PART 14: ICON DO IT
Take a drag
Little needs to be said about the ability that NeoDesk 4 users have of placing icons on the desktop, since this is now a feature of the latest official Atari desktops also. You simply open up a drive or folder window and drag the icon from the window to the desktop. Close the window or move it out of the way, then arrange the desktop icon any way you want it.
But both NeoDesk users and those who use the new TOS/GEM desktops sometimes fail to realize that this facility extends to ANY icon -- not just to icons that represent applications. In other words, the desktop can display icons representing texts, batch files, telecommunications scripts, audio-sample files and hundreds of other file types. In NeoDesk, even desk accessories written to communicate with the NeoDesk kernel can be installed on the desktop. If you are an experienced user and know all about this already, you may wish to skip this section; the explanation I am about to give is quite basic, but I'm sure it will be useful to many NeoDesk users.
Why not just hide those icons away where they belong?
If you use the "Show as Icons" option under the "View" drop-down menu, every file in every root directory and folder on your floppy and hard disks will be shown as an icon. The reasoning behind the use of icons instead of file names is simple: Icons for different functions and for their various data files can be shaped or colored differently, so they can be readily identified. To use just one example, your word processor can be identified as an icon that shows a pen and a piece of paper, and the text files that it creates can be represented as icons that show pages placed in a neat stack.
The important point here is not that icons for applications such as word processors and telecomm programs should look pretty or be informative; that much is taken for granted. What I am pointing out is that data files should be clearly related to their applications by the careful assignment of icons -- using, to cite other examples, icons that show a musical staff for the data files for a sound-sampling application, icons representing a bookshelf full of books for the resource files for system applications, and so on.
That way, a quick glance will tell you what data files go with various applications. This is much more informative than a text listing of files, and it means you are less likely to waste time searching for the right files every time you use your computer.
But that's only the beginning. The next step takes advantage of the drag-and-drop capabilities of NeoDesk 4 (a facility shared by the latest TOS desktops, too). You can do this without the need for any prior setup in NeoDesk 4; in other words, you do not need to create any "installed applications" in the NeoDesk 4 information file to make use of drag-and-drop, since it is built into the operating system itself.
This means you can open a window onto a folder on a floppy or hard drive, click on a data file icon, drag it to an application icon and drop it there, and the application will run and load the data file. If you haven't tried this before, you can practice on any file that has been archived with ARC.TTP. (It will have an ".ARC" file extension.) Drag the icon for that file onto the icon for ARC.TTP and let it go; the ARC program will automatically run, load the archived file and extract its contents.
But why go to the trouble of opening a desktop window to do this? You can do the same thing from the desktop itself if you install these icons on the desktop. By dragging a data icon to an application icon and dropping it there, you accomplish three operations in one move. You run the application, load the data file into the application and instruct the application to perform a default function -- displaying a text file in the case of a word processor, perhaps, or extracting the contents of an archive in the example of ARC.TTP.
Stay with me, because even THIS is not the full story. You can take advantage of NeoDesk 4's installed-application function and its drag-and-drop operation to add flexibility to the way you use your computer, if you install both data and application icons on the desktop. I'll give you an example from my own NeoDesk 4 setup. In fact, it's the setup I'm using to write and edit this text file.
On my NeoDesk desktop, I have placed an icon for this text file and icons for three versions of STeno, the Gribnif text editor. Two of the STenos are desk accessories, and the other is a standard GEM program. The STeno icons are clustered near the text-file icon for NEOSECRT.TXT. Also nearby is an icon for READTEXT.TTP, a text analyzer written by Paul Lefebvre, and an icon for a spell-check program. Within NeoDesk's information file, I have installed 1STVIEW.PRG as the default text viewer. (I cannot praise 1stView enough, since it is able to show multiple texts in separate windows in one double-click, displays all the text attributes such as italic and boldface in 1stWord documents, plays audio samples and shows GEM image files as well. It doesn't make my coffee in the morning, but perhaps the CodeHeads or Damien Jones will come up with THAT utility.)
Double-clicking on the icon for NEOSECRT.TXT displays this article in a 1stView window. Dragging the same icon to one of the STeno icons loads the text into STeno and opens it up in a STeno window, ready to edit. Dragging the icon to the text-analyzer icon gives a quick accounting of the file's word count, sentence length and probable readability, and dragging the icon to the spell-checker icon loads it into the spelling program.
All this is done in a sort of intuitively sensible way. I could perform the same tasks, with the same range of choices, in many different ways -- through FlexMenu, the program linker and launcher from Trace Technologies, or by means of batch files written for a shell program, to give two examples. But the most logical way, once you are accustomed to the idea that icons represent not just files but actions, seems to be the route that NeoDesk 4 takes.
You can't really click on a DA and get it to run, can you?
Desk accessories are special applications that are always running. They are loaded into the computer's memory when it boots up and remain there, ready to go to work. (Both Geneva and CodeHead's MultiDesk Deluxe provide ways to get around the need to have all desk accessories loaded at boot-up, and are highly recommended.) Desk accessories are accessed through the "Desk" menu at the upper left of the screen.
Desk accessories normally will not run (or drop down if they are already loaded) if you double-click on their icons. Without Geneva (which lets you load a desk accessory at any time), there are two ways to get around this. One is to install MultiDesk Deluxe in NeoDesk as an application that has the associated data type ".ACC"; if this is done, double-clicking on any desk accessory will cause MultiDesk to start up the the desk accessory just as if the DA were a standard program. This has immense advantages, but it has at least one major disadvantage: The DA takes all its bags and baggage with it when you exit the desk accessory, since it was not loaded at boot-up and therefore is not running in the background while you are doing something else. (This is in no way a criticism of MultiDesk Deluxe, which is behaving in an entirely proper fashion.)
It is just that sort of background operation that makes many desk accessories useful. Excellent examples are STeno, the Gribnif text editor, and STalker, its companion telecommunications software. Other examples are CodeHead's own Warp 9 Control Panel and its excellent file utility, MaxiFile. Because a desk accessory loaded at boot-up is always available at the desktop and in any properly written GEM program, it can hold data for you for quick recall -- a calculator DA is a good example -- or it can retain work-in-progress that you can return to at any time, as you can do with a text-editor DA such as STeno or the CodeHead Head_Ed editor. It can even perform an active operation such as a file transfer while you are running another application, in the example of STalker.
With this in mind, you can appreciate the usefulness of a desk accessory that can be treated like a standard application. If you place the icons for any NeoDesk-compliant desk accessories on the desktop, you can employ the drag-and-drop technique with them just as you would a regular program. In fact, you can do that with a significant advantage. Because a NeoDesk-compliant desk accessory is already loaded and running, dropping a data icon on its icon triggers a faster response in the drag-and-drop race. The difference in response time depends on a number of factors, such as whether you are working solely from floppy disks (in which case the NeoDesk DA would load the data file at least 10 times faster than an application running from a floppy) and whether you are using a fast hard disk with a large cache (in which case the speedup would be slight).
STeno and STalker are NeoDesk-compliant desk accessories, as are the DAs that Gribnif supplies with NeoDesk -- a control panel, a printer queue and a recoverable-trash DA. The NeoDesk command-line interpreter DA, sold separately, is also NeoDesk-compliant, and some desk accessories programmed by others, such as EditPlus, also meet this standard.
These special desk accessories have another advantage. They can be listed in NeoDesk's "Accessories" submenu within the "Set Preferences" menu, so that NeoDesk can assign special hotkeys that will call them. These hotkeys are Control-0 through Control-9 (Control-1 is actually first on the list, with Control-0 last). The DA hotkeys work only on the desktop, but they are quite handy.
And there is yet another distinction of these desk accessories. By placing icons for these DAs on the desktop, you are doing, in effect, what users of graphical interfaces for other computers are able to do -- you are iconizing a running program. In Windows, OS/2 and GeoWorks for the PC and such interfaces as Motif for Unix computers, a single click on a gadget of an open window will reduce the window to an icon. In NeoDesk, a single click on the close gadget (the oval button at the upper left) of a STeno, EdHak, BackTALK or STalker DA window (among others) will reduce it to an icon in the same way. If you work with NeoDesk-compliant desk accessories in this fashion, you are adding much of the power of the other graphical interfaces to your ST or TT, while avoiding all the overhead associated with these systems.
Pick a name
When you install icons on the desktop, the label below the icon is nothing more than the filename or the folder name attached to the icon by the operating system. It will always be in capital letters, and may not be as descriptive as you would like. You can change these labels to anything else. Click once on any icon and choose the "Install Desktop Icon" submenu under the "Options" drop-down menu; type in any descriptive label, using upper-and-lower-case letters, which look a lot classier than something written in capitals. You can even type in any of the symbols in the ST, TT and Falcon character set -- yes, even "Bob," the famous hidden face in the high-order alphabet! Do this for each icon, then save the desktop configuration. (The Control-X key combination will do this, if you'd like a shortcut.)