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Launching and Switching- by Sam Henwrich
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Summary: One of the most common ways that utilities enhance the workplace shell is to add a new kind of program launching or task switching mechanism. Object Desktop has some good ones, but how do they stack up to the others that are available?

Object Desktop has no less than three modules that perform the basic job of launching programs and switching between them. These are: the Control Center, the Tabbed Launchpad, and the Keyboard Launchpad.

To cover a little background on the basics, the Workplace Shell's default behavior when an object is "opened" (by double clicking, or picking 'open' from its context menu, or by any of the means which Object Desktop and other WPS integrated utilities support) is to launch the application or window if it isn't already open or running, and to switch to it if it is already running.

Control Center

In OD's Control Center (.GIF, 14K) the main way of launching programs is to use the flyout menus that work in a style very similar to the WarpCenter that comes with Warp 4. You can create one just like with the Warp Center too, by drag-n-dropping a folder into the panel. While you can navigate through cascading menus that list the contents of folders, you can also right-click on any list item to get a full context menu, or drag-n-drop something out of the menu too - making it pretty handy for, say, keeping close access to your Templates folder.

For task switching, Object Desktop 2.0 has added a special Task list menu to the Control Center.

But there's one problem with the cascading menu system, a bug that we've observed in Object Desktop since 1.5 and which we call the "Name..." problem. It's the case where instead of displaying a folder's contents, Object Desktop will simply present a single menu option (.GIF, 10K) called "Name...". Click on this and you get a useless dialog box that asks for something - but what it wants neither the dialog box nor the documentation will say. This problem seems to occur, if it occurs, always at the second level of any cascading tree. You can usually work around it by taking the long route, so if it refuses to display the contents of your hard drive when you go through the "Drives" menu, it should work if you try going first through "OS/2 System" and then to "Drives" instead. Silly, but Stardock did not seem to be aware of this problem until we told them about it.

Some other benefits of the Control Center that naturally affect all of its other functions, not just the launching and switching, are the way it can not only anchor itself to any edge of your screen but also optionally force other windows to stay out of its space. Calling the feature "Reduce desktop size to position" it makes it seem as if the desktop is now shorter or narrower by the width of the Control Center - which now occupies its own involotile edge of the screen. Nothing can overlap it, nothing can underlap it. We found that it was more convenient than a float-on-top feature that can start a "priority war" with other programs that have the same feature.

Tab Launchpad

Another visual way to launch and switch applications is with Object Desktop's Tab Launchpad (.GIF, 5K), which was designed to replace the Launchpad that came with Warp 3, later de-emphasized in favor of the WarpCenter in 4.0. As well as displaying a palette of buttons to launch applications with, it also has a row of tabs that divide the palette up into groups of programs. You can have one tab for utilities and another for multimedia applications, for example. But one special tab that's optionally present is a palette of currently running tasks. With this, you can switch to a new window just by clicking on its icon.

In the shareware and freeware fields of the various OS/2 internet archives there are an uncountable number of programs that perform basic "button palette" services for launching and switching programs.

Keyboard Launchpad

An unsung hero, a box of hidden treasure, Keyboard Launchpad (.GIF, 16K) is humble yet amazingly useful. What it does sounds ordinary enough, but you'd be surprised at just how much it can add to your productivity if you'd only try it. Keyboard Launchpad simply opens any object (a program, or folder, or some other object) whenever you press a keyboard shortcut that you've assigned to it. You can be anywhere when you press the shortcut (except in a fullscreen session) and Keyboard Launchpad will notice it - making it not just an excellent way of launching programs, but also of switching to them.

Imagine you're in your web browser and you need to switch to your mail client - you press Control-Shift-M and instantly you switch to mail. Why? Because you assigned the mail client's icon to Control-Shift-M in the Keyboard Launchpad. Now say you need to switch to your spreadsheet - you preess Alt-Shift-S and instantly you're there. If you make yourself use that method of switching between applications for just five minutes, I guarantee you'll get hooked on it. It makes an even bigger impression when you use it in conjunction with Control Center's virtual desktops, as described elsewhere in this issue.

Keyboard Launchpad is valuable not just because it lets you use the keyboard to start and switch to applications, but because it also takes up zero screen estate. Control center is nice, but it takes up space. Tab Launchpad is nice, but it tends to take up even more space despite its tabs. Keyboard Launchpad... well, you only see it when you need to configure it. Then you forget about it.

We found two comparable shareware programs that are similar to the Keyboard Launchpad. One is Keyboard Plus, able to do almost everything Object Desktop can do, but without much task-switching prowess. We were able to make it start programs, but it had trouble switching to anything other than a folder object. Keyboard Plus is more powerful elsewhere, as it can be used to insert the date and time, plus the output of any command-line program at the current cursor position of any editor.

The second comparable program we found is MKey, which lets you add programs to its list by drag-n-drop, just like Keyboard Lanuchpad does and Keyboard Plus doesn't. But MKey also had the same difficulty that Keyboard Plus did when it came to switching tasks. Otherwise it could launch programs by keyboard shortcut just fine.

Task Manager

Task Manager (.GIF, 13K) is the most obvious task switching module in Object Desktop. Despite being a plug-in replacement for the Window List built into OS/2, responding to a press of Control-Escape or a chord click with the mouse on the desktop, it also manages to squeeze a basic command-line program launcher in a small entry box near the bottom.

Task Manager makes the standard Window List look more visually appealing, with buttons to perform the common actions of tiling, cascading and closing, plus a window list that includes the icons. Object Desktop's Task Manager can be configured to arrange tasks in a flowed style rather than straight-vertical, it can also use either small or large icons to represent tasks.

Task Manager's useful functional addition is a filter. If you have background running programs such as a web daemon or a SQL server or some such that you don't want or need showing up in the window list then you can have Object Desktop filter them out. All other task-listing components of Object Desktop, such as the Tasks button in the Control Center or the Tasks tab in the Tabbed Launchpad will obey the filters you set here - shortening your list to a more visually manageable state.


One program that has the most feature overlap with Object Desktop's Control Center, Tab Launchpad and Keyboard Launchpad is Program Commander/2. While not quite resembling either, it does cover many of the same functions. Instead of the Control Center's flyout menus that draw automatically from your Desktop's folders it has a popup menu system that you must configure manually. For task switching, it has a simple task bar with a built-in clock that resembles that of Windows 95. It also has a virtual desktop like the one found in the Control Center, but we'll discuss that a little bit later on with the other virtual desktops.

Program Commander/2 includes hotkey support similar to what you'll find in the Keyboard Launchpad, but we were unable to test in time for this review.

* * *

Keyboard Plus 1.1

by John Fairhurst
download from The OS/2 Supersite (440K)
Registration: Freeware

MKey 1.10

by Roger Sennert
download from The OS/2 Supersite (333K)
Registration: Freeware

Program Commander/2 2.0

by Roman Stangl
download from The OS/2 Supersite (1M)
Registration: Freeware
Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
December 16, 1998