by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
After an extremely long commute, Aladdin Desktop Tools (ADT) has finally arrived for work, and some users - especially those who have bought other Aladdin products - will appreciate this set of seven utilities.
I do wonder how well ADT will do in the marketplace, since a number of utility packages have come and gone since this project started at Aladdin. In that time, only Now Utilities has retained its high profile. Part of the problem might be the increased functionality in the System software, especially System 7.5, and part of the problem might be the compatibility issues raised by ungainly sets of extensions and control panels. Whatever the reason, ADT brings some welcome features to the Mac; let's hope it can break free of the quicksand surrounding similar utility sets.
ADT is comprised of seven independent utilities: Desktop SpeedBoost, which speeds up certain Finder operations; Desktop Shortcut, a Super Boomerang competitor; Desktop Viewer, for quick viewing of files; Desktop Printer, for working with multiple printers; Desktop Makeover, which adds some neat tweaks to the Finder; Desktop Magic Tools, which adds a menu of tools; and Desktop Secure Delete, which securely erases sensitive files.
Desktop SpeedBoost is probably the headliner of the ADT package, and is based on the popular shareware utility SpeedyFinder7 from Victor Tan.
Desktop SpeedBoost accelerates two common Finder actions, copying files and trashing files, and you can configure how it notifies you of success or failure. It can either take over from the Finder with its SpeedBoost Monitor application in the background, or Desktop SpeedBoost can simply give the Finder more memory (up to 75 percent of the largest available block or 8 MB) to perform the copies, significantly speeding up the process. Perhaps the major benefit comes from being able to copy in the background, since you can continue working or start more copies. Finally, if you use StuffIt SpaceSaver, AutoDoubler, or Now Compress, Desktop SpeedBoost can optionally not expand those files while copying.
Although trashing files may not seem in need of a speed increase, if you do much testing of programs or download a lot of files from the Internet, you know how slow the Finder can be with several hundred files in the Trash. Desktop SpeedBoost not only speeds up the process or empties the trash in the background, but it can also securely erase the files (if you're the paranoid sort), delete locked files, keep the trash empty by immediately erasing files (beware that feature could significantly increase your stress level!), and empty the trash at shutdown. The main feature I miss is the main function of TrashMan, a neat utility that erases files in the trash after they've been in there for a certain amount of time - think of it as composting.
Desktop Shortcut was originally a stand-alone utility from Aladdin called Shortcut, and it provides the same basic functionality as Now's Super Boomerang. It can track a user-configurable set of recently used files and folders, and you can permanently attach files and folders to that list. Within the SFDialog box, Desktop Shortcut can search for files and folders, create new folders, get info on selected items, delete selected items, and even view items quickly to see if they're really what you want.
Unlike Super Boomerang, Desktop Shortcut does not make the an application's Open menu hierarchical, which is a shame: although Super Boomerang's hierarchical Open menu is huge and unwieldy, it's often useful. And, although one could argue that a hierarchical menu is a poor interface, Desktop Shortcut relies on them as well. When you click on the Shortcut icon to the left of the disk name in the SFDialog, Desktop Shortcut brings up a single menu with hierarchical menus for recently accessed files, folders, and disks. Desktop Shortcut also has some unique features, such as displaying the free space on a disk and the capability to go into StuffIt archives as though they were folders.
Although Desktop Shortcut is a useful utility, I won't be switching from Super Boomerang any time soon.
Desktop Viewer, on the other hand, is pretty much unique on the Macintosh: it enables you to view the contents of files without opening them. This is especially handy if you don't have the proper viewing program on hand. The Desktop Viewer application can view files in JPEG, PICT, Sound, and Text formats without help, and Desktop Viewer can utilize any XTND translators you may have installed. (The XTND system ships with a number of applications, most notably Claris products.) Not surprisingly, Desktop Viewer can also look inside StuffIt archives and unStuff files from within the viewer. Power users will appreciate the capability of Desktop Viewer to view either resource or data forks, and everyone will appreciate being able to copy or print information from the viewer, not to mention being able to search for text.
Desktop Printer is an application that enables you to easily switch between multiple printers and print from the desktop by merely dragging a file onto the Desktop Printer icon. I never saw the use for such a utility until we added a second printer to our network - now I can't stand switching printers in the Chooser. Simply double-clicking on a configured copy of Desktop Printer switches printers, and those of you who use fax modems can create a printer icon for it as well. Unlike the Desktop Printer feature in System 7.5, ADT's Desktop Printer does not require QuickDraw GX and all of its overhead.
Desktop Makeover brings together a number of relatively well-known Finder tricks. It can turn off the Finder's zoom rectangles, modify the rename delay, and let you set how the Finder displays free disk space. One feature I rather like is its capability to show enhanced disk icons - it displays locked disks with a strap around them, indicates the type of disk (800K, high density, PC, CD-ROM, network volume, etc.), and puts a band-aid on disks that have had bad sectors mapped out and are thus somewhat suspect. People who can't have enough keyboard shortcuts will like Desktop Makeover, since it enables you to set command key equivalents for the different Finder menu items. Holding down the Option or Control keys modifies some of the behavior of the Finder menus as well, so you can easily locate the original files of aliases, get info on original files of aliases, find the application that created a document, or get info on the application that created a specific document.
Desktop Makeover can also control balloon help and can optionally hide the Mac's Help menu (not recommended, since that's where the help for applications should live), or have the help balloons pop up when you hold down user-specified modifier keys. Finally, like Macintosh Easy Open (which disables this feature in Desktop Makeover), Desktop Makeover can link file types with applications, enabling you to open SimpleText files in Nisus Writer or whatever. "Application Not Found" dialogs are replaced with a dialog that lets you pick a different application.
Desktop Magic Tools puts a new menu in the Finder using Aladdin's long-standing Magic Menu, although the menu items are different from other versions of Magic Menu. Desktop Magic Tools provides a Get More Info command which displays a dialog box with all the nice technical information about a file you must normally use ResEdit or DiskTop to see. Make Alias To enables you to quickly make aliases to selected items in a specific folder, and it even provides a quick way to put the aliases in the Apple Menu Items, Control Panels, or Startup Items folders. Copy/Move provides similar functionality for copying or moving selected files: just select it and then navigate to the desired location in the SFDialog box. Most interesting in Desktop Magic Tools is the Gather command, which collects selected items in a Gathered Items folder in the same location. It's handy for bundling up a number of related files quickly, without worrying about having something to do with them before you accidentally click somewhere and lose your selection. Finally, a View command provides quick access to Desktop Viewer.
Desktop Secure Delete is, I'm sure, useful to some people with truly sensitive information, but for most users, I consider such functionality overkill. Most people would prefer to be able to recover information, not render it unrecoverable. If you need such a tool, great.
Overall, I rather like Aladdin Desktop Tools, although I suspect that many people already have utilities that perform some of these functions. I like Super Boomerang and CopyDoubler a bit better than Desktop Shortcut and Desktop SpeedBoost, so I'm unlikely to switch from those, but Desktop Printer and Desktop Viewer in particular will find permanent homes on my hard disk.
ADT costs $49.95 until 31-May-95, and is $39.88 during that same time for registered users of any Aladdin commercial or shareware product or Victor Tan's SpeedyFinder7.
Aladdin Systems -- 800/732-8881 -- 408/761-6200
408/761-6206 (fax) -- <email@example.com>