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Get a Piece of the ACTION Files

Long ago, Boomerang featured prominently on many Macintosh users' lists of favorite shareware extensions. Authored by Hiro Yamamato, Boomerang added a wealth of features to the Mac OS, most notably a frequently used folder list in Open and Save dialogs. It may not have been the first such utility, but it quickly became recognized as the best. Boomerang spawned Super Boomerang - which became a component of Now Utilities - as well as a host of imitators, including Norton Directory Assistance, Aladdin Desktop Shortcut, and the shareware Default Folder (formerly DfaultD) from St. Clair Software. There was a even a similar utility for the late lamented Apple IIGS, called Kangaroo.


Though undeniably useful, Now Utilities acquired a bit of a reputation for adding general flakiness to a Mac. Worse, Now Software did not update several components of Now Utilities for Mac OS 8 compatibility. As such, the hunt began for a suitable replacement for Super Boomerang. Qualcomm, the makers of Eudora, acquired Now Software and made noises about updating Now Utilities, but we haven't seen anything yet. Of the others, only Default Folder has survived, evolving into a worthy solution in its own right.


Power On Software saw the opening and drove straight for the goal. Its recently released ACTION Files package, the first in a proposed line of ACTION Utilities, aims directly at Super Boomerang's niche. In many ways the utility out-boomerangs Super Boomerang, although in other ways it falls a bit short. Its foundation seems solid, and it will be interesting to see what Power On adds in future revisions - and how ACTION Files compares to Apple's forthcoming Navigation Services, which will be introduced with Mac OS 8.5 but will require support from applications.


What You See - With ACTION Files installed, every application's Open and Save dialogs become movable modal dialogs. Like Super Boomerang, ACTION Files adds a menu bar within the Open or Save dialog to access Finder commands as well as its own features. There's also a grow box beneath the file list for resizing the dialog. (You could use the shareware Dialog View to achieve the same end, but with Dialog View you set the size of the dialog in a control panel, not while you used the dialog.) ACTION Files resizes the dialog from its center, keeping it in the middle of your screen automatically, though you can change this behavior to a more standard grow method using the ACTION Files List tab within the ACTION Utilities control panel.


You'll want to make the dialog not just taller, but wider too. Why? Because ACTION Files can display not only the name, but also the size, kind, Finder label, and modification date of every file listed. If you don't make the dialog wide enough to view all the columns you've selected, you can scroll the file list horizontally. You can resize, but not reorder, the columns. You can change the order in which the files are listed by clicking the column headers, just like in the Finder. There's even a pyramid-like control button (like the Mac OS 8.1 Finder) to reverse the sorting order, which can include three different criteria by default. You can turn the column headers off entirely, too - when you do, the dialog's View menu still lets you choose sort order. You can change the display font and size and determine whether ACTION Files uses custom icons or faster generic icons.

Because ACTION Files uses a movable modal dialog, you can't switch to another application or bring another window to the front without closing the dialog. However, you can navigate the dialog to any open Finder window by clicking the desired window (or the Desktop) in the background. Given this feature, it would be nice if the dialog included a Mac OS 8-style collapse box, so you could see and click windows hidden by the dialog (especially if you've expanded its dimensions). However, you can open Finder windows from the dialog's Finder menu to access them in the future.

Finder Functionality -- The File menu within the ACTION Files dialog enables you to perform many Finder tasks without exiting the Open or Save dialog. You can view a file's basic information (though you can't edit attributes such as type and creator codes), create a new folder, or change a file's Finder label. You can rename, duplicate, or make aliases of files (if the selected file is an alias, you can reveal its original). You can move items to the Trash or reveal them in the Finder. One nice touch is the capability to copy the full path name of a selected file to the clipboard for pasting elsewhere. ACTION Files handles these chores more transparently than Super Boomerang, which used a separate editing dialog to delete or rename files. All the ACTION Files utilities work in the main dialog.

ACTION Files sports a Find File command that is almost a dead ringer for the Finder's own, except that the results appear in the Open dialog itself. The ACTION Files Find File command uses the same toolbox call as the Finder's Find File utility, and thus inherits its limitation of not being able to search for multiple criteria on the same file property, like a name or modification date. You can't search file contents, as you could in Super Boomerang, but you can search for Finder comments, plus esoteric attributes such as backup date, the presence of a custom icon, and whether an item is a folder. [Using the Finder's Find File utility, you can search the contents of files by pressing Option when accessing the first search attribute menu. -Jeff]

Like Super Boomerang, ACTION Files modifies the File menu of most applications to display a hierarchical submenu on the Open menu item, so you can access recently used files or folders without using the Open dialog. Save As menu items also gain a hierarchical menu listing recently used folders for quick access. Frequently used files and folders are listed in the Folders and Documents menus in the enhanced Open and Save dialogs. The program distinguishes between recent items (a user-selectable number) and favorite items (manually added items that remain on the menus).

Plays Well with Others -- ACTION Files seems solid - I haven't noticed an increased number of crashes since I installed it - but some users have experienced more problems and glitches. One trivial example is the keystroke Command-Shift-Up Arrow, which normally displays the desktop in unenhanced dialogs; instead, you must press Command-Shift-Option-Up Arrow, or Command-D.

However, ACTION Files provides a method of avoiding problems with applications that balk at dialog box enhancements: the Compatibility tab of the ACTION Utilities control panel offers the option to turn off either all of the utility's features or just the resizable dialogs in specified applications. You can even specify which dialogs aren't compatible, such as the Install Dictionaries dialog in FileMaker Pro 2.1. A handful of exceptions are predefined and cannot be changed; I did not encounter any other incompatible applications.

Room to Grow -- Although ACTION Files 1.0 is an auspicious debut, there's plenty of room for future feature enhancement, plus performance improvements. It would be nice to have an Open Any File feature like Default Folder's (press Option while choosing Open), and it would be handy to be able to select different fonts or styles for folders and aliases, as you can in Dialog View. Being able to double-click a grayed-out filename in a Save dialog to enter it automatically as the name for the new document would be handy. A menu for mounting recently used servers would be a boon. And it would be nice if the program would automatically offer to Put Away a document (or move it to the desktop) when you try to open it from the Trash - something you can't do at all from the standard Open dialog. Finally, Super Boomerang added an item to the Apple menu that provide quick access to recently used files and folders - it was a fast way to open the window for a deeply nested folder, and I'd like to see something similar in ACTION Files.

Although some users dislike hierarchical menus, I feel they're underemployed in this program, as they can offer faster access to files. Any folder in an ACTION Files menu should have a submenu displaying the folder's contents. Documents should have submenus that list the contents of the folder that contains them, as well as the enclosing folder. The submenus that ACTION Files adds to the Open and Save menu items in the application should be hierarchical. It would also be nice to see pop-up folder menus when you click and hold a folder icon in the dialog (as in PopupFolder), although the free FinderPop, which adds this feature when you use modifier keys, is compatible with ACTION Files, so this isn't a priority. Of course, implementing these features while retaining usable performance might be difficult.

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As long as I'm wishing, it would be nice to view (and better yet, edit) the Finder comments for displayed files. Perhaps help balloons could be used to display comments. Support for peeking into and opening files in StuffIt archives, as provided by Aladdin's Desktop Shortcut, would be welcome, but now I'm starting to propose a monster!

Can't Beat It -- In short, ACTION Files stands out an attractive and elegant program with excellent functionality, plus a few inventive features that have not yet appeared in similar utilities. It falls somewhat short of being the ultimate Open/Save enhancement by leaving out specific features we've become accustomed to in its ancestors, notably Super Boomerang. Still, I have no difficulty declaring ACTION Files the best utility of its type on the market today.

A downloadable version of ACTION Files costs $39.95; a full package including the disk, case, and an electronic version of the manual on disk is $49.95, plus shipping and handling. A 30-day, free trial version is available as a 1.7 MB download.

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