Managing Customization Files

November 28th, 2011

In several discussion forums I have read about the frustration CAD users feel when their CAD manager has locked down many parts of AutoCAD®. The CAD manager is generally trying to make his job easier by limiting the areas that typical users break and then need help fixing their machine. Managing company standard interfaces while allowing users the freedom to customize AutoCAD in a controlled environment can be a difficult task. 

AutoCAD is a highly customizable software and no two drafter/designers work the same. Some users enjoy typing while others are more comfortable with picks and clicks.  It is unrealistic and unproductive to expect, or worse, force all AutoCAD users to operate the product in the same way. The ability to quickly set up a machine to an individual’s liking, while maintaining company standards, is beneficial.

Recently my hard drive went “poof” and was unrecoverable. I hope this article will help get your AutoCAD environment up and running as quickly as I was able to, in the event you need to work on a different machine or, worse, rebuild one. We will review one solution using CUI files, profiles, and folders. A little setup in the beginning will save a lot of time and frustration later on. Whether you are getting a new machine or upgrading your software, properly managing your customization files will lessen your down time and get you back up and designing quickly.

Benefits of Using Main, Enterprise, and Partial CUI Files

Out of the box, AutoCAD uses only the main customization file. Many users are content with using the acad.cuix as their main customization file. For many years I would customize my acad.cui file, only to redo or transfer the settings when a new release came out. While maintaining my customizations, I would attempt to maintain, integrate, and protect the customizations of the company. After trying several options I have settled on using an option that incorporates the main, enterprise, and partial CUI files.

The Main CUI is easily customized and can be modified by the users, who can modify their cuix file at will. It is also a great place for them to store their own settings and workspaces. This should be a CUI file other than the acad.cuix file. I create a new cuix file named User.cuix. Creating a User.cuix allows users to easily migrate from release to release, but also from computer to computer.

The Enterprise CUI is good for settings that you don’t want users to modify. I place the acad.cuix in this category for ease of upgrading to a future release of AutoCAD. Often, users modify the interface in many ways and if they modify the default acad.cuix they will need to transfer, or more likely, redo their settings in the upgraded acad.cuix. That process wastes time and increases the chance of missing settings in the new file. Instead I copy the default acad.cuix from "C:\Users\matt_worland\AppData\Roaming\Autodesk\AutoCAD_2012\R18.2\enu\Support\acad.CUIX" to a network location and set it as my Enterprise Customization File. I believe your company menus should also be set to “read only.” Placing your company’s cuix file as a partial to your Enterprise customization file sets an additional layer of security to your company standards. In Figure 1 you can see the settings in the users’ profile for the CUI files.

Profiles

Profiles also help users define their AutoCAD environment. CAD managers will find it time consuming to ensure all users have the company-supplied support paths in their profiles. In the past a new user would receive a machine without setup by the CAD manager. Many times I would receive a call stating that none of the buttons or menus would work. When AutoCAD was installed, the company’s standard paths were not set in their profile.

To alleviate this we can create an mnl file and use some Visual LISP to ensure our company’s support paths are added every time our company.cuix file is loaded. If we review the network setup we discussed earlier, we have an acad.cuix file that resides in a network location and our company.cuix file that loads as a partial to that. We will also create a company.mnl file. Mnl  files are easy to use and can be created and modified in Notepad. By creating a file with the same name as the cuix file and with an mnl extension, AutoCAD will load and run the LISP code inside.

Figure 2 provides code that will add the company’s paths to the support path listing in the current profile. The code will store a variable for a user’s local folder and the company’s network folder, then checks to see if current list of paths includes a network path for a LISP and BLOCKS folder. If not, they will be added. The LISP in Figure 2 will continue to modify some general settings such as the location of Autosave files, Log Files, and a location for recorded actions using the Action Recorder tool. It will also set the main cui to a local User.cuix and the Enterprise cui to the network stored acad.cuix.

Network and User Folders

The aforementioned files and folders can be stored anywhere. I have chosen to have a folder created under My Documents for each user. This can easily be accessed by the user and AutoLISP. Figure 3 shows some folders that are specific to each user.

Having users store their files in this structure makes it easier to remember which files they need to backup. If they have regularly exported profiles and a copy of their acad.pgp, the AutoCAD environment should be easy to restore. These folders can all be created with your AutoCAD deployment image or you can also add some Visual LISP to your mnl file that will create these local folders. Figure 4 provides LISP code that will create a CAD folder for the user matt_worland in the root of Documents.  You can modify the LISP to include other folders by adding them to the list (list “ActionRecorder” “AutoSave” “Plot” “Profiles” “Temp” “ToolPalette”). To automate this further, you can have AutoLISP gather the user’s document folder by using the (getMyDocs) function in Figure 5.

Figure 6 provides an example of the network settings we have been discussing. Some others folders to consider are: Linetypes, Plot Styles, Plotters, and Tool Palettes. The paths for these folders could be added to our profiles via the Visual LISP code in our Company.mnl . Be sure to check out the AutoLISP AUGI forums if you need assistance adding more options to your mnl file.

Conclusion

By creating a central network location for all company customizations as well as a local location for each user’s customization, we can create a productive AutoCAD environment that can be set up with ease on each machine. With a little give and take from the end user and the CAD manager, AutoCAD users can have their highly customizable world and still integrate standard company settings. It’s never fun when we need to set up a new computer, but if we have prepared for the occasion, it can be a less daunting task to be up and designing again.

Matt Worland has been designing and programming in AutoCAD since R13. He is currently working in Denver, Colorado as a designer, programmer, and CAD IT. He enjoys learning and teaching others the power of Visual LISP and automation. Please contact Matt if you have any questions or comments, he can be reached at [email protected]

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