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Living in the Now - Now Utilities 5.0, Newer and Better

The previous upgrade, from Now Utilities 3.0 to 4.0, was torture. Many users experienced crashes; most felt anger over the upgrade charge coming so soon. Many were also disappointed by 4.0's reduced functionality, the confusing changes to Super Boomerang, and the restriction to System 7. It took three further revisions (4.0.1, 4.0.1p, and 4.0.2) for things to settle down. I still have nightmares about it. [I reported on 4.0.1 in TidBITS-152.]

Not so the upgrade to Now Utilities 5.0. Now Software added plenty of functionality, fixed many small annoyances, and made the package run faster. You still need System 7, but it runs on any System 7, including 7.5, on any machine, including Power Macs, where it is partly native. The speed increase is obvious even on a slow machine like my office Classic II.

The new functionality consists partly of increased customisability. To accommodate new options and commands, each control panel consists of multiple displays, which are switched with an icon bar across the top. These icon bars are not confusing, like some we could mention; each icon explains itself with a quick definition as you pass the mouse over the icon. The time and attention given to design in this feature is symptomatic of the whole package, which uniformly feels cleaner, easier, more adjustable, and more powerful than before.

I can't say how much System 7.5 users will need Now Utilities; I'm still at 7.1. Some similar functionality is built into 7.5: hierarchical Apple menu, quick access to recently used applications, better finding, Apple Menu Options, Extensions Manager, and so on. Personally, despite its warts, I couldn't live without Now Utilities. Let's look at the individual components

Startup Manager governs what extensions load at startup; you can control loading order, create different extension sets for different startup situations, and build in links between extensions that must (or cannot) operate together or must load in a specific order. It now works on everything that loads at startup, including fonts (like Conflict Catcher and Extensions Manager), and intelligently handles extensions that load before itself (by restarting during startup if necessary). Also, it can automatically perform multiple restarts to help you isolate an extension conflict (like Conflict Catcher).

FolderMenus is a new component, imitating Inline Software's PopupFolder. Click on a folder, and a little menu of its contents appears; this menu is hierarchical (to five levels), and with it you can open a folder or file, or drag & drop something onto an application or into a subfolder.

FolderMenus looks like a rush job, and is primitive compared with Inline's version: you can't clump folders at the top of the menu, nor can you determine the font used. However, you can adjust the delay before the menu pops up, a necessity for tailoring the functionality to your working habits.

WYSIWYG Menus enables your Font menu to appear with each font name shown in that font. It adds flexibility so you can except particular fonts, limit which fonts are available in particular applications, and - most interestingly - provide substitute "family" and "style" names, so you can clump fonts or styles into hierarchical submenus within the Font menu. When the control panel opens, it can show the names of all the fonts anywhere on your hard disk; but, in a major oversight, it won't tell where they are, so you can't use it to catalog fonts.

NowMenus combines many functions related to menus and application launching, including automatic drop-down or stay-down of menus (no longer unreliable); menu pop-up at the cursor location; reordering of the Apple menu; modified font and size for menus; changed keyboard shortcuts to menu items; the creation of new menus containing recently used applications, documents, or folders, or particular disk items; adjustment of sound level and screen depth when applications are launched; temporary adjustment of application memory requirements at launch if RAM is short; setting which application will open files whose creator you don't have; and the creation of "worksets" of applications and documents to be launched together.

Hierarchical Apple menu items provide direct access to sound level (repaired now), color depth, startup disk settings, and network volumes. A folder or volume in the Apple menu or any menu created by NowMenus can be hierarchical (works faster than 4.0). An application can be hierarchical too, showing recently opened documents. A key press while mousing on a menu item shows its path.

NowMenus has many small but valuable additions. When selecting a file or folder menu item, you can open its folder rather than the item itself. You can rename an application, document, or folder for menu purposes (handy if the real name is long). You can make all folders immediately within a folder appear instead of that folder (rather than hierarchical to it). More menus besides the old far-left and far-right can now be added in the menu bar, floating just to the right of the main menus (this is much better than previously), and you can determine the icon that represents each. I suggest combining this feature with Menuette, which turns standard menu names into icons, to make room in the menu bar. menuette-201.hqx

A major new feature is drag & drop onto a menu, as with FolderMenus, to move or copy to a folder or launch a file with a particular application. This is like David Winterburn's MenuDropper, but it works for all NowMenus menus, which David didn't quite get MenuDropper to do; however, it lacks MenuDropper's cool extras, such as dragging onto the Applications menu, or Command-dragging to create an alias. And there are bugs: drag & drop onto applications which accept any file type (such as ResEdit) doesn't work.

Super Boomerang remembers the most recently opened items, and provides menu access to them, hierarchically via the Apple menu or an application's Open menu item, or within any standard file dialog (plus providing the same information to NowMenus). Also, Super Boomerang causes a standard file dialog to come up at the most recently used file or folder ("rebound"), and you can set a default folder for applications individually. You can also duplicate, rename, or delete a file, or create a folder, directly from within a standard file dialog.

When combined with James Walker's DialogView, Super Boomerang removes the clumsiness from the standard file dialogs, and has long been the key reason to own Now Utilities (as the manual rightly boasts). dialog-view-211.hqx

An important bug seems to be fixed: if you open a file via a hierarchical NowMenus menu or from the Finder, it more reliably adds to the recently opened files list. A useful, though not new, feature is that you can click on a Finder window while a standard file dialog is up to switch to that folder in the standard file dialog (like Click There It Is, but without its movable dialogs, alas). I wish you could turn the "rebound" feature off for individual applications. click-there-it-is-101.hqx

QuickFiler is a new component combining three functions: souped-up Find capabilities, a "flat" Finder substitute, and file compression.

The Find capabilities were previously "owned" by Super Boomerang; they are now more powerful, easier to use, and can replace the Finder's Find command. You can search using AND/OR on multiple criteria. Results are gathered into a single "flat"-Finder window, called an "Inspector."

An Inspector is a file directory window, either the results of a Find or else an alternate view of a Finder window. You can select items and move, copy, or alias to a new location using a standard file dialog, so you are spared having to see both source and destination first, as in the Finder. I find Inspector windows disappointing. You can rearrange the column placement and sizes, but if you do you can lose the left end of the window, and you can't revert to the defaults (the fix is to throw out the Prefs file). You can see file types and creators, but you can't change them. You can't change the Finder's "alias" suffix. You can search for locked files, but you can't unlock them en masse. You can build an Inspector window of items from diverse folders via the Find function, but not manually. Besides, all the same functions (move, copy, etc.) are provided by QuickFiler in a menu; so, between this and the many other ways of working with folders that Now Utilities provides, Inspector windows end up fairly useless. I vastly prefer Greg's Browser. gregs-browser-241.hqx

QuickFiler includes archiving and compression functions from the now-defunct Now Compress. So now you have another compression utility, but with no BinHex or other translation capabilities, and one that's faceless, preventing you from building an archive of items from different folders, for example. You might want this for transparent compression along the lines of Aladdin's SpaceSaver or Symantec's AutoDoubler, now part of Norton DiskDoubler Pro.

Transparent compression is automatic Finder-level file compression. If it's on, it compresses files during idle time (or manually, if you wish). The Finder is fooled into believing the files are uncompressed, so creators and types appear unchanged, and Get Info reports items at their uncompressed sizes. You must use an Inspector window to see true sizes, as well as to see and change auto-compression status. Opening a compressed item expands it into RAM; saving it saves it in expanded form. If you restart with transparent compression off compressed items are revealed as "Compress Now" documents, and opening them replaces them with their uncompressed versions; so there's no danger of losing anything.

Still, bugs remain. I had some system freezes while trying out transparent compression (probably extension conflicts), but no damage was done. Also, I compressed a lot of material, then expanded it; for some files, though they were expanded, their type and creator information did not change, so the Finder and Now Utilities both thought they were still compressed Compress Now documents; I had some anxious hours researching the types and fixing them with FileTyper. Again, no data was lost. But I don't trust QuickFiler; if you're short on space, another hard drive is a safer option.

Other utilities include NowSave, Now Profile, and Now Scrapbook. I don't use NowSave because I like to be in charge of when I save rather than let it save for me in the background. It can save based on elapsed minutes, keystrokes, or mouse clicks, and it can inform you that it has saved the file.

I don't use Now Profile because I prefer other utilities, such as TattleTech, FileList+, and Alias Zoo. Now Profile provides three levels of complexity of information in the following areas: System, CPU, Memory, Drivers, Extensions, Fonts, DAs, Applications, Volumes, Aliases, and Duplicate Files. You can restrict the report to cover your boot volume or all local volumes. Now updated Now Profile to report the latest versions of System Updates, Enablers, and the details of PowerTalk and the Modern Memory Manager of the Power Macs. alias-zoo-205.hqx file-list-plus-10b21.hqx tattle-tech-215.hqx tattle-tech-217-updt.hqx

I almost never use Now Scrapbook, but that may be a matter of taste. It enables you to work with PICT, Paint, TIFF, EPS, GIF, JPEG, text, sound and QuickTime files (but not Startup Screens). You can edit text in the scrapbook, including font and size changes. You can also sort items in the scrapbook.

The Now Utilities manual is fair-to-good - better than before, but with inaccuracies and self-contradictions which suggest it may have been written before certain software decisions were finalised. It contains no technical information whatever (How much RAM will each component need? Why does the Installer include Macintosh Drag and Drop?), and does a poor job explaining certain crucial features, such as transparent compression.

Conclusions -- Even with 4.0.2, Now Utilities occasionally to crashed my Mac or just itself (so that NowMenus and Super Boomerang would cease to work until restart). So far, I have not seen this with 5.0. I presume this is because Now Utilities 5.0 is better integrated with the Finder. The only downside is that (on my Mac) Now Utilities causes Gatekeeper to complain when performing some harmless pure Finder actions, such as copying; you have to grant "File (Other)" privileges to "System Heap," which is a bit like throwing Gatekeeper away altogether.

It annoys me that where functionality has been copied from other extensions, it has been incompletely copied; if I am forced by Now's duplication of their functions to stop using MenuDropper and Click There It Is, why must I end up with less functionality?

Still, notwithstanding its few bugs and shortcomings, Now Utilities 5.0 appears generally stable and reliable. The upgrade is a definite improvement. If you haven't upgraded, or if you don't have Now Utilities at all (is this possible?), the upgrade is worth your consideration. I wouldn't be without it - a Mac without Now Utilities feels awkward to me.

The discount price for Now Utilities 5.0 is about $70, and users of either Now Compress or earlier versions of the Now Utilities can upgrade until 15-Nov-94 for $39.95. Also check out the deal from MacWarehouse that gives you Now Utilities 5.0 for $29 if you buy System 7.5.

Now Software -- 800/689-9423 --


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