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Square One: Desktop Launchers, Part II of III

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 protected]>

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