I’m great fan of making your computer more fun to use. After all, if you spend a lot of time on the Mac, it becomes part of your working environment. Most of us hang pictures in offices or keep photos on our desks (I have a Wall of Fame above my Mac where I tape the outer boxes to all the programs I’m sent). I’ve been extremely fond of DeskPicture, the utility that comes with the Now Utilities 3.0, because it can install pictures on the desktop on both my external 13" color monitor and my SE/30’s internal monochrome monitor. There’s a problem with DeskPicture though. Even though DeskPicture picks a random picture from a set each time I boot, I don’t have many good pictures, and I can’t keep many on my disk at once because of the space crunch.
Now I have an alternative, and so far I like it a lot. A tiny newcomer to the market, aptly called Thought I Could (TIC), has released Wallpaper, perhaps the most powerful Control Panel device ever created. Wallpaper allows you to create and display patterns on your desktop instead of pictures. Before you say, "So what, I can do that with the General Control Panel too" let me add that these patterns can be in up to 256 colors and can be up to 128 pixels square in size. Not only that, but Wallpaper allows you to save and load patterns, and can switch among them randomly at whatever time interval you want. If you don’t like the idea of a chameleon desktop under your word processor, you can have Wallpaper use a single pattern or just pick a random one at startup each time. That the General Control Panel cannot do.
I enjoy creating patterns. TIC provides familiar and functional painting tools, and has even figured out how to make the patterns easily overlap (which they will have to do on the screen), so creating great designs is a piece of cake. You can paste graphics into Wallpaper and modify them to make truly strange patterns. Murph Sewall sent me picture taken of him with a Canon XapShot, which I promptly made into a psychedelic pattern in red and purple. Wallpaper has zooming capabilities, an eyedropper to determine the color of a specific pixel, and a rubber stamp tool with sixteen different images. Perhaps the most interesting ability for creating patterns comes with the Grab Pattern… option from Wallpaper’s menu (it’s not a tool). Select it, then click anywhere on the screen to capture that image as a pattern. Seriously funky possibilities here.
One of the most interesting parts of Wallpaper is the Control Panel’s drag & drop interface. To start a new pattern you drag the old one off the easel; if you want to store a pattern you’re working on you can drag it from the easel to one of ten holding areas; to view what you’ve done so far you (or any of the patterns in the holding areas) just drag the pattern to the iconic Mac’s monitor; to save a pattern drag it to the CPU of the iconic Mac; and to load a new one, drag the Mac to the easel or one of the holding areas. It’s very smooth and an excellent implementation of the drag & drop idea. I found the pop-up tools menu fairly clumsy, although TIC thoughtfully provided easy keyboard shortcuts that don’t require the command key to be down. A number of these drag & drop functions are duplicated in the single drop-down menu at the top of the Control Panel. Nice touches abound. If you go to the Standard File Dialog box to open patterns, you will find a preview box that shows you what the pattern looks like, and you can click on that preview box to display the pattern temporarily on the entire desktop. If that’s not enough, patterns generally (taking desktop oddities into account) have icons that reflect the pattern, so you can tell what the patterns look like just by glancing at the icons in the Finder. When you want to create a pattern of your own, Wallpaper gives you a chance to name it and list yourself as the author – if you modify someone else’s pattern you can list yourself as a secondary author too. The About Box has a cute animated train (yes, the one that managed to make it to the top of the hill by chanting the childhood mantra, "Think I can. Think I can." and when it managed the summit, "Thought I could. Thought I could."), and you can have optional cheery train noises whenever you drag a pattern or tool around.
Wallpaper has several advantages over DeskPicture, most notably that it takes up less disk space and RAM. DeskPicture claims it takes up 322K to display two pictures on my double monitor SE/30, where as Wallpaper, even set to use "A Lot" (that’s a technical term in the Wallpaper Preferences) of memory, requests in the System Heap (but does not use all of in normal operation unless you are creating patterns) approximately 200K less. I didn’t test this, but other memory settings include "Some," "More," and "A Whole Lot." Refreshing terminology. In terms of disk space, patterns come in several different sizes as far as I can tell, ranging from about 19K for a 128 x 128 pattern to 1K or 2K for small 8 x 8 patterns. Compare that to the approximately 200K pictures I used to throw on my screen with DeskPicture. Of course, TIC ships a bunch of patterns with Wallpaper, and is starting an inexpensive subscription service to distribute more. In addition, people will upload their creations to the online services. Like After Dark modules, Wallpaper patterns may end up consuming a large amount of disk space for those who wish to collect them all.
TIC has created an excellent demo version of Wallpaper that is fully functional with a few limitations (so functional in fact, that I used it for this review). You can’t save patterns to disk or to the System file. The demo stops randomizing after two hours and reverts to the normal desktop at that point. Wallpaper’s supplementary applications, Wallpaper Hanger (a utility for quickly installing a certain pattern) and Customiz-O-Matic (which allows you to install or remove the custom icons) also aren’t included. You don’t receive nearly as many patterns as are included in the real version, and finally, TIC took out the Easter Egg. The demo, available on most online services by now, is well worth checking out. I wish more companies put out such functional demos – it makes it far easier for potential customers to evaluate the program. If you want to purchase Wallpaper, TIC has a special introductory price of $39 plus $5 for shipping in the US (normally $59.99 retail) through January 1992, and dealers and mail order houses should have it soon. It’s a fun gift, and it even comes with some holiday patterns. Highly recommended.
Thought I Could
107 University Place, Suite 4D
New York City, NY 10003
LindaK on AOL
(TIC actively supports Wallpaper on all three electronic
venues in my experience)
Linda Kaplan, Thought I Could President
Wallpaper documentation & propaganda