Object Desktop - Competing Products- by Steven Atchue

Object Desktop and Beyond

OS/2. The Workplace Shell. Wasn't everything supposed to be in there? I don't know if that was IBM's original plan or not but ever since personal computers were invented there has never been an "ideal" user interface. IBM has probably come the closest for the PC with OS/2, or maybe Microsoft with Windows 95. Still, as operating systems have evolved, so have enhancements to them (yes - even to OS/2 and Windows 95).

Warp's interface is new, it's slick and it's clean. But can it be improved? Well, with the explosion of Warp's popularity it seems many people think that it's worth trying.

There are hundreds of new programs to do just this. The Hobbes FTP site is jammed with new uploads: shareware, freeware, and even commercial software is coming to market. Aggressive ISV's have been feverishly working to develop new products to enhance OS/2's interface.

Stardock Systems has added the newest commercial entry to Warp's list of "enhancement applications", with Object Desktop v1.0 (released 10/02/95). Stardock has recognized that every user does not have the same requirements of his or her interface. According to SDS (Stardock), Object Desktop is sophisticated enough for professional users yet is so easy to learn home users will love it too.

Hmm. . . Well how does it stack up to the competition? While there are no competing products as ambitious as Object Desktop there are many that compete on a "feature" basis. Let's compare it to a few of these.

The Control Center

The Control Center and Tab Launchpad are two anchors in OD's offerings. Both instantly add productivity to your desktop. In fact, the Control Center offers an unequaled integration of features so let's start there.

The Contenders

MDesk, FileBar and Deskman/2 each have some similar offerings.

MDesk v1.1 is a Workplace Shell add-on/replacement. It offers similar features to Object Desktop's Control Center but also adds others like a full-featured screen saver with password protection. Used as a shell replacement, it provides the necessary functions you would expect. In addition, due to its small size, this option offers performance gains that would be unimaginable with Object Desktop. The main interface of MDesk, the InfoBar, also provides a live status bar at the bottom of screen with details of swap file size, free disk space and other system information.

FileBar v2.05, used in its simplest form, is a menubar for your desktop. Like MDesk's infobar, FileBar Spans across the top or bottom of your desktop and gives you quick and easy access to your most used applications through pull down menus. While very configurable, FileBar offers very little of the advanced features available from OD's Control Center. Also like MDesk, FileBar can act as a replacement shell, again, with exceptional performance gains.

DeskMan/2 v1.51 is a more robust Workplace Shell Manager. Included in Deskman/2 are VUEMan/2, a virtual desktop and window manager; the DeskMan/2 Workplace Shell Extensions; and the DM/2 Image Configuration Snapshot Facility. Deskman/2 allows you to manage, secure and manipulate Workplace Shell Objects. It also allows you to create personal and customized desktops and to backup and restore desktops. Deskman/2 is more of a hidden hero than any of the others, as it does not have a snappy interface. It does, however, provide a wealth of features that make it a competitor to the Control Center.

However, these programs still do not have the usability that OD possesses. For example, cascading menus in the Control Center reduce screen clutter. FileBar comes close, boasting space saving cascading menus as well; MDesk compares worse having no cascading menus but does provide access to some options more readily. Both MDesk and FileBar use text menu choices that do not include icons and, therefore, their performance when used as shell replacements is far superior to that of OD. The only thing is, I don't know how much stability and crash protection I am willing to sacrifice. Using shell replacements may be a valid option for some people. . . but I just can't bring myself to do it on a regular basis.

Virtual Desktops

OD's virtual desktops are located on the Control Center and basic functionality is solid. DeskMan/2 also includes a virtual desktop facility through VUEMan/2, providing the ability to access between one and eighty-one virtual desktops (far more than OD's 16). Configuration layouts include a single huge desktop or the Workplace Shell desktop can be cloned onto each virtual desktop. Capabilities include: drag & drop support for opening objects on selected virtual desktops, hot key support and enhanced layout capabilities for window positioning and sizing. VUEMan/2 also provides extensive layout and protection and security features making it a superior alternative to those who need extensive virtual workspaces.

FileBar supports nine virtual desktops accessible by a button box or menu choice. FileBar's access to virtual desktops is pretty simple as are its abilities. Customizing options include a desktop 3x3 in area or a row of desktops. OD's and FileBar's virtual desktops will fit most users needs, but Vueman/2 is clearly an alternative for power users.


The Tab LaunchPad improves IBM's LaunchPad by leaps and bounds. I use maybe 25-30 programs so it's nice to be able to just click and start. IBM made this a reality. Object Desktop makes it better.

The only real complaint I have about the Tab launch is the task section; it's not very convenient. I would suggest an option in the settings that would allow for a task bar, like in the program Taskbar v2.62 (not to be confused with FileBar). Taskbar provides a pop-up icon bar containing a list of all running programs on the system and allows rapid switching between them. The Taskbar is activated by moving the mouse cursor to a user definable edge of the screen. The desired task can then be selected by clicking on the appropriate icon.

One of the less publicized features of Object Desktop is the Keyboard LaunchPad. It provides a fast way to configure keys on the keyboard for opening objects and applications. Graphical user interfaces have revolutionized the way we work, however, many users still prefer to execute applications and commands via the keyboard. Object Desktop, FileBar and MDesk all solve this problem by providing "Hot Keys". OD provides far superior setup and implementation of hot keys than the other two. It allows you to drag and drop an object into a container and assign it a hot key. You can also give any object hot key support. MDesk currently only allows programs (not folders) to be accessed via hot keys. OD will also allow you to open multiple objects with one hot key while FileBar only supports hotkeying to spots on your virtual desktop and task list. In this area, Object Desktop is far superior to anything I have looked at so far.

File Manipulation

Objects are objects are objec. . . what? Did you ever try copying lots of files around in folders? It is dreadful! Plainly put, this is one thing that IBM forgot: a decent file manager. To address this, Object Desktop provides the Object Navigator. Object Navigator, a full-blown file/object browser, is what I have been waiting for. Its style somewhat copies the old windows file manager, although it adds additional functionality. Does it add usability? Yes. Nevertheless, it does lack some features. While there are many third party file and directory managers to compare the Object Navigator to, I'll focus on File Manager/2.

File Manager/2 v2.37 is a shareware 32-bit file, directory and archive maintenance utility. FM/2 is something between a Drives object and a more traditional file manager. And its file management is much richer than Object Navigator's. The interface is much more developed and compact. Because of this, many more features are included in a smaller workspace. FM/2 allows any possible file manipulation option imaginable, and then some. Its power is pretty much unparalleled.

In file managers, speed is power. Object Navigator is speedy but sometimes lacks what I would consider acceptable performance. Some of the dialog boxes Object Navigator uses are actually OS/2 common dialogs with the title bar renamed. This type of WPS utilization actually hurts the Object Navigator's usability. FM/2 on the other hand, creates replacements for OS/2's common dialogs. For example, FM/2 uses its own text like dialogs (which it calls walking) to select destinations. FM/2's use of this "walking" feature when copying or moving files speeds operations dramatically.

The archive folder in Object Desktop is also a great idea. After using it though, I have found that in some instances it can be extremely slow. While not having the same simple manipulation of Zipped files, FM/2 maintains respectable response when zipping and unzipping files. I have also been using Zipman for some time and have found that it is very reliable. RPF Zip control is another contender that I have briefly looked at. RPF looks as if it may out due Zipman, FM/2 and OD's archive folder.

Aesthetic Stuff

Folder enhancing seems to be a trend recently. Quick close (X) buttons have become a de facto standard in most enhancers, including Object Desktop. Notable apps which add this exit button to OS/2 windows are Xit, MDesk and NPS WPS Enhancer (reviewed in our Oct. issue).

OD also allows for "browsing" of folders' contents. This means that double-clicking on a folder within a folder doesn't cause a new window to be opened; instead the contents of the current folder are replaced with the contents of the selected one. Deskman/2 also adds this feature. However, its folder view options are much more refined than OD's, allowing you not only to open parent windows, but open and close whole chains and views.

You also have the ability in OD to alter the appearance of icons and the text below them. Or you can change the maximize, minimize, system and scroll buttons. The enhanced folder even includes a chiseled status bar indicating number of objects, number selected and size of these objects. A few of these (replacing buttons) are either addressed or planned to be addressed in upcoming products but overall they are unmatched by any other WPS enhancers.

At the High End

As good as Object Desktop claims to be and is, it lacks some power features necessary for the corporate environment. Being able to standardize and control desktops is a fundamental corporate necessity. Currently, Deskman/2 has the ability to do this and more. Deskman/2 allows duplication (portable or distributable) of desktops and control of all the objects on your desktop. You can password protect or prevent deletion of any object. You can also make icons or folders unmovable so they cannot be mistakenly lost. Deskman/2 also provides a group of extensions that enhances dragging files. Instead of using mouse and key combinations when dragging files to a different location, DeskMan pops up a menu and asks whether to copy, move or shadow. This eliminates accidentally moving whole directories or other objects. For IS managers and system administrators these features probably outweigh anything offered by OD.

So What Am I Saying?

Bottom line is. . . Object Desktop, it's worth every penny!

For sheer range of enhancements and slick presentation, there is nothing that beats Object Desktop. It is much more ambitious than any similar or competing products and it's affordable. If you are the type of user who needs absolute customization in a certain area, or have a less powerful (legacy) computer, some of the alternatives mentioned here (or not mentioned here) may be what you're looking for. And keep in mind many products have not been mentioned here (because of time and space constraints).

Many, if not most of the other products reviewed, work alone or in conjunction with others attempting to parallel OD's robustness. However, the cost of just a couple of these products together can easily exceed Object Desktop's and you still will not have the vastness of features nestled in OD.

Object Desktop v1.0
SRP: $89.95

Stardock Systems
13405 Addison
Gibraltar MI, 48173
Voice: (313) 453-0328

BBS: (313) 453-1845
Internet: stardock95@aol.com
IBMLink: Stardock CFORUM

Steven Atchue has been doing computer consulting for the past four years. He has been in the computer industry since the birth of the AT. Currently, he is doing product reviews, freelance writing and for fun he is building his own house. Steve can be reached on CompuServe.

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