How do you interface?

interface01Service pack 2.0 is out, and that brings some curious but timid users out of the shadows to see if this is the time to upgrade. It’s like Ground Hog Day for SolidWorks users. I’m not going to tackle that question this time, but new users looking at a new-to-them version always bring some questions about the interface. With the changes to the 2009interface finally making sense of the mess that was left in 2008, tweaking the interface is again a favorite topic of discussion.

I hope your interface doesn’t look anything like this image. I remember running AutoCAD looking a bit like that. Ah, the  progress that comes with getting older and wiser. Anyway, I’m gonna talk about some interface bits and you shout back in the comments and tell me what you think.

S Key

I know. A bunch of people are ga-ga over the S key shortcut bars, and don’t get me wrong, they are a nice addition to the software. I’ve only got 2 problems with the S Key toolbars: first, the guarantee an extra click to access every button, and second, unless you use only a small portion of the available tools in SolidWorks, you can’t cram everything you need into that one toolbar and still have it be efficient. Ok, let me restate that. I can’t cram everything need to run SolidWorks on that one toolbar.

If you really need the screen real estate or you’ve got multiple monitors and everything is so far away, you could put a subset of commands on the S key. Personally, I prefer hotkeys. If I hit a key and then still have to mouse, why don’t I just make the key access the command direct. That saves the mousing around altogether.


Detachable PropMgr

Remember King Missle’s song about a detachable body part? Way off topic, but it was a great tune, and this is cool functionality. Since SW started taking dialog boxes off the screen and putting them into the Feature Manager area, I’ve complained that this arrangement really effs up the workflow if the PropMgr requires you to select something from the Feature Manager, like a plane or a sketch or an axis. Detachable Property Manager solves this problem. There are tons of ways to use this, particularly with multiple monitors. How do you use it?

Command Manager

interface03The CM has fallen out of graces a little, I think mainly due to the rude emasculation it got at the hands of 2008. Even in 2007 not everybody liked it, but in 2008 it was utterly unusable. 2009 brings back most of the usability, but people are not flocking back to it. I use it as part of my default working set up, but I’m examining some new layout schemes. Do you use it? With or without text? At the top or to the side? Did you know you can also detach the CM and move it to another monitor?

Title Bar area


SW moved the menus up to the title bar and made them flyout. Hmm. SW also moved a toolbar up there. Once I pinned the main menu on the title bar, everything was good. The toolbar on the title bar is good, but its mainly made of flyout toolbars. Flyout toolbars are great for saving space, but not so good at reducing clicks or mouse travel.

interface05RMB/LMB Menus

This was a major source of grief for me in 2008. I realize some may think my position is a little confused, but to me it makes perfect sense. I can’t stand the split up RMB menus. They drive me nuts. So I turn them off, and use the standard RMB menu.

But, I love the LMB shortcut toolbars. If you look at the LMB toolbar, it is exactly the same as the top of the RMB when it is split.

With this RMB/LMB functionality, you see that SolidWorks at least has a philosophy about this interface, even if it is severely flawed for a lot of reasons. To me, it looks like SW is trying to provide two types of interface: one hyper-convenient for selecting quick stuff that you do frequently, and another that’s more cumbersome for selecting stuff that you don’t use 4 times a minute.

The reason splitting the RMB menu doesn’t work is because you are shifting from focussing on a 2D grid of icons to a 1D list of text. I can’t shift gears like that very quickly. Give me one or the other. This is the same reason why I hate the MS Ribbon interface, and the default Command Manager setup that SW defaults to.

Essentially what happened here is that the RMB menus just got too big, and instead of removing stuff that every Tom, Dick and Harry pushed through to get added to the RMB, SW just made the LMB work like the old RMB. When RMB menus were first added in Windows, it was a step forward in usability. Now that the RMB is too bloated to use, the LMB provides the same old functionality, just with a toolbar instead of a menu. This is a topic that I could go off on for days. I’ll spare you, though. What do you do with the whole RMB/LMB thing?

That’s enough for now. No need to write a book tonight. Please comment on how you use these or other elements of the interface. I love to see how other people are doing things, I always learn something useful. Please send screenshots of your set up if you can.



Mark Kaiser sent in a screen shot of his interface. Mark had this to say in his email: (click image to enlarge)


Shots of my drawing, part, and assembly interface.  I'm an avid S shortcut
bar user, no command manager, hotkeys for views, display modes, save,
rebuild, maybe a few others.  I use the LMB menu as much as possible, don't
like reading the RMB menu, feel it's slower.  Give me icons I can click on.

I only scratch the surface of SW though, small assemblies, not many swoopy
parts, little surfacing.



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