Series: Desktop Launchers
Utilities to turn on, tune in, and switch out.
Article 1 of 4 in series
by Tonya Engst
It's time for the final installment of our desktop launcher series, which began back in TidBITS-275. To review, the first two parts discussed two commercial desktop launchers, DragStrip and Square OneShow full article
It's time for the final installment of our desktop launcher series, which began back in TidBITS-275. To review, the first two parts discussed two commercial desktop launchers, DragStrip and Square One. Both products cost only slightly more than some of the pricier shareware options, but they also offer more features than many of the non-commercial alternatives, and are worth a look if you have the money to spend and want a printed manual backed up by phone support.
Part III veered away from commercial software, attempted to give less experienced readers an idea of typical desktop launcher features, and reviewed non-commercial applications that exemplified typical feature sets. If you read part III, I hope it alerted you to the wonderful variety of available applications and whetted your appetite for learning more of them. Part IV covers several more applications, and I saved some of the best for last.
I want to include a correction to part III, where I failed to mention one of Launcher's important features. (Launcher is Apple's entry into the desktop launcher field.) Two readers wrote in to correct me on this point. Stephen Trujillo <email@example.com> explained that "by creating a new folder inside the Launcher Items Folder in the System Folder, and preceding the name of that folder with a bullet (the character created by typing Option-8 in most typefaces), you can create a "button" which then appears as a "category," for want of a better term, along the top of the Launcher." Suman Chakrabarti <firstname.lastname@example.org>, an enthusiastic Launcher user, added that "Launcher can handle up to seven such folders for a total of eight categories, with a capacity of 30 items per category."
As an additional note, several readers have pointed out that placing carefully selected and arranged aliases on the desktop also provides basic launcher functionality, and this is certainly a pragmatic and inexpensive option. Also, there are various products that provide launcher-type capabilities and limit users' access to the contents of a disk. I'm not going to discuss those products in this series or my original trilogy would never end.
Another type of product that deserves a mention is the droplet launcher - an application that serves as a launcher by letting you drop documents on it. My fellow TidBITS editors tell me that this is another article topic in its own right, but I want to mention one such droplet, DropZone.
DropZone -- J.S. Greenfield's shareware DropZone 3.1 does only one task: it provides a quick way to open or print documents in any application, not just the documents' default applications. For example, it could help you easily open a Word document in Word 5, not Word 6. To use DropZone, you set up two folders (or just one) with programs (or aliases to programs) that you want to open documents with. For example, I set up one folder with word processors and a second folder with compression utilities.
Drag a document on the DropZone icon and DropZone responds with a dialog box where you can quickly choose a program to open the document. You can most easily choose from the programs in the two folders you set up, but you can navigate to any folder. If you notice that you always open certain types of documents with certain applications, you can use the DropZone Valet to make DropZone automatically open these documents with a specified application, without asking you to choose the application. DropZone Valet lets you match creator codes (four character codes that indicate the program that created a file), file types (four character codes that indicate the type of file, such as TEXT), and extensions (such as .sea or .etx). DropZone can be rather simple or somewhat sophisticated, depending on the level to which you employ and configure DropZone Valet.
PowerBar -- Some desktop launchers work best if you have monitor space to spare. In particular, the $25 shareware PowerBar 1.1.4 really shines if you've got the space for it to get comfortable. Written by Scott Johnson, PowerBar helps you switch between launched applications and launch new applications - plus it has a number of less-standard tricks up its sleeve. PowerBar is a control panel: when installed, you'll see a bar and several Status Pads when you switch to the Finder. Though PowerBar has a few rough edges, many of its features work together fluidly.
PowerBar is fairly flexible, complete with tiles that accept documents, folders, and Special Commands. Special Commands are similar to Control Strip modules in that they add special functionality. One Special Command, the Alias Boss, has several alias-management functions, including the feature of letting you drag an icon on the Alias Boss tile to make an alias of the icon and also quickly place the alias in a specific folder. PowerBar does not accept Control Strip modules and it does not automatically display tiles for launched applications.
PowerBar also offers Status Pads, informative buttons that tell you something about your Mac and give you one-click access to a related control. For example, the Printer Pad shows the name of the selected printer driver and whether or not AppleTalk is on. Clicking the Printer Pad opens the Chooser.
I won't attempt to list every PowerBar feature, but I found two notable. First, you can Command-click a folder in the bar to display a pop-up (non-hierarchical) menu of its contents. Second, PowerBar can make the Applications menu into a hierarchical menu that lists open windows for each launched application.
List Launcher -- If you don't have much monitor space, you might like Glenn Berntson's List Launcher. Although you can set up List Launcher a number of ways, I get the impression Glenn expects people will press a keyboard shortcut to launch it, use it to switch to a different application, and then automatically quit List Launcher during the switch. List Launcher marches to its own drummer, and may be a good option for people who need one of its specific features.
List Launcher displays of a long list of files and folders (which you can add to through an SF-type dialog box or by dragging things in). Beneath the list, List Launcher offers a few buttons, which enable you to show selected items' path names and (optionally) copy the path names to the clipboard, open selected items' parent folders, launch selected items, and rename selected items (an easier way of renaming a batch of icons than renaming them in the Finder). Any button can operate on just one item or on a group of items. List Launcher does not support drag launching, but it does have a nifty rocket button for launching things.
PowerLaunch II -- Roby Sherman's Power Launch II, version 2.0.1, sports an eight-tile "application palette three parts. The top part shows the tiles, the bottom part (which can be hidden) shows buttons for various functions, including adding, moving, and removing tiles, and changing your monitor or sound settings. The middle part is perhaps the most unique. It shows a nicely-done status bar, which can (optionally) list the name of the tile that the pointer is over, or can be used as a pop-up menu to switch to a different palette.
PowerLaunch II offers many standard features, including a number of different orientations and layouts for the application palette. You can only use it as an application switcher for applications stored on its tiles. It does not support Control Strips, but it does come with its own set of extensions that let you add more functionality. PowerLaunch cannot present you with a list of recently opened documents for a specific application, but the tiles of applications do act as pop-up menus, and you can add documents to those menus.
One of PowerLaunch II's more unusual features allows you to set up special monitor and sound settings your Mac switches to if you launch (or switch to) a certain application from PowerLaunch II. You can also set the time that you want certain applications to launch and set an optional simple lock-out feature that password protects your Mac if you leave it unattended for a configurable amount of time. You can also (apparently) group documents in order to open them all at once - the documentation is sketchy on the capabilities and limitations of this feature.
PowerLaunch II is a commercial application, though you'd think it was shareware unless you carefully read its ReadMe files. The program appears to function correctly without "activation," but you are supposed to pay for it. The cost is normally $30, though there is a $10 discount in a number of cases. Frankly, compared with other products I've discussed in this series, I would expect more of a $30 product that billed itself as "commercial."
HoverBar -- HoverBar 1.2, written by Guy Fullerton, is a $5 shareware application. Besides easily winning the award for inspiring the most laudatory comments from TidBITS readers, HoverBar's claim to fame is that its bars hover above your windows at all times. In this respect, HoverBar works like Desktop Strip (reviewed in part III, in TidBITS-277), though the applications differ in other ways.
HoverBar's features cover the usual bases. Bars can be horizontal or vertical, and tiles can display in small, medium, or large sizes. Names of tiles don't show on the tiles, but if you move the pointer over a specific tile, the name shows in the status field, a narrow strip below or alongside the bar. Bars never have blank tiles that you must ignore or try to eliminate by changing the size of the bar (typically blank tiles exist so that you can drag an item on them, thus adding the item to the tile); instead, you add items by dragging them to a special tile that has a plus sign on it. Launched applications' tiles have a slightly darker gray background than do inactive applications' tiles. You can put documents and folders on a bar, and you can move or copy a file into a folder by dragging it to a folder's tile.
Besides its hovering abilities, HoverBar's main special feature is that you can set up a bar to only show when a specific application is active. HoverBar also has several options for hiding and displaying its bars, though you cannot minimize them. HoverBar's ReadMe file notes that it does not work with WindowShade, a window-shrinking utility that comes with System 7.5 and later. It also vaguely notes possible problems with Word, Excel, and Quicken.
The Tilery -- The Tilery 3.0, (formerly Applicon) a freeware application written by Rick Holzgrafe of Semicolon Software, does a lot of things right. Its Preferences dialog box brought a grin to my face by not only including relatively standard options such as setting a hot spot to bring The Tilery to the front and changing the appearance of icons on the tiles (small icon, large icon, or name), but also by letting me color the tiles (one color for launched applications, another color for everything else). I also got to choose a color for the sides of the current application's tile.
The Tilery includes a Help menu, which lets you easily find answers to questions like "how do I add a tile?" Because The Tilery has been around a while, I think Rick has had a chance to carefully consider and smooth some of the rough edges that often come with a desktop launcher.
Most launchers employ at least two strips: one for launched applications, and one for things you want to keep around. The Tilery has no strip per se; it just has tiles that you can drag about independently and arrange as you like, in neat columns and rows (or not) as you wish. Like HoverBar, the Tilery never shows blank tiles - to create a new tile, you drag an item over Tilery's own tile (which sports the Tilery's application icon).
The Tilery has two kinds of tiles: regular and remembered. A regular tile appears when you launch an application, and that tile lets you do things relating to that application while it is launched. If you launch an application for which you don't want to see a tile, you can hide the tile, and it won't ever show again unless you unhide it. Remembered tiles can be applications, folders, or files, and they stick around until you ask The Tilery to forget them. This process is nicely implemented and clearly explained; you can just fall into this method of using the program without devoting many brain cycles to figuring it out.
The Tilery does not support Control Strip modules, but besides that it has all the basic features and many more subtle niceties than those I've mentioned. The Tilery also gets the nod for an excellent ReadMe file, which is incorporated in a rather nifty little reader called PocketDoc that Rick Holzgrafe also wrote.
Winding Down -- In preparing this series, I briefly played with each launcher. I set up a number of them and tried to use them in my daily routine, including Square One, DragThing, Desktop Strip, HoverBar, and The Tilery. All in all, I've discovered three things about myself: First, I love using keyboard shortcuts to launch and switch to frequently used applications. Now Software's Now Menus is one of many utilities that offers this feature, and I'm still a dedicated Now Menus user. Second, I don't have enough monitor space for hovering. I initially thought Desktop Strip's and HoverBar's hovering features were way cool, but my 16-inch and 13-inch dual monitor setup is already too full with all the information that I'm typing or looking at. Third, I'm a sucker for eye candy. The Tilery ultimately won my pick as my desktop launcher of choice. It has a number of features that work well, and its unique ability to color its tiles decreases eyestrain and adds a fun touch to my desktop.
That's it! I know I didn't cover every desktop launcher available, but I hope you have a better idea of what's out there. If you think a desktop launcher will make your Macintosh more efficient, more elegant, or more fun, I encourage you to take a few of them out for a test drive. If you already use a desktop launcher, I hope this article has confirmed your desktop launcher of choice or helped you choose upon a better one.
Article 2 of 4 in series
Welcome yet another installment of our series about desktop launchers. Parts I and II covered DragStrip and Square One, two commercial desktop launchersShow full article
Welcome yet another installment of our series about desktop launchers. Parts I and II covered DragStrip and Square One, two commercial desktop launchers. In parts I and II, I said the series would have three parts, but given the large number of launchers and the wide range of features that they offer, this series will continue next week, when I do hope to wrap things up. This and the next article look at a wide range of launcher utilities with the goal of pointing out what you can do with a launcher these days, what applications are available, and how you might choose among them.
Many of these applications have features that require System 7.5 (or later) or System 7.1.1 with the Drag Manager installed. If you don't meet that requirement, be prepared to forgo certain features, particularly those that involve dragging. All the launchers and patches mentioned (except for Launcher, which comes from Apple) are available in the /gui directory in any Info-Mac archive site.
Launching and Switching -- Typically, a desktop launcher looks like a column, row, or grid of tiles, usually enclosed in a palette, which can be resized and moved about. Tiles are usually square and about the size of a thumbnail, and the palettes that enclose the tiles are often called bars or strips. Each tile represents a application, and sometimes tiles can represent documents, folders, and more. Desktop launchers typically launch applications and may help you efficiently switch among launched applications.
If you have Drag Manager capabilities, you can usually "drag-open" documents by dragging them onto tiles that represent applications, thus causing the application to try to open the document as though you had used the application's Open command.
A desktop launcher is usually an application, and you would typically place it in the Startup Items folder in the System Folder, so that the application launches on startup and is always available unless you quit it. Some desktop launchers are control panels or extensions. This makes them available at all times, but can increase the complexity of troubleshooting extension conflicts.
Malph -- Consider Malph 2.3 as an example of a typical desktop launcher application that helps with launching and switching, without adding many additional features. Written by Nitin Ganatra, Malph begins on your Mac as two bars: the first bar shows tiles for launched applications, and the second bar sports four tiles for tools that help you use Malph. Using the tools on the tool bar, you can create new tiles for applications, and those tiles are added to the first bar (enabling you to quickly launch the applications related to the tiles). You can also use the tools on the tool bar to remove tiles that you added to the first bar, hide a tile on the first bar belonging to a launched application, and open the parent window of an alias or of an application showing on the second bar.
Malph shows the active application's tile with a dark outline, and you can click any tile to switch to or launch its application. Malph uses a hot spot (a configurable corner of the screen that you drag your pointer to) for bringing its bars quickly to the front. Malph bars can be oriented horizontally or vertically, display large or small tiles, and optionally display the names of items on the tiles. If you have Drag Manager capabilities, you can drag-launch documents. Malph has been around for some time now and is a standard on many desktops. Malph is free, though Nitin would like Malph users to send him a postcard.
QuickList -- Not all desktop launchers take the bar and tile approach, though most do. QuickList 1.0.1, a $5 shareware program by Daniel McGloin, takes a window approach. When you launch QuickList, you get a list window which you can freely resize. If you wish, you can create additional windows, and any window can list documents, and folders, and applications, which you add by dragging or through an Add Item to List dialog box. As you would expect from a launcher utility, a QuickList window does not hold actual items, it just shows representations of them. You can open or launch any item in the list by double-clicking it. Although you can turn them off, the default settings make it so that when you double-click an item, the item's QuickList window minimizes to the size of a large tile and QuickList beeps once. You can also minimize the a QuickList window by clicking its Zoom box. Maximize the window by clicking anywhere on the minimized tile. You can also have QuickList quit when you double-click an item.
QuickList windows do not list all launched applications, but if you do Option-click a launched application in its list, the previously active application will be hidden. QuickList does not support drag-launching documents and has only a few capabilities, but it's easy to learn, easy to set up, and easy to use.
Documents and Folders -- Some desktop launchers let you add documents and folders to tiles, such that you can more quickly open them, or - in the case of folders - so you can more quickly look inside the folders or move and copy items into the folders.
DragThing -- To better understand how all the common features mentioned so far might work in a utility, consider DragThing 1.0, written by James Thomson. DragThing is a solid, easy, elegant application with two bars: one that shows launched applications and another where you can set up tiles for documents, folders, and applications by dragging icons onto empty tiles on the bar. The bar can be large or small, and have just one row or have many rows, depending on how you size it. Once you have a document on a tile, you can click it to open it in its expected application. Once you have a folder on a tile, you can open the folder, or copy or move items into the folder. Once you have a application on a tile, you can click it to launch the application, or drag-launch documents on the tile. You can also open any tile item's Get Info window, and open its parent window.
DragThing must be specifically activated if it is beneath a different window. You can minimize DragThing strips to a one-tile large strip that sports the name of the strip. DragThing's tiles can be displayed by small icon, size, or name. Unless you view by name, files and folders do not show with their names, though most applications are easily distinguished by their icons. If you use and like DragThing, James requests that you send him a "cool thing," of which there is a list in DragThing's ReadMe file. Postcards don't count.
Launcher -- Launcher 2.7, a control panel from Apple that comes with System 7.5 and various (but not all) earlier systems, also serves as an example of a desktop launcher, though it has limited capabilities. Launcher displays items on tiles (called buttons), surrounded by a colored background, inside a proper window. You can Command-click the Launcher window to bring up a menu for changing the size of the buttons. To create a button for an item, you either drag the item into the window, or add it (or an alias) to the Launcher Items folder in the System Folder.
Once you make a Launcher button for a application, you can open documents in that application by drag-launching them on the button. You can move items into a folder represented on a Launcher button by dragging them over the button. You can also copy items by Option-dragging them to a button. To have Launcher open up while you start your Mac, you turn on a checkbox in the General Controls control panel.
Launcher does not automatically create tiles for launched applications, so it doesn't work well as a application switching tool, though if you do have a tile that represents a launched application, you can Option-click that tile to switch to its application and hide the previously active application. Launcher has very few additional features, and you could achieve similar results just by making a new folder, called perhaps "My Launcher Folder," and placing a bunch of documents, folders, and applications (or aliases) in the folder. The point of Launcher is to help inexperienced users more easily use the Macintosh, and though it succeeds at that, after you pass the novice level, you will almost certainly want to move to something more fully featured.
Control Strips -- Desktop launchers have tiles that represent icons on your desktop, including - if you wish - icons for control panels, which you might put on tiles to make it super-quick to open them. Now, take that idea a step further, and consider a tile that doesn't open a control panel, but enables you to change the setting in a control panel, such as the sound level, perhaps with a miniature pop-up menu. Tiles such as this have been around for years in various applications, some give you quick access to control panel functions, others perform a variety of helpful or fun tasks.
Recently, Apple took this concept and embodied it in a control panel called Control Strip, which they initially released on the disks that ship with the 500-series PowerBooks. A Control Strip strip can be minimized or stretched out, taking up about a small tile's worth of desktop space when minimized. Control Strip tiles represent Control Strip modules (which you install in the Control Strip Modules folder in the System Folder). Each module helps you do something with your Mac, such as change the sound level, turn AppleTalk on or off, and put your PowerBook to sleep.
Control Strip modules are reasonably easy to write for programmer types, and additional modules have turned up here, there, and everywhere, including in the /gui and /cfg folders in the Info-Mac archives.
Control Strips caught on quickly, and owners of other PowerBooks began clamoring for Apple to make Control Strip available to them, while owners of desktop Macs clamored for a way to run Control Strip modules as well. Control Strip is now available as part of System 7.5 or 7.5.1, but it only works on PowerBooks. You can, however, patch Control Strip to run on desktop Macs, using ControlStripPatcher, by Robert Mah. Also, DragStrip (the commercial utility reviewed in Part I of this series) and Desktop Strip (reviewed here in Part III) can run Control Strip modules. Additionally, although PowerBar (reviewed next week in Part IV) does not support Control Strips, it does come with several special modules of its own, and those modules offer similar capabilities.
Desktop Strip -- Petur Petursson's $20 shareware Desktop Strip 1.1.2 is a control panel that supports Control Strips and does a nice job at helping you switch among launched applications. Because it is the only shareware-type launcher that currently supports Control Strips, I'm using it as an example of a typical one.
I rather like Desktop Strip because it always stays in the foreground and because its limited rule set makes it easy to master. Desktop Strip respects your screen space, offering vertical or horizontal strips that can be shrunk to just a tiny title bar (though you cannot name the strips - the title bars are blank) and petite (though not miniature) tiles. Desktop Strip comes with three modules that - without any supplementation - make it a useful utility: application menu, a tile/pop-up menu of launched applications; Monitor Depth, a tile/pop-up menu that changes your monitor settings; and Program List, a module that displays a separate tile for each launched application.
Using Program List, you can drag-launch documents. You can switch to any launched application by clicking its tile (or Option-click to switch to it and hide the current application, or Option-click the tile for the current application to hide all other applications). Command-clicking a tile from any of the three Desktop Strip modules brings up a short menu of options for configuring the module. You can temporarily hide the Desktop Strip palettes and set whether Desktop Strip hides itself when a screen saver is active.
In terms of common features, Desktop Strip lacks the ability to hold items on tiles (such as inactive applications, documents, and folders) - it can only display Control Strip modules and launched applications. If you find this a fatal flaw, have heart. The next version should be released with an additional module, called HandyMan, which lets you put documents, folders, and applications on a strip. You can also expand the strip out into a grid, where each row (or column, depending on how you set it up) represents the contents of specific folder. I've seen a pre-release version of HandyMan and it fits nicely with Desktop Strip.
If you like the fact that Desktop Strip sits on top of other windows (a feature that I like enormously, especially since its easy to shrink the strips down to almost nothing), you may also want to try HoverBar - it's not as fully featured as Desktop Strip, but it is the only other launcher that floats on top of windows, and I plan to discuss it more next week.
Choosing a Launcher -- Choosing a launcher is hard work if you have to look at them all, so I hope this part of the desktop launcher series gave you a better idea of the basic possibilities, and perhaps alerted you to an interesting utility that you hadn't already tried. The desktop launchers that I mentioned in this part were those that I felt most cleanly illustrated how a set of common features might work in a real life application. Next week's installment will focus on additional desktop launchers that do not as easily serve as typical examples or that are more fully featured. Also, thanks to everyone who wrote in plugging their favorites.
Article 3 of 4 in series
by Tonya Engst
It's time for Part II of our three-part series on desktop launcher programs, those programs that supplement the way your Finder works by giving you tiles that represent your files, folders, and disksShow full article
It's time for Part II of our three-part series on desktop launcher programs, those programs that supplement the way your Finder works by giving you tiles that represent your files, folders, and disks. Today's installment takes a look at Square One 2.0, a $74 (list) utility from Binary Software. (I'm not sure to whom you would pay even close to list price - Square One sells mail order for about $45 and is normally available from Binary Software directly for $29.95, though if you place a direct order with Binary Software, they are offering Square One to TidBITS readers for only $19.95.) Next week I'll attempt to wrap things up with a look at the many shareware/freeware utilities available, and thanks to everyone who has written in mentioning their favorites.
Square One requires System 7, about 550K of hard disk space, and about 50K of RAM for its extension, plus another 400K of RAM for the Square One application. It runs on any Mac that runs some version of System 7. I've used Square One, on and off, for a few weeks now - the first time without the manual and the second time (with a completely fresh start) with the manual. Square One and I didn't get along well at first, mostly because I had to figure out how to incorporate Square One's options into my working style, and I had to explore the menus and browse the manual before I felt comfortable.
Starting at Square One -- When you install Square One, you get the Square One application, a Square One extension, and an empty palette, to which you add items by dragging them on or by using the Find Applications or Add Files to Palette dialog boxes, which help you rapidly add applications and files. Square One does work as a stand-alone application, but the extension adds a number of key features.
A Square One palette has tiles on one side and a file list on the other. Square One offers several options for customizing the palette, including tile size. The palette can be made smaller than the list of tiles and if you shorten it, you can use a vertical scroll bar to scroll the tile list. Drag a file, folder, or disk icon over a tile, and the tile takes on the dragged item's icon and (optionally) its name.
Using a Tile -- You use a tile in three basic ways. The first - and perhaps most unique - way involves the file list. Click a disk or folder icon and its contents show in the file list, along with keyboard shortcuts for opening any displayed files. (The top file in the list gets Command-1, the second file Command-2, and so on.) To open a folder, you must double-click its name; Square One does not offer a keyboard shortcut. If you double-click a folder in the file list, it opens as a separate window. It took me a week or so to train myself away from expecting to double-click a folder in the list and have that folder also open in the list.
Because I dislike waiting for folders to open and then having them cluttering my desktop, what I should have done was to use the second technique. The second way to use a tile is to click and hold on a tile, which brings up a menu of choices for that tile, including a hierarchical way to navigate its nested contents. Clicking and holding on an application tile brings up a menu listing the last ten (or fewer) documents opened with that application. If you don't want to click directly on a tile, you can also choose the tile's name from the hierarchical menu that pops down from the Square One menu (just left of the Help menu on the menu bar). After you choose a tile's name, you slide over in the hierarchical menu to see approximately the same menu that you would see if you click directly on the tile.
As a third technique for using a tile, you can double-click a tile to launch an application or open a window for a disk or folder. You can also drop document icons on application tiles to attempt to open those documents. You cannot drop an icon on a folder or disk tile and move the icon into the folder or disk.
Additional Features -- Square One offers an Active Applications palette, a row or column of tiles representing launched applications. You can show the Active Applications palette in Memory View, which makes it show memory use bars similar to those in the About This Macintosh dialog box.
Square One also offers a Groups feature, whereby you can set up a tile that represents a group of either control panels, desk accessories, folder, projects (a collection of files and folders related to a project), QuicKeys, or sound files.
Perhaps my favorite feature is a preference you can set whereby when you click a palette, all other windows (except for other Square One palettes) become hidden. This feature isn't useful all the time, but some days it helps keep the clutter down.
Unlike DragStrip, which comes with additional special modules that you can put on tiles and use to control your Mac's operations, Square One comes with no special add-ons. Also unlike DragStrip, Square One does not work with Control Strip modules.
Making More Palettes -- To start a new Square One palette, you choose New from Square One's File menu. Square One then gives you choices for the System Folder and its standard sub-folders to add to tiles on your new palette, a curious choice, since Square One doesn't let you move things about in the Finder. For example, if I put my Extensions folder on a palette tile, I can more quickly see what's inside, but I can't more quickly move things in and out. With the exception of the Control Panels folder, I don't see why I'd want any of my System Folder sub-folders on a palette.
After being given options for putting specific folders on your new palette, you then can click a button to add applications to your palette. Square One responds by displaying the Find Applications dialog box, which offers a list of all your applications. I somehow missed the easy way to add lots of programs quickly from the list. I thought I could Shift-click on items in the list to select a bunch of them and then click the OK button, but - in fact - I needed to click to each application's left (not on it, but to its left), which adds a checkmark to the left. The hand-holding for setting up a new palette does not include the Add Files to Palette dialog box, which seems odd.
Where's the Pat Conclusion? Frankly, I'm having trouble drawing a pat conclusion about Square One. The more I use it, the more I like it, but it also feels like a grab bag of related features, with a neither astonishingly bad nor amazingly good overall coherence. I particularly like the hierarchical menus and the ability to open recent documents - it seems a touch more convenient then using Super Boomerang, but I'm disappointed that the file list can't display more than one level of items and that I can't move items in the Finder through the controls of Square One.
If I'm not a typical Square One user, who is? Square One offers a lot of functionality in a single extension/application combination, so it might prove a useful way to consolidate a bunch of features into one product, thus enabling you to discard several others. Square One might also be a good choice for a company that has to buy a commercial product for a group of users and wants a launching utility that will have something for most anyone.
Binary Software -- 800/824-6279 -- 310/449-1481
310/449-1473 (fax) -- <email@example.com>
Article 4 of 4 in series
[Despite the trouble they sometimes cause, I like add-on programs that change the way my Mac works. I like setting up my Macintosh just the way I want it, and I like knowing lots of people and lots of programmers use add-on programs to try different interface ideas. Once you get past the four-or-five stage (that is, four or five folders and four or five applications on your hard disk) you may notice clutter and deeply-nested folders getting in your wayShow full article
[Despite the trouble they sometimes cause, I like add-on programs that change the way my Mac works. I like setting up my Macintosh just the way I want it, and I like knowing lots of people and lots of programmers use add-on programs to try different interface ideas.
Once you get past the four-or-five stage (that is, four or five folders and four or five applications on your hard disk) you may notice clutter and deeply-nested folders getting in your way. Lots of programs help cut through the clutter, but this three part mini-series focuses on desktop launching programs that modify the way you use the Finder by adding tiles that represent files and folders.
The series begins with William Murphy's review of DragStrip, a product that I first spotted at last January's San Francisco Macworld Expo. I liked the demo of the product so much I stood through it almost twice. I still like the product, and Adam has been happily using it for several months. Next week, I'll talk about a competitor of DragStrip's called Square One, and on the third and final week, I'll wrap things up with a look at Control Strip, Applicon/Tilery, Malph, and other related programs. -Tonya]
Have you ever used Launcher? It's that dumbed-down application launcher that Apple shipped on the Performas for a while and now ships with System 7.5. Have you ever hated it? Have you ever wished Apple's new Control Strip would work on your desktop Mac? Those issues and a bevy of other interface needs have been addressed and answered with some grace by Natural Intelligence in the creation of DragStrip.
DragStrip 1.0.1 requires at least System 7.0 running on a 68020 or better, and to use some of the nifty drag and drop features you will also want Finder 7.1.3 (System 7.1.1) or better. It is Power Mac-accelerated, and comes with an easy-to-use installer that has options for installing a 68K, PowerPC, or fat binary version. DragStrip lists for $59.95, but is available from Natural Intelligence for $39.95.
DragStrip's basic premise is simple. Make a strip by choosing New from the File menu. A new strip looks like a palette with two rows of blank tiles, a trash tile at the lower right, a small status row near the top, and a title bar. Once you've created a strip, you can drop an application, document, or folder onto the strip and a representation of that item appears on one of the tiles. Single clicking a tile launches the item.
DragStrip also offers an optional Processes strip, which shows the processes running on your Mac, with a preference for all processes or just applications. If you drag an icon off the Process strip into the Finder's Trash can or into the strip's trash icon, DragStrip sends a Quit event to that process. You can quit a bunch of applications at once by selecting and moving multiple icons.
Features -- DragStrip goes quite a bit beyond this basic strip and the extra features in the Process strip. Consider the following features:
Launching items: Dragging a document from the Finder or from a strip onto an application's tile makes that application try to open the document.
Recent items: DragStrip remembers a configurable number of documents that you have dropped on a given application. Click and hold on an application tile, and DragStrip pops up a menu of those recent documents.
Moving items: If you drag any item from the Finder or from a strip to a folder on a strip, the item moves to that folder.
Hierarchical folders: Place your hard disk (or any other folder) into a strip. When you click and hold you get a pop-up hierarchical menu up to five levels deep.
Multiple windows: DragStrip allow you to create as many different strips as you desire. As you add strips, you may need to increase DragStrip's standard 512K RAM allocation.
Status bar: The status bar on each strip can show the date, time, and limited information about the selected tile. Folders do not show their names in tiles, so the only way to see a folder name is to look on the status bar. You can also set a preference to not show the status bar.
Lots of configuration options: When it comes to making your strips look the way you want, DragStrip offers many choices including icon location, strip orientation, whether the title bar shows, color, size, and lots more.
Expandability -- You can increase DragStrip's functionality by pairing it with Control Strip modules (although some may not work well if they use a non-standard icon size for their display) or by using DragStrip's own module system called DragStrip additions. Additions expand DragStrip's capabilities, and you use them by dragging their icons to strip tiles just as you would drag any other icon. DragStrip comes with six additions: Volume, Monitor Depth, Compact Disc Player, Calendar, Memory, and Moon Phase. DragStrip also comes with directions for creating your own modules - assuming you're a programmer, of course.
Problems -- I encountered a few behavior problems, but when I called Natural Intelligence to speak about them, the people there were responsive and helpful.
If you drag an item off of a strip into the Finder's trash, the item is no longer represented in DragStrip. But if you drag an item into the Finder, the item is moved. This can cause some problems if you, for instance, use DragStrip to provide shortcuts for public machines. There is a set of hidden debugging preferences that lets you turn off drags between applications: while in the Preferences dialog box, press Control-D-S and click on the empty bullet in the "NI" logo icon.
I also was disappointed there is no way to change the name displayed in the status bar when you move the pointer over a tile, but this feature will be added in the next version.
RTFM -- Coming from me this is odd advice, but I strongly recommend you read the manual. DragStrip has many features that use modifier keys. Control-clicking a DragStrip tile, for instance, opens that item's parent folder. I used DragStrip for a month without reading the manual and I found most of its features, but not all. The manual is an easy read and will allow you to get the most out of the product in the shortest time.
Conclusion -- DragStrip is a powerful program that I leave open at all times. I like the way the tiles can be configured to blend with my desktop picture - it's the little things that make a program rise above the muck. I'm also fond of the ease with which tiles can be added and removed.
I have used DragStrip extensively for three months on a Power Mac 8100 with System 7.5, a IIci/Daystar040 with System 7.1.1, and a Quadra 950 with System 7.5. I've never had DragStrip crash on any of these machines.
Natural Intelligence has created a demo version of DragStrip. The demo is fully functional, but does not let you save your strips; they'll all disappear when you shutdown or restart your Macintosh.
Natural Intelligence -- 800/999-4649 -- 617/876-4876
617/492-7425 -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>