Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 149 / FEBRUARY 1993 / PAGE S1

Why Windows utilities? (Compute's Getting Started with Windows Utilities)
by David English

It's been a year since I decided to have my computer boot directly into Windows. I knew then that I had crossed a significant threshold. I had become a Windows person and would begin to view each application, each utility, and even DOS itself by a new standard: Will this software program make my life any easier in Windows? Many of you have made similar decisions. You spend most, if not all, of your computing time in Windows.

Now that we've learned our way around Windows, we've discovered things we don't like. We've grown tired of having to move back and forth between Program Manager and File Manager. We miss the batch files that make DOS so easy to control. And we wish that Program Manager would allow us to place icon groups within other icon groups, just as you can place folders within folders on the Macintosh.

Don't get me wrong. Windows has an abundance of features that make PC computing easier than ever. Program Manager lets you launch a program by double-clicking an icon or by pressing a key combination. Recorder lets you create macros with mouse movements and key combinations. File Manager lets you associate files with applications and launch your documents by dragging and dropping their icons directly onto the icons of the appropriate applications. And Windows' WIN.INI and SYSTEM.INI files let you customize your Windows environment in thousands of ways. But as handy as these features are, they just don't go far enough.

Enter the third-party Windows utilities. Each week we see new utilities and updates to previous releases. If there's something you wish Windows could do, odds are that someone offers a utility that can make Windows do that very thing. Writing a clever Windows utility is a great way for a small-but-savvy software company to make its mark. (Though these companies secretly fear that Microsoft will add their hard-won improvements to the next version of Windows, making their best-selling utilities disappear overnight.)

Because I had the luxury of writing the introduction for this section after the other articles were written, I was able to try two new Windows utilities that aren't covered elsewhere. The people who brought us the DOS-based PC-Kwik now bring us WinMaster (PC-Kwik, 15100 SW Koll Parkway, Beaverton, Oregon 97006-6026;503-644-5644; $129.95). WinMaster includes an excellent icon-based program launcher, a disk tester and optimizer, system-performance programs, and a drag-and-drop compression utility. If you like a lot of Windows control from a single icon bar, check out Dashboard (Hewlett-Packard, PC Software Division, 974 East Arques Avenue, Sunnyvale, California 94086; 800-554-1305; $99). In addition to the usual program-launch icons, Dashboard offers a systems-monitor gauge, a digital or analog clock, multiple full-screen views, and drag-and-drop printing and faxing.

With so many fine Windows utilities around, you really can have Windows just the way you want it.

the desktop, you click the right-mouse button in a particular grid square. Immediately you're shown that part of the desktop; any icons or windows not visible in that area, disappear. However, some applications can be made sticky and will follow you from view to view.

While you can drag windows or icons to any part of the desktop, you can't use Bigdesk to direct certain programs to start in one place or another automatically. It would be nice if the File Manager could be maximized in one view, the Program Manager in another, Word in another, and so on.

Another drawback to Bigdesk is that other than using the mouse in the Bigdesk window or on the Bigdesk minimized icon, there's no quick and easy way to hop between views.

Perhaps Bigdesk's biggest fault is that it's humble. There are many utilities similar to it, and some big-time utilities include multiple-desktop views as part of their feature list (hDC PowerLauncher for one). If you like humble and don't feel like paying for features you may never need, then Bigdesk is worth a look.

Room for One More

Another solution for Windows' window management is Rooms (XSoft, 3400 Hillview Avenue, Palo Alto, California 94303; 800-428-2995; $99). Though it's not a Program Manager replacement, Rooms presents you with several customized desktop views. Each fills the screen; and you switch among views as easily as walking from one room to another.

Rooms takes an approach different from Bigdesk-type programs.

First, although Rooms takes over Windows, it doesn't step on the Program Manager or File Manager. Everything is controlled f rom a central Overview window, similar to the lobby of a swanky hotel.

The Overview window is an application window that fills the screen (it can't be resized or minimized). In the center of the window are graphic representations of the various desktops--the rooms in which you get your work done. The Overview window also contains a menu bar that controls the windows--though you can do just about anything by pointing and clicking your mouse.

The main room or desktop in the Overview window is the Overlay. It contains programs that appear in every other room. For example, the Program Manager, File Manager, Clock, and any other application appearing in the Overlay window will show up in all of the desktop rooms you create. Programs in those rooms, however, remain unique to those rooms.

You can move among the rooms by using your mouse or by clicking the door icons on the desktop. One door icon is the back door, which takes you back into the room you just left Other icons can be customized to take you to a specific room. And you can click the mouse on the left edge of the desktop to move to the next room, or click on the top of the desktop to return to the Overview room. The only method of changing rooms that's missing is a hot key.

Whenever you're in a room, it looks just like the Windows desktop, except that the wallpaper is replaced by a color scheme unique to that room. Each room's desktop has buttons (or icons) to launch programs or data files, which is as close as Rooms comes to having a menu system. The program remembers the functions and positions of the buttons for each room.

Perhaps the best part about Rooms is that you can save your room setups to disk. Unlike the Bigdesk type of virtual desktop, Rooms remembers.

It's easy to think of Rooms as an environment that gives you multiple desktops. That's the basic metaphor. Instead, I consider Rooms as more space to work in--as elbow room.

Rooms could use a menu system, more control over how programs start, and perhaps a few options for window size, room location, and so on. This would be far more productive than having to add a third-party launch pad.For virtual desktop expansion and organizing your Windows applications, however, Rooms takes an unusual and workable approach.