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Michael’s Corner

Michael BeallMichael's Corner is a monthly publication written by Michael E. Beall, Autodesk Authorized Author and peripatetic AutoCAD trainer. Michael travels all over the USA, bringing his fantastic experience and great understanding of AutoCAD to his clients. Michael's Corner brings together many of the tips, tricks and methods developed during these training sessions for the benefit of all users.

Michael's Corner provides something for every AutoCAD user. Every month, a number of articles cover a wide range of topics, suitable for users at all levels, including "The Basics" for those just starting out. Essentially, the aim of Michael's Corner is to help all AutoCAD users work smarter and faster.

This month…

October - One-derful!!!

It's a God-thing.

I had no idea that 14 years ago I would be given the opportunity to make an impact on the professional lives of so many. Only God knew what was ahead, and hopefully, the contributions I have made through Michael's Corner have equipped many of you to be more productive and a bit more savvy using AutoCAD. And apart from all the AutoCAD bashing that is going on, I'm sure it has a long life ahead.

So, in an effort to keep the AutoCAD fires burning, here's what I have for my final installment…

…A reminder on how to customize your hot keys
…Three Power Tools — one for Zoom, one for editing, and one for Layers
…Two Odd Spots — one for Layers and one for Hatching
…Buried text treasure
…And how to Search 14 years of the Archives

As for what's ahead for me, I will continue to present a variety of AutoCAD sessions — Fundamentals, Intermediate, Customizing, Updates, and 2D & 3D. I will also keep training CAP Designer, 20-20 Worksheet, Visual Impression (those three from 20-20 Technologies, Inc.), and some Revit Fundamentals. Next year I'm looking forward to being very involved in training CET (from Configura, Inc.) when Herman Miller joins the growing number of manufacturers embracing this software that is being touted as the ‘Future of Space Planning’. Personally, I'm looking forward to spending a bit more time with Donna, my lovely bride of 30 years. When this posts, we'll probably be within days of going on our 30th Anniversary vacation to the Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson; Ee-Hah! We had such a good time when we went for our 20th, we figured we'd do it again!

Ah, and I'm hoping to have The AutoCAD Workbench, Final Edition out before snow flies.

And with that, Mike drop! …so to speak.

The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace. Numbers 6:24-26

This month's articles

Change F1 to ESC
Smoother Zoom
Stretch with Extension
Lock Layers with a Crossing Window
Layer Columns & Hatch Background Color
Text Frame on Mtext

From the Vault

Originally published July 2008

Don't Fear the Ribbon

There's never a perfect time to upgrade AutoCAD and when that upgrade incorporates the biggest interface change since the move from DOS, it's a bit scary. Fortunately, AutoCAD 2009 does allow for a graceful transition by continuing to provide most of the interface gizmos you are familiar with. Pull-down menus and toolbars are still there if you know where to look. Of course, for those of you who would like a seamless transition, there is always the refuge of the "AutoCAD Classic" workspace but you'd be missing out on some nice new features and anyway, the AutoCAD classic workspace is for wimps!

Help, I need things back the way they were!

Workspace SwitchingOK, so you just upgraded to 2009 and you still have to get that drawing out before the end of the day - what to do? The first thing to do is to change the workspace to "AutoCAD Classic". The Workspace Switching menu is now located on the right-hand end of the application status bar and still uses the familiar cog wheel icon. Click and hold the button and select "AutoCAD Classic" from the fly-out menu. The interface now changes back to the old familiar configuration except for one detail. The status bar tools are still displayed as icons and not the traditional text buttons. To change them back, right-click on any of the inactive (grey) icons and uncheck the "Use Icons" option in the menu. OK, so now you should be feeling right back at home and you can finish that drawing. Ah, except that a couple of the button icons have changed. Sadly, we've lost the stick of dynamite which has been replaced by something less interesting and… Well, you'll work it out.

Status Bar Icons

Getting used to the ribbon

I don't know about you but I find the AutoCAD Classic workspace in AutoCAD 2009 visually unappealing - those toolbars look as though they may fall off at any moment. I don't know if that was intentional but Autodesk have gone out of their way to make it easy for us to transition to the new interface and it seems such a shame to ignore all that good work. So, my advice is that after that drawing has been sent, take a good look at the ribbon. Begin by reversing the steps taken above; set the workspace back to "2D Drafting & Annotation" and set the status bar tools back to icons.

The Menu Browser

Before tackling the ribbon head-on, let's devise a fall-back strategy. What happens when you can't find the tool you need? Simple, you use the Menu Browser. See that big red "A"? That's the Menu Browser button. The Menu Browser is cool; it's like having all the old stuff and all the new stuff together. Yep, that's right; you have the ribbon and the old pull-down menu structure in one handy strip across the top of the screen. So, you can work with the ribbon and be confident that if you can't find what you want there, you'll find it in the Menu Browser. In fact, the Menu Browser improved on the pull-downs because it also includes an interactive search box. Have a go, begin typing the name of a command - how cool is that?

OK, so now you're ready to go. There is way too much to cover in a short article like this but let me give you one important piece of advice. When I first installed AutoCAD 2009, I did my usual thing of just "having a go". After all, I've been using AutoCAD for over 20 years - how difficult can it be? I was pretty soon frustrated by my lack of progress and so I did what I rarely do - I worked through some tutorials (if you're a subscriber, I recommend the e-learning tutorials) and that worked a treat. I suggest you do the same otherwise you run the risk of never migrating to this excellent new interface. For a kick-start, take a look at Heidi Hewett's excellent video tutorials and you'll be up to speed with the new interface before you know it. One of my favourite new features is the expanded tool-tips. Hover your cursor over any tool and not only does it tell you what it is but it tells you how it works - fantastic for beginners. But if you don't like the tooltips (and old-timers probably won't) see last month's Corner for information on how to tame them.

So, how good is it?

Well, I like the ribbon and I think it's a vast improvement that will ultimately improve everyone's productivity and certainly make AutoCAD easier to learn.

I'd like to use this space please

Also, the new interface looks and feels modern - something we haven't been used to with AutoCAD over the years. It's also aesthetically pleasing - this may not seem important but to designers like me, it makes a difference.

Why the space?Don't get me wrong, I don't have unreserved admiration for the ribbon - there are a few things that really bug me. For example, why isn't it possible to drag the ribbon panels to enlarge them and make space for those tools currently hidden in the expanded area? Well, I could use the CUI to customise the panels but why should I have to do that just to make best use of my wide-screen monitor? Alternatively, I could just pin the expanded panel so that it remains open for one-click access to those "hidden" tools but here's another annoyance; why do the icons stack up on the left, leaving a blank area of the panel? Why don't they just flow within the available space making best use of screen real-estate? Again, I could use the CUI to correct this but it ought to be automatic.

Panels in the CUIIf you look at how the panel contents are defined in the CUI, you will see that each row of icons is discrete - each row is defined independently - there's no flexibility built in. So for now, if you want to optimise the way the ribbon uses space on your screen, the only option you have is some serious CUI editing. But even that isn't a perfect workaround - what happens when you upgrade your monitor? Another round of editing? No, a better solution is required. I guess we'll have to wait for AutoCAD 2010.

There are numerous other niggles. For example, who thought it might be a good idea to remove the zoom window/zoom previous pair and replace them with a single zoom fly-out on a panel called "Utilities"? It doesn't work for me - reach for the CUI.

The fact is that this is just the first ribbon and it will inevitably evolve. If you'd like some inside information on the development of the ribbon and some hints about its future, read the interview with Matt Stein, senior product designer on the AutoCAD team at Cadalyst magazine.

I've heard a lot of complaints from users about the ribbon of the "why can't they just leave it alone" sort but the truth is that the old AutoCAD interface had become too fragmented and inconsistent. The new interface aims to make an increasingly complex tool more useable for everyone. And it appears to be working; take a look at Shaan Hurley's article, AutoCAD 2009 Customer Real World Ribbon Usage Data for an insight into how users are getting on with the ribbon. My view is that the ribbon is by no means perfect but it is a very good first step towards what could be an excellent interface.

Reference Cards

Tip: If you'd like to get to know the ribbon but aren't yet ready to do without the pull-down menus, just type MENUBAR at the command prompt and set the value to 1. This will give you the pull-down menus and the ribbon at the same time.

Oh, and one final thing, do take a look at those quick reference cards that came with your media pack, they are actually very useful and give a good overview of all the new stuff in AutoCAD 2009. That's it - you're right out of excuses!

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