REVIEWS

Boots and Suspenders

Tired of mousing around? These six utilities extend the Workspace

by Daniel Miles Kehoe and Seth T. Ross

When you were new to NeXT, the NeXT Workspace was a bright, gleaming joy. But as your files accumulated and you discovered the limitations of the Application Dock and the Shelf, the joy may have given way to frustration. If so, you have a whole new world of Workspace extenders to explore. In this review, we look at six NeXTstep utilities that extend and embellish the Dock or provide new ways to organize your files.

Engage
At first glance, Atherton Software Works's Engage is only a Dock extender. It provides a shortcut to launching more applications than those that fit on the NeXT Dock.

Engage, however, does more than just shorten the path to applications. It implements NeXT's drag-and-drop design philosophy with grace, allowing you to mix documents and folders with applications on an alternative dock. It lets you turn a dock into a stack of projects, with no distinctions among folders, applications, and documents.

Quite literally, Engage extends the Dock and the Shelf in another dimension. You add applications, documents, or folders to the Engage dock by dragging and dropping them on the Engage icon, known as the Tile. Engage allows you to stack icons horizontally, vertically, or in free-form fashion. You can set up different docks in a series of levels that hide one behind another. You can move to a different level by clicking the arrows on the Engage Tile; each level can be named (for example, Apps, Utilities, Projects, Images, Boilerplate). By clicking a tiny circle in the Engage icon, you can flip the line of icons off the screen and out of view, ready to return when you need them. When you launch an app, the application icon does not appear at the bottom of the screen but remains in the Engage grid.

Engage offers other bonuses. There's a screen saver that accepts the popular BackSpace modules. Engage can also function as a portfolio of often-used TIFF or EPS images, displaying miniature versions of images in its icons.

Learning to use Engage effectively takes some time. Once in place, however, it allows you to bypass the File Viewer in favor of zippy access to hot projects. If you are the type who arranges papers in neat piles on your desk, then you will love this program.

LaunchPad
The principle behind LaunchPad, from RightBrain Software, is simple: It enables users to rapidly launch groups of applications, folders, and files. The main organizational metaphor is the pad, a resizable gray window that acts somewhat like a second Application Dock. As with Engage, users can drag and drop File Viewer items into the pad for easy access.

The linchpin of LaunchPad is the Launch command. A simple "Command-l" will open either all the items in the pad or only those items marked in a small check box near each icon. This feature can drastically reduce set-up time. Rather than mouse around in the File Viewer, you can open an entire project with a single keystroke.

Working with LaunchPad is a no-brainer. Our only complaint is the amount of screen real estate it hogs. Fortunately, triple clicking or double clicking while holding down an Alternate key an item hides LaunchPad entirely. One thing to consider before blasting off with LaunchPad: A NeXT configured with a mere 8MB of RAM will crawl to a halt if you launch several apps at once.

LaunchPad is just one of a suite of utility apps currently offered by RightBrain Software that includes Portfolio (see below), Rulers, and LockScreen. Like its sibling apps, LaunchPad is well implemented and easy to use. For the power user who likes to set up quickly, it could be a valuable tool. For the ordinary user at the console of a memory-starved NeXT, it could be a potato in the tail pipe.

QuickStart
QuickStart from Aurora Software is a simple Dock extender. It contains the same core functionality as Engage and LaunchPad. For example, drag every application in /LocalApps, /NextApps, and your home /Apps directory to QuickStart's simple little panel and be assured of retrieving any application without navigating the File Viewer. Unlike LaunchPad, QuickStart's list contains no icons, greatly conserving screen space.

Click any application on the QuickStart list and it will launch. Or use QuickStart's Inspector panel to set your most-used applications to launch when QuickStart is started; then drop QuickStart in the NeXT Dock and set it to automatically launch when you log in. You'll have a full set of your favorite applications ready to roll.

Unlike Engage, application icons are not absorbed by QuickStart; they still show up at the bottom of the screen. The real benefit of QuickStart is as a shortcut to your applications. Its only real drawback is its inelegant icon.

Portfolio
RightBrain's Portfolio is a simple tool that solves the problem of readily identifying and accessing image files in the NeXT Workspace. By dragging and dropping image icons from the Workspace, the user can collect a portfolio of 1.25-inch-by-1.25-inch thumbnail images that vertically stack in a Dock-like window.

Graphic artists, designers, and other users who frequently need to view and incorporate images into their files will be jazzed by this app. Portfolio's economical display of images is both accurate and handy. Users can set up different portfolios, each assembled for a different project.

We used Portfolio to collect images relating a book chapter and then to load the images into a FrameMaker file. Loading images into Portfolio was a no-brainer, but we found it time consuming to order the images we had collected. It took some time to get used to constantly hiding the application Portfolio is in your face until you tell it go away.

Like its sibling app, Rulers, Portfolio will find a niche with artists. Those who don't eat and breathe image files can probably do without it. The Workspace Manager offers an Inspector panel that has an option for viewing images.

Album
Album is another image-organization utility like Portfolio, available separately or as one part of a larger collection, ToolDisk, from Forty-Two Software-Entwickling GmbH. For this review, we looked only at the Album application.

Album addresses the same problem as Portfolio: how to find the right image in the complexity of the NeXT file system. You collect image files by dragging and dropping them into an album; from this album you can drop the images into a document. The main difference is that Album allows you to organize sound and RTF files in addition to EPS and TIFF files.

Like a distant relative of the NeXT File Viewer, an Album window has three sections: an image display area at the bottom, an iconic overview in the middle, and information about selected files with an icon well on top. You can browse through your images by clicking on the icons or by using a pager at the top of the window.

Unlike Portfolio, Album accepts groups of files at a time. Musicians will enjoy collecting and grouping favorite sound files: Album sports a small sound-check panel that lets you play the music.

Album goes further than Portfolio, but its added functionality comes at a price Album can be an interface monster. The icon well is a relic of NeXTstep 1.0; a more up-to-date interface convention would allow you to drag and drop from the overview field as well. Also, the listing mode is slow, and it's hard to rearrange your entries.

Album replaces one complex interface (Workspace Manager) with another. The Workspace's Attributes Inspector performs some of the same functions for free, putting Album in a class of superfluous utilities.

MetroTools
MetroTools from Metrosoft is a grab-bag utility collection that includes a Dock extender, archiver, screen saver, file locator, and two Macintosh migration tools that convert Mac fonts and sound files to NeXT formats. We reviewed only the Dock extender. This collection of modules sports an intriguing interface that has the same "look and feel" as NeXT's Preferences application.

We sparked up the Application Launcher in the beta version of MetroTools and set it up alongside its glossy competitors. Unfortunately, there's not much basis for comparison yet. Like QuickStart, the Application Launcher allows you to drag and drop commonly used applications into an icon well. Once configured, the Launcher provides a simple menu that contains your apps. This vanilla approach works, but it lacks the multiple-launch power of LaunchPad or the mix-and-match utility of Engage. While MetroTools's other modules are useful, we can't recommend MetroTools solely on the basis of its Application Launcher.

Do you need it? Does the NeXT Workspace really need embellishment? Before you plunk down your charge card, ask yourself if you need any of these tools. If you're new to NeXT, there's no reason to confuse yourself with Dock extenders or Workspace enhancers. But if you've grown tired of hunting and gathering through the file system, go ahead and reorganize your apps and files with a Dock extender like Engage or an art keeper like Portfolio.

Daniel Kehoe and Seth T. Ross are contributing editors for NeXTWORLD.


Album

2 Cubes

Album allows you to collect images, sounds, and text files (but not applications) for quick access, but its functionality is superfluous and its interface is an encumbrance. May be better bought as a part of the ToolKit bundle.

$59

Forty-Two Software-Entwickling GmbH, Jessenstrasse 4, W-2000 Hamburg 50, Germany.

49/40/38-19-24, 49/40/380-0443 fax; e-mail: info@forty-2.de.

Portfolio

3 Cubes

This simple utility lets you stash EPS or TIFF files in a scrolling window. It may be handy for the busiest graphic artist, but at the price, it's an extravagance for the ordinary user.

$99

RightBrain Software, 132 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301.

415/326-2974, 800/472-7246, 415/326-2977 fax; e-mail: info@rightbrain.com.

Engage

4 Cubes

A radical app in a trivial category. It lets you organize files, folders, and applications in the smallest screen space possible. Not recommended for easily confused novices.

$99

Atherton Software Works, 77 Marsh Rd., Atherton, CA 94025.

415/321-3720, 415/321-3650 fax.

LaunchPad

2 Cubes

This single-purpose utility puts commonly used files, folders, and applications a quick keystroke away. Its window consumes substantial screen real estate.

$99

RightBrain Software, 132 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, CA 94301.

415/326-2974, 800/472-7246, 415/326-2977 fax; e-mail: info@rightbrain.com.

QuickStart

3 Cubes

Straightforward functionality at a bargain price recommends this utility.

$19.95

Aurora Software, 16 N. Allen St., Madison, WI 53705-3924.

608/231-3679; e-mail: info%auroras.uucp@uunet.uu.net.

MetroTools

3 Cubes

MetroTools packages a set of six utilities of varying usefulness. It's not worth the price of admission for Application Launcher alone, though the grab-bag may have value for some users.

$129

Metrosoft, 712 Vanitie Ct., San Diego, CA 92109.

619/597-7518, 800/851-8665, 619/488-3045 fax.