AutoCAD 2006 for CAD Managers, Part 3

22 Jun, 2005 By: Robert Green

In the past two issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter (click here for archives), I've concentrated on new features within AutoCAD 2006 that I feel are of particular interest to CAD managers. In this edition, I'll conclude my coverage of the CUI (customized user interface) command and the types of customization functions you can perform with it.

If you haven't had a chance to look at the last two issues of the newsletter, you might wish to do so in order to have proper context for this issue.

Customized User Interface — Menu Specifics
Let's step through a rough exercise on setting up a customized CUI file of your own. To facilitate this process, I recommend copying the default AutoCAD CUI file and dependent files to a temporary directory so you can experiment without fear of corrupting anything. To make a backup, follow these steps. …

1. Find the directory that contains the default AutoCAD CUI files — most likely deep within the bowels of the C:\Documents and Settings folder. You can search for the file ACAD.CUI as shown here (figure 1) to drill down to the exact folder name. Note: I used the Advanced Search options to turn on the functions for searching within system and hidden folders because Windows by default will hide the folders from you!

Figure 1. Search for the file ACAD.CUI in the C:\Documents and Settings folder.

2. Copy the entire directory to a temporary folder on your C drive — I like to use C:\ACADSUP — rather than using the intricate directory structure the Microsoft operating systems impose on us. Note: The directory will almost always be in the form C:\Documents and Settings\Username\Application Data\Autodesk\AutoCAD 2006\R16.2\enu\Support.

An open request to Autodesk: I know Microsoft imposes this application data folder structure on us, but could you PLEASE offer an installation option that does away with burying everything in the C:\Documents and Settings folder? I've spoken with dozens and dozens of CAD managers at various speaking engagements who find this folder structure as cumbersome as I do.

3. Use AutoCAD's Menu command to load the ACAD.CUI file from the temporary C:\ACADSUP directory (figure 2).

Figure 2. The Menu command helps load the ACAD.CUI file from the temporary C:\ACADSUP directory.

4. Use AutoCAD's CUI command to edit the various menus, toolbars, AutoLISP routines and other features that comprise the CUI environment. Before you do anything too radical, take some time to expand the various folders in the CUI tree to see exactly what you're dealing with, as I've illustrated here (figure 3).

Figure 3. Look through the folders in the CUI tree before you begin changing CUI features.

5. Now expand a menu section to view the commands within the menu branch and observe that menus and menu subitems can be added or deleted by right-clicking on the context menu.

6. Note that each menu entry (or command macro, if you will) has an associated icon, and that the lower left panel of the CUI dialog box shows an overall command palette that displays icon assignments. Further, large and small button icon assignments are facilitated in the upper right Button Image panel (figure 4).

Figure 4. The CUI dialog box shows an overall command palette that displays icon assignments.

7. Scroll down to the Keyboard Shortcut section and expand it to view the ease with which you can now set all the Ctrl+Key combinations you like (figure 5). Note: I confess to being a keyboard addict and thus make great use of command keystrokes, space bar entry and Ctrl+Key combinations.

Figure 5. In the new CUI environment, you can easily create keyboard shortcuts to your liking.

8. Exit the CUI command using the OK button, and your changes will be saved automatically. You may now test your changes in the live AutoCAD environment.

Repeat these steps as much as you'd like. For extra insurance, copy the contents of your C:\ACADSUP folder before making more changes.

CUI Benefits
A few of the real benefits of the new CUI file approach that hit me early on include the following:

  • If you copy the entire directory of support files along with your CUI file, you'll have complete confidence that you can move CUI file sets to other machines and have them work straight away without pathing issues.
  • The phenomenon of "smiley face toolbar icons" has now been eliminated because all the resources for the button graphics are now embedded within the CUI file.
  • For those CAD managers and users who've never opened an MNU file in a text editor, the CUI editor is a friendly environment in which to work. Of course, those of us who've done MNU file customization in the past can continue along the old path, if we like.
  • Digging into the CUI capabilities a bit more, it becomes clear that the stage is set for AutoCAD 2007 — or whatever they call the next release — to offer a CUI file methodology that's much easier to learn than the current spaghetti bowl of customization we have to deal with.

I've talked with experienced CAD managers who've greeted the new CUI capabilities with the attitude, "So what? I can already do what I need to do." I've slowly come to embrace the CUI functions because they give us more flexibility in how we create customized environments and an easier way to migrate changes from machine to machine and version to version.

My past experience with AutoCAD has always been that more flexibility translates into more power for me as CAD manager. I'm willing to bet that we'll come to view the CUI customization environment as a worthy addition to AutoCAD's management feature set over the next couple of AutoCAD releases.

Express Tools Notes
One of the nice things that Autodesk has done with the last couple of releases is to again include Express Tools. My experience has been that most users enjoy at least some of the tools, but the new Workspace feature makes it very easy to accidentally blow away the menus and/or toolbars that control the Express Tools. If this happens, simply use the Expressmenu command to redisplay the menus and toolbars that users expect to see.

The other default behavior worth noting about Express Tools in AutoCAD 2006 is that the support and library files for all the various Express Tools are not loaded at AutoCAD startup. Use the Expresstools command to load all required files — either by the user typing it in at the command line, or from a startup LISP file for those customizing CAD managers who elect to use one.

Now Give It a Try
With what you've learned in this and the past two issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, you should now be able to create and modify your own CUI files and move them around from desktop to desktop with confidence. Why not try building your own ultimate CUI file with every bell and whistle you'd like to have at your fingertips? After all, actually getting your hands dirty with the new technology is the fastest way to learn.

After you've created your ultimate CUI file, take some time to experiment with the sample tool palettes that ship with AutoCAD 2006 to gain a working knowledge of the new Dynamic Block capabilities. As an example, try inserting one of the architectural dynamic blocks (figure 6) to see how it works.

Figure 6. Inserting an architectural dynamic block.

Once a dynamic block is inserted, simply double-click it to enter the new block-editing utility.

Wrapping Up
We'll look more closely at these new Dynamic Block capabilities in the next issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, when I'll conclude my coverage of AutoCAD 2006. Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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