PART 11: Secrets of NeoDesk 4 - by Al Fasoldt
Screen Gems
17 July, 2019 by
PART 11: Secrets of NeoDesk 4 - by Al Fasoldt
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                                                          PART 11: SCREEN GEMS

                                                          What you see is what you got

                                                          The popularity of the large-screen displays for the ST, TT and Falcon has changed the demands on the desktop. Where once a resolution of 640 X 200 was normal and a resolution of 640 X 400 was considered "high," for many users the standard TT and Falcon resolution of 640 X 480 is now considered normal -- and a display with four times that resolution (1280 X 960, TT High Resolution) is not uncommon. The old standard of a four-color desktop for normal use (the maximum that is possible in ST Medium Resolution of 640 X 200) has been eclipsed by the 16- and 256-color displays of the TT and Falcon, and even so-called True Color displays (showing thousands or even millions of colors) are possible on some Ataris. Clearly, the desktop is a more detailed and more colorful place than ever before.

                                                          Yet while NeoDesk 4 is unique in taking advantage of these large-screen displays, it is still capable of running to full advantage on even the oldest display standard for the ST, the 320 X 200 ST Low Resolution screen. All the extended features of NeoDesk 4 -- background pictures in color, animated icons, dialog boxes in their own windows and more -- function in ST Low Resolution mode, too. And because ST Low Resolution supports NeoDesk 4's 16-color icons, owners of the oldest and simplest STs are able to enjoy the rich graphical interface of NeoDesk 4 just as owners of the most expensive Ataris are. 

                                                          If icon, you can, too

                                                          NeoDesk 4's handling of color-plane settings (color modes) is unusual. Whereas older versions of NeoDesk were not able to deal effectively with colored icons when the desktop was running in monochrome -- the icons usually turned out to be black on black -- NeoDesk 4 has three separate icon configurations. If the computer is running in monochrome (either black-and-white mode or the unusual "duochrome" mode of some Ataris), NeoDesk 4 displays two-color icons; if the computer is running in any color mode that has more than two colors but less than 16, NeoDesk 4 displays four-color icons, and if 16 or more colors are present, NeoDesk 4 uses 16-color icons. These are separate icons, not just icons that look different in different displays. A folder icon, for example, can look entirely different in monochrome than it does in four-color mode, and both of them can be different from the folder icon used in 16-color mode.

                                                          What if you have created icons in, say, 16 color mode but not monochrome, and then boot up in monochrome? The older versions of NeoDesk would have turned every color in an icon to black, but NeoDesk 4 dithers color icons to gray patterns if it cannot find corresponding monochrome icons. These are often not satisfactory for everyday use (you will want to create your own versions at some point), but they are much better than blacked-out icons.

                                                          NeoDesk 4 handles icons in another smart manner, too. Normally, the same icon may be used to represent any number of items (a Swiss army knife icon for a disk utility, for an undelete program and for a control panel applet, for example), and you may find you are assigning hundreds of icons but using only half that number in unique ones. NeoDesk 4 checks the images in its icon file for duplicates and stores pointers to icons that are the same, saving memory and disk space.


                                                          We do Windows

                                                          Unique among Atari desktops, NeoDesk 4 is able to import icons in the Microsoft Windows format. Nothing special needs to be done. You merely run the NeoDesk 4 icon editor. It recognizes both separate Windows icons and multi-icon Windows icon files. You can drag a Windows icon into the NeoDesk 4 "NEOICONS.NIC" file and use it immediately, or you can edit it to add animation and support for monochrome and other color planes.

                                                          The NeoDesk 4 icon editor can also import all the Atari-specific icon formats developed by both Atari and third-party companies, can use Windows bitmap ("BMP") graphics for incorporation into icons, can read Atari resource ("RSC") files for use in icons, and, of course, lets you draw your own icons from scratch. Full cut-and-paste facilities within the icon editor make it easy to copy part of one icon to another.

                                                          An apparent limitation of NeoDesk 4 -- its inability to run the icon editor as a separate, coexisting task while other operations are taking place -- can easily be circumvented if you have enough RAM and are running NeoDesk 4 under Geneva. Simply run a second instance of NeoDesk 4 and use it to edit your icons. Switching from one running copy of NeoDesk 4 to the other will be less confusing if you set up the second one with a distinctive desktop pattern or you run the second NeoDesk 4 in a window. 

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