NeoDesk 3.01

From ST REPORT No 642

GRIBNIF'S PERFECT DESKTOP

FNET: SunFox @304 {The Twilight Zone}

We have all seen the press releases in ST-Report and elsewhere about Gribnif's new version of NeoDesk. Well, last Wednesday I took the plunge and ordered a copy directly from Gribnif (at this writing, NeoDesk is still waiting for bulk shipments of manuals so they can start delivering to the distributors).

I couldn't wait for the UPS man to knock on my door, and unfortunately I had to go to class to drop off an assignment. Yes, I got the yellow slip telling me that I had missed him and that they would be delivering it tomorrow. WRONG!

I tracked down that UPS truck! I caught him in a cul-de-sac where he couldn't escape. I finally had my precious copy of NeoDesk 3.01. Let me tell you, this program is well worth the wait (as well as the multiple traffic tickets I received after that hairy pursuit, but that's another story...)!

Naturally, with a program like this, you don't immediately open the package. You just kind of look at it, savoring the moment. This is the time for the doubts to come in: "maybe they sent me the wrong version" or "the disk may be defective" etc. That lasted for about three seconds!

WHAT YOU GET FOR YOUR DOUGH...

NeoDesk comes in a very professional looking box with a beautiful 140- page manual (completely typeset in Calamus and printed on a SLM 804, extremely nice output which will show the world the true capabilities of a ST), a warranty card, and two NeoDesk disks (one a Master disk, the other with extra programs for use with NeoDesk).

INSTALLING THIS PUPPY...

The introducing of NeoDesk 3.01 to my hard disk was simple and pain- less. Gribnif has come up with a novel way of protecting their hard work from being put up for download on every pirate BBS.

You must first run a program that registers your copy of NeoDesk, thus binding you to the licensing agreement. Once it has been registered, then you can copy it all over the place, but it will have your name and serial number plastered all over the place which makes it easy to track the original pirate and nail him to the wall.

Registering is simple, but Gribnif advises you to make sure that the warranty card and the information you give REGISTER.PRG are one and the same. Once you have given Register all the information it needs, it proceeds to activate your copy of NeoDesk. When this is done, back up your disks (I suggest putting them on a double-sided disk (both the Master Disk and the Extras Disk will fit in a 9/80 formatted double-sided disk). Put your originals in a safe place.

Now that you have registered the program and copied it to a backup, now comes the installation to your hard disk (if you do not have a hard disk, you may skip this section...better yet, run out and get one...you'll never go back to just floppies!).

First copy over the NEODESK3 folder to your boot disk (for hard dri- ves, this is usually Drive C). Then copy all of the other folders and files into the NEODESK3 folder.

Now look in NEODESK3 for NEOLOAD.PRG. This is the program that ac- tually loads NeoDesk. It waits for all other programs and desk acces- sories to finish loading before executing NeoDesk (to eliminate conflicts between programs). If you have a program like Superboot that autoboots applications, then stick a copy of NEOLOAD.PRG in your boot disk's AUTO folder.

NEOLOAD must be run at least once before NeoDesk can load (with an autoboot setup, you end up running it from the AUTO folder, it stays resident until everyone else has finished loading, and then executes NeoDesk).

NEOLOAD will also work with StartGem, HeadStart, Hotwire (my current setup, to get around a bug in TOS 1.4), or any similar program.

You will also need to copy the NeoDesk accessories and the NeoDesk Trashcan to the boot disk's root directory in order to use these wonderful programs (more on them later).

You are now ready to take NeoDesk out for a spin!

RUNNING NEODESK FOR THE FIRST TIME...

I am going to detail using NeoDesk in high resolution monochrome, but using NeoDesk in the other resolutions is a similar process (NeoDesk now supports ST Low Resolution as well as the new TT modes except TT Low).

When you first run NeoDesk, you will be confronted with a message that tells you that there is no information file for this resolution and it will use the built in defaults. Getting past that dialog, you will see the NeoDesk desktop with all of your available drives, a trashcan, a clipboard, and a printer icon.

If you have been using NeoDesk 2.02 or greater, then you have a facil- ity that will convert your current NeoDesk desktops to the new version rather painlessly. Run INF_CONV.NPG (a NeoDesk program that will run only under NeoDesk) and just select what .INF file you want to convert to the resolution that YOU ARE CURRENTLY IN and then select the items that it will convert. Once it is done converting the information, it will redisp- lay the NeoDesk desktop.

It hasn't updated your actual .INF file, though, just set up your desktop with those parameters. Customize the desktop as you want it and then choose SAVE CONFIGURATION under the Options Menu and select the appropriate choice (it should be the default choice, so usually you can just click on OK).

If this is your first version of NeoDesk, then you will have to manua- lly arrange your desktop icons, change their descriptors using the INSTALL DESKTOP ICON command under the Options Menu, add icons for a RAMdisk if you choose (though NeoDesk virtually eliminates the need for one with the file clipboard).

Once you have the desktop as you want it, SAVE CONFIGURATION will set the default startup file for that resolution to your current desktop.

Setting up NeoDesk is rather painless. It's a lot like setting up the DESKTOP.INF file with GEM, it's something you do once and then forget it (I still have yet to update my original desktop's .INF files to remove extra drives that I haven't had for the last year or so!).

WHAT'S THAT PROGRAM DOING ON THE DESKTOP?

This is one of the neatest features of NeoDesk, and the one that really sold me on the program.

You can pull a program icon out onto the desktop, put him in any convenient place, and execute that program just by clicking on that icon. No more searching through the hard disk trying to find an application!

Just find the application, and pull the icon to the desktop. Once you have the icon out there where you want it, then SAVE CONFIGURATION.

You can execute the program directly, or you can drag a file or set of files to it as "parameters" if your program supports an "Install Application" facility. I did this with WordPerfect by dragging this article's file to the WordPerfect icon and voila! I am editing my file again (this is one neat little feature).

The Install Application also works as well, and a whole lot better than the built in desktop's! One of the things you have to be careful about is where you set the directory upon execution. NeoDesk allows you to set the directory to the program's or the datafile's directory upon execution. You have to be very careful with this one as some programs are picky about which directory will allow the program to work (WordPerfect wants it's directory to be pointing to the program's directory, but the data file will still be pointing at it's correct directory). Experiment to see which directory works best for your application.

PROGRAMS ON THE DESKTOP, BUT FOLDERS?

You heard me right. Folders on the desktop, finally! Just drag out the folder icon in a similar fashion to a program icon and SAVE CONFIGURA- TION.

Clicking on the icon will take you directly to that folder which is great if you have those couple of folders that you are constantly going to for data and programs.

AS IF FOLDERS WEREN'T ENOUGH, DESKTOP NOTES!

Just double click anywhere on the desktop and you can scribble some notes to yourself (like if you are on the phone and the nearest thing is the computer). To make the notes permanent, just SAVE CONFIGURATION and choose Notes.

THE FILE CLIPBOARD...TRASH THAT RAMDISK!

One of NeoDesk's most innovative features is the file clipboard. The manual describes it as a "automatically expanding and shrinking RAMDisk" which is an apt description. You can use the clipboard in much the same way as a RAMDisk, just drag your files to the clipboard. One essential difference is that the clipboard uses all of the available memory in your machine (which on a Mega4 translates to about 3.5 megs, the actual size depends on what machine you are running with what accessories).

You can open the clipboard, rearrange files in the clipboard, do a SHOW INFORMATION, essentially anything that you can do to a RAMDisk, you can do to the clipboard.

The clipboard is especially useful for those of us with removable media drives such as the Syquest 555 (in my system, the Syquest is the only drive). I used the clipboard to move about 660K worth of Spectrum pictures from my main cartridge to my graphics/demos cartridge (I will admit that I saved all of those Spectrums just to test this feature!). I copied everything to the clipboard, rearranged the files to my liking, switched cartridges, and then copied everything to the new cartridge.

With a hard disk, you will not notice any decrease in speed dumping the files from the clipboard to the disk. Floppies are another story...it seemed to me that the clipboard wasn't doing the copy in the same way that NeoDesk normally does (read in all of the files to all of the available memory). Hopefully, the copy routines can be optimized by temporarily freeing the memory not used by the clipboard to speed copying. This is a minor caveat considering the usefulness of this feature.

One interesting little quirk of the clipboard is that it will dump all of it's contents when you go to execute a program (to free up all of the memory to the new applications). However, it does warn you before dumping the clipboard to give the user a chicken exit.

USING THIS SUPER DESKTOP...

Using NeoDesk is quite similar to using your regular desktop. You can still Shift-click items for multiple file manipulations (in NeoDesk, you can even click on the scroll bar while still holding the Shift key to select items that aren't visible in the window while still keeping the other items selected).

NeoDesk gives you an option of moving or copying files (or it will ask you which operation you wish to perform on particular copies/moves). The same rules apply, select the items you want to move or copy and drag them to their destination icon/window.

The directory windows have a lot more features built into them. These windows still have the old familiar close box, full box, resizing box, scroll bars, and the vertical scrolling arrows. However, the new windows have even more than that!

Clicking on the "x2" box will give you a duplicate menu of the same directory that you are in. This is useful if you are dealing with several folders and you are either combining items or segregating them.

The horizontal scrolling arrows allows you to scroll the information bar. This information bar will tell you how many items and the total size of the files in the directory you are looking at. When you select a file, the bar will tell you the information on that one file, including the read/write/archive bit status and whether it has an executable boot sector or not (useful for detecting viruses).

To the immediate left of the full box is a "<<" button which will send the current window to the back of a stack of windows and activate the next window in line.

Just below the information bar is a double-line. Click and drag this bar down into the directory window itself and you have just split the window! This is extremely useful for those directories with a ton of items in it and you have a need to see two different locations of files.

Two buttons in the bottom left corner are the Icon/Text toggle and the Select-All button. The Icon/Text toggle will switch between icon and text displays (different windows can have different displays, it is no longer an all-icon or all-text option). The Select-All button does just that, it selects all the items in the directory (for those mass-moves or mass- deletes).

Between the Select-All button and the resizing box is a bar that tells you the volume name of the disk you are looking at. NeoDesk allows you to give your disks custom names (i.e. my data partition is labeled the "Anxi- ety Closet" for all you Bloom County fans out there). It saves this volume name in a 21-byte hidden file named NEODESK.DAT in the root direc- tory of that particular drive.

NeoDesk is getting to be like using the Universal Item Selector with all of the features available on the directory window!

NOT YOUR USUAL COMPUTER MANUAL!

In the words of Monty Python: "And now for something completely different!" No review of this program would be complete without a discus- sion of the manual.

As alluded to earlier, NeoDesk's manual is an 140-page marvel that was typeset using Calamus and output for the publishers on an Atari SLM 804. It is a truly professional looking manual.

But the most important part of that manual is the fact that the wri- ting is very clear and concise. This is one of the few manuals that I have ever read that doesn't qualify for "obtuse" or "confusing".

It's written in a rather conversational style that isn't too formal nor is it too cutesy. Rick Flashman has exploited that happy medium in technical writing that is so hard to find.

CONCLUSIONS

It should be very obvious that I am very impressed with this program. Try as I might, I could not crash NeoDesk no matter what I did. Dan, you've written some very solid and bulletproof code here that makes Neo- Desk 3.01 worth the price of admission.

Also, some users who already have NeoDesk may notice that this review is rather incomplete. That's because you can't do justice to a program like this in just one review. I plan on following up this review with a couple of articles detailing the NeoDesk accessories, the NeoDesk support programs, and possibly the most important one, the new NeoDesk Icon Editor (which will be a big review in itself). Stay tuned for these follow-up articles!
Erik Williams


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