Series: Now and Then
Trace Now Utilities and its descendants through years of convoluted releases.
Article 1 of 5 in series
by Matt Neuburg
Now Utilities (hereinafter, NU) is a collection of system extensions, most of which started as shareware or freeware on the nets, where faithful fans could not imagine life without themShow full article
Now Utilities (hereinafter, NU) is a collection of system extensions, most of which started as shareware or freeware on the nets, where faithful fans could not imagine life without them. By giving these programs a home, Now Software ensured the functionality would remain even when other utilities might fall by the wayside of system software upgrades.
The neat part was that Now didn't steal the shareware ideas, but co-opted the original authors. It was a win-win situation. Our hacker heroes could make some well-deserved money. Non-netters could obtain these great utilities, and netters who owned one of the utilities in shareware form got a great discount on the commercial package.
Then the story took an odd twist, when Now Software announced NU 4.0.
First, it seemed a bit soon for a major upgrade (and major new fee); we know that buying software is really buying a subscription, but the pricier issues should appear at decently well-spaced intervals. Second, 4.0 was to be System 7-dependent; System 6 users felt abandoned.
Third, 4.0 consisted, in a way, of less than 3.0.2. NU 3.0.2 comprised ten elements; in 4.0, three are missing. MultiMaster is missing too as a separate item, but its functions remain in NowMenus, and Now added a new item, Now Scrapbook. (At one point an employee at Now's duplicating house wrongly told a netter that the three missing utilities would break once 4.0 was installed; nets being what they are, flames ran rampant.)
Finally, 4.0 was buggy in ways that Now Software had clearly not anticipated, and it implemented some questionable changes. When I started writing this review I was full of criticism for these.
But Now has largely taken the wind out of my sails with NU 4.0.1, which corrects the bugs and the most controversial of the design changes, and adds important clarifications to the manual. However this has happened (smart rethinking? serious attention to feedback from netters?), the result is an admirable product.
Zooming In -- Here I'll consider just Super Boomerang (SB) and NowMenus (NM), because I take these to be the heart of NU; they both do something indispensable, as in their old net-ware manifestations.
Hiroaki Yamamoto's Boomerang memorized names and locations of files and folders you had recently opened, and modified the Standard File dialog (SFDialog) to list these so you could bypass shuttling around the hierarchy. Also, the dialog came up in the most recently used folder, and in any folder the most recently used file would be pre-selected.
Jorg ("jbx") Brown's hierMenus let the menubar appear under the mouse; it also let you choose a Control Panel as a submenu to the Apple menu, bypassing the tedious CP scrolling in System 6.
For these achievements, Yamamoto and jbx achieved canonization, and perhaps hacker nirvana.
Boomerang: the Commercial Version -- In NU 3.0.2, SB works its magic in three different places.
It installs a SB item in the Apple menu (the "Apple SB" menu), with the list of recent folders and files as a submenu.
It attaches a submenu to the Open menu item of every program (the "DirectOpen" menu), listing the recently opened files available to that program.
It modifies the SFDialog with a menubar of its own. The first three menus are Folder, File, and Drive, so you can go right to any recent file or folder.
(For brevity I'll skip the fourth menu in the SFDialog, which does neat stuff, but doesn't bear heavily on the comparison between 3.0.2 and 4.0.1.)
The fifth menu added to the SB menubar is Groups. Here, you make each program a member of one of five groups (there is also an automatic catch-all group, Universal), so that the groups consist of programs that do roughly the same thing. The SFDialog then always appears preset to the present program's group, and when you choose its Files or Folders menu, only those belonging to a program in that group are shown. But you can change groups via the Group menu, so you can quickly reach any recent file or folder. The Apple SB menu matches the program group you're in, defaulting to Universal if the Finder is to the front; but the first item of the Apple SB menu is Open, giving the SFDialog, where again you can change groups and go right to your goal. The Groups feature thus lowers the number, and increases the relevance, of entries in the Files and (especially) Folders menus, and lets you use any program's SFDialog to quickly launch another program's recent document.
SB 4.0.1 is both better and worse. It is smarter than 3.0.2 about knowing that a file has been opened, and adding it (whether document, program, or DA) to the full list of recent files, even when it wasn't opened through the SFDialog; 3.0.2 tries to do this, but isn't always successful. Both 3.0.2 and 4.0.1 are also smart about knowing which recent files can be opened by the present program, but in 4.0.1 you now have three choices:
to limit recent files to those actually opened by the present program, and folders to those containing them;
to include some other recent files that the present program can open, and the folders containing them;
or to use Groups, so that all openable recent documents belonging to programs in the present Group are shown, and folders containing them, plus any folders designated "permanent" for that Group - and a mere single keystroke at any time will so designate a folder.
In 3.0.2, with only five Groups, the Universal group menus easily become overloaded, dropping important but less recent items. In 4.0.1, you get seven Groups; a single keystroke at any time clears a SB menu item on the fly; SB remembers up to 500 total items; and menus can be limited to any number of items up to 99. So menus will stay more current. On the other hand you can't switch Groups within the SFDialog - the Groups menu is gone. So if I have a Text program group and a Graphics program group, I can't just launch a MacDraw document from TeachText's SFDialog via SB, as I used to in 3.0.2; I have to hope it's in the Apple SB menu, or launch MacDraw first. I see this as a bad design decision.
Other 4.0.1 improvements: Recent folders in the Apple SB and DirectOpen menus are accessed hierarchically (in 3.0.2, you scroll down a huge single menu of all files and folders in the Apple SB menu, and the DirectOpen menu has no folders). Hierarchical folder menus run in both directions, up and down, for more mobility (but limited to a depth of two sublevels, though that's one more than 3.0.2). All SB menus can show the pathname of an item with a keystroke at any time! And Now shrunk 3.0.2's confusing panorama of 18 "hot key" shortcuts to a basic set of four.
Alas, the greatest drawback of SB 3.0.2, that it increases the delay before the Standard File dialog appears, has not been cured in 4.0.1; perhaps it can't be.
NowMenus: the Commercial Version -- In System 6, NM 3.0.2 does what the shareware version did, plus you can have menus pop down and stay down, so you can choose an item without mouse-dragging (reducing repetitive stress injuries!). In System 7, it turns the Apple menu hierarchical. This means, among other things, that you can alias your whole hard drive in the Apple menu and go down the hierarchy of submenus (to a depth of four sublevels) to reach a file or folder, without opening windows in the Finder.
NM 4.0.1 improves this. Submenus representing contents of folders come up more quickly; the hierarchical Chooser submenu now operates correctly, so you can bring the Chooser up with a driver pre-selected; and the Monitors CP is hierarchical, so you can change color depth quickly.
This version is a major rewrite, with menus acting in entirely new ways. Menus can be any font and size. Folder and file items can have icons (color if desired). You can rearrange the Apple menu without renaming its items. You can press keys while the mouse is on a menu item to (among other things) change the keyboard shortcut for any menu item in a program, including the Finder!
Sadly, though, NM disables a tiny free extension on which I depend heavily: Dropple Menu. This allows you to drag an icon onto the Apple menu, down the hierarchy of submenus, and onto an item representing a folder; your original file is then moved/copied into that folder. I use this for all moving and copying of files; it's much neater than first finding the folder I want to move into. Dropple Menu works under NM 3.0.2 but breaks under 4.0.1.
A major worry with NM 4.0.1 is compatibility. Such strong changes to the menu definition may conflict with some applications. Fortunately, NM has some intelligence about what programs it should avoid, and can be set for additional exclusions; the pop-up menubar and the hierarchical Apple menu still work everywhere, which is the important thing.
NowMenus: the MultiMaster (MM) Component -- MM 3.0.2 is a launcher. From an icon in the menubar or by a keyboard command, you get a list of programs, which you have created; attached to each program can be a list of documents. Now you can launch what you can see.
The big changes in 4.0.1 are increased flexibility and ease of configuration, and communication with SB via a new extension, Now Toolbox. You can configure many "launch menus," and into each put any folder, program, document, or control panel, rearranging the order in each launch menu. And, among the "items" you can add to a launch menu are lists of recent programs, documents, or folders. You can even modify these lists, to make an item permanent or to remove it, by pressing a key while viewing the menu.
Further, you can create "worksets," combinations of programs and documents, all of which will be launched together by selecting that workset from a launch menu, or by double-clicking an icon in the Finder. Also, NM replaces Understudy, letting you configure what programs will open documents whose creator you don't own, and it replaces AppSizer, automatically resizing an program's memory allotment temporarily if there isn't enough memory otherwise, or letting you resize on the fly.
Unfortunately, you can't separate all these features from the rest of NM. I'd rather they still resided in separate components so I could use them with NM 3.0.2 and Dropple Menus. Also, a thing I disliked about MM 3.0.2 has not changed: the lists are not hierarchical. Documents can be attached as submenus to programs; but programs themselves cannot be made submenus to anything. So if you want a really extensive list of your programs, you get a huge scrolling menu. I prefer Jeremy Roussak's Apollo (currently freeware, soon to be shareware), which, though providing only one launch menu, lets it consist of meaningful categories that you create, into which the programs are grouped as submenus. It seems to me that NM provides power without a convenient interface to access it.
NM 4.0.1 supposedly gives you many launch menus, so in theory you could have one launch menu for graphics programs, another for text programs, etc. Not so, in reality. Here's why. There are three ways to make a launch menu appear: as a pull-down from an icon in either corner of the menubar (that's two menus); as a pop-up when you press the mouse on the desktop (that's one more); and as a pop-up when you press the mouse with any combination of four modifier keys, except Shift, Command, or Option alone (that's 12 more).
But in fact many combinations are out, because other programs use them. I can't use the simple desktop pop-up, because it pops up when I'm dragging an icon on the desktop. I can't use the option-click or command-option-click pop-ups because they pop up when I use those combinations in HyperCard. In fact, any combination of modifiers and mouse used in any of your programs means that that combination can't be used for a launch menu, or it will interfere with other operations. If you have a lot of programs and extensions that rely on mouse-plus-modifiers you may be left with very few possible combinations.
Besides, who can remember a bunch of modifier-key combinations? A combination of modifiers with a letter-key to bring up a windoid, as in MM 3.0.2, would have been easier.
Dubious Conclusion -- Now Software is trying to improve your control and convenience in innovative ways, and I am grateful. But it is perhaps because my expectations and hopes for this upgrade were so high that I remain dubious about NU 4.0.1.
No one should live without SB, that much is clear. In 3.0.2, the presence of SB alone justified the price of the whole package. Some of the new features of SB 4.0.1 are aesthetic, and I'm not convinced that the new Groups system is as good as the old; but on balance SB 4.0.1 remains a major must-have.
On the other hand, I regret NM 4.0.1 because it disables Dropple Menu, and I'm not happy with the interface to the launcher. NM 3.0.2. is stable and friendly, so I may stick with it and Apollo as a launcher and continue to fill in NM's other new functions with extensions I already own, many of them freeware.
I realise this doesn't tell you what to do (not that TidBITS readers would stand for such a thing anyway). If you own NU 3.0.2, perhaps you'll consider the upgrade price worth the gamble regardless, especially since you can mix-and-match like me. Now has said that they will upgrade NU 3.0.2 to be compatible with future versions of the System, but don't look for that to last indefinitely. And who knows what will be in NU 5.0?
While still scratching my head over some of Now Software's decisions, I heartily acknowledge their dedication, ingenuity, and sheer programming skill. Now Utilities 4.0.1 is a productivity powerhouse, and has eradicated much of the bad taste that 4.0 left in my mouth. The bugs aren't all gone: I still get crashes from SB and NM, sometimes with loss of various settings, particularly at crucial times like when the SFDialog is trying to appear. But this package still deserves full Penguins and a gasp of admiration.
Now Software -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Article 2 of 5 in series
by Matt Neuburg
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 soonShow full article
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 -- email@example.com
Article 3 of 5 in series
by Matt Neuburg
Back in October (TidBITS-248) I reviewed Now Utilities 5.0 favorably, both as software in itself (I wouldn't live without it) and as an update. Now a maintenance update release (5.0.1) has appeared on the nets which fixes a number of bugs and conflicts, plus adds new featuresShow full article
Back in October (TidBITS-248) I reviewed Now Utilities 5.0 favorably, both as software in itself (I wouldn't live without it) and as an update. Now a maintenance update release (5.0.1) has appeared on the nets which fixes a number of bugs and conflicts, plus adds new features. This release is also a demo version, so that those of you who still aren't using Now Utilities (Bullwinkle voice: "Can there really be such people, Rock?") can give it a try; the demo disables itself after a week or so if you don't have serial number to provide it. The file is large (1.7 MB binhexed, representing a high-density disk image), so those not wishing to download obtain a disk for $6.50 direct from Now Software should get:
This update is most commendable. As users have written me with questions and complaints about Now Utilities, I have consistently recommended contacting Now directly. Although Now does not always respond intelligently (or, indeed, at all) to bug reports and suggestions via email, there does seem to have been considerable trickle-up from vociferous users to designers. The most egregious bug with Now Menus is fixed, where drag-and-drop of a file onto an application name in a menu failed if the application was one that could open any file (such as ResEdit or StuffIt Expander). Plus, Now Software added two new features: you can tune the rate at which hierarchical menus appear or disappear as you move the mouse along the main menu; and, a Now Menus menu can include a list of current applications with their open windows attached hierarchically.
The advent of Microsoft Word 6 - whose relationship to the Mac interface and file system is peculiar to say the least - generated numerous incompatibilities with Now Utilities. Version 5.0.1 attempts to deal with these - rather courageously, in my view, since the problems are hardly Now's fault - but the effort, alas, is not entirely successfully. The many who, like me, cannot abide a Standard File dialog without Super Boomerang, will be relieved to hear at least that, according to Now, the crashes when Super Boomerang is active have been fixed; I desperately want to believe this, and I haven't yet been able to instigate a crash in the Standard File dialog, but I do occasionally crash my whole machine when quitting Word (though I can't tell if this is Super Boomerang's fault), so I'm not yet ready to consider the problem fixed. The story isn't over yet, either; the Word 6.0.1 propaganda makes claims on Microsoft's side that the conflict is fixed, but I haven't received my copy, so I can't confirm or deny this.
The conflict between WYSIWYG Menus and Word's toolbar version of the Font menu is also fixed, though at first I thought it was not. On my computer, the wrong font was checked, and I could crash if I changed fonts, so I thought I must continue to work around by excluding Word via the control panel. But someone at Now told me that the problem was due to "corrupted fonts" and, sure enough, when I removed a font included with Word, MSLineDraw and one other font (called "Code9"), the problem vanished. Microsoft has now admitted in their Word 6.0.1 propaganda that MSLineDraw was corrupted.
Not all of my own desires for Now Utilities have been met. I think that some things should be customizable for distinct applications rather than across the board - for example, the rebound features of Super Boomerang, or the names of fonts used to create hierarchical groupings in WYSIWYG Menus). It beats the heck out me why an excellent feature of Now Menus - where holding Control as you select a file brings up the folder containing it - has not been implemented in Super Boomerang's menus as well. Nonetheless, I find 5.0.1 a most welcome effort. Meddling so deep in the workings of the system means all sorts of unforeseen problems are bound to arise as new system versions, machines, extensions, and applications appear, and hence utilities of this nature require a constant heroic commitment to staying up-to-date, not to mention some fancy programming. This update, shows Now Software's commitment to keeping their utilities current. Such support is comforting, exemplary, and all too rare.
Now Software -- 503/274-2899 -- 503/274-0670 (fax)
Article 4 of 5 in series
by Matt Neuburg
Certain components of Now Software's collection of utilities in Now Utilities are absolutely integral to my Mac experience. I am quite incapable of productive work without Super Boomerang, which compensates for the clumsiness of the Standard File dialog by causing it to come up at the most recently used item and by giving it menus that let you navigate to other recently used itemsShow full article
Certain components of Now Software's collection of utilities in Now Utilities are absolutely integral to my Mac experience. I am quite incapable of productive work without Super Boomerang, which compensates for the clumsiness of the Standard File dialog by causing it to come up at the most recently used item and by giving it menus that let you navigate to other recently used items. I depend, too, on Now Menus, which modifies the structure of my Apple menu and makes it hierarchical, and adds to my menubar hierarchical menus (onto which Finder items can be dropped) showing recently used folders (with their contents) and applications (with their recently used files).
There's much more to even these two components than I can enumerate here. If you've never used Now Utilities (NU), by all means, if you're running System 7.0 or later, download the free demo; for far fuller descriptions of NU, refer to my earlier discussions of NU 4.0.1 (TidBITS-152), NU 5.0 (TidBITS-248), and the NU 5.0.1 maintenance release (TidBITS-272).
I should add that I also use Startup Manager to manage the choice and ordering of extensions and control panels to load at startup. I run but rarely use FolderMenus; on my PowerBook I use QuickFiler for transparent file compression. (I no longer use WYSIWYG Menus to organize Font menus, currently preferring Impossible Software's commercial TypeTamer.)
Upgrading to Apple's System 7.5.x has not diluted my NU addiction and advocacy. The Apple Menu Options control panel imitates Now Menus' hierarchical Apple menu and Super Boomerang's tracking of recently used files and applications in such a sluggish, unstable, kludgy way as to pose no threat to NU's indispensability; and, without NU, the Standard File dialog remains a roadblock rather than a tool. Startup Manager, too, is clearly far better than Apple's Extensions Manager. (Apple's improved Find File did permit me to dispense with QuickFiler's Now Find, though.)
Ring Out the Old, Ring In the NU -- Last March, NU 6.0 became available, having been first released on Now Software's Web site as a series of public betas. I was still knee-deep in submitting bug reports and suggestions when they went final, and when I purchased the upgrade my sense was that the release was premature and ill-advised.
The installer did not come on floppies, as previously, but on a CD-ROM - even though it was only 1.4 MB (the CD contained only 63 MB, of which 50 MB was a demo of Now Contact and Now Update). It forcibly installed all components of Now Utilities (earlier versions let you pick which components to install), and, on restarting, disabled any rival software and subjected you to various pre-selected preferences - for instance, QuickFiler's compression feature was on, and so was its replacement of Apple's Find File with its own Now Find. A less experienced user would scarcely have known which features were governed by which component, much less how to disable them if desired.
There were curious omissions; most glaringly, one of the more important features of Super Boomerang, its hierarchical list of recently used files and folders in the Apple menu, had disappeared! Various features of Startup Manager were strangely inoperable; this turned out to be due to a new Expert Mode toggle in its preferences panel - undocumented. Oh, yes, the documentation: no longer a booklet, but a 226-page Acrobat file.
The components that I use did have some improvements. The hierarchical menus of Super Boomerang and Now Menus now opened to a depth of ten levels, enabling more extensive folder navigation via menus (the limit had previously been five levels). And Super Boomerang's menus in the Standard File dialog were now themselves hierarchical; as these menus include both drives and recently used folders, I could now navigate to nearly any file or folder through a single menu selection within the dialog.
Another nice new feature is that in Now Menus' menus, a list of currently running applications can append hierarchically the titles of the windows of each application, allowing you to navigate easily to any open window of any application. Unfortunately, it doesn't modify the existing Applications menu, as does Hiro Yamamoto's wonderful ApplWindows; you must use a second Applications menu elsewhere. So I also use Jouko Pakkanen's TitlePop, which drops a similar menu from the title bar of any window.
There were three new components, AutoType, Now Tabs, and Now Shortcuts, though I wasn't inclined to use them. AutoType types preset phrases, like Riccardo Ettore's shareware Type-It-For-Me on steroids; it watches you type, so it can expand a typed abbreviation, and even builds a list of frequently used longer strings you might want to abbreviate. But the word processors I use have glossary features, QuicKeys types boilerplate for me elsewhere, and I'm not sure I want the overhead of having my typing intercepted by yet another extension.
Now Tabs covers the bottom of the screen with a strip, used for two unrelated purposes. First, it provides another point from which a menu can pop up, containing various Finder and NU functions. Second, it lets Finder windows be iconized by title in the strip (anticipating a Mac OS 8 Finder feature). But all the menu functions can be triggered in some other way; the iconization doesn't work outside the Finder, on my machine it breaks in the Finder, and I don't want a Word 6-like strip hogging screen real estate. I can fight window clutter with WindowShade, which works for all applications and comes with System 7.5.
Now Shortcuts is another Finder hack: modifier-clicking on a Finder item pops up a menu of actions you can take on it. But most are Finder functions for which there is a menu item and/or keystroke already; I see this as an unnecessary complication of the Finder interface.
The NU Deal -- Now Software tacitly acknowledged some of 6.0's mistakes by correcting them. They promulgated a series of "monthly updates" - though registered users were neither sent them nor alerted to their existence, which makes one question the value of registration. Rather, Now Software placed the updates on their Web site and left it to individual users to discover them.
The description of each update gave few details of internal changes to NU components, but instead concentrated upon listing new plug-ins extending the functionality of the Now Tabs and Now Shortcuts pop-up menus. Why was this? Hypnotized by the new features appearing as we revisited the Web site month by month, were we not to notice the Super Boomerang Apple menu item and the custom installer quietly restored, the Startup Manager Expert Mode checkbox quietly removed, and who knows what else?
It's a new twist on a story now becoming old: in the software business, early adopters are practiced upon in every sense, shelling out the money to fund the subsequent development of the software we ought to have received in the first place. Still, we users are a complaisant lot; the NU 6.0 update might not have been worth $30, but the money wasn't all that much really, and one feels a certain sentimental duty to inject occasional boosts of capital into the software machine to support favorite programs.
A g-Nother g-NU -- Then, hard upon the release of 6.0 in March, and the May, June, and July monthly updates to make it work properly, August brought the release of NU 6.5, a $15 upgrade from 6.0. Had I not been an early adopter of 6.0, but remained with 5.0.1, I could have gotten 6.5 for the same $30 that 6.0 already cost me! Now Software and I disagree on the implications of these numbers; I say such pricing discourages early adopters rather than rewarding them as they deserve, but they say the extra $15 covers the value I got from using 6.0 between March and August. I knew there was some reason I got that C in Economics! Now Software has plans to convert to a subscription format wherein you receive all updates for a set period of time; this will surely prevent such misunderstandings.
Now Software is releasing a separate version of Startup Manager 7.0, beefed up explicitly to challenge Conflict Catcher as a resolver of extension conflicts, supported by a database, to be updated online. (It will have to be quite a database if it is to encompass the multitudinous combinations of system, software, hardware, and various extensions old and new, freeware, shareware, and commercial, necessary to explain the weirdness that goes on in my computers. Also, previous commercial attempts to create databases of conflicts have proven too difficult to maintain.) Now Startup Manager 7.0, given away free through 15-Sep-96, is included in Now Utilities 6.5 (the numbering disparity is said to be due to marketing considerations: Conflict Catcher's supremacy was not to be challenged by something ending in "point five").
NU 6.5 began to ship in August. As of this writing, the first monthly update, for September, is already posted, so we're at NU 6.5.1 and Startup Manager 7.0.1. This happened so quickly that I haven't tried the demos yet; at this point my first-hand reportage comes to an end. According to Now Software, the big changes are in Startup Manager and in some components I don't use; as for those that I do, Now Menus is unaltered, Super Boomerang sports resizable Standard File dialogs (a nice idea, though I pray it won't bring Dialog View to its knees), and FolderMenus will at last use the settings from Now Menus' menu preferences. I am told that you can now, for an extra fee, purchase NU on floppies and with a printed manual.
So NU? The period described above - the introduction of NU 6.0 in public beta, its release on CD, the monthly updates, the release of NU 6.5 - has had, for me, a clunky, grinding feel, as if Now Software had been shifting gears and having trouble making them fit. But perhaps at last the various forces that determine a software company's internal workings and its public policy are regaining harmony. The Web site has been revised for greater clarity and helpfulness, and the company has clearly learned from the 6.0 experience. Also, we are promised a renewed dedication to responsive customer support.
My basic stance on NU itself remains unchanged: merely juggling the various documents needed to write this review has reminded me how integral it is to my work. As to the upgrade, though, users must individually judge its value as against its price - and, thanks to the downloadable demo, they can do so.
In that spirit, here are some small but significant tweaks I've been looking for in NU.
Make settings apply to, or be overridable for, particular applications. Right now, for instance, when you've used Now Menus to alter an application's keyboard shortcuts, you can't restore its defaults without throwing away your whole Now Menus preferences file. Also, the DirectOpen hierarchical menus don't work, say, with Netscape, because I have no way to tell Super Boomerang that in Netscape, "Open File..." opens files (short of using ResEdit to change the menu item to "Open...").
One of the best features of Super Boomerang's hierarchical folder menus, both in the Apple Menu and in the Standard File dialogs, is that they run both ways - what hangs off a given folder is a menu containing both its contents and its containers. Thus, from any folder you can navigate down or up the file hierarchy via menus. Why don't Now Menus' or FolderMenus' menus have this feature? And why isn't the same thing done for file menus as well, so that from a file I could navigate up to its folder, and so on from there?
To make the Standard File Open dialog really useful, find a way to make multiple simultaneous selections possible; it drives me mad, when I'm in the dialog, to realize that I want to open multiple files, and to be forced to back out and use the Finder instead.
QuickFiler's inspector windows should permit drag & drop, and, since they already show type and creator info (a splendid thing), they should also allow you to change this info. Presently, I use a combination of Apple's improved Find File and the shareware Get Info substitute, Snitch.
The control panel interface was greatly improved in 5.0, but it still needs some dispassionate alterations. Some utilities, such as Now Menus, pack so much functionality into one container that specific options are hard to locate. And I'll bet more people would use the Groups feature of Super Boomerang if it were easier to use; for instance, one should be able to get a conspectus of all one's groups simultaneously.
If you have suggestions, email them to Now Software; I'm told that user response is an important factor in determining the nature of future releases. As I've said in this space before, users must vote not only with their feet but with their voices.
Now Software -- 503-274-2810 -- <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Article 5 of 5 in series
by Matt Neuburg
Now Menus Reincarnated as Action Menus -- Power On Software has released Action Menus 1.0, a new component of the company's Action Utilities control panel that provides functionality equivalent to the defunct Now Menus (see "Living in the Now - Now Utilities 5.0, Newer and Better" in TidBITS-248 and "Now Utilities Turns 6-Point-Something" in TidBITS-345)Show full article
Now Menus Reincarnated as Action Menus -- Power On Software has released Action Menus 1.0, a new component of the company's Action Utilities control panel that provides functionality equivalent to the defunct Now Menus (see "Living in the Now - Now Utilities 5.0, Newer and Better" in TidBITS-248 and "Now Utilities Turns 6-Point-Something" in TidBITS-345). Action Menus makes the Apple menu hierarchical, like Apple Menu Options, and you can flexibly rearrange items within the Apple menu. In the Applications menu, each application hierarchically displays its current windows and recently opened documents. You can also create additional custom menus that show recently used applications (with their recent documents hierarchically attached), recent documents, recent folders (hierarchical), the frontmost application's windows and recent documents, current volumes and servers (hierarchical). Custom menus accept drag & drop of Finder icons: drag into a menu to add an item to the menu, drag into a folder to move or copy an item to that folder, and drag onto an application to open the item with that application. Custom menus can open, quit, or get info on multiple items simultaneously; they can open either an item or its containing folder. You can also modify keyboard shortcuts for all menu items on the fly. Unfortunately, Action Menus does not provide a desktop pop-up menu and is incompatible with Kensington MouseWorks' desktop pop-up menu option. Action Menus requires a color-capable Mac and System 7.5.3 or later; it's available as a 30-day demo (2.2 MB download) or for online purchase at $30. [MAN]