The Merlin GUI- by Christopher B. Wright

With Merlin, the Workplace Shell becomes more than simply an incredibly powerful object-oriented work environment -- it also gets a touch of grace, sophistication, and beauty. IBM has spent a lot of time getting rid of the rough edges of the WPS -- which, I predict, will probably disappoint many users. There's some truth to the accusations that Merlin looks a lot like Windows 95: my response is, "so what? It looks good."

My only big complaint, and I'll get that out of the way right now, is that Merlin still uses the system proportional font as its default for dialog boxes, help text, and just about everything else you can't change with a drag-and-drop. IBM includes a new font for title bars, WarpSans, which I like a lot, so I wish they'd get rid of System Proportional and just use WarpSans all around, but there are probably some barriers to that. Another minor complaint is that you can't specify for high resolutions (1020x768 and up) to display small fonts -- but you can still use the Smallfont utility, which you can get from Hobbes or any other FTP site, that will patch your display DLL file to do just that.

As I mentioned, your first impression of Merlin will be that it looks like Windows 95 -- it has the same kind of edges, the same title bar, and similar icons turned 3/4 out. Then you will notice the differences: slimmer and more 3D scroll bars, differently shaped close, min and max buttons, and a strip across the top of the screen that looks a lot more appropriate on a Mac than on a PC.

It seems the IBM GUI designers took what they liked about the Mac and Win95 look and discarded the rest. I noticed that Merlin didn't seem to look as much like a Nintendo game as Windows 95 does. The chiseled look is prevalent in Merlin, and the buttons are (thankfully) a little smaller than they used to be.

It looks like windows have been designed to take up less space, as well. This is especially noticeable for the system settings notebooks. Not only has IBM color coded the Merlin notebook tabs, they've also made them SMALLER and put them across the top, saving a lot more screen real estate than would otherwise be possible.

Merlin (finally) lets you choose the way you want to arrange your icons in a window, too. Aside from the default setting (I call it "Urban Sprawl"), you can also choose to display icons on a grid (especially nice -- you can now line up your icons!), from top to bottom, from left to right, from the outer perimeter in, and finally, my favorite, in single or multiple columns (formerly known as "flowed").

There are some quite stunning wallpaper bitmaps (one is a forest and a river, that, when tiled, makes it look like the river is reflecting the forest!), and some cool sounds to go with them. In fact, Merlin has four "themes" you can set your computer to (space, desktop, garden and ocean), each with a specific set of sounds. I'm fond of the "space" theme myself, but the others are pretty cool too.

IBM looks like it's doing much better with its icons this time. They are a little more colorful, intricate, and altogether much nicer to look at. It has also improved on the Launchpad by giving us the WarpCenter, basically Lotus' SmartCenter with a few interesting additions. I like the WarpCenter a lot; it's not as flexible as Object Desktop's Control Center, but it takes up less screen space and is still very handy.

If you want to further modify your desktop, you can load Object Desktop on top of it with no problems. (I installed OD 1.5 flawlessly.) OD will not replace your scroll bars or the close button (though it will put a close button on some windows Merlin does not unless you turn that setting off), but it will replace the min/max buttons (which looked odd to me, since the OD min/max buttons are raised and the Merlin default close button is not). The Object Navigator still adds a much needed file manager to Merlin, and while I'm enamored with the WarpCenter, you can't beat the Control Center's virtual desktops.

This is intended to be a general overview only. There are bits a pieces that I haven't covered as far as the look and feel of Merlin is concerned, but I think I've covered the basics. If you get a chance to play with Merlin, take it!


Christopher 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 also a member of Team OS/2.

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