Greg McKinney shows how to save time and boost productivity in this series of articles on workspaces.
Clearwater, Florida, USA — In this series of articles, I provide power user tips (and some little-known inside data) on using workspaces that will save you time, increase your productivity and help maintain project standards.
As the product manager for Axiom’s new Global Workspace Manager, I have talked to many users over the years and am amazed at the number of people who are not aware of the amount of time they could save by correctly setting up workspaces. Some MicroStation users that I’ve spoken with simply use a workspace delivered to them by their client and have no idea why it works or what to do if something goes wrong. So first, let’s go over some basics.
What is a workspace?
A “workspace” is a MicroStation environment or configuration. Customizing workspaces on a per-project or per-user basis goes a long way in helping users comply with standards and increase production speed. It can reduce potential errors caused by using incorrect resources and also saves on mouse clicks. A basic workspace consists of a user configuration file, a project configuration file and a user interface.
Configuration files are text files that are processed by MicroStation when MicroStation is loaded and as it opens each design file. The user configuration file stores information specific to the user such as interface name and file-saving options. Interfaces are one of the workspace components selected from the main MicroStation window. (See Figure 1.)
Once an interface has been selected, MicroStation writes that information to the user configuration file. The interface information will be used for all design files that the user opens, until a different interface is selected from the workspace components. Either an existing interface can be selected or, by selecting “New…” from the Interface drop-down menu, a new interface can be created. If “New…” is selected and a design file opened, the interface can be customized to show specific tool boxes, tool frames, menu items, view borders, view pop-ups, and palettes. (See Figure 2.) The customized interface can then be saved and used in different workspace environments.
Some companies use customized interfaces for specific disciplines (such as civil, electrical and plumbing), project-specific menus, tool frames or a combination of these. This is done using the Customize dialog box under the Workspace menu as described earlier.
The project configuration file stores information about the location of project-specific resources such as seed files, DGN libraries and reference files. The user interface stores customizations that control the appearance of toolboxes, pull-down menus and other interface settings.
The workspace components are selected from the MicroStation Manager dialog box when opening a MicroStation design file. When configured, these workspace components will make MicroStation dialog boxes open to the proper directory for selecting resources such as cell libraries, DGN libraries and reference files. Other resources like color tables, user preferences and interface settings can be set without requiring user interaction. Resources such as fonts, text styles, line styles, macros, seed files, and dimension styles will be picked from a list of choices that are approved for the project. The three workspace settings shown in Figure 1 are the only workspace interaction that most users will need. Behind the scenes is a whole world of ways to make your interaction with MicroStation a more productive — and pleasant — experience.
Working with configuration variables
Configuration variables contain user-defined information that MicroStation uses to customize your MicroStation working environment. (Examples are given later.) Configuration variables are stored in configuration files. MicroStation recognizes hundreds of configuration variables that affect the behavior of MicroStation. A simple example of a configuration variable is the MS_OPEN variable which controls the behavior of MicroStation V8 when a V7 design file is opened. Setting MS_OPENV7 = 2 will open a V7 design file as “read only” and not display an alert dialog box.
Anything that can be changed with the workspace is defined by a configuration variable. There are four main types of configuration variables:
- Path variable — This variable specifies the directory or directories that store resources or that are to be searched when MicroStation is looking for specific resources.
- Filename variable — This variable stores the location of a specific file or list of files.
- Keyword variable — This variable contains a keyword such as “V7″ or “DGN”.
- Boolean variable — This variable contains a “0″ (representing “off” or “no”) or a “1″ (for “on” or “yes”). For example, some variables (such as “MS_DESIGN_HISTORY_OWNERSHIP_WARNING” which specifies if the user should be prompted to confirm when opening a file that contains changes made by another user and not yet committed) only have two possible values. Either a user is prompted to confirm (value set to “1″) or not (value set to “0″).
Here’s a look at some real-world examples of using configuration variables. Let’s say that Urban Town Department of Transportation uses a pathname that is generally seven to nine folders deep. The path might look like this:
Aside from causing an exhausted mouse finger and wasting countless hours looking for project resources, this would drive me insane. If the CAD manager sets a few configuration variables like “MS_DEF” to specify the directory to search for design files and “MS_REF_DEFAULTATTACHDIRECTORY” to specify the directory that contains reference files, it will cut the file opening and referencing tasks down to a couple of clicks. These variables are set in the project configuration file. The project configuration file contains information that MicroStation uses to customize the working environment for a particular project.
Now let’s look at an example of working with multiple project configuration files. Joe’s a CAD manager who works on several different projects at a time. Throughout the course of a week, he switches back and forth between the various projects many times. If these projects have different standards and requirements (different project resources, for example), valuable time is lost changing configuration variables every time he switches from one project to another. The solution is to set up a project configuration file for each project. Each configuration file redefines the configuration variables so they are correct for each project. Each project configuration file has both a file name and a workspace name so that it can be selected from the Workspace drop-down menu later. Each time you open a design file, MicroStation uses the workspace configuration variables in the configuration file for that project to customize your working environment. Figure 3 shows an example of several projects that have been set up that a user could choose from.
Joe simply selects the correct project from the workspace pull-down menu and all his settings are pre-configured. No time is lost re-configuring color tables, fonts, DGN libraries, reference file paths and a whole “mess” of other settings when switching between projects.
As another example, one company that I worked with had several projects going at the same time that all used different font resource files. Users would tend to forget which font was supposed to be used for which project. The CAD manager would be called several times a week because someone else working on a machine had changed the settings, which changed the font resources needed for a particular project. The font problems would often go unnoticed for days. Sometimes it would go unnoticed until the project was plotted with the wrong fonts! Not only did correcting these mistakes take time, expensive plot media, like vellum or Mylar, had to be thrown away. This is the kind of problem that is easily solved by the CAD manager simply setting up project configuration files.
Setting up a project configuration file
So, how would a CAD or project manager change a project configuration file? Let’s say Bruce is a project manager who has users that keep compressing design files — which purges empty and unused levels and text styles from the files. (It’s fine to compress the design files, but if done before the design is complete, you will often lose things you would have needed later when designing, such as levels and text styles.) To prevent losing some needed levels and text styles, Bruce will need to set the compress options for “textstyles” and “levels” to “disabled”. He will also need to lock down the options so designers working on that project will not inadvertently change them and thereby compress these resources. Bruce can do this by opening the project configuration file and adding two statements to it. The steps to do this are as follows:
- Open the project configuration file, such as “nameofproject.pcf”, using your favorite text editor.
- Add a statement to disable the compressing of text styles and levels. The statement to do this is: MS_COMPRESS_OPTIONS = -TEXTSTYLES;-LEVELS # disabled due to wild users.
The variable name is”MS_COMPRESS_OPTIONS.” This is followed by an equal sign (“=”). Next comes a list of items. In this case, the list is “TEXTSTYLES” and “LEVELS”. Each item in this example is preceded by a minus sign (“-”) indicating that this option will be disabled. A semi-colon (“;”) separates the items in the list. Finally, an optional comment can be added to the line by putting a pound sign (“#”) in front of the comment.
- Add another statement to lock the “MS_COMPRESS_OPTIONS” variable to prevent users from changing the compress options. The statement to do this is: %lock MS_COMPRESS_OPTIONS
- Save the project configuration file using your text-editing program.
- Finally, restart MicroStation.
You’re all set! Users working on this project will still be able to compress design files but doing so will no longer purge text styles and levels from the files. Users will also not be able to accidentally modify (or undo) the compress options you just set.
If you’re working with a number of users, I also highly recommend using Global Workspace Manager, which allows you to set and monitor (among other things) workspace components on any number of workstations — all from one location. [Editors Note: see "Manage every MicroStation setting on every MicroStation workstation without leaving your desk!" in this issue of MicroStation Today.] As a word of caution, before you start changing your configuration files, please be careful to follow the first three rules of customizing MicroStation.
- Always backup the original configuration files before you make any changes.
- Be sure that you have permission from your CAD manager.
- If you are the CAD manager, see rule number 1 above.
In the next article in this series, I’ll show you more ways to save time and increase productivity by modifying workspace configuration files.