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Archiving and Packaging- by Chris Wenham
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Summary: The common Zip file is both a convenience and a pain. Convenient for its compression and easy way of packaging files, but a pain to manage. There's also the issue of doing for Workplace Shell objects what Zip does for regular files. Object Desktop has an answer to both problems.

As far as handling the common archive formats such as ZIP, RAR, .ARC and .LZH, Object Desktop has the job down pat. It also rules supreme for the job of backing up collections of desktop objects for restoration later to the same, or a different machine. For backing up your desktop, it's not bad, but doesn't save as much configuration information as Warp's Archive feature or other dedicated backup programs do.

In version 2.0, Stardock has left out one set of components that used to be in the earlier Object Desktop Professional, namely the Object Backup. Stardock tells us these were dropped because of licensing issues (the code wasn't their own). Object Scheduler was also dropped since it was part of the backup code covered under the dropped license. You should be able to "carry over" these modules by installing Object Desktop 2.0 over OD Professional 1.5, but we have not tested this configuration.

Archive Objects

Object Desktop's Archive Objects (.GIF, 20K) are, to put it simply, the best method of dealing with .ZIP files and all other archive formats that we've ever come across. The argument can be made that it doesn't have a lot of the finer functionality that programs such as WarpZip have, but we think its sheer elegance balances all of those issues out. It's philosophy is simply to help the Workplace Shell understand how to read and write to the various archive formats, all other functions such as drag 'n drop, copying and moving and renaming files are then handled by the WPS and whatever other enhancements you also have installed.

That isn't quite all of it, however. Right click on an archive file and you have a couple of extra options in its menu; "Extract- to-folder", and "Auto-extract". Expand-to-folder produces a dialog identical to what you've probably already seen for the "Move" and "Copy" menu options, giving you the flexibility of choosing a folder that's already open, or an unopened one on your hard drive somewhere. Auto-extract is the easiest to use, as it automatically creates a new folder with the name of the Archive (sans extension) and extracts everything into it.

The Archive Objects are also hooked into the way OS/2 treats drag 'n drop of archive files. If you use drag 'n drop to copy an archive file to another folder, Object Desktop will offer to unpack the contents of the archive into it instead of doing a straight copy. This may or may not be convenience, as there is no way to switch off the "Yes/No" dialog and have it default to a particular action. There's also no way to switch off the "Do you wish to open the folder I just extracted to?" dialog that comes after every such extraction.

The only catch with Object Desktop's almost flawless treatment of archives as folders comes when you try to run an executable program from within one. While this is certainly possible for completely standalone programs, it isn't if the program needs a .DLL or some other file that's also within the archive. Object Desktop cannot tell when a program needs to read something from within the archive, and therefore cannot unpack such supplementary files on the fly. You have to completely unpack the archive and run the program from the new directory.

Front ends to ZIP file manipulation isn't anything new, however. There have been a number of managers for OS/2 that do the job graphically, although never treating the archives as if they were folders. WarpZip (.GIF, 21K) from PillarSoft is a recent one that's shaping up to be a very good option. It's visually appealing, with easy access buttons to common functions, built-in viewers for several file types and the ability to look into nested Zip files. It does not seem to have the ability to manage other archive types, however.

Second to WarpZip is Zip Control, a program with similar functionality but a more awkward user interface.

Object Packages

If you've ever dropped to a command prompt and navigated by hand to, say the "System Setup" folder of your /DESKTOP directory and summoned a "DIR" listing then you'll know there isn't much to see, despite what the graphical folder and icons may say. That's because the System Setup and other folders are chock full of abstract objects, or objects that exist only from the Workplace Shell's point of view and not that of the filesystem's. The object's existence and its settings are all kept in the OS2.INI and OS2SYS.INI files - which also annoyingly have an intimate relationship with the extended attributes and directory structures of your hard drive. It's not as if you can expect to recover your whole desktop by backing up just these two files. It's also impractical to try and merge the contents of an old set of .INI files, or someone else's.

So Object Packages (.GIF, 19K) do for abstract desktop objects what InfoZIP does for directories full of files; it archives them into a single, real file that you can copy onto a floppy disk or transfer over the internet. Archive your entire desktop to have an instant backup, or only whatever objects you drag 'n drop into the package. Some uses include giving a friend a pre-configured Program Object that runs a DOS game or application with all the correct memory and process settings, or having all of your company desktops standardize on one layout and icon arrangement (for it stores and can restore icon positions on the desktop and in folders too).

Keeping in mind that not everyone you may want to give a package to has Object Desktop installed, the Object Packages you make can generate a clone of themselves implemented as either a Rexx program (that, when run, restores the stored objects) or as an .RC file. In addition, for those who wish to restore an archived desktop without re-installing Object Desktop to get its folder and classes re-registered (Object Desktop is one big collection of abstract objects itself), there is a standalone program called OBJINST.EXE in the OBJDESK install directory that can read a package file and restore its contents -- re-registering all necessary classes, backgrounds, icon positions and more.

We experienced two problems with Object Packages, however. The first is that the restore process can sometimes get stuck and cause the whole desktop to freeze from which only a reboot or a process killer can save you from. This happens rarely, and in our experience only when we had a very large number of objects to restore (1000+). The second is that it may not always restore everything you think it does. Take the Keyboard Launchpad as an example: This utility in the Object Desktop suite can be a highly useful one that users choose to configure heavily. That sensitive configuration, consisting of possibly dozens of keyboard shortcuts, would be quite unpleasant to lose and re-construct. A backup solution might be to store it in an Object Package. But as we found out in our tests, while the Object Package seems to store the contents of the Keyboard Launchpad (you can see program information in the Package display), it doesn't restore that information into a working Keyboard Launchpad again.

Its competition comes mostly from products such as INIMaint, DeskMan/2 and the Gammatech Utilities, which all have facilities for backing up your desktop. DeskMan/2 from DevTech advertises the ability to archive and restore individual desktop objects, but without a copy currently on hand, we were unable to compare it to Object Desktop.

* * *

WarpZip 2.0

by PillarSoft
download from the Hobbes archive (800K)
Registration: $29

DeskMan/2 2.0

by DevTech
MSRP: $99.95
Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
December 16, 1998