the edges will be nowhere near sufficient for 2008. Over to you, Autodesk.

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Lynn Allen

Autodesk Technical Evangelist Lynn Allen guides you through a different AutoCAD feature in every edition of her popular "Circles and Lines" tutorial series. For even more AutoCAD how-to, check out Lynn's quick tips in the Cadalyst Video Gallery. Subscribe to Cadalyst's free Tips & Tools Weekly e-newsletter and we'll notify you every time a new video tip is published. All exclusively from Cadalyst!
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