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DeskPicture: Back to the Nets

Way back when in 1991, Now Utilities was the first piece of commercial software that TidBITS ever received as a review copy. That was version 2.0; the current version is 5.0.1 and the package has undergone some cast changes that make the Clinton cabinet look stable. Along the way, Now Software spun out some of the more frivolous parts of Now Utilities into a now-defunct package called NowFun.

One of those early pieces of Now Utilities was Clay Maeckel’s DeskPicture, a utility for displaying images in place of the standard desktop patterns (see TidBITS-45). Ironically, DeskPicture started off life as freeware called DeskPICT. In that review in TidBITS-45 (which now falls under my current pet phrase, "History happens."), I said:

"Clay Maeckel wrote DeskPICT, the freeware predecessor to DeskPicture, in early 1987. The DeskPICT INIT simply displayed on the desktop a picture stored in a file called DeskPicture. Clay had planned a shareware upgrade to DeskPICT that would give it a control panel interface and a number of other features. But, at about the same time Claris Legal gave him permission to release DeskPICT as shareware (gotta run everything through legal these days it seems), he heard about Now Software and its planned collection of utilities. The concept interested him, and since non-essential shareware often does poorly in terms of financial earnings, he decided to go with Now rather than market DeskPICT as shareware. Clay said that he had received quite a bit of email from people who understood and encouraged the move and only one letter flaming him for the decision. Clay said that taking DeskPicture commercial made him feel a bit guilty, but it also gave him a good excuse for his wife when he uses the computer at home."

At the time, DeskPicture’s ability to display and randomize Startup Screen and PICT files was pretty neat, although it was soon joined by numerous other utilities that in some way graphically modified the desktop, including WallPaper and Screenscapes, among many others. When NowFun arrived, DeskPicture moved from Now Utilities into NowFun, but NowFun never took off. I don’t know why – perhaps it was too expensive, or perhaps the individual utilities didn’t stack up to the existing competition – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that NowFun went away, and DeskPicture was in limbo.

A brief aside here. Another part of the first version of Now Utilities was a tiny utility from Michael Peirce called MemorySetter, which could intercept an application launch and let the user specify a different memory setting. Now dropped MemorySetter from Now Utilities 2.0, ostensibly because of disk space, although the feature lives on today as a part of Now Menus (and I use that feature frequently). Once he had it back, Michael updated MemorySetter, renamed it AppSizer, and released it as $19.95 shareware from Peirce Software (see TidBITS-125 for a review of AppSizer 2.1). sizer-22.hqx

In any event, once Clay recovered the rights to DeskPicture from Now Software, he and Michael got together and released DeskPicture 4.0 as shareware, also for $19.95. It’s nice to see Clay’s work available to the Macintosh community once again, and I hope the market has matured enough that Clay’s 1991 fears about DeskPICT not being financially viable via shareware won’t come true. It’s interesting that with this move, DeskPicture will have moved from freeware to commercial to shareware in its eight-year existence. Few programs have been so long-lived or mobile.

DeskPicture 4.0 enables you to place any number of pictures on your desktop, no matter how many monitors you have or what screen depth you use. It can either use system memory for fast screen updates or load from disk to reduce the system memory usage. You can also scale, crop, and tile pictures on the screen, just in case you feel like making a collage. DeskPicture supports XTND, and comes with four translators that enable you to open and display images in GIF, black and white Startup Screen, WallPaper, and MacPaint formats. These formats are in addition to the built-in formats that DeskPicture supports: PICT, EPS, color Startup Screen, and PhotoCD. For those of us with short attention spans, DeskPicture can switch between pictures randomly or sequentially at random or specified time intervals. picture-40.hqx

A small update to DeskPicture 4.0.1 should arrive soon, adding an application called DeskPicture Hanger, which enables you to place a picture on your desktop by merely dragging it onto the DeskPicture Hanger application. Needless to say, when it arrives, the URL above will break, so don’t be surprised.

Peirce Software has a support area on eWorld (keyword: Peirce), and also provides support for DeskPicture via Internet email at <[email protected]>. If your desktop has needs a shot of excitement, give DeskPicture a try, and if you like it, show your support for Clay’s shareware resuscitation of DeskPicture from the ashes of a commercial package.

Information from:
Michael Peirce <[email protected]>

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