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File Management- by Chris Wenham
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File Management

Summary: It's boring, but it's basic. The job of managing files has been challenged by scores of programs that think they can do it better than OS/2's usual Workplace Shell arrangement of folders and icons. Object Desktop includes a file manager,and a folder enhancement, but is it anything to write home about?

So you're sick, sorry and tired of futzing around with drive objects and smatterings of windows everywhere just to do some basic copying and moving of files? Wish there was something that simply combined the tree view with the details view in one window? That's what Object Navigator (.GIF, 34K) is.

Object Navigator

Resembling the Windows 95 file manager a great deal, Object Navigator is a versatile improvement on the "Drives" object that comes with OS/2. One pane holds a tree view of any and all of your installed drives (scroll down through C:, D:, E: and so-on in the same list) while the other pane shows a detail view of whatever the currently selected directory or folder is.

Across the top of the Object Navigator is a toolbar that provides one-click access to common functions such as moving, copying and deleting files. Two of the most useful are actually the create-folder and create-another buttons. The first creates a new directory, prompting you for its name the second you click on the button, and the second creates a new object based on the class of the one currently selected. Highlight a ZIP file, for example, and this button will create another empty zip file ready for use.

For those who jump to the same directory frequently, Object Navigator now has a "bookmark" feature in 2.0 that replaces the "Favorite directory" feature found in earlier versions. The drop-down list that used to be the "Favorite directory" of past now holds the parent structure of whatever the current directory is, as well as a few common system folders like "Desktop", "System Setup", and "Printers". It does not store a history of where you've been before, however, which disappointed us. It's not much more than a condensed and redundant version of what you see in the tree pane anyway.

Possibly the most advanced feature of the Object Navigator is the integration with the Object Viewers that come as part of the Object Desktop suite. Normally the Object Viewers - a set of libraries that can read over a hundred different file formats including almost every imaginable image format, the majority of word processor and spreadsheet formats etc. - are launched only by selecting the option from a right-click over the file in question. But with the Object Navigator, clicking on a button opens a third pane at the bottom of the window with an instant display of the currently selected file. This display changes rapidly as you double-click on other files. In fact, we found the performance of the integrated Object Viewers to be very fast indeed.

The only disappointment with the Object Viewers is that, number one, the company developing them has ceased support for OS/2. Stardock merely licenses this code and does not appear to have the power to swing the third party's decision, or to even take over development on their own. Second is that these viewers do not contain support for reading the latest Microsoft Office formats. Although Stardock claims that the Object Viewers have been updated, they could not provide us with a list of which ones.

To go up against Object Navigator we found that File Manager/2 from BareBones software and FileStar/2 from SofTouch are excellent choices. Both offer similar, if not a bit more cluttered displays to Object Navigator, as well as a considerable degree of more functionality. Users may prefer the interface of FileStar/2 over Object Navigator's too, as it has two separate sets of directory trees and folder views that can be tiled neatly and intelligently within the name window. Neither have anywhere near the file viewing prowess of Object Navigator though.

Enhanced Folders

Complimenting Object Navigator are the Enhanced Folders (.GIF, 18K). Their first incarnation added a status bar to display folder and file size statistics as well as some cosmetic improvements (optional extruded or sunken borders for icons and titles), but in version 2.0 they now add a toolbar that's almost identical to the one found in the Object Navigator. The same bookmark feature is there, which is useful, but so is the parent-history list - which we're a little dubious of. I'm not quite sure everyone needs two-click access to the System Setup panel from every folder on their desktop. We think a navigation history like the one found in web browsers would be much more useful.

And speaking of which, that's related to the hidden function in the Parent-history list that's a part of every Enhanced Folder's toolbar. If you set the cursor to the box's interior and start typing a web page URL or pathname to a folder or file on your hard drive, Object Desktop will whisk you away to it instantly. In the case of a URL it will start a web browser, in the case of a pathname it will jump to that folder or launch that file with its default program association.

All of these enhancements are optional and can be switched off on a per-folder basis, but we noticed an annoying problem that we complained about in our First Looks a few months ago, but which Stardock ignored: The new toolbar adds to how tall a folder window must be to display the same contents, but Object Desktop doesn't bother to adjust a folder's default height to accommodate. When you open a folder for the first time, say one that's just been created by an application's install program, the toolbar pushes the first row of icons down so their titles are clipped off by the bottom of the window (.GIF, 10K). It's no problem to re-size the window manually, but we wish that if the toolbar is Y pixels high then the default folder size should be extended by Y pixels too.

To compare with this is the freeware and now open-source WPS folder enhancement called XFolder. XFolder is a formidable alternative to Object Desktop's Enhanced Folders, with better status bars but no toolbar. It does have highly flexible and powerful system of enhancing the context menus of any folder though, a feature that Object Desktop lacks. We've found that XFolder can co-exist with Object Desktop, complimenting its features in many ways without too much feature overlap. It's open source nature does suggest that it holds the potential to seriously overtake Object Desktop in this area though, so keep an eye on it.

Enhanced Text Files

Not quite a file management enhancement, but having a side effect that benefits it, is the Enhanced Text File. This is meant to be a replacement for the OS/2 System Editor (e.exe) and as such has similar minimal functionality, so similar in fact that it's barely worth discussing any of the differences except one: While the System Editor is a standalone program (an .EXE), Object Desktop's Enhanced Text File is a Workplace Shell class. Not seeing it yet? Okay, try this: Open a folder with a text file in it and open that file in the System Editor. Now while the OS/2 System Editor is still open and has that file loaded, try and temporarily move that file or directory elsewhere on your hard drive. OS/2 will refuse and tell you it couldn't move the file because it's in use by another program, namely the System Editor. With Object Desktop and the Enhanced Text File editor you can move that directory and text file and the text editor window will keep up with the move. You'll see the change in the titlebar of the text editor happen instantly too as it reflects the change in folder path or name of the file (you can rename the file while it's still editing it).

That's what makes Object Desktop's Enhanced Text File class worth installing. Its other main use is that it's always available as an "Open" option for any data file on your hard drive. While OS/2 will launch a file in the System Editor if it doesn't recognize the type, OS/2 will also remove it from the list of "Open" menu options if it does recognize the type as anything other than a text file. But Object Desktop's "Text View" (the name you see the Enhanced Text File editor go by) is persistent. It could be an image file or a database file, and you could still take a peek and edit it as raw text. What's more, Object Desktop doesn't complain if the file contains "nulls" - it just opens the file.

Shareware alternatives include such programs as SmallEd and the "Enhanced E" editors from PillarSoft, but no other editor that we know of is implemented as a Workplace Shell class or can cope with having the original file moved or renamed under its nose as easily and transparently as Object Desktop's does. Nor can they as easily be made an omnipresent option for both associated and unassociated files alike.

* * *

FileStar/2 2.0

by SofTouch Systems
download from SofTouch (1M)
Registration: $40

File Manager/2 2.67

by Barebones Software
download from The OS/2 Supersite (1.1M)
Registration: $40

XFolder 0.83 beta

by Ulrich Möller
download from XFolder homepage (697K)
Registration: Free/Open-source

Smalled 2.0

by Bianchi Software
download from The OS/2 Supersite (612K)
Registration: $18

Enhanced E 1.05

by PillarSoft
download from PillarSoft homepage (365K)
Registration: Free
Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
December 16, 1998