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Peeling Out with DragStrip: Desktop Launchers, Part I of III

[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. strip-101-demo.hqx

Natural Intelligence — 800/999-4649 — 617/876-4876
617/492-7425 — <[email protected]>

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