(Or: Customizing AutoCAD in a computer lab with restrictive user permissions)
I am teaching several CAD classes and our computer labs are all set up with very restrictive (currently Windows XP) user rights. And that makes sense. After all, I don’t want to find out at the beginning of class that half of the computers are not working or field questions like “How can I get the command line back – it’s gone?”. The downside to that practice is that students have no way to customize the user interface and therefore make their time with AutoCAD easier and more productive.
Here’s the solution: Startup switches. Together with a memory stick (or “thumb drive”, USB drive, iPod, PSP, cell phone or anything similar), we can nicely create a very customized work environment. Of course this method works analogous with any software that makes reasonable use of startup switches.
First, we need to get our custom settings organized. Do this on one of the computers in your lab:
- Drawing template – Create a drawing template (a .DWT file) with all the customizations you like. Remember, a template is just a drawing file (.DWG) with a different extension. That means that everything that gets saved in a drawing file can be put into a template. Here are some suggestions: Reasonable limits, drafting settings (grid/snap), osnaps, linetypes (put all in), layers with standard naming and setup (lineweights etc.), main layout(s) (sheet size and textblock/border), very frequently used blocks etc. Also, every setting in the Options dialog that shows the little file symbol is saved in a drawing. Save this file as a template (using the menu File > Save As… to create “My_Template.dwt“) to your memory stick.
- Profile settings – Arrange your user interface the way you like: Open/close and arrange toolbars, palletes and workspaces. Then open the options dialog (Menu: Tools > Options) and make all the changes you like (where no file symbol is shown next to the option). Then go to the Profile tab on the Options dialog. Save the current profile (using Export as “My_Profile.arg“) to your memory stick.
- Support Files – If you want to use custom support files (e.g. hatch patterns, scripts, etc.), collect them and put them into a folder (e.g. to “F:\My_ACADSupport\“) on your memory stick.
- Browse to your memory stick using My Computer or Windows Explorer.
- Right-click into the main directory (make sure you are over white space, not a file name) and select New > Shortcut from the context menu. In the following set of dialogs, browse to AutoCAD (usually at “C:\Program Files\AutoCAD 2007\acad.exe” or similar) and give the shortcut a name.
- Right-click on the new shortcut and select Properties from the context menu. Now edit the text box next to the “Target:” label.
Since startup switches are added after the filename into the Shortcut Target box, change the content of the box to (assuming your memory stick is the F-Drive on the computer): “C:\Program Files\AutoCAD 2007\acad.exe” /nologo /t “F:\My_Template.dwt” /p “My_Profile.arg” /s “F:\My_ACADSupport\” Then OK the dialog and start AutoCAD using your new shortcut. With this modification, four customizations are loaded at startup: /nologo suppresses the splash screen, /t “F:\My_Template.dwt” loads the template, /p “My_Profile.arg” loads the customizations stored in the profile and finally /s “F:\My_ACADSupport\” adds your support files to AutoCAD. You have your custom work environment now set up in a shared lab!
There are several more startup switches available. Search for them in the AutoCAD helpfile. Also, you will have to re-do this if file locations (e.g. the location of acad.exe) change – likely the case if you work in multiple labs and after software upgrades.