NPS WPS Enhancer v1.81- by Mark Flanagan

The first item of business after installing OS/2 and the Internet software is to go on a world-wide hunt for shareware and freeware. What follows is installation, crashes, deinstallation, bruised ini files - the result of the quest for the perfect system. Eventually, it all starts to come together - the perfect viewer, some utilities, games, goofy desktop tricks - the works. These are the fruits of the programmer: application work intended to benefit the user, and, perhaps in a minor way, enrich the author.

One author not likely to be enriched - yet - is Shinji Takasugi of Team OS/2 Japan, whose NPS Workplace Shell Customizing Program, recently upgraded to Version 1.81, is a superb collection of applets intended to add dimension (of several kinds) to IBM's business-like Workplace Shell. While Warp improved the look of the interface considerably over version 2.x, after awhile, it can look a little, well, flat. WPS Enhancer, as it is becoming known, doesn't completely remake the face and operation of the WPS; that appears to be the job of the commercial program, Object Desktop. It adds limited functionality and some visually arresting - and fun - animations and shadows to folders and objects. The program is inspirational: add some three dimensional icons, a terrific bitmap background, and the system can become a showpiece, bound to impress, say, Windows '95 users, who may already be tiring of their pristine desktop.

Best of all, it works its magic without adding a line to any system file. One merely unzips the file and installs it. An object appears in the startup folder, and a click on it brings up a notebook (8k gif) filled with options; exploring its pages is exciting because of what the program promises - and then delivers. As sometimes happens, however, one moves on to the next hot thing, but because the program is so light fingered, one has only to jettison NPS WPS Enhancer by shredding the icon and program folder to clean the system - a freeware miracle!

To describe what the program does would imply that it is a hodgepodge of features pasted together with horse glue. Well, maybe it is a bit, but Mr. Takasugi has been generous in allowing every feature to be enabled optionally, thus allowing one to use only the features found most appealing. These fall into two general categories: aesthetic enhancements and functional enhancements.

While the Workplace Shell doesn't lend itself to prettiness (IBM's middle name would seem to preclude it) Mr. Takasugi has found ways to impose prettiness upon it. First, shadows (8k gif) can be added to open folders to give them a three dimensional look. In keeping with the OS/2 philosophy of making every element tweakable, the user can lengthen or narrow the shadows and determine how translucent they will be - perfect for co-ordinating the shadows with bitmaps. Second, a series of animations can turn opening a folder into an event - after and fore images can spin the folder into view, assemble it out of rapidly conjoining pieces, or blast it off with a burst of fireworks. Again, how much or little of this takes place is up to the user: one can enable one to five animation choices, which will operate randomly. And one can limit the animation to folders, as Warp does, or extend it to all objects that open and close - an option that may prove that one can have too much of a good thing.

A raft of features tweak menus and open objects. They include: eliminating "Arrange" and "Sort" from the desktop menu (one mistaken "Arrange" proves the value of this item); enabling the arrangement of icons on a grid (as with the less-ambitious Extended Desktop); various ways to sort material in menus, including by extension; the addition of an Xit-like one-click close button to every open folder and application; and a raft of features that alter the behavior of dragging objects around the desktop - from within the folder (rather than from the title bar only), with other folders still visible, etc.

Most of these ideas fall into the category of functional enhancements. Perhaps the most ambitious of this type of feature is a change in the behavior of the pointer in relation to open folders and objects. Instead of maintaining a static position in relation to a new open folder or dialogue, the pointer can be modified to jump into the new folder or to the button in a dialogue that has focus. This isn't a new idea to X-Windows users, but it is radical enough to be a bit discombobulating when put into action in OS/2 - especially because so many folders can be opened in sequence and quickly enough to make the pointer become a bouncing ball on the screen. A little acclimation proves its value, though, and one's manipulation of the mouse can decline to a few clicks and movements in a given session. The feel of it is what takes getting used to - but it might be worth it.

New in version 1.81 is the ability to draw directly on the desktop, in any color, which can be used for meaningless doodling, notes to someone who might see the computer later - whatever. Presumably, future releases may add line weights, border effects, and (who knows?) animation. Mr. Takasugi is good enough at what he's doing to make you anticipate the next release.

All of the above options - and there are more - are beautifully transparent in execution, so they seem natural extensions of OS/2. If a newcomer were put on a fully implemented NPS desktop, they would have no clue whatever that any of the features were not native to the system and, if they were to criticize its busy-ness, they would then have the choice of deselecting the features found most unappealing. This is a hallmark of OS/2 - and of a program that extends it in unexpected and wonderfully useful ways.

There have been a plethora of Desktop Enhancers since OS/2 wandered outside the boundaries of the business world. The EWS Extended Desktop, the commercial Deskman/2 and several others have tried to fill holes in IBM's original design. Deskman/2 and the new Object Desktop are clearly substantial programs that require a commitment to their use; the value of NPS Workplace Shell Enhancer is different: it pulls together a raft of simple enhancements into an integrated package that one can utilize as much or as little as suits one's tastes. While it pushes only a little past the boundaries of being merely a fun program, its footprint on the system is so light that one can indulge it. And can move on to more substantial programs when the indulgence wears thin. Still, a marvelous program, very much worth trying.

 * NPS WPS Enhancer v1.81 (81k)
Author(s): Shinji Takasugi
Registration: Freeware!

Mark Flanagan is Production Manager at Thieme Medical Publishers in New York City and has been using OS/2 since version 1.0.

Send a letter to the editor.

Contents | Previous Article | Next Article

This page is maintained by Falcon Networking. We welcome your suggestions.

Copyright © 1995 - Falcon Networking