|Object Desktop - Pros||- by Christopher B. Wright|
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.
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.
"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.
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 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.
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.
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).
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+.
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.
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