Unraveling AutoCAD's CUI, Part 1 (Circles and Lines AutoCAD Tutorial)

1 Jan, 2008 By: Lynn Allen

What is the CUI, and how do you change workspaces?

I was recently invited to address seasoned AutoCAD users at the United Kingdom's AUGI Design Academy about the dreaded customization user interface (CUI). I say "dreaded" only because early on, it was not fully embraced by the legions of experienced menu makers. Even though there have been vast improvements since the initial birth of the CUI, it's hard to get past people's first reactions.

I'm here to tell you that the CUI is a powerful tool for customizing AutoCAD to suit your individual needs, especially now that it's fully cooked (in software terms). It's a million times easier to deal with than the MNU, MNX, MNC, and MNR days of the past. After spending nearly a straight day studying and exploring the intricacies of the CUI command for my class, I decided to pass some of that knowledge along to you.

Customizing AutoCAD
First off, the CUI is the means by which you can customize just about anything in AutoCAD, except the Tool palettes. Those you still customize directly, but we'll cover that another time. Entering the CUI, you'll find in the upper-left corner a list of all the wonderful things you can customize to suit your needs. Let's give the list a quick once over:

Workspaces. Where you save the display of your toolbars, dashboard panels, and menus.

Toolbars. Most users have done some minimal customizing of their toolbars.

Menus. These pull-down menus reside across the top of the screen.

Dashboard panels. New to AutoCAD 2008, you can completely customize the panels on the fabulous Dashboard. Yes, I'm a fan.

Shortcut menus. These right-click, context-sensitive menus appear throughout the design process.

Keyboard shortcuts. Here you can completely customize the function keys, Control, and Shift key combinations. Changing F1 from Help is a very popular thing to do in the CUI.

Double-click actions. When you double-click on an object a command is executed -- you have complete control over the specific command that is assigned to each object type.

Mouse buttons. Most of us have two-button mice now, but you can still assign some cool commands to the right mouse button in combination with Shift and Control keys.

LISP files. Technically, you can load your LISP routines in the CUI, although I still do it the old-fashioned way in Appload (or at the Command prompt).

Legacy. A few legacy customizations -- such as good old tablet menus, buttons on input devices that do not qualify as a mouse, screen menus, and image menus -- still exist.

So, let's work our way through this list one item at a time. It no doubt will take a few months but it'll be a good primer on all things customization by the time we're finished! This month, we'll focus on workspaces.

Customizing Workspaces
Workspaces are used to store a snapshot of your user interface. It includes the display and placement of the toolbars, menus, and palettes in the drawing editor. Some people have a variety of workspaces saved based on particular tasks at hand. For example, in paper space, you might prefer to have the Viewports, Dimension, and Text toolbars added to your standard UI. I typically am happy as a clam with one specific workspace, which I've conveniently named after myself. AutoCAD 2008 comes with several different workspaces to choose from: 2D Drafting and Annotation sets up the Dashboard with popular 2D drawing tools, 3D Modeling sets your environment up for all things 3D, and good old AutoCAD Classic is great for those of you who wax nostalgic.

Even if you don't bounce around from one workspace to another, you should save at least one workspace with your preferred drawing setup. It comes in incredibly handy when you choose to upgrade to the next release of AutoCAD. AutoCAD automatically migrates your workspaces for you so that you can easily and quickly reset your UI to your preferred layout of toolbars, palettes, and menus. Excellent -- one less thing you have to deal with

The Workspaces toolbar makes it easy to switch from one workspace to another.
when you upgrade! So, if you haven't done so already -- your assignment is to save at least one workspace! Let's take a look at how to do that externally as well as inside the CUI.

The Workspaces toolbar is a great place to begin. Here you'll find a drop-down list that lets you jump quickly from one workspace to another. You can also use this drop-down list to save your current display to a workspace, which is probably the fastest and easiest way to do so and the route I suggest you take.

After you have your perfect UI configuration, select the Save Current As . . . option and assign a name to your setup. You'll also find the tool that takes you into the Workspace Settings command.

Assign a meaningful name to your saved workspace.

The last button of the Workspace toolbar lets you quickly change your display to the Workspace saved under My Workspace. In the next figure, you'll see that I've chosen My Workspace to be Lynn. A quick tap of the button puts you back in your workspace of choice. In the Workspace Setting dialog box, you can control the workspaces that display in the drop-down list on the toolbar -- common sense tells you to move your favorite workspaces to the top of the list with the Move Up and Move Down buttons. You also can add a separator line if it makes you happy.

Manage your workspaces in the Workspace Settings dialog box.

The option you select at the bottom of the Workspace Settings dialog is key. When you flip from one workspace to another, do you want AutoCAD to automatically update your current workspace with any changes you have made? I personally find this a little irritating and always opt to not save those changes, but that's up to you.

So, that's the means of saving workspaces externally of the CUI. Let's take a look at the more convoluted way to do the same process inside of the CUI. (You can already tell I'm biased).

After entering the CUI command, you'll find a listing of your existing workspaces in the upper-left corner of the dialog box.

You can also modify and create workspaces in the CUI.

Simply right-click on the word Workspaces and select the New Workspace option in the Shortcut menu. The upper-right panel now displays the new workspace (which is currently empty) with a Customize Workspace button that let you add toolbars, menus, and Dashboard panels to your workspace.

Select the Customize Workspace button to add content to your new workspace.

The process that occurs next is unlike anything else in the CUI dialog (so much for consistency). Your natural tendency is to drag any toolbars, menus, and Dashboard panels over to the Workspace Content area, but that would be wrong! Next, you need to check and uncheck the items you want to include in the workspace from the tree view on the left.

Check the boxes of the Toolbars, Menus, and Dashboard panels you want to add to your workspace.

Continue adding your desired items to the workspace and select Done when you're finished. A click on OK applies changes and exits the CUI dialog.

Set your new workspace to be current and you'll find that everything you added to your workspace is arbitrarily displayed in the drawing. Now, you can move them around to your heart's content and then resave the workspace with the new positions from the Workspace drop-down list in the toolbar we discussed earlier. I think you'll find that it's easier just to create your workspaces externally from the get-go, but that's up to you!

That said . . . there are a few nice things you can assign to your workspaces in the CUI. The figure below shows you the Properties of My New Workspace, and you'll find that you can control whether this workspace starts on model space or the last active Layout tab when you execute it. You can control if your Model Space and Layout tabs are displayed at all (or moved to the Status bar). You can turn on the Legacy Screen Menus with your workspace (that's pretty cool), and last, but not least, you can decide if you want the scrollbars to display on the screen.

Additional features can be added to your workspaces in the CUI.

Workspaces can prove to be a clever, valuable tool to use during your drawing sessions. Give them a try and remember to save at least one workspace of your favorite display settings!

Until next month, happy AutoCADing!

AutoCAD Tips!

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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