Object Desktop - Pros- by Christopher B. Wright

Object Desktop Orientation

Stardock Systems has turned more than a few heads lately: first, they came out with OS/2's first truly popular game, Galactic Civilizations. Then, they introduced OS/2 Essentials, a group of useful OS/2 utilities including a file manager and a "Trash Can" modeled after the Macintosh version. And now, finally, Stardock has introduced Object Desktop, an OS/2 GUI enhancement that integrates seamlessly into OS/2's Workplace Shell.

Object Desktop is perhaps Stardock's greatest offering to the OS/2 market to date. With this product they have distinguished themselves as a sophisticated and thoughtful company that can create useful, innovative, and aesthetically-pleasing products.

Installing Object Desktop

The first reaction you'll probably have when you open your Object Desktop package is to exclaim, "but it's only two disks!" Actually, Object Desktop only takes up one disk: the other is labeled "SDS Extras" and comes with icons, bitmaps, and file archiving utilities as a bonus package. Stardock was able to squeeze all of Object Desktop onto one disk by relying heavily on IBM's SOM, the object-oriented tools and standards used in OS/2's Workplace Shell.

Installation is, on the whole, very simple: the most difficult part is figuring out that you only need one disk. The first disk in the package is labeled "Object Desktop: Disk 1 of 2," and the second is labeled "SDS Extras," which is, of course, disk 2 of 2. When I opened my package, however, and saw "Disk 1 of 2" on the label, and no disk labeled "Disk 2 of 2" included, I was afraid that my package might be incomplete. Happily, I tried to install it anyway, and discovered my fears were unfounded. Still, I advise Stardock to remove that marking on the first disk in future releases. This would circumvent needless confusion. The installation (gif 18k), however, is quite simple and painless.

Using Object Desktop

After you've managed to recover from the shock of installing only one disk (and perhaps, at this point, you're a little disappointed - after all, a program that fits on one disk can't be terribly far-reaching, can it?) you'll be hit with another blow. Something has changed on your desktop. The old, familiar, somewhat homely OS/2 GUI has been altered, modified, and tweaked to the point where it's barely recognizable. In fact, the most common reaction for people is to exclaim, some in wonder, some in fear:

"It looks like Windows 95!"

Well, it doesn't look exactly like Windows 95, but the similarity is there. Legend has it that Stardock Systems would sit around quietly on the internet, listening to Windows 95 advocates brag about all the advantages that their GUI gave them, and how pretty it was, and why. . . then silently, gleefully, they would take those comments and put them into Object Desktop. Well, I'm not a big fan of Windows 95's interface (I think it looks a lot like a Nintendo arcade game) but I do think the Workplace Shell is very, very ugly. (Tack about seven more "very's" to that statement and you'll get close to how I feel about it). The changes Object Desktop makes to the Workplace Shell GUI are breathtakingly elegant without going too far into the dubious world of the Video Game Interface ("VGI"? Could I be the proud father of a new acronym?)

Object Desktop changes the way your desktop looks, gives it extra features, and changes some of the ones you already have. It adds new kinds of objects into the OS/2 object hierarchy. It gives you a new, stunningly attractive file manager. It adds nifty, hi-tech button bars and virtual desktops to your desktop. And if you install the extras on disk two (SDS Extras) you get object-oriented archiving and un-archiving, bitmaps, and icons, allowing you to completely remake the face of your (previously somewhat homely) desktop.

Object Desktop has its own folder (gif 11k) on the Desktop, which allows you to modify all of its programs and settings. Most of the settings can be modified by clicking on the Object Desktop Master Setup icon, which opens the Object Desktop Master Setup notebook. In this notebook, you can modify, activate and deactivate the changes Object Desktop makes globally on your system.

One of the things you might change, for example, is the way OS/2 displays dragging a window. Usually, when you choose to drag a window across the screen, OS/2 displays only the frames of the window until you let go of it, at which point the entire window suddenly "appears" at that location. Object Desktop allows you to see the entire window move as you drag. A good feature for those people, like myself, who are unreasonably anal about how windows are positioned on the desktop (don't get me started).

Object Desktop also modifies a few visual elements (gif .9k) of the Workplace Shell: the scrollbars and the minimize/maximize buttons are more sculpted, and it introduces a "close" button that will close an opened window with one click. Even more noticeable is a Status Bar, which appears at the bottom of most folders. The Status Bar displays how many items are in the folder, and how many bytes are being used to store the items. It gives folders more of a 3D feel, and can dramatically change the look of your desktop. And finally, when you press Alt+Tab to switch to different applications, a little box with the name of the application you're about to switch to appears on your screen - just like in Windows 3.1 (one of the few, meager advantages Windows ever had over OS/2).

You can also change the appearance of how icons are displayed. You can specify whether you want icons to be displayed as "Workplace Shell Default," "Raised," or "Sunken." "Raised" icons (gif 12.5k) are made to appear as if they were sculpted, 3D icons raised off the desktop or folder. "Sunken" icons are made to appear exactly that, sunk into the desktop. "Workplace Shell Default" means icons are displayed the way OS/2 normally displays them. These options are also available for the icon's accompanying text.

Object Desktop can actually speed up the process of opening folders and viewing icons through the use of three features called HyperCache, HyperDrive, and Browse Mode. HyperCache actually stores the contents of some commonly used folders in RAM, allowing very fast access to their contents. This option is added to the Settings notebook of most objects, and the default setting is off because it uses RAM. A more conservative approach is HyperDrive, which speeds up folder access by "guessing" what an application is by associating programs with file icons. There is also a function called "icon read-behind" which can be activated to check these associations to make sure they're right.

Finally, Browse mode causes a sub-folder to replace it's parent folder. In other words, the Drives folder would replace the OS/2 System folder, taking it's exact size and location. An arrow appears up in the top right-hand corner (beside the close, minimize and maximize buttons), allowing you to return to the previously opened folder. This cuts down on the amount of time it takes to draw and populate new folders, and prevents desktop clutter. This feature is especially useful for notebook computer users who don't want to deal with too many opened windows on a 9.5" screen.

The Task Manager

Object Desktop also modifies the Window List, altering its appearance and enhancing its functionality. The Window List is not well liked by many OS/2 users (and hated by some) but I've always been fond of it. I don't like seeing minimized icons at the bottom of the screen, and the idea of a minimized icon folder has always seemed illogical and awkward. To me, the Window List is a very useful utility that allows you to quickly get to a minimized application without taking up any desktop space.

It is, however, a little plain, and hunting for an application by name is not always the fastest way of finding it. Object Desktop tweaks the Window List by displaying program icons with the names, making it easier to tell the applications apart. It also places a little button bar at the bottom of the task list, with some very useful features, not the least of which is the ability to issue command-line commands.

The Heavy Hitters

While all of these features are nice and quite useful in many situations, the most significant additions to the Workplace Shell are the Tab LaunchPad (and the similar Keyboard LaunchPad) the Control Center (with virtual desktops), and the Object Navigator (gif 14.5k), an object-oriented file manager for OS/2. These utilities are probably the most obvious, in-your-face enhancements to the Workplace Shell, and they alone can greatly enhance your productivity.

The Tab Launchpad

The Tab LaunchPad (gif 3k) builds on the idea of Warp's LaunchPad and goes further. Instead of a button bar with "drawers" where other icons can be placed, the Tab LaunchPad is sort of like a multi-layered button bar. Each Tab on the LaunchPad is a specific layer of buttons that can be labeled however you want. On my Tab LaunchPad, for example, I have one layer of buttons labeled "OS/2", which lists all my OS/2 applications, and one layer of buttons labeled "Win-OS/2", which lists all the Windows programs I run in seamless sessions. I also have a "Comm" tab which holds my Internet, CompuServe, and BBS utilities. The Tab LaunchPad is drag-and-drop, so any application you drag onto the active tab will appear as a shadow. The only complaint I have about the Tab LaunchPad is that icons cannot be arranged after they are dragged onto it - they appear in the order they were dragged, and you can't move them around without dragging everything off and then dragging everything back on in the order you want. Other than that, it's a very organized, efficient way to keep track of your OS/2, DOS, and Windows applications.

The Keyboard LaunchPad

A counterpart to the Tab LaunchPad is the Keyboard LaunchPad, a utility that allows you to setup keystrokes as program launchers - sort of like launching macros in applications. The Keyboard LaunchPad, located in the Object Desktop folder, allows you to drag icons onto it, and then set up a keyboard combination for each icon in its list. After this, pressing that keyboard combination will launch whatever is associated with it until that association is changed. Both the Tab Launchpad and the Keyboard LaunchPad can be set to run automatically whenever you boot OS/2.

The Control Center

Another prominent addition to the OS/2 desktop is the Control Center (gif 8k). The Control Center comes with a plethora of interesting bells and whistles: a digital clock, a CPU monitor, various file and desktop management controls, and up to 16 virtual desktops (those big rectangles on the Control Center).

The Digital clock is fairly standard. You can control the color (red, blue, or green) and appearance of the text, but other than that it just displays whatever time the OS/2 system clock displays. You cannot, by the way, change the time from the Control Center: you must use the OS/2 clock or a command prompt. Still, the Digital Clock is smaller and more convenient than the OS/2 clock and you can choose to remove it from the Command center if you wish.

One of the icons on the control Center shows (via bar graph) how much of your hard drive's storage capacity is being used. Clicking on this icon will activate the Object Navigator, Object Desktop's object-oriented file manager.

Some of the icons act in ways similar to Windows 95's "Start" button. For example, clicking on the "Desktop" button opens a list of every icon and folder sitting on the desktop. If the object in the list is a program, selecting that object will activate the program. If the object is a folder, there will be an arrow to the right of it. Selecting the arrow will show you another list, revealing the contents of that folder, and so on. Unlike Windows 95, these icons are shadows of the actual programs, so you can call up a settings folder and modify them right from the Control Center.

One of the things I've done is to drag the templates folder on to my Control Center. That way, when I want to create a program object, all I need to do is click on the templates button, and drag the program template from my list onto my desktop.

Virtual Desktops

One of the most powerful tools the Control Center offers is the use of virtual desktops - up to sixteen virtual desktops at the same time. These virtual desktops are, basically, copies of your original desktop. If you open a folder in one virtual desktop and move to another, the folder is open only on the original desktop. Virtual desktops are useful when you are using more than one application at a time, and a boon for people who like to do a lot of multitasking.

An example: as I write my article on virtual desktop 1 using Describe, I can move over to virtual desktop 2 to open settings folders, and generally play around with the features I'm describing. Meanwhile, on virtual desktop 3, I can have the OS/2 Web Explorer opened and downloading a file from a Hobbes virtual mirror site. Finally, on virtual desktop 4, I can have NewsReader/2 up and running, checking out the various and sundry newsgroups I like to lurk in. Moving from task to task is as simple as clicking on whatever virtual desktop it's sitting in.

More Groovy Stuff

These are only very brief descriptions of what Object Desktop can do, and I'm leaving out much more than I'm including. One of the most important things that almost slipped my mind was Object Desktop's object-oriented archiving and unarchiving features.

The "SDS Extras" diskette comes with four archiving utilities, Zip, Zoo, Arj, and Lzh. When these are installed, four templates are added to your templates folder, one for each archiver. To archive one or more files, you can then drag the template of the utility you want to use, say Zip, wherever you want, then drag the files you want archived into the new Zip folder. Those files are now comfortably archived, and the folder can be renamed however you wish.

If you wish to view the contents of the archived folder, just double click on its icon. You don't have to uncompress it to see what's in it. If you do want to uncompress the file, all you have to do is select that option from the object's Button 2 menu (that would be a right-click on the object for you right-handed folks, and a left-click on the object for you southpaws).


Object Desktop is an incredible enhancement to any OS/2 Desktop. It looks good. It gives you powerful file and object management tools. And, finally, it really works. I've been using Object Desktop for about a month and a half now, and I would not trade it for the world. Its power, customizability, and convenience can't be beat - and it makes your desktop look really, really good.

Anyone who uses the OS/2 Workplace Shell should use Object Desktop. With it, your Workplace Shell becomes more graphically oriented than before, and it increases the power of the object-oriented work environment. Because everything in Object Desktop follows a strictly adhered to, consistent object-oriented design, any part of the Object Desktop interface (the Task Manager, the Command Center, the Object Navigator) allows you to modify any object it comes into contact with, allowing you to interact with the object at any time, from any perspective.

Would I recommend this product? I certainly would. For a 1.0 release, it's incredibly stable. I've had a few problems, but the benefits far outweigh them and I fully expect Stardock to refine and polish their product as time goes on. Object Desktop gets an A+.

Review Machine:

Cyrix 5x86/100 on a 486 PCI motherboard (with built-in 4-drive EIDE)
16 mb ram
540mb Maxtor (C:)
1260mb Maxtor (D:)
240mb Maxtor (E:)
1x CD Rom, Sony, Older Than Moses (F:)
4x CD Rom, Teac (G:)
Miro video card (PCI, 2mb DRAM)
AcerView 76i 17" monitor (currently displaying 1200 x 1040 x 256)

Running on Win-OS/2 Warp (Blue Box), no fix packs.

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

Christoper B. Wright is a technical writer in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is a recent member of Team OS/2.

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