[Products and Resources for VisualAge (click here).] [ChipChat Tech. Group - 32-bit OS/2 text paging software and Sound Cards. (click here).]
Object Desktop 2.0 vs. Everything Else- by Chris Wenham
OS/2 e-Zine!

Go to a Printer Friendly version of this page

Chris Wenham is the Editor-In-Chief of OS/2 e-Zine! -- a promotion from Senior Editor which means he now takes all the blame.

Related Articles
OD 2.0 Beta
OD Pro 1.5
OD 1.5

Blast Back! Send a private message directly to Chris Wenham with your thoughts:

Contact OS/2 e-Zine!

Summary: An introduction to our feature review: Object Desktop 2.0 versus Everything Else. We take a close look at the newest release of the popular enhancement utility and see what it's up against elsewhere.

Much can be said about the success of Object Desktop. To use Stardock's words, it's like a "Third party upgrade to OS/2". To others, it's the grout that fills OS/2's cracks. Since its debut, Object Desktop has gone through three major revisions; 1.5, 1.5 "Professional", and now - 2.0. What it has been steadily adding are a stream of improvements to OS/2's user interface, integrating them with the operating system itself to the point where it is seamless. There are few instances where you can draw a line on the screen and say "This is Object Desktop, and this is OS/2."

But since Object Desktop is a collection of smaller utilities and modules, each of which can be individually installed and uninstalled, its competition is a motley crew of shareware and freeware programs. While no other product for OS/2 competes with it directly - as a tightly knit collection of enhancements sold together - not all of its components will appeal to all people, leaving lots of room for those scattered shareware and freeware programs to appeal. In this feature review we focus on and separately address each major function of Object Desktop, but also give you an idea of what you can expect to find elsewhere.

The Components

Object Desktop's main components, the ones that have been around since version 1.0 and which you'll usually interact with the most, are the Control Center, Tab Launchpad, Keyboard Launchpad, Object Navigator, Archive Objects, Enhanced folders and text objects. Version 1.5's main addition was the Object Packages. Several more joined the team with Object Desktop Professional - a brief fork in the Object Desktop family tree that added features that were mostly of interest to the office and corporate setting. Now Stardock has mended that fork in version 2.0, which ends the distinction between a "regular" and "professional" version and makes everything one big happy package.

Control Center

This is like a nerve center for your desktop. It's the most visual of Object Desktop's modules and embodies the most functionality. In it are a Virtual Desktop manager (which creates 2 or more visual workspaces to run programs in), a flyout-menu browser similar to the one in Warp 4's WarpCenter toolbar, a set of system information displays that keep abreast of data such as available memory and hard drive space, a clock, and a task list.

Tabbed Launchpad

Made as a replacement for the Launchpad that came with Warp since version 3, this one adds tabs that let you flip through groups of buttons which can launch programs. It also features a task switcher (a special tab that lists each window as a button) and the ability to be sized in square or rectangular configurations that stack butons in a grid.

Keyboard Launchpad

This may be the most under appreciated utility in the suite, perhaps because in the age of the GUI the keyboard is de-emphasized in favor of buttons on the screen. But the Keyboard Launchpad is one of the best reasons to buy Object Desktop, for it is faster and more economical than any other program launching and task switching utility you'll own.

Object Navigator

This is best described as either a big improvement on the Drives object, or a clone of the file manager that's built into Windows 95. With a split-pane view, the Object Navigator lets you see the folder tree and the contents of a selected folder at the same time and without unnecessary juggling of multiple windows. In Object Desktop 2.0 it also includes a built-in instant viewer that harnesses the Object Viewers that also come with the suite - supporting well over a hundred popular document and image formats.

Archive Objects

This is also a feature worth buying Object Desktop for, as they are the best method of dealing with Zip files that we've come across for OS/2. The idea is simple: If archive file formats such as .ZIP, .ZOO, .ARC, ,LZH, .RAR and so-on are basically collections of files in a named group - just like folders on your desktop are - then why not treat them as if they were just folders on your desktop? With Archive Objects you can, and Object Desktop has this feature down pat. Double click on the icon for a .ZIP file, for example, and it'll open just like a folder, display icons for the internal files just like a folder, and let you manipulate them just like another folder. Big plus for usability with only a few shortcomings.

Enhanced Folders

Replacing all of the standard folders on your desktop, Object Desktop's Enhanced Folders will add a status bar and a number of cosmetic enhancements. In version 2.0, even more visible improvements have been added in the form of a toolbar that emulates a little what can be seen in Windows 98. This toolbar will be most familiar to users of Object Desktop 1.5 and earlier as the one from the Object Navigator.

Enhanced Text File

When OS/2 can't figure out the type of a file it defaults to opening it with the OS/2 System Editor. Object Desktop replaces this default and also forces its addition to the "Open" menu of any file - even if the file type is known (but not overriding the default in these cases, however). The Object Desktop text editor isn't much different from the OS/2 System Editor except for a few useful changes.

Object Packages

These are a relief to those annoyed with the fact that you can't "zip up" an OS/2 program object, or any other abstract object on the desktop such as shadows and WPS integrated utilities that register special classes. This not only makes them notoriously difficult to back up, but also even harder to transfer them to a new desktop on another machine or re-installation. Object Packages solve this. They can record everything from the icon, position, class and all other relevant details, data and configuration of desktop objects that don't normally show up in a command line "DIR" listing, plus they can record as little or as much as you like. One icon, one folder, or the whole desktop. If that wasn't enough, they can automatically generate a Rexx script that restores the objects on systems that don't have Object Desktop installed.

Object Security

Originally added in Object Desktop Professional and now part of OD 2.0, Object Security is maybe better known as Workplace Security - a product that was and still is available separately. Stardock licensed the code and made it part of Object Desktop, with inevitable compatibility so complete that objects locked with Workplace Security will be unlockable with the same passwords under Object Desktop. While it may appeal mostly to corporations and apprehensive family members on a shared computer, Object Security's strength only goes as far as the desktop itself. Anyone with access to the command line of your computer can still read files and open folders without the passwords.

Object Advisor

Many power users will brush Object Advisors off, and for a large number of the rest of us, probably won't be affected by or find them useful at all. But they are a boon to training and one more good reason to put OS/2 to use in kiosk systems and desktops where users must be able to learn how to use something new in a short time. What the Object Advisor does is similar to the Warp Guide, or the yellow "helpers" that pop up on a fresh Warp 4 installation and tell you what various controls mean. Object Advisors watch where you click, and if a help text has been written for the object in question (in HTML, naturally) then a little unobtrusive window will pop up and show you what it knows about it, disappearing when you click on something else. Like the WarpGuide, they're annoying to those who know what they're doing, but perhaps invaluable to those who don't.

Object Advisors, while coming with help texts for most of the standard Warp desktop objects, are really meant to have the bulk of their content written by you, and have them be seen by others.

Cosmetic Enhancements

We couldn't possibly skip mentioning what Object Desktop does for vanity. A respectable number of entries for our Screenshot Contest so far have included at least some hint of Object Desktop's influence in the titlebars, window frame controls (the usual minimize, maximize, close buttons etc.), or scrollbar controls. With 2.0, the beatification has been extended with multiple themes to choose from (you can make your system resemble Windows 95, if you're desperate to, or the Mac )

Now it's on to the in-depth reviews. We've split them up into the five major categories that Object Desktop addresses in the Workplace Shell environment. These are:

  • Launching and Switching
  • Archiving and Packaging
  • Virtual Desktops
  • System Stats and Monitoring
  • File Management

At the end we'll have a summary and our final conclusions.

Copyright © 1998 - Falcon Networking ISSN 1203-5696
December 16, 1998