Object Desktop v1.5- by Christopher B. Wright

In the beginning

A while back, Stardock Systems came out with a nifty little program called "Object Desktop". This program shipped on two disks: one was the actual program and one was a set of complimentary utilities, bitmaps and icons. This "nifty little program" caused almost as much excitement as the release of OS/2 Warp itself among some, because it was one of the best examples of the powerful object-oriented aspects of the OS/2 operating system.

The product was an overnight success, and Stardock was catapulted from being a popular ISV with a very successful OS/2 game to being one of the leading ISV's in the OS/2 software market. Although not without its critics, Object Desktop has become one of the standards for the OS/2 desktop. Indeed, according to most magazines, it has often been either the number 1 or 2 most-bought software package since its release.

Now, round two.

Object Desktop is back: updated, modified, tweaked and patched. Stardock has fixed old problems and introduced some interesting new features. Sporting a new version number (1.5) and some performance enhancements that will make you very happy indeed, this is a fine product with little to complain about.

Overview

As I said, Object Desktop v1.5 is an excellent product, but don't expect it to be as earth-shattering as v1.0 was when it was first released. I don't say this critically, just factually: this is an incremental release, and if Stardock had so radically changed it to warrant giving it v2.0 status they would have done so.

Installation

I ordered the upgrade from version 1.0 from Stardock so I didn't get the full Object Desktop packaging. I received two disks and a four page booklet titled "What's New in Object Desktop 1.5?" explaining some of its new features. Some people upgrading may be disappointed that they don't get the whole thing, but I was relieved: the last thing I need is another empty box lying around my house.

Object Desktop v1.0 consisted of one program disk, and one disk full of "extra" stuff -- icons, compression utilities, and bitmap wallpaper. I didn't get the extras disk with my upgrade (because I already had it, I assume), but I still got two disks, an indication of how much OD has grown since its first release. It installed flawlessly on top of my existing environment, and when I rebooted, it came up with no problems. I was even a little disappointed -- it didn't seem to have changed much. This disappointment left quickly when I started to play with it and noticed some very interesting things.

Speed

Before OD v1.5 was released, Brad Wardell of Stardock Systems stated that they had picked up some of the IBM programmers who'd declined to move to Texas, and used them to improve OD's integration with the Workplace Shell. This allowed Stardock, he claimed, to actually improve the performance of your machine -- he claimed it would actually run faster with OD than without it.

Well, I was dubious. I couldn't understand it and didn't think it was possible. I reasoned to myself, he probably means it just doesn't slow everything down as much as OD v1.0, which had noticeably slowed down my machine (not enough to bother me, just enough to notice).

I was wrong. I found my machine more responsive than it had been before. Folders opened faster, commands started faster, and everything seemed smoother. This was a purely subjective observation, though, so I decided to run the Performance Plus benchmark utility to make sure. The Performance Plus benchmark utility is very basic, but serviceable, and I had run it before and after I'd installed OD v1.0. To my surprise, Brad's claim was accurate: not only was my machine significantly faster than it was with v1.0 on it, it was even slightly faster than it had been without OD on it at all. I suspect your mileage may vary in this area, but I noticed a performance increase, and you might too.

The Roll-up Button

The next thing I noticed was a strange button to right of the close button. This is the "Roll-up" Button, similar to the roll-up feature in the Macintosh interface. When pressed, windows seem to roll up into their title bar (GIF, 1.5k), allowing you to access other areas of your computer without actually closing or minimizing the window. A useful feature, especially on small monitors and laptops.

The Tabbed Launchpad and the Control Center

The Tabbed Launchpad and the Control Center have a few new features also designed for the screen space conscious. If you click button 2 when your mouse is positioned over either one, you'll see an option called "Hide". Clicking on Hide causes either one to disappear. If you move your mouse into a predefined activation area on your screen (this can be set in the Launchpad or Control Center's settings folders), what was hidden will once again be revealed. This only works once, however. Once the Control Center or the Tabbed Launchpad reappear, it stays there until you hide it again. But Stardock included an "Auto hide" option in each object's settings notebook. If you check the Auto hide box, the object will appear only when your mouse enters the hot area.

A feature specific to the Control Center is the ability to "dock" it to the edges of your screen. In v1.0, you had to manually position the Control Center wherever you wanted it, and all your careful positioning could be for naught if you accidentally held down mouse button 2 in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stardock fixed this to some extent by making it possible for the Control Center to "stick" to the top, bottom, left or right of your desktop. Once there, you have to seriously drag it before it goes anywhere else. I'd like to see this feature implemented for the Tabbed Launchpad as well.

Another feature specific to the Control Center is its option to "block out" any space it takes up when it's docked, meaning that in theory at least, no other applications will overlap it. In effect, it allows the control Center to be visible at all times, just like the control bar at the top of the Macintosh desktop.

This is also a nice feature, especially if you're running a few maximized apps on different virtual desktops, but it's inconsistent in its effectiveness. For example, the Dial Other Internet Providers window (GIF, 9.5k) always opens in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, whether the Control Center passes through that region or not. In fact, any non-maximized window (except for the Window List) will overlap the Control Center if it just happens to open over a region the Control Center occupies. If you click on that window's title bar, it will position itself away from the Control Center, but it's an annoying quirk that made me eventually disable that option in the settings folder. It may not annoy everyone, though, and it is useful.

The Tabbed Launchpad has a nifty new feature as well (one that I don't use very much because I don't have a shortage of screen space). It lets you scroll down the current tab when you have more icons than space to display them effectively. Arrows appear on the active tab (GIF, 5k) when this is possible. This is a great feature for laptops.

The Object Navigator

The Object Navigator (GIF, 10.7k), Stardock's response to the lack of a file manager in OS/2, looks completely revamped and redesigned. It has some design features similar to the Microsoft Explorer: both show every conceivable drive in one column, and the specific directory you're in, in the other. This was a bit awkward for me to get used to at first, but I find it very convenient when I want to move a file from a directory on one drive into a directory on another -- multiple windows are no longer necessary. OD has a few other features thrown in as well. For starters, everything is object-oriented: anything you do in the Object Navigator is done to the file or folder itself.

The Object Navigator's tool bar has also been expanded and more functionality has been added. Not only can you copy, create a shadow, move or shred an object, you can also create a new object, create a new folder, perform search functions, and more, right from the toolbar.

Stardock Internet Shell

A new extra is the Stardock Internet Shell for the Web Explorer. This shell is basically a folder full of interesting URLs, sorted into different categories of interest: Art & Graphics, Electronic Industry Trade Publications, Government & Political Stuff, OS/2 Stuff (of course) and more. At the moment, you have to drag the URL object onto the Web Explorer to go to the link, but apparently when Merlin comes out all you'll have to do is double-click on the object and you'll be logged on automatically. You can add new areas by dragging them off the Web Explorer like you always could, or by using the Web Explorer URL template.

Object Packages

I've saved the best for last. The Object Package utility is a totally new feature to OD, and is so powerful that, frankly, I don't yet completely understand everything it does. Basically, the Object Package utility makes it easier to backup, restore, and transfer your workplace shell objects. With Object Package you could effectively drag your desktop into an Object Package Template and it will save everything about your desktop that needs saving: where the icons are, what the icons are, which ones are program objects, which ones are shadows, etc. If your desktop ever gets corrupted, or you somehow mess up your configuration, the Object Package you made can restore it.

What's more, you can save it to disk, hand it to someone else, and if they have the same icons, programs, etc. on their computer they can use it to re-create your desktop on their machine! You could attach the Object Package to an e-mail and send it out over a network to easily configure many workstations at the same time.

There have been some reports of a few minor flukes in the Object Package tool (sometimes the desktop wasn't restored exactly the way it had been on some machines) but this may have been fixed in the first FixKit for OD 1.5, available on Stardock's web site.

FixKits

OD v1.5 seems very stable, and I've had few problems with it. I have, however, noticed a minor annoyance: any time I loaded or rebooted OS/2 the Templates icon, Minimized Window Viewer icon, and the Startup icon would all open for no reason at all. The first FixKit for OD v1.5 has fixed this, and there is a list in the FixKit's readme file of other bugs that it addresses as well. As always, the FixKit is available free of charge from Stardock's web site.

Price

There was a lot of hoopla about Stardock's announcement of the new pricing for OD v1.5. Apparently, people who had already bought OD v1.0 were miffed when they learned anyone who bought OD v1.0 after April would get v1.5 for free, while "all" they got was a discount. I bought OD as soon as it came out; I didn't think what they were charging for OD v1.5 was too steep a price. It's a matter of preference, but I feel I got my money's worth for this product.

Conclusion

Stardock has taken a great product and made it better. With v1.0, Object Desktop hit the ground running. With v1.5, it's gained momentum and has secured its position in the lead of other OS/2 desktop enhancement software. There's a lot of stuff I like about this release. Still, there are a few features I would like to see enhancements to (docking for the Tabbed Launchpad, improvements on the Control Center's "Desk Remapping" feature), but overall I have no complaints about this product. It's worth the money you spend, and I don't think you'll regret it.
Test System:
 * Object Desktop v1.5
by Stardock Systems
MSRP: US$89.95
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 was very recently married and is a member of Team OS/2.

[Index]  [ Previous] - [Feedback] - [Next ]
Our Sponsors: [Prominic Technologies] [ScheduPerformance] [Shenandoah] [SPG] [Surf'nRexx]


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

Copyright © 1996 - Falcon Networking