Edit: If you’re running a more recent release of AutoCAD, have a look at the post AutoCAD 2017 – Putting things back to “normal” instead.
Easily the most popular post on this blog, in terms of both hits and comments, is AutoCAD 2009 – Putting things back to “normal”. Not too far behind it is AutoCAD 2010 – Putting things back to “normal”. Apparently, lots of people find these posts useful, so here’s an updated version for the latest release. Some of this post is based on the originals, but there are significant additions and differences in this year’s Luddite post.
Note: there is an updated version of this post for AutoCAD 2012.
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 2011 at least (unlike some Autodesk products), you do still have that choice.
Let’s assume you’ve made the decision to put your environment back to AutoCAD 2008 or earlier; how do you do it?
- 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 right 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. Every odd-numbered release seems to have the current workspace name missing from this button, so this year we miss out. If you want the name, this year you need to look in the QAT. In either case, click on the Workspace control and pick the item called AutoCAD Classic. This will perform some of the steps described below, but not all of them, so I suggest you read on. If you’re using a vertical variant of AutoCAD 2011, this workspace may not be available, so you’ll need to make your own 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.
- Ribbon. You can close the Ribbon with the RibbonClose command. If you ever want to turn it back on, enter Ribbon.
- 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 Riboon 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.
- 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)
- 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. It’s controlled 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.
- 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.
- Help. Unless you want your Help to work with the speed of a long-dead slug that has been nailed to a hefty piece of wood, you will want to turn off AutoCAD 2011’s online help. Go into Options again, this time in the System tab, 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 Help interface. While you’re looking there, 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.
- Pull-down Menus. Enter MENUBAR 1 to turn pull-down menus on. To turn them off again, enter MENUBAR 0.
- Toolbars. In AutoCAD 2009, you could turn individual toolbars on and off by accessing a menu obtained by right-clicking on the QAT. Autodesk rather nastily removed that option in 2010, and it’s still gone in 2011. That 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.
- 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 dialogue 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. When you’re done, pick Apply & Close, then OK.
- 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.
- 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.
- Grid. I much prefer the new line-based grid. If you don’t, right-click on the Grid status button and pick Settings…, which will take you into the Drafting Settings dialogue 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Selection. Selection Preview 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.
- 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).
- 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 has deprecated these commands in 2011, 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.
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.
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, but conservative users are much better off with new releases of AutoCAD than they are with, say, Microsoft Word.