Summary: It's all about appearances. Learn how to use the latest tools to make your OS/2 desktop look absolutely gorgeous.
Before you go any further, take a look at this screenshot* (.GIF, 263K) of my current OS/2 desktop. Yes, that CD player at the bottom does work.
I won't speculate on what your reasons might be for creating a killer looking desktop, although I will guess that they have something to do with eliciting deep jealousy from all your friends. Fraternal rivalry and that sort of thing. A good looking desktop can also be a highly useful one too, because much of the beauty you can put into it will take functional form, as you'll soon see.
The Instant Fix
Some programs on the market for OS/2 will spruce up the operating system's looks instantly, that being anything from their secondary function (Object Desktop, Smart Windows etc.) to their sole and dedicated purpose in life (PlusPak: Themes, CandyBarz). Here's a list of some programs that you can download or purchase today that will add a little chrome to the OS/2 screen:
The next most obvious technique is to use the facilities already provided by the operating system. These include setting desktop and folder backgrounds, changing the color scheme and the way object icons are presented. Most of what you see in my own desktop example is achieved this way. Those cool, anti-aliased object titles and transparent borders were not pulled off by a whiz-bang enhancement utility like the ones listed above. They were done in a graphics program, Photo>Graphics Pro to be exact. It's an example of how you can "color outside the lines", so to speak. Since you can draw anything as the background, why not use illusion to make it appear as part of the foreground?
With drawing tools I created the transparent rectangles, gave them a drop shadow and a beveled edge (so they stood out and didn't appear to be part of the background), and icon titles rendered in smooth and anti-aliased text. Rendered in .BMP format and set as the desktop background I then positioned the icons very carefully over their pre-marked spaces, opened the Properties notebook for the desktop, navigated to the "View" tab and unchecked the "Visible" option for the icon titles. The OS/2 supplied titles were now gone, the icons remained, and sat neatly in their spots next to their nice anti-aliased titles. Since the main desktop icons (OS/2 System, Assistance Center, Connections, Programs and Shredder) never move, the fact that their titles and "tiles" cannot move either is a moot point.
If I do want or need to move the icons, it's a trivial measure to open up Photo>Graphics and shift their associated decorations around too. Consider that as a tip when creating your backgrounds: use an object oriented program that lets you move images around independantly and save your work in two formats; the program's native format that keeps the objects separate and workable, and the BMP format so that OS/2 can use it as a background. Such programs you can use under OS/2 are the aforementioned Photo>Graphics, Embellish and StarOffice.
The Desktop Integrated CD Player
The CD player at the bottom was made in exactly the same way, but I'm not kidding when I say that it really is functional. Double click on the play, stop, forward, backward or eject buttons and the CD ROM drive will respond - if it has an audio CD in it. The controls are regular desktop Program objects, set to run tiny, minimized batch files that send commands to the real CD player that's also running minimized in the background. It responds quickly because the batch files are small and usually stay in the cache.
To do it I first I downloaded a program called "Simple CD Player". It's a character-mode program, meaning it doesn't have a Presentation Manager GUI, but that doesn't matter since it will be run minimized all the time anyway. What this CD player does that's different from all the others is accept commands through a named pipe. A named pipe is a means of communicating between programs in OS/2, and are very easy to feed data to. You can send data to a named pipe on the command line in fact, like this:
echo play > \pipe\cdp00
Simple CD Player listens to the pipe called "cdp00". Send a standard CD player command to that pipe, and it'll do as the command says. Valid commands are: "prev", "next", "play", "stop", "eject", and "load" (closes the CD tray and door).
With the translucent magenta bars in place, as drawn in Photo>Graphics Pro and saved as the desktop background, I created a set of icons that resembled CD player controls. Each icon, used for a Program object, launched a simple batch file. In the batch files were the commands to send messages to the real CD player running minimized and in the background. So for example, the PLAY.CMD file contained the line shown above, while the BACK.CMD contained this:
echo prev > \pipe\cdp00
as its sole contents. And FORWARD.CMD contained this:
echo next > \pipe\cdp00
In the Properties for the program objects that launch these small batch files you'd make sure they were all set to launch minimized, so you don't see windows momentarily popping up every time you go forward or back a track.
If you have Object Desktop or Keyboard Plus, you might want to go another step further and assign all of these commands to keyboard shortcuts. Just open the Keyboard Launchpad (or Keyboard Plus), drag-n-drop the CD control icons into the list, and give them all a key-combination. I assign Back and Forward to Shift+Alt+Right-arrow key and Shift+Alt+Left-arrow key respectively. Play is Shift+Alt+Up, stop is Shift+Alt+Down, and Eject is Shift+Alt+Plus-key (on the numeric keypad). From any application, a web browser, a mail client or word processor, I can start and stop my CD player without having to switch to another application or take my hands off the keyboard - a feature that isn't in any other CD player for OS/2.
Beginning to see what I mean about beauty being functional too?
If at any time you want to know what track the CD is on, just choose "Simple CD Player" from the window list. The program also supports a pipe command that queries it for the current track and position, an enterprising individual could create a Rexx program that polls the CD player at regular intervals and updates an dummy icon on the desktop with the current track. This was a job that was a little bit beyond the scope of this article and my deadline, however.
More Tricks To Impress Your Friends
While adding programs and creating desktop backgrounds can be very expensive on your memory, there are other ways to improve the look of your desktop. The first place you should go to is the Scheme Palette, which gives you many more options for customizing the interface than just drag-n-dropping from the color palette. Try changing the border thickness of your windows for a start, making them thinner or even thicker than their default of 3 pixels. Also try experimenting with the 3D Highlight-Bright and 3D Highlight-Dark colors to change how titlebars are emphasized.
Last but not least, try grabbing a pack of new icons and swapping them around. You don't have to buy PlusPak:Themes to get a good looking set of themed icons, there are literally thousands you can download by FTP from the Hobbes Icon directory.
* "Crazy fox with water guns" artwork was created by and is copyright Alan Mackey.
Download a zip file (.ZIP, 8K) that includes my CD player icons, the batch files that control the CD player itself, plus a .GDO file for those with Photo>Graphics - just add your own background bitmap or color or fade.
Object Desktop 2.0
Smart Windows .81 Beta
NPS WPS 1.82
Simple CD Player
|Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking||ISSN 1203-5696||December 1, 1998|