Smart AutoCAD Installs

It is hard to believe, but 2012 is nearly over and by the time you read this, 2013 will be even closer! With the new year looming so near plenty of CAD professionals are writing resolutions for the new year that include those chores we all try to put off. You know the ones I’m talking about. The list that includes the bittersweet task of upgrading all of your users to the latest release of AutoCAD®!

It is both a joyous and a fearsome task.

In a Perfect World

With just a few weeks’ worth of night times left between now and the release of AutoCAD 2014, I imagine that more than a few of us will dream of a perfect world with frictionless upgrades. Dancing in the sleeping minds of CAD managers everywhere is a world where installations are instant and every workstation is prepped and primed for the upgrade. We dream of a time when users willingly schedule time into their day for us to come in, riding white horses, with the shiny AutoCAD packaging held high above our heads, ready to install without scheduling conflicts. We certainly have at least daydreamed of a world where installations of the newest AutoCAD release was headed for a workstation with plenty of free hard drive space and RAM to spare.

All of this, of course, is not even accounting for the adulation we would receive from our collective users for rescuing them from CAD obsolescence. Yes, this is a world of magic CAD unicorns and instant, effortless upgrades.

The Cold, Harsh Truth

Unfortunately there is a harsher reality that exists far from the land of CAD unicorns. It is one fraught with perils for the CAD manager planning upgrades to the latest release of AutoCAD for even the smallest of work groups. The list of issues and complications can seem nearly endless to all but the most experienced of CAD warriors. And like every great war, this one is made up of smaller battles that each needs to be won.

The simple procurement of the latest AutoCAD release can be a true difficulty if your firm is not part of the Autodesk subscription plan. It can seem as if no amount of new features or improved workflows and user interfaces can sway some tight-walleted bosses. Even worse are the poor CAD managers caught between a subscription and a boss who feels that yearly upgrades are a waste of time and would rather “skip” a release or two. How many of us have gone gray fighting the uphill battle against this sort of situation? Too many, I am certain.

Let’s not fool ourselves into believing that the bumps in the road end once you’ve ridden the upgrade cart past the boss. No, there are the users. That’s right, the very people you are trying to help can most often be unintentional obstacles themselves. Whether it be production schedules that preclude any possibility of software installation during normal hours or that “helpful” user who finds the deployment and upgrades himself. Users can be difficult. Sometimes even the simplest user aspect such as a list of who needs the new software can require a surprising amount of effort due to less than cooperative personnel. Then there are the users who just never seem to get around to returning those pesky emails. I think we love them the most.

Finally, there are the workstations. Those little beige or black boxes hiding under people’s desks are just waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting CAD manager. You can find outdated versions of the operating system or even a total lack of updates, both minor and critical. All of this not only contributes to the stability of the workstation, in general, but also makes for a poor foundation for a fresh install of AutoCAD. No sir, from OS updates to hardware requirements workstations are a topic that deserves attention in the planning of any upgrade process.

A Better Path

The fortunate part of this AutoCAD upgrade tale is that there are always solutions to whatever problem may present itself. This fact is no less true in the path to upgrade nirvana. It just has to be a matter of planning and steady execution.

First, we need to be more aware of the obstacles our users face on a daily basis. This should be an observational effort that we, as CAD managers, should make throughout the year. When we get questions beyond “What’s the name of that command?” that require us to put on the old thinking cap, that is one to mark down. Similarly, “workarounds” that we develop in the office to circumvent some issue should also be noted. This list of notes, along with some generalizations about lost production time, can be invaluable when trying to get upgrade approval from management.

As official word of the new release hits the streets, take your list and search for solutions in the description of tools that are new or improved. Correlate what you find in the new capabilities with a positive impact on your group’s production up time and you are sure to get the sign off to acquire and install the latest revision of AutoCAD.

That will put you past the “getting” stage and get you closer to the “installation” stage, and that means dealing with the user.

It is imperative that we remember that the user is not our enemy, and we also need to hope that they realize the same. No matter the office location or type, the end user of AutoCAD is a production or design professional who is in business to design or produce. That means that every moment that their workstation is unavailable to them is production revenue lost. So we must do our best to plan and execute the upgrade process so the user is impacted as little as possible.

Communication is the key to making the upgrade process as smooth as possible. First contact announcing the upgrade initiative should come at least two weeks prior to installation. While this may seem like an excessive amount of time, I am sure we all know that there are those in the office who seem to take special pleasure in avoiding communications. In these cases, we must build in extra time for repeated contact with individuals and even the odd personal visit. Let your users know what to expect.

Explain some of the exciting new improvements made in the new AutoCAD release and how they will relate to users’ work. Detail any preparatory steps they should take to ensure all is smooth. And finally, fill them in on your upgrade initiative and how long the actual install should take. Lay out appointment slots and allow them to choose their own install times.

Active and participatory users will make short work of replying to you and setting up times. Again, some users require a little nudge and there will always be one person who has to be told what is coming. In the end you should have a staff of users who are excited about the new AutoCAD version and who know when to expect this hot new release. Now you are ready to put some boots on the ground.

When approaching the workstation, no special stance is required. Even though these evil little beasties want to bite, they cannot unless you are careless. So take all the normal precautions when working with PCs and be sure to assess the condition of the workstation before beginning installs. A quick checklist might include the following:

  1. Are there old installations of AutoCAD (more than one release back) on the workstation for no reason?
  2. Are there old shared directories from previous versions of AutoCAD?
  3. Are there broken references in the registry from old AutoCAD installations?
  4. Does the PC meet the recommended requirements for the new release of AutoCAD?

If any of these areas raise a flag, be certain to address them prior to installation. Removal of old installations is beneficial to both workstation and user. It ensures that no lingering bits of shared libraries or other resources are left behind to cause issues. It also helps nudge more reluctant users to avoid the temptation to keep using the old version. In the process you want to make sure you get all those little directories that may be left behind by the uninstall process. In addition, a tool such as CCleaner from Piriform ( can do wonders for cleaning your registry while also creating backups of removed data.

Beware: some users keep old installs for plug-in compatibility issues. I’m looking at you, hydro people!

Hardware that is found to be subpar, defective, or absent should be listed and reported to your IT department (which may also be you). Let the user know that you are not able to install the new release of AutoCAD onto their workstation and what parts require attention. Then it will be up to your IT support to upgrade or replace that workstation. There is no benefit to cramming a new release of AutoCAD onto a slow, insufficient, or failing workstation. That is a recipe for unhappy users and repeated calls and emails for you!

This sort of approach ensures the workstation is a clean slate of capable hardware that will serve as a solid platform to build a new AutoCAD install. Now you are ready to get in there and install that awesome new AutoCAD.

Don’t Forget the Icing

The final topping on this AutoCAD installation sundae is all about the little things. But, little or not, they are vastly important to your end user! So never forget to finish what you start with this little checklist.

  1. Check that custom support paths in the Option > File listings are correct
  2. Check for plotter support files and drivers
  3. Check for shortcut icons present on desktop
  4. Transfer command alias and environmental settings from the previous install

These are the final touches that will allow the user to sit down and get right back to work. And they will thank you for it. Now it is time to make that next appointment on the list or serve up that long stretch of support until the next upgrade cycle. A CAD manager's job is never done!

In Conclusion

While getting the newest, shiniest tools available in the new release of AutoCAD is always a great bit of excitement, the actual upgrade process can be frenetic. This is the cue that you need to take a more managed, measured approach to upgrades. You may suddenly realize that your little two-drafter team has become a 30-person workforce and playing things by ear just won’t cut it.

With good planning, good communication, and good execution you will find the endless advancement through the AutoCAD releases much easier to handle and not something to fear. And, hey, if something goes less than perfect this year, that’s okay. You’ll get another chance to get it right next year!

Based in Houston, Texas, Curt is a CAD Coordinator for a civil engineering firm and the owner and editor of the Kung Fu Drafter blog. He began using AutoCAD with Release 10 and has spent the past 20+ years working with various Autodesk products including AutoCAD, Civil 3D, Map 3D, and SketchBook Designer. Curt is also a freelance content creator, highly rated Autodesk University speaker, and training content developer. In his spare time Curt writes, games, and spends time with his dog and horses.

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