How to make Ctrl+C perform a Cancel

In a recent comment, I was asked how to make Ctrl+C perform a Cancel. Before I get onto that, here’s a bit of history.

Back in the Dark Ages of DOS, the way to cancel a command was by holding down Ctrl and pressing C. The last release to work like this by default was Release 13 for DOS, released in 1994. I remember the bother it caused my users who were faced with the Windows version in which Esc was used to cancel things and Ctrl+C copied objects to the clipboard. It took me at least a year before I had totally removed Ctrl+C = Cancel from my muscle memory.

Until AutoCAD 2005, Autodesk provided an easy option to keep things the way they were by turning off the toggle Options > User Preferences > Windows standard accelerator keys. In recent AutoCAD releases, you have still been able to do it, but it’s a little more involved and uses the CUI command. Here’s how:

  • Enter the CUI command.
  • In the top left pane, burrow down to Keyboard Shortcuts > Shortcut Keys.
  • In the bottom left pane, scroll down to find the Cancel item. Click and drag it onto Shortcut Keys in the top left pane. Because of a long-standing auto-scroll annoyance in the CUI interface, you will find this easier if you drag off to the right, then up, then left onto Shortcut Keys.

That adds Ctrl+C = Cancel to the set of shortcut keys AutoCAD understands, but it won’t work yet because it will clash with the Ctrl+C = CopyClip shortcut key that’s already in there. We need to get rid of that before we’re finished in CUI, or more usefully, assign it to a different key:

  • Find Copy Clip in the Shortcut Keys list in the top left pane and click on it.
  • In the bottom right pane, find Access > Key(s). Where it says CTRL+C, change that to something else of your liking (e.g. CTRL+ALT+C). If you pick the […] button, you will be able to record the keystroke sequence directly instead of typing it in and worrying about syntax.
  • Pick OK and you’re done.

This post may be directly useful to only a handful of people who are still holding out after all these years, but it also serves as an introduction to a more generally useful skill; setting up keyboard shortcuts in CUI.

Installation tip – save time and space

If you download AutoCAD or other Autodesk products from either the trial or Subscription sites, the executable you get (e.g. AutoCAD_2012_English_Win_32bit.exe) is actually a self-extracting archive rather than a real installer. When you run it, you are prompted for a destination folder, with a default location such as this:

C:\Autodesk\AutoCAD_2012_English_Win_32bit

The actual installer (setup.exe) and all of the files it needs are then unzipped and placed in a folder structure in that location. When the extraction is finished, the self-extracting executable automatically runs setup.exe and the installation proper can begin. Once the installation is complete, the extracted files are left in place.

You can take advantage of this simple knowledge in various ways:

  • Sometimes, you may you need to run the installer more than once on the same PC. For example, you might need to uninstall/reinstall AutoCAD, or you might be a CAD Manager who installs AutoCAD for on your own PC and later creates a deployment for the other users. Or you might start installing AutoCAD, cancel it for whatever reason, then come back to it later. If so, don’t just run the downloaded executable again. Instead, locate the actual setup.exe installer that has been left behind and run that instead. That cuts out the extraction step and saves time.
  • If you’re going to do standalone installs on several PCs rather than making a deployment, don’t go through the extraction process again and again. Instead, do it once and then copy the extracted folder to a location that can be used from other PCs. This might be a USB drive or DVD, which you can store safely for later reinstalls. If you are going to install to the other PCs from a network drive, during the first install you can directly specify that as the destination folder and cut out the manual file copying step.
  • If you think it’s unlikely you’re going to need the extracted files again, you can delete or move them and recover the space. If you download a product and install it, you end up with three copies of the product files using up your space; the self-extractor, the extracted files and the installed product itself. It probably doesn’t all need to be on your C: drive. Although bulk hard disk space is plentiful and cheap, it’s becoming more common to use a small high-speed drive or SSD as the OS/program drive drive, and you might have a significant portion of it given over to a bunch of files you don’t need. Because Autodesk products are increasingly (and sometimes completely pointlessly) bloated, you might be surprised at how much space you can recover.
    However, as Chris Cowgill has pointed out, you may need to have the “media” available when you install Updates, etc. Keeping a copy of the extracted files on a DVD or USB key should do the trick if you’re hard up for hard disk space.

Note that this applies to the Windows downloads only; I know nothing about the mechanics of Autodesk’s Mac installation downloads.

3DConnexion device support in AutoCAD

Do you have a 3DConnexion device (3D ‘mouse’) and use it in AutoCAD or AutoCAD-based products? What do you think of the way it works in the most recent releases of AutoCAD?

From AutoCAD 2011 on, Autodesk provided built-in support for these devices. Has that made things better or worse than in earlier releases? If you’re having problems, exactly what are they and how does it affect your ability to work with AutoCAD in 3D? Is the 2012 support any better than 2011? How does AutoCAD’s support for these devices compare with that of other products?

AutoCAD 2012 – Autoloader mechanism for plug-ins

One of the less obvious features introduced by AutoCAD 2012 is the Autoloader mechanism that has been provided to make installation of plug-ins (current standard Autodeskspeak for add-ons, apps, utilities, routines, etc.) easier for both developers and users. It may not be immediately obvious, but it’s a useful and important addition.

This mechanism has nothing to do with the AppLoad command, the Startup Suite, acad*.lsp, the (autoload) function or anything else that existed in earlier releases. This is completely new, it has not replaced or broken any of the existing loading mechanisms, and is, in short, A Good Thing. Developers don’t have to use it, but those who do, and their customers, will have certain advantages. I have used it for the ClassicArray loading mechanism, and I expect to see it used by more and more plug-ins over time. It works fine with all of the usual AutoCAD add-on APIs, including LISP.

User perspective
As a user, what this means is that for AutoCAD and related applications from 2012 on, there is a standard loading mechanism for plug-ins. The installation should be straightforward, with no multi-step processes to go through for different AutoCAD variants and releases. The result of the installation should automatically present itself in a standard way, with a short-lived welcome bubble, an extra panel in the new Plug-ins Ribbon tab, plus any other interface additions the developer wants to provide. If you subsequently install another AutoCAD variant or release, the plug-in will automatically appear in that variant with no further user action required, as long as that AutoCAD variant is supported by the plug-in.

Developer perspective
What this means for me as a developer is that I have much less to worry about in terms of installation. All that needs to be done to make the loading happen is for a folder full of ‘stuff’ to be copied into a certain location. (There are actually two possible locations, but more on that later).

In Betas of ClassicArray, I just provided the folder, plus instructions that asked the user to copy that folder into place. I could have simplified that further by providing batch files that did the copying. In the end, I created setup executables using the free Inno Setup utility, but that was a much easier job that it would have been if this Autoloader mechanism didn’t exist. I didn’t have to worry about discovering what releases were installed, deciphering Registry entries, creating user installaton scripts, or issuing instructions to users to edit files or mess with the AppLoad command. I don’t have to worry about what happens if the user subsequently installs another AutoCAD variant.

Of course, for developers who support releases prior to 2012, there is no less work to do than before, and some time needs to be spent to learn and implement the new mechanism. In the case of ClassicArray, that was not an issue because it’s only needed and supported in 2012. I expect this is one of those problems that will resolve itself over time as developers adopt the new mechanism.

The bundle folder
So what is this ‘stuff’ that needs copying into place? It’s called a bundle folder. It’s just a folder with a name that ends in .bundle (e.g. ClassicArray.bundle), and it typically contains the usual files needed to run your add-in, often tidied up within other folders. The only new thing that it needs to contain is a file called PackageContents.xml. That XML file is the key to the Autoloader mechanism. AutoCAD finds the file, reads it, and acts accordingly in terms of version support, loading program files, partial cuix files and so on.

Bundle folder location
So where does this folder with its XML file have to go? There are two possible locations. If you want the plug-in to be available to all users on the computer, you place it in the Autodesk\ApplicationPlugins folder underneath the system’s ProgramFiles folder. For example, ClassicArray usually gets put here:

C:\Program Files\Autodesk\ApplicationPlugins\ClassicArray.bundle

If you only want the plug-in to be loaded for the current user, it goes in the Autodesk\ApplicationPlugins folder underneath the system’s AppData folder instead, for example:

C:\Documents and Settings\[login]\Application Data\Roaming\Autodesk\ApplicationPlugins\ClassicArray.bundle

in XP or

C:\Users\[login]\AppData\Roaming\Autodesk\ApplicationPlugins\ClassicArray.bundle

in Windows 7.

Describing the contents of that all-important XML file is beyond the scope of this post, but I may do a follow-up post if there is enough interest. In either case, the reference material is available in the AutoCAD Help, under Help > Customization Guide > Introduction to Programming Interfaces > Install and Uninstall Plug-In Applications > PackageContents.xml Format.

AutoCAD 2012 – Putting things back to “normal”

The most popular post on this blog, in terms of both hits and comments, is AutoCAD 2009 – Putting things back to “normal”. This is followed by AutoCAD 2010 – Putting things back to “normal”, with AutoCAD 2011 – Putting things back to “normal” not too far behind. As it seems many people find these posts useful, here’s an updated version for the latest release. Much of this post is based on older versions, but there are many additions and differences in this year’s “keep off my lawn” post.

One thing that’s regularly asked whenever a new AutoCAD release hits the streets is how to make it work like earlier releases. As I stated in my original post, I think you should give any new features a fighting chance before turning them off or ignoring them. But it’s entirely your choice. We should be grateful that in AutoCAD 2012 at least (unlike some Autodesk products), you do still have that choice. At least, you have a choice in most cases.

Let’s assume you’ve made the decision to put your environment back to AutoCAD 2008 or earlier; how do you do it? I’ve arranged these items in alphabetical order:

  • Aerial View. The DSVIEWER command appears to be gone, but it’s just hiding. It has been undefined. You can use REDEFINE DSVIEWER to turn it back on, or just enter .DSVIEWER (with a leading period). It may not work perfectly on all systems under all circumstances.
  • Array dialog box. The excellent new associative array features of AutoCAD 2012 have come at the cost of the Array dialog box. While you can use the Ribbon or the Properties palette to modify arrays, if you want to create one you have to go back to the future with a Release 14-style user interface. Using -Array doesn’t give you a dialog box, just the old-style command line. There’s nothing available in standard AutoCAD 2012 to give you a dialog box interface, which is why I created ClassicArray™. It also makes it easier to create non-associative arrays, if that’s what you prefer. This plug-in has the further fortunate side-effect of acting as a workaround for several of the new Array command’s various bugs, limitations and design issues.
    Edit: Applying SP1 to AutoCAD 2012 adds an ARRAYCLASSIC command that restores the previous dialog box. This does not provide access to any of the new features; you will still need ClassicArray for that.
  • Autocomplete. Old-timers may well find this feature useful, but if it’s getting in your way, turning it off is as simple as AUTOCOMPLETE OFF. There are a variety of settings you can selectively turn off individually if you prefer.
  • Blips. The BLIPMODE command has been undefined, but you can use REDEFINE BLIPMODE to turn it back on, or just enter .BLIPMODE (with a leading period).
  • Classic commands. If you prefer not to leave the various new palettes on screen all the time, old versions of various commands are still available: ClassicLayer, ClassicXref and ClassicImage. (Autodesk deprecated these commands in 2011 and 2012, which I think is a really bad idea). There is also a system variable LAYERDLGMODE, which when set to 0 will make the Layer command work in the old (and faster) modal way. If you use this setting, you can still access the new modeless layer palette with the LayerPalette command. Going back further, there are command-line methods of using these commands: -Layer, -Xref, XAttach, -Image and ImageAttach. For 2012, Autodesk has removed the Group command’s dialog box interface. If you want the dialog box, you now need to use the ClassicGroup command instead.
  • Crosshairs. Want 100% crosshairs? Many people do. As before, use the Options command’s Display tab and look towards the bottom right, or use the CURSORSIZE system variable.
  • Dashboard. The AutoCAD 2007/8 Dashboard is gone, but you can have a vertical Ribbon instead. If the Ribbon is not visible (it won’t be if you just selected the AutoCAD Classic workspace), enter Ribbon to bring it back. In the tab title row (the bar with the word Home in it), right-click and pick Undock. Now you can place and size your Dashboard-like thing as you see fit. As before, you can right-click on things to change the various settings. However, getting the contents exactly the way you want it usually involves using CUI, and that’s well outside the scope of this post.
  • Dynamic Input. If Dynamic Input slows you down, you can turn it off with the status bar toggle or F12. If you like the general idea but don’t like some parts of it, there are lots of options available in the Dynamic Input tab of the DSettings command to enable you to control it to a fine degree. You can also get at this by right-clicking the Dynamic Input status bar button and picking Settings… As an example of the sort of thing you might do in there, the default of using relative coordinates is difficult for long-termers to get used to. To turn it off, pick the Settings… button in the Pointer Input panel, pick Absolute coordinates, then OK twice. There are a whole range of DYNxxx system variables for controlling this stuff.
  • Graphic Background. Autodesk has half-listened to users’ pleas for a black background by giving you a nearly black one (RGB 33,40,48 rather than 0,0,0), in model space only. Many of you will want a real black background to provide better contrast. To do this, invoke the Options command (right-click on the drawing area and pick Options… or just enter OP), then pick the Display tab. Don’t be tempted to choose Color Scheme and set it to Dark, because that just changes the appearance of various user interface elements. Instead, pick the Colors… button. This will put you in the Drawing Window Colors dialog box. On the left, choose a context you want to change (e.g. 2D model space), choose the appropriate background element (e.g. Uniform background) and choose the particular shade that takes your fancy. There is a Restore Classic Colors button, but that only takes you back to AutoCAD 2008 with its black model and white paper space. If you want a black paper space background too, you’ll have to pick the Sheet / layout context and specify that individually. You may wish to put the Command line > Command line history background setting to white, too. When you’re done, pick Apply & Close, then OK.
  • Grid. I generally prefer the new line-based grid. If you use isometric snap and grid, you will find that AutoCAD 2012’s line-based isometric grid is still as broken as it was in earlier releases, so you’ll need to use dots. If that applies to you or you just don’t like the lines, right-click on the Grid status button and pick Settings…, which will take you into the Drafting Settings dialog box, which you can also get at with the DSettings command, or DS for short. In the Snap and Grid tab, the grid is controlled by the options on the right. If you want your dots back, turn on the toggles in the Grid style section. This can also be done using the GRIDSTYLE system variable. If you don’t like the fact that the grid is now on by default in new drawings, this is set on a drawing-by-drawing basis and is therefore controlled by your template drawings. If you use AutoCAD’s supplied templates, you will need to open them individually and turn off the grid in each one.
  • Hatch dialog box. If you want the Ribbon on but prefer the old Hatch dialog box, set HPDLGMODE to 1.
  • Hatch double-click. If you’re not using the new Ribbon-based hatch editing feature, you will probably want to invoke the HatchEdit command when you double-click on a hatch object. Doing this involves braving the CUI interface, but I have gone into step-by-step detail of that process here. In short, you need to drag and drop the Hatch Edit command from the bottom left CUI panel onto the double-click action for Hatch in the top left panel, replacing the default action (Properties).
  • Help. If you want your Help to work with adequate speed and reliability, or to work at all in some proxy server environments, you will want to turn off AutoCAD 2012’s online help. Go into Options > System, then look in the bottom right pane to turn off the Use online help toggle. Even with online help turned off, you’re stuck with the unfortunate new browser-based AutoCAD Exchange interface for your Help. There is no sign yet of Autodesk coming to the rescue with a set of CHM-based Help files as was done for AutoCAD 2011, which is a real shame. The VLIDE Help is still partially broken, because Autodesk doesn’t care about customers who use LISP for development. While you’re in Options, you may also wish to turn off AutoCAD’s insistence on firing up Internet Explorer, that is if you dislike IE or have security concerns.
  • Initial Setup. Don’t bother looking for this, it has been removed from the product. Can’t say I’m heartbroken about that.
  • NavBar. If you like the new NavBar feature as much as I do, you’ll want to turn it off. You can close it easily using the little X in its top left corner. Alternatively, control it with the NAVBARDISPLAY system variable (0 for off, 1 for on)
  • Pull-down Menus. Enter MENUBAR 1 to turn pull-down menus on. To turn them off again, enter MENUBAR 0.
  • Ribbon. You can close the Ribbon with the RibbonClose command. If you ever want to turn it back on, enter Ribbon.
  • Screen menu. The SCREENMENU command has been undefined, but you can use REDEFINE SCREENMENU to turn it back on, or just enter .SCREENMENU (with a leading period). However, you can’t access the screen menu section in CUI any more, so if you want to maintain your screen menu you will need to do it in an earlier release.
  • Selection Cycling. Depending on your preference and/or system graphic performance, you may wish to turn off selection cycling (set SELECTIONCYCLING to 0), or at least the list that appears when selecting objects that lie on top of each other (set SELECTIONCYCLING to 1).
  • Selection Preview. This feature annoys some users, adding as it does an unfortunate degree of stickiness and working inaccurately when Snap is in use. This is controlled in the Selection tab of the Options command. Turn off the toggles in the Selection preview panel on the left (these control the SELECTIONPREVIEW system variable). If you dislike the coloured boxes you get while doing a Window or Crossing, pick the Visual Effect Settings… button and turn off the Indicate selection area toggle. This controls the SELECTIONAREA system variable.
  • Snap. AutoCAD 2012’s snap no longer works while there is no command active. There is no setting available to turn this feature off. If you want to move your cursor around and see the cursor snapping to precise locations to see if objects line up (e.g. in schematic diagrams), you will need to invoke a command first (e.g. L [Enter]) and ignore the command as you’re moving around on screen.
    Edit: Applying SP1 to AutoCAD 2012 adds new system variable (SNAPGRIDLEGACY) that allows you to have your snap active at the command prompt.
  • Startup performance. You may have noticed that AutoCAD 2012’s Ribbon switching performance is finally as it should have been from the start; practically instantaneous. You may also have noticed that when you start AutoCAD, the cursor is sticky for a while after the Command prompt is available. These two items are not unrelated; AutoCAD is loading Ribbon components in the background. If you would prefer this not to happen, set the RIBBONBGLOAD system variable to 0.
  • Status bar. Right-click on a status bar button, turn off Use Icons and your old text-based status bar buttons will return. If you have no use for some of the new status bar toggles, right-click on one, pick Display, then turn off what you don’t need.
  • Toolbars. In AutoCAD 2009, you could turn individual toolbars on and off by accessing a menu obtained by right-clicking on the QAT. Autodesk somewhat vindictively removed that option in 2010, and it’s still gone in 2012. That toolbar-toggling menu is still available if you right-click in an unused docked toolbar area, but if you have no toolbars visible there will be no such area available. What to do? Turn on one toolbar at the Command prompt, then you will be able to access the menu by right-clicking on the blank area to the right of it. The following command sequence will do it:
    _.-TOOLBAR ACAD.Standard _Top 0,0
    Paste this into AutoCAD’s command line area and the Standard toolbar will be turned on above your drawing area. This will leave a grey area to the right that you can right-click into. The other toolbars will be in sub-menus under that, with the main set of default ones in the AutoCAD section. Note that this will only work if you have the acad.cuix file loaded (or partially loaded). This is the case in vanilla AutoCAD and some verticals, but it may not be the case in other verticals. As I don’t have access to such verticals, I’m afraid I can’t offer much advice here.
    If you’re like me, you may well discover that this is moot because AutoCAD 2012 automatically turns on a full set of toolbars, in addition to the Ribbon, the second time you run AutoCAD. This bug occurs when there’s another release already installed and you don’t use Migration. It’s easily fixed (that is if you want to fix it) by switching to the workspace of your choice (see below).
  • Tooltips. Excessively intrusive and oversized tooltips were a “feature” of AutoCAD 2009’s revamped UI design, and we’ve been plagued with them ever since. I’m glad to see that many of them have had their verbosity somewhat curtailed in 2012, but they still annoy the heck out of me, particularly by obscuring what I’m trying to see in dialog boxes. To kill them with fire, see Options > Display and start turning off toggles about half way down the left side.
  • Trace. The TRACE command has been undefined, but you can use REDEFINE TRACE to turn it back on, or just enter .TRACE (with a leading period).
  • UCS Icon. Don’t like the new simplified UCS icon? Sorry! While you can use the UCSIcon command’s Properties option to change the appearance of the icon in various ways, there’s nothing to restore the UCS Icon’s appearance from previous releases with its little arrows pointing the way. This information isn’t totally useless, because at least it will save you the time and effort involved in finding this out for yourself.
  • Vertical variants’ AutoCAD profile. Apparently, some AutoCAD 2012 vertical variants don’t have a shortcut for running them as AutoCAD. If you want to make one, first check in Options > Profiles to see if there is a profile called “AutoCAD” or similar. If not, you will need to create one, reset it, and hope for the best. Sorry, I don’t have all the variants to check. Now, make a copy of your AutoCAD variant’s desktop shortcut and rename it as something like “AutoCAD 2012”. Then right-click on the copy and pick Properties. In the Target edit box, check to see if there is a /p switch followed by a profile name inside quotes. If there is, replace the existing profile name with “AutoCAD” or whatever the profile name is that you discovered or created in Options. If there isn’t a /p switch, add one. The end result should look something like this (there may be extra switches):
    "C:\Program Files\Autodesk\[product name]\acad.exe" /p "AutoCAD"
    Once you have ensured there’s a /p “AutoCAD” (or similar) on the end of the Target, pick OK. You should then be able to start your vertical variant as AutoCAD.
  • ViewCube. I like the ViewCube concept, and I think it’s a great piece of interface design. But not everybody agrees. It has caused performance issues and it’s not very useful for 2D users. If you want it gone, that’s a surprisingly difficult thing to find out about. The simplest way to remove it is by clicking the [-] button in the top left corner of the drawing area and tuening off the ViewCube toggle there. If you want more control, it’s handled using the Options command, in the 3D Modeling tab, in the bottom left corner. Turn off those toggles that don’t make sense for you. There is a related set of system variables called NAVVCUBExxx.
  • Workspace. In vanilla AutoCAD, you can restore much of the user interface by just switching workspaces. The main Workspace control is now located near the top left corner. If you have turned this off (right-click, Remove from Quick Access Toolbar) or if you just prefer working with interface elements in the same place year by year, there is another Workspace control in the bottom right corner. This is a little button that looks like a gearwheel. In either case, click on the Workspace control and pick the item called AutoCAD Classic. This will perform some of the steps described above, but not all of them, so I suggest you skim the whole lot to see what else you might want to do. If you’re using a vertical variant of AutoCAD 2012, this workspace may not be available, or it may only be available if you when using an “AutoCAD” profile (see above). If it’s not available at all, you’ll need to make your own classic workspace by manually setting up your interface the way you like it, then saving it as a Workspace using the Save Current As… option under one of the Workspace controls.
  • Xref fading. Don’t like your xrefs looking different? Use the Options command’s Display tab and look at the Xref display slider on the bottom right, or use the XDWGFADECTL system variable.
  • Zoom Animation. If you prefer your zooms to be instant rather than progressing from one view to another in an animated series of steps, you can turn off that feature using the VTOPTIONS command or the VTENABLE system variable.

If you have allowed AutoCAD to migrate your settings (I never do), some of the above will already be done for you, but by no means all of it. If past experience is anything to go by, the job done by Migration will probably be imperfect.

Once you’re happy with your new environment, I suggest you save your workspace under a name of your choosing (Save Current As… under a Workspace control), then export your profile in the Options command’s Profiles tab. Keep a safe copy of both your exported profile and your main CUIX file (acad.cuix by default), because that is where new workspaces are stored.

All of this advice is offered on an as-is, try-it-yourself-and see-what-happens basis. Unfortunately, I can’t check to see which parts of this post relate to AutoCAD for Mac (when the 2012 version arrives), AutoCAD LT (much of it will be the same), the various AutoCAD-based vertical variants (almost all of it should be the same). AutoCAD WS is, of course, nothing like real AutoCAD so none of this post will be relevant. Please comment to let me know if you find something you think I should modify or include.

Let me just end by saying that Autodesk generally does an excellent job of keeping long-term AutoCAD users happy by allowing them to keep working in the way that they prefer. There are exceptions, and this record has been damaged slightly by 2012, but conservative users are still better off with new releases of AutoCAD than they are with, say, Microsoft Word.

ClassicArray Release Candidate 2

I have now posted the second Release Candidate of ClassicArray™ (version number 0.7.0). The main changes from the first Release Candidate (0.6.0) are:

  • Help documentation, which you can also view here, now describes how to resolve an AutoCAD CUIx loading problem. (The problem is not specific to ClassicArray and can affect any CUIx file that is removed or relocated. More on that in a future blog post).
  • Timebomb mechanism now works 15 days after first use rather than a specific date. Also now allows the interface to still be used (but no arrays to be created) once the evaluation period has expired.
  • About dialog enhanced to show registration information and to provide access to a new registration dialog.

Barring disasters, I intend to release ClassicArray in this exact form (except for updating the version number to 1.0.0) in about a week.

Please see either www.classicarray.com or the main ClassicArray Beta post for the download, and provide feedback either as a comment on that post or in an email.

ClassicArray Release Candidate – massive download bloat

I have just posted the Release Candidate of ClassicArray™ (version number 0.6.0). The main changes from Beta 2 (0.5.0) are:

  • Setup executables have been provided to provide easier installation and uninstallation.
  • Pretty comprehensive Help documentation is now in place, which you can also view here if you want to learn about the product without installing it.
  • Bug fixed with Path preview not displaying accurately when no path is selected.
  • Minor cosmetic dialog box fixes.
  • Timebomb has been moved on 7 days to 28 April.

Regrettably, the download file size has blown out to 787 KB because of the inclusion of the Help files and setup executables. There are two setup choices; one for all users (requires admin rights) and one for the current user only (admin rights not required). When installing the Release Candidate, it is not necessary to uninstall the Beta first. I would appreciate any feedback you might have, particularly on installation and uninstallation. If there are no significant problems reported with this version, I intend to release it in this form, except for version information and the timebomb mechanism.

Please see the main ClassicArray Beta post for the download, and add any comments there.

Why do you comment here?

One of the things that most pleases me about this blog is the amount of comments it gets. I’m sure there are several AutoCAD-related blogs that are much more frequently visited than this one, especially the Autodesk ones. However, I’m not aware of another AutoCAD blog with the volume of comments I see here. On average, each post here receives just under 5 comments, and the most popular subject for discusssion is now not far short of the 100 mark.

I recently went four complete calendar months without making a single post, but comments kept trickling in anyway. When I returned to normal posting, the commenters returned as if I had never been “away”. What’s up with that? I’m curious. Why do you comment here and not so much elsewhere? Or am I mistaken and there’s an AutoCAD blog I’ve forgotten that’s a hotbed of commentary?

AutoCAD 2012 – Massive download bloat

Note: this post is not an April fool’s joke. It may be ridiculous and hard to believe, but unfortunately it’s all true.

After I managed to overcome Autodesk’s obstructive download manger and download AutoCAD 2012, it became available on the Subscription site (when that site wasn’t running unusably slowly). Or it became kind-of available. Here’s what is actually available:

  • AutoCAD 2012 Multilingual 32 bit
    Download File Size: 2,080,558,319 bytes (1,984.2 MB)
  • AutoCAD 2012 English Korean Traditional-Chinese Simplified-Chinese Win 64bit
    Download File Size: 2,240,915,999 bytes (2,137.1 MB)

These file sizes are roughly double those of the AutoCAD 2012 English files I’ve already downloaded from the trial page and installed. The 32-bit English file is 1,144,011,680 bytes, or 55% of the size of what the Subscription site is trying to offer me.

Why? Because the Subscription downloads contain three bonus Asian language packs. It has apparently escaped Autodesk’s notice that Australia is an English-speaking country, and that the ability to install a Korean version of AutoCAD 2012 isn’t going to be spectacularly useful here. Duh!

There was a a distribution fiasco last year when Autodesk couldn’t make up its mind which AutoCAD 2011 language variant Australian users were supposed to use. This resulted in weeks of delays, uncertainty and disrupted shipments. This year, there’s less uncertainty. Somebody has made a firm decision about what we’re getting, right from the start. What a shame it’s the wrong one, and it makes Autodesk look utterly clueless.

Just in case you’re wondering, the AutoCAD 2012 English from the trial page installs and works fine, correctly detecting that I’m in Australia and presenting the correct legal information. The installation also registers and authorises correctly using the serial number provided on the Subscription site. No problems there, then.

What, then, is the reason for the massive download bloat? Is it really just stupidity, or is there some legitimate reason for it? I’m informed that installing the English version of 2012 in Australia may cause some problems with Migration when upgrading to 2013. I am unconcerned about this for two reasons. First, I’m sure migrating from 2012 English to 2013 English will work just as well here as it does elsewhere in the world. it’s not as if the Migration utility has to invert the bits or anything for Down Under users. Second, I have avoided Migration anyway since AutoCAD 2006, when “improvements” rendered it effectively unusable to me.

AutoCAD for Mac Update 2

As reported on Without a Net, there is a second update for AutoCAD 2011 for Mac. This will be welcome news to those of you who have discovered that AutoCAD crashes when using Copy/Paste after installing the 10.6.7 OS X update.

If you haven’t applied Update 1 yet, you will need to do that first. As always, read the readme before applying the update itself.

AutoCAD 2012 – Nudge encourages ‘bad’ drawings

If you preselect some objects in AutoCAD 2012 and hold down [Ctrl], then the objects will move a bit if you hit an arrow key. Great, cool!

Exactly how far do they move? Let’s try it, shall we. First time, the move was about 4.5565 units. Zoom around a bit and try again. This time, it’s about 11.6677 units. Zoom around a bit more and it’s different again. And again. What’s actually happening is that the Nudge feature is moving the objects by 3 pixels. What? Since when has AutoCAD dealt with object location in terms of pixels? Since 2012 came out. Does object snap help? No. So you can expect to see a bunch more drawings that have been eyed in. “Looks near enough to me!”

OK, so you can turn Snap on and have the objects nudged around in a more rational way, or just ignore the feature altogether. But that’s not going to help you clean up the messy drawings that are now going to come your way for editing. Of course, some people have never needed any help to make messy drawings, but those that needed a little nudge in that direction have just been given it.

ClassicArray pricing proposal

I am considering the following pricing model for ClassicArray™ when it’s released:

Individual licenses: $12
Up to 20-user license: $100
Up to 50-user license: $200
Up to 100-user license: $300
Unlimited site license: $500

Prices in US$, payment by PayPal, delivery by download only. Australian purchasers would have to pay 10% GST on top of that.

Comments? Suggestions?

ClassicArray Beta 2 (0.5.0)

I have just posted the second public Beta of ClassicArray™ (version number 0.5.0). There are some documentation updates (still no Help, though), and the main changes are:

  • Bugs fixed with rectangular arrays where single-row and/or column arrays confused AutoCAD.
  • The command now remembers its settings from one invocation to the next, within a single drawing session.
  • Timebomb has been moved on 7 days to 21 April.

The ReadMe.txt file in the zip explains how to uninstall the old version. Simply delete the old ClassicArray.bundle folder from the place you put it. Replace it with the new ClassicArray.bundle folder from the later zip file. Then try to break it!

Please see the main ClassicArray Beta post for the download, and add any comments there.

AutoCAD 2012 – How’s the Help now?

You may have noticed that the much-derided AutoCAD 2011 Help has had something of an update for AutoCAD 2012, integrating it with something called Autodesk Exchange. Rather than critique this myself, I’ll hand it over to you.

What do you think of AutoCAD 2012’s Help? Is it all better now? Is it fast, accurate and easy to use with a useful search facility? Or do you hate it and hope someone at Autodesk is scrambling to create a CHM version of it like last year? Please comment.

AutoCAD 2012 – ClassicArray Beta

People have already started to notice that AutoCAD 2012 has killed the dialog box interface for the Array command, and not everybody is happy about it. So I guess it’s time to launch ClassicArray™ Beta.

ClassicArray is an add-on for AutoCAD 2012 for Windows that allows the creation of arrays using a dialog box interface similar to that provided in AutoCAD from 2000 to 2011, but enhanced to include new AutoCAD 2012 functionality. I will create another post later have created a Help page that describes ClassicArray more fully, but for now here are the commands ClassicArray adds to AutoCAD:

ClassicArray (short form CA)
ClassicArrayRect (short form CAR)
ClassicArrayPolar (short form CAP)
ClassicArraypAth (short form CAA)

In addition, there are the same names with N appended, which default to creating non-associative arrays. For example, ClassicArraypAthN (short form CAAN) will create a non-associative path array. However, it is easy to create associative or non-associative arrays of any type, whatever command you use to start it. Toolbar and Ribbon buttons are provided. Help is currently non-functional now complete. This pre-release software is time-bombed, meaning it will no longer work after the date shown below.

Here it is to download:

ClassicArray.1.0.0.zip (Shipping product – 850 KB – will not create arrays after 15 day evaluation period
ClassicArray.0.7.0.zip (Release Candidate 2 – 850 KB – will not create arrays after 15 day evaluation period)
ClassicArray.0.6.0.zip (Release Candidate – 787 KB – will not work after 28 April 2011)
ClassicArray.0.5.0.zip (49 KB – will not work after 21 April 2011)
ClassicArray.0.4.2.zip (48 KB – will not work after 14 April 2011)

It’s a small zip file; unzip it and read the readme to see what to do with it run the setup routine of your choice, depending on whether you want to install it for just the current user or for all users. Installation is a matter of simply copying a folder to a specific location; uninstallation is simply a matter of removing that folder. The mechanism I used for this is AutoCAD 2012’s new Plug-In feature. This feature is A Good Thing that deserves to be described more fully, which I intend to do when I get the time.

This is pre-release software. It generally works fine, but it will contain bugs. Please let me know about them, either in a comment here or using my email form. Over time, I expect to update this post with later versions, so I would appreciate it if you let me know the version number along with any other relevant information, such as the AutoCAD variant and OS you have installed it on. If you have any suggestions, of even if it works without problems, please feel free to let me know that, too!

AutoCAD 2012 – Missing a few things?

The Array dialog box isn’t the only thing you might notice by its absence in AutoCAD 2012. I’ll do a proper “Putting things back to normal” post later, but here’s a quick one for those of you wondering what happened to a few things that appear to be AWOL in 2012.

Are you missing your aerial viewer, blips and/or screen menu? They’re still there, but the commands are undefined. To get them back, just redefine the commands:

REDEFINE DSVIEWER
DSVIEWER

REDEFINE BLIPMODE
BLIPMODE 1

REDEFINE SCREENMENU
SCREENMENU 1

These features are deprecated. That means unless enough of you kick up a fuss about needing them, they are likely to vanish without trace in a release or two.

Edit: Jimmy Bergmark pointed out that the same applies to the TRACE command. If you need it, redefine it.

AutoCAD 2012 – Downloading the trial is a trial

Let’s say you’re trying to download some software and it insists on first installing some intermediary download manager. Do you think, “Great, this will make my life easier, things are bound to go quickly and smoothly now”? No, didn’t think so. How about when it’s by Akamai? Does that make you feel more confident? No, nor me.

If I download stuff without a manager, it just works. Sometimes it’s slow, but it works. If I use a general-purpose download manager that’s part of my browser, or one I chose to install and use (e.g. Free Download Manager), things generally go very well. If there’s a direct download link to use, success and a very quick download are almost guaranteed. But it seems that every time some company wants to force a download manager on me, something bad happens. Now maybe I’m only remembering the failures and forgetting the successes, but I’m absolutely sure that download reliability is way, way poorer when companies insist on inflicting their download managers on me. I’ve had issues with them at home with a straightforward ADSL connection, and I’ve had no end of problems with them at work in a proxy server environment. Even when they work, the download speed is generally significantly poorer than when I use something like Free Download Manager.

The latest in a long line of download manager difficulties is this morning’s attempted download of the AutoCAD 2012 trial. Why, as a Subscription customer, am I downloading the trial? Why don’t I just get it from the Subscription Center? Because Autodesk hasn’t got around to putting 2012 on there yet. Paying customers come some way down the priority list, apparently. I hope it’s just a temporary delay, because last year here in Australia the delivery of AutoCAD 2011 software to customers was a complete debacle that took some weeks to sort out.

I went to the AutoCAD 2012 Trial page yesterday. At the time, it said 2012 wasn’t available to me, but by this morning that has been fixed. So I went through the fill-in-your-details stuff, and was told to Click “run” or “open” to start the installer. There was no “run” available, so I clicked on the link that said Don’t see the installer? Try reopening it. I got a Security Warning dialog with the option to Run something called installer.exe from client.akamai.com.

Now at this point I’m getting pretty dubious about this process, as I’m being asked to put faith in an undocumented and generically named executable that does who-knows-what, from a company that has messed things up on numerous past occasions. Call me an inveterate optimist, but I crossed my fingers and picked Run anyway. Then I got another Security Warning dialog to run Akamai Installer. Fingers still crossed, I hit Run again. A small Connecting… progress panel appeared, which almost immediately got a quarter of the way though, then threw up an Install Error. Can’t say I was surprised, really. I went through the process several times and couldn’t find a simple download link anywhere. I gave up on this and decided to try later at home.

At home, free of any proxy server complications, I had another go at it. This time, running installer.exe seemed to work, the installing-the-installer-to-download-the-installer-installer progress bar got all the way to the end, and the download allegedly started. A progress bar appeared on Autodesk’s download page, purporting to show the progress. Unlike a proper download manager, there is no mention anywhere of the size of the file, the amount downloaded so far, or the rate at which data is being transferred, so this bar is all I have to go on. In the past, a large AutoCAD download has taken 20 to 30 minutes using Free Download Manager. As I type, 32 minutes into the alleged download, have a guess at how far the progress bar has moved. Half way, perhaps? A bit less? Nope, it hasn’t moved at all. Not one pixel. My browser is sitting there, alternating between saying Waiting for 127.0.0.1 and Transferring data from 127.0.0.1, but otherwise appearing to do nothing. A brief speed test tells me that my ADSL is running at pretty normal speed while this is going on, so it’s my guess that nothing useful is really happening.

Akamai download manger fail. Again.

Autodesk isn’t the only culprit here. There are other companies who insist on throwing this sort of unnecessary complication into the lives of their customers and potential customers. For example, Adobe is doing its best to make Flash unpopular by inflicting unpopular and bloated download managers on its users.

I know Autodesk will say that it has to use a content delivery network like that provided by Akamai in order to prevent server bottlenecks when providing large files to lots of people. I can see that is a legitimate problem, but these download managers are a clumsy and inappropriate solution. There are countless other places on the Internet that don’t do this. Most downloads I perform just use a simple link. Guess what? They just work.

Companies, don’t leverage your technology to simplify and enhance my seamlessly integrated user experience with your intrusive download managers. Just provide a simple link to the file the downloader is trying to download. It’s not rocket science, so don’t try to make it overcomplicated. If you really, really insist on offering a download manager, make sure it’s optional and there’s a real link available. Please.

Edit: Thanks to a comment from Helper, I have successfully downloaded AutoCAD 2012 using Opera. Downloading and installing Opera was very quick, and Autodesk/Akamai doesn’t support it, so a real link is provided instead. Opera’s built-in download features are showed me exactly what was going on, and it took about 45 minutes to download the 64-bit version. Doing the same initial steps again with the 32-bit version, I copied and pasted the link into Free Download Manager, rather than letting Opera do the download. This time, it took about 14 minutes. Awesome!

AutoCAD 2012 – Array has good and bad points

For many users, the most useful new feature in AutoCAD 2012 is going to be the updated Array command. It adds a great deal of very welcome new functionality that will provide a potential productivity boost for 2D and 3D users. But it’s from an Autodesk wedded to its infernal 12-month product cycle, so of course it’s half-baked.

The Good

So what’s good about the Array command in AutoCAD 2012?

  • Associativity. By default, arrays are now associative objects. This means that if you want to, say, modify the distance between columns a couple of days after you drew them, you can now do so. If you’re a Ribbon user, it’s easy to change array parameters because when you select an array, you get a Ribbon tab dedicated to just that task. If you’re not, then the Properties palette allows you to do the same thing.
  • Dynamic preview. Once you have set your various options appropriately, you can just move your cursor around and click to choose things like the number of rows and columns.
  • Path option. In addition to rectangular and polar arrays, you can now array along a path such as a polyline, similar to the Measure and Divide commands. But because it’s associative, if you edit the path, the array changes too.
  • 3D functionality. It is now easy to create 2D or 3D arrays with the Array command. You can add levels (Z) to the rows (Y) and columns (X) of arrays, and this applies to all three types of array. You can also provide a elevation increment, which means the items get progressively higher the further they are from the base row. Think of the seating in a stadium as an example, although real seating arrangements are usually more complex than you will see in the Autodesk examples, so in the real world I don’t expect this feature to be used much.

The Bad

So far so good, then. But what’s not so good?

  • 1990s user interface. Can you remember when the Array command had only a command-line interface? Because that’s what it has now. While some of us old-timers may yearn for some aspects of the “good old days” of 1997’s Release 14, I don’t think many of us want to lose truly useful functionality. But that’s what has happened here. The Array command uses the new command line. The -Array command uses the old command line. Nothing uses a dialog box; there’s no ClassicArray command. *
  • Bugs and limitations. The new command line interface ain’t cooked. There are a bunch of bugs and limitations that mean some valid inputs get rejected, some arrays get drawn incorrectly, and some can’t be created at all. There are other aspects of the feature that strike me as not well thought out, such as the extra step involved in creating a non-associative array (not everybody will need or want associativity), or the clumsy way in which users who want to keep existing objects are expected to mess about with a system variable that affects unrelated things. **
  • Missing API. Autodesk’s long-standing grotesque neglect of LISP continues with the new Array object. There is no meaningful ActiveX API for such objects. If you wanted to use ActiveX to create a simple array, you would have to pretty much reproduce Autodesk’s array creation code (it’s an anonymous block, really) and hope you got it right. There is, of course, no documentation whatsoever to help you do this.

On balance, the AutoCAD 2012 Array command should be viewed as a positive, but it could (and should) have been done a lot better.

* Disclaimer: I have written my own ClassicArray™ command, and I intend to provide it as an add-on soon. Watch this space over the next few days for a public Beta. Edit: here it is.

** ClassicArray acts as a workaround for many of these bugs, limitations and design failings.