Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 125 / JANUARY 1991 / PAGE A6

Opening new windows. (Amiga Resource) (evaluation)
by Peggy Herrington

My regular sojourns through information networks and trade shows provide opportunities to talk with many Amiga owners, and I've noticed some consternation about the new Amiga operating system, Workbench 2.0. Most people make positive noises, yet many of them wonder why they should bother with it since Workbench 1.3 seems to do the job. I liked Workbench 1.3, too, but I'm here to tell you that once you've tried Workbench 2.0, you'll never want to see 1.3 again, much less be stuck using it.

Not only do you get two vastly improved operating system (both graphics interface and text-based shell), but 2.0 also offers a number of utility programs that can dramatically ease your computing life.

One feature of Workbench 2.0 I particularly like is that, memory permitting, you can open virtual windows--displays bigger than your monitor's screen. You might wonder why you'd want a window that you have to scroll around in. But wouldn't it be nice to simply slide your current screen to the side and find your disk icons waiting for you on the Workbench? You can set this up easily using 2.0's Screenmode Preferences utility. Simply select AutoScroll, interlace display mode, and a screen size of 800 X 400 pixels. The Workbench will immediately reopen larger than life. (Under 1.3, you'd have to reboot before changes would take place.) Place and snapshot your disk icons vertically down the left side of the window. Then open any program that resides on the Workbench and drag it as far right as possible, resizing it to fill the visible portion of the screen.

I open a shell, complete with close gadget, in that rightmost position by adding the following line to my startup-sequence file: NewShell "Con:120/15/674/363/Peg's Shell/CLOSE". That puts about two inches of the Workbench offscreen to the left with my disk icons. Scrolling the screen horizontally is as easy as moving the mouse to the far right or left. An added bonus to the virtual Workbench screen is that you can resize a shell or text-editing window to properly display text files with lines longer than 79 characters.

2.0 Window and Screen Management

Under 2.0 you can open windows on the Workbench without worrying about resizing them with the mouse to get to those underneath. There are four ways to manage windows now. A menu bar zoom gadget expands and shrinks windows. You can use the Commodities program IHelp to configure your function keys with commands to make windows bigger or smaller and cycle through them as if you had clicked on the front/back gadget with the mouse pointer. Activate the window you're after as you cycle through them by repeatedly pressing one function key, and expand it to full size with the press of another. Shrink the window again with a third function key when you're through, and then move on to your next project.

The new Workbench Tools menu provides an alternative to clicking on oft-used icons and is particularly handy if you have a hard disk. Usually the program in question adds itself to the Tools menu, but there's a public domain utility available called AddTools by Steve Tibbett that lets you add any program to the Tools menu, including the Shell. Once you've started up a Tools-compatible application, selecting it again from that menu will force its screen or window to the front.

The fourth way to avoid pawing through icons and windows is available through the new Leave Out command on Workbench 2.0's Icons menu. All you do is drag a program's icon onto the Workbench and select Leave Out either from the menu or with the keyboard shortcut Right Amiga-L. If you change your mind, highlight it again and select Put Away or press Right Amiga-P. The Shell icon is right on my Workbench screen when I start my system, thanks to Leave Out.

Built-in Programs

Workbench 2.0 comes with a number of utility programs, several of which have been reworked since 1.3. Notably missing is Notepad, but you'll find that the new, improved Ed is a very smart replacement. You won't believe your eyes when you see its new user-definable pull-down menus. Although Ed doesn't do fonts or page formatting, you can paste text into it from other applications (even the Shell) by highlighting text with the mouse and pasting with the standard Right Amiga-V keyboard command. Workbench 2.0 has several other nice utilities, as detailed below.

Display. Something we've always needed, Display is a standard graphics presentation program. Display will show IFF pictures in all standard resolutions, including HalfBright. You can show graphics individually, in groups by names, or from a list of names in a file. You can control your slideshow using Display's built-in timer or move back and forth between pics using the mouse buttons. The program will loop for continuous slideshows, will send screens to your printer, and will work equally well from the Shell or Workbench.

NoCapsLock. Disables the Caps Lock key so you don't need to worry about hitting it accidentally.

IHelp. Cool for keyboard users, IHelp lets you set function key equivalents for things usually accomplished by mouse control. For instance, you can cycle windows and screens to the frontmost position, resize them large or small, and even close windows and programs just as though you'd used the mouse.

Blanker. Blanks your monitor screen if there's no keyboard or mouse activity for a length of time that you set. Touching the mouse or keyboard reactivates the display.

AutoPoint. Enables Sun workstation-style window activation, meaning a window is activated when the mouse pointer passes over any portion of it, rather than your having to click the mouse button. I like this feature in theory, but in practice it makes movement of the pointer jerky and hard to control.

FKey. Using FKey, you can tie macros to your function keys. For instance, you might define F1 as "Dir DF1:". Press F1 while you're in a Shell window to get a directory of your external drive.

New AmigaDOS Commands

There are 21 fewer commands in the 2.0 Workbench's C directory than in its 1.3 counterpart, but don't let that fool you; 30 commands are already resident in memory when you boot, resulting in faster response times when they're called. And floppy users won't have to insert the Workbench disk every time they want to execute one of those commands. New AmigaDOS commands include CPU, EndShell, Get, IPrefs, MakeLink, Set, UnAlias, Unset, and UnSetEnv. The majority of old familiars have been rewritten and optimized.

The CD command, although resident in 2.0, is now obsolete. Type the name of a disk or the device number of the drive (for instance, DF1:), and the system takes you there without requiring the use of CD. Entering the name of a directory on a disk you've already addressed that way will take you there without CD as well. If typing Endcli is too much trouble for you, the new keyboard shortcut Control-/ will nuke your current shell (you can also close it by clicking on the Shell's close box). And one of the nicest AmigaDOS enhancements is that you can highlight and paste text from a shell into any program that accepts the standard keyboard paste command, Right Amiga-V.

Magic Icons

What deservedly gets the most attention is Workbench 2.0's beautiful, slick, professional, awesome, cool, much-improved new icon system. All files--not just those with associated .info files--can be seen and manipulated from the Workbench using the mouse. This feature alone makes 2.0 worth the upgrade. Previous versions of Workbench made it impossible to see what was inside a drawer that didn't have an icon without resorting to opening a CLI. With 2.0, you can insert any disk--even those made with previous Workbench versions--and, by selecting Show All Files on the Window menu, see everything on that disk represented as temporary icons the system creates for you.

And there's more. Icons don't reveal many particulars about files (such as size, protection bits, and the date and time of creation). The 2.0 Workbench offers access to that data in a mouse-accessible manner. You can now see all files (sorted by name, date, or size) in a text-based Workbench window listing.

Double-clicking on any file opens a requester into which you can enter instructions. Say, for example, that you wanted to use the Info command to see how much space was left on DF1:. Under older versions of the Workbench, you would have had to open a CLI or Shell window. Under 2.0, you can select Show All Files on your Workbench disk, double-click on the C drawer, and then double-click on the Info icon. A window will open with the Info command in a string gadget. Type any arguments to the command (in this case, type DF1:) and his Return. Another window will open with the output of the Info command.

The Amiga has long been the only PC to provide both built-in graphics and text-based operating systems, but Workbench 2.0 makes the graphics operating system truly viable for the first time. With it, you can do anything from either environment not only easily but elegantly.

Backgrounds and Colors and Fonts--Oh, My!

Workbench 2.0 also sports great new colors and background patterns that let you differentiate between different types of windows at a glance.

It offers a slew of new keyboard command shortcuts, such as Right Amiga-I to open an icon's Information window. It will even create a new drawer or directory, complete with icon, from a pull-down menu or with the Right Amiga-N shortcut.

Fonts are shown in the Fonts Preferences window--no more guess-work about which one you want to use--and you can use three different fonts for icons, windows, and menus. There's a new Workbench Startup window into which you can drag any file by icon or name and have it active when you boot your system. For example, you can put Clock and Shell there, and they'll be ready and waiting when you start up your Amiga.

Both the Workbench and Amiga-DOS operate faster; there's substantially less waiting around for things to load. Another productivity speedup comes from the ARexx macro language, which comes with 2.0. ARexx allows communication between products developed by different companies as well as being a sophisticated language suitable for creating simple utilities and complex batch files.

I've found overall compatibility with existing programs is reasonably good with 2.0, with the exception of menu formatting on some programs due to 2.0's more permissive use of fonts. But the advantages of 2.0 are worth putting up with any problems you might encounter. If the Workbench had been this good when I started using the Amiga, I wouldn't have bothered to learn the CLI.

Get Your ROMs

Some of the consternation I'm hearing about 2.0 may be due to the fact that, as I write this, Commodore has not announced in detail what will come with Workbench 2.0 or its price. In order to upgrade to 2.0, you'll have to have your Kickstart 1.2 or 1.3 ROM chip swapped for a new 2.0 ROM. (Amiga 1000 owners will have to add a third-party expansion device such as the Rejuvenator to add a Kickstart ROM; 2.0 is too large to be loaded into the 1000's Kickstart RAM.) For most of us, that means taking our Amigas to a technician. I urge you to go for it.

While you're at it, have the SuperAgnus installed as well. It changes the second 512K of memory in your 2000 or expanded 500 into Chip RAM, literally doubling your system's general usability. I'd stack my Amiga 2000--with 3MB of RAM, a 65MB hard drive, SuperAgnus, and Workbench 2.0--up against any stock PC on the market today. I think the only system in its price range that could humble it would be the Amiga 3000--which comes with Workbench 2.0 right out of the box.