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July 2000

View From the End (User)

By Don Eitner ©July 2000

               Don's Homepage: The 13th Floor - http://www.tstonramp.com/~freiheit/
XWorkplace V0.9.3: http://xworkplace.netlabs.org
WarpIn V0.9.3:
Author: Ulrich Moeller: ulrich.moeller@rz.hu-berlin.de

The Best OS/2 Software Money Can't Buy: XWorkplace V 0.9.3

First there was the WPS, and it was good. Then there came XFolder, and it was better. Now the successor to XFolder, called XWorkplace, has blown its predecessor out of the water in a big way. [Editor note: XFolder 0.61 was reviewed in the June 1998 VOICE newsletter http://www.os2voice.org/VNL/past_issues/VNL0698H/vnewsf4.htm].

Those who used XFolder will recall that it provided a wealth of new WPS tools. These included an enhanced shutdown screen with reboot capability and the ability to restart the WPS without a full system shutdown. XFolder also sported a slightly enhanced startup folder which offered a configurable delay between the startup of each item. Additionally, it offered folder popup menu editing where you could remove common menu items or add a context menu entry for rapidly drilling down through nested folders.

XWorkplace 0.93 still has all these features, but it includes so many more features and enhancements that I couldn't possibly name them all here. Instead, let me point out a few of the most significant or obvious changes.


XWorkplace is distributed as a .wpi (WarpIn) installation file and so you must also have WarpIn installed on your system. WarpIn is another freeware project of OS/2 Netl@bs which is aimed at becoming the next universal OS/2 software installer. You can download it from http://warpin.netlabs.org/. The process reminded me very much of installing software via a Windows "wizard" though the image displayed on the first page overlapped the top of the dialog box to the point of obscuring a portion of the title bar. That's a WarpIn issue, not an XWorkplace issue, so I won't go into great detail.

Aside from the look of it, the installation was smooth and very quick. It detected my existing XFolder 0.85 installation and used many of its configurations such as what to show and what not to show on the WPS context menu. But so many of the features have been enhanced since the 0.85 release that it didn't make sense for XWorkplace to use all of my old settings, so it reverted to defaults on some others such as shutdown/reboot options.

I don't recall being advised to reboot my system in order for changes to take effect, but I did anyway just to be on the safe side -- well, that and I wanted to try out the new desktop archiving features right away!

Features & Enhancements

Remember the XFolder startup animation which you could either disable or enable but had no other options? It's back with a vengeance and now offers selection from a number of bitmap images such as the well-known XFolder image, a new "OS/2 WarpX" image, and the cute Linux penguin with IBM's latest OS/2 Warp logo on his belly. You can choose to have this image either "blow up" as an animation or to simply display full-size but with a transparent background, which looks especially nice while other OS/2 windows, folders, and applications pop onto the screen in the background. You also can use any OS/2 1.3 bitmap (the author says the OS/2 2.0 bitmap format won't work but I've saved some images in this format using PMView and XWorkplace handles them just fine) as the boot logo.

A replacement to the default WPS archiver allows the user to select when to create a desktop archive (based on number of days since last archive, next reboot only, every reboot, or when the INI files have changed by a selectable percentage).

An updated File tab in the WPS popup menu provides a more compact interface for setting file attributes and Extended Attributes.

XWorkplace also now offers a Sound Scheme editor which fully replaces the OS/2 Warp 4 Sound object and manages to look much nicer. The volume dial gives a text display of the setting (from 0-100) so there's no more guesswork involved. There are also a few new sound events such as Folder Double Click, Hotkey Press, Menu Selection, Open Menu, Restart WPS, and XWorkplace Shutdown. It's about time we had a single interface for both randomly playing WAV files and setting up entire sound schemes.

XWorkplace now includes a trashcan so we OS/2 users can be just like WinDOS, MacOS, or BeOS users. When you delete a WPS object (be it a program or file) it gets stuffed into the trashcan folder, from which you can later recover it by dragging and dropping back to the desktop. There is also the option of having a dialog display the progress of the delete operation, which also allows you to cancel said operation.

Another of XWorkPlace's more obvious features is that many of its vastly improved settings notebooks now include fly-over (tooltips) descriptions. This fly-over help looks, unfortunately, more like NPSWPS's (another WPS enhancer) folder drop shadows than BubblePad's tooltips, but it's an extremely useful feature regardless of how it looks. The fly-over help is nowhere so obvious as in the brand new OS/2 Kernel settings notebook where the Drivers tab now lists device drivers you have installed and, for some of them such as Daniela Engert's DaniS506.add, provides a full GUI dialog for setting the driver's parameters. I found options for DaniS506.add that I never knew existed, and setting them is as simple as clicking a checkbox.

The OS/2 Kernel notebook, of course, still provides a clean interface for manipulating system path variables in your config.sys file as well as setting cache values for FAT, HPFS, and CDFS file systems, setting the maximum allowable system threads to keep your PC responsive, and setting virtual memory (swap file) size.

A feature that may be especially nice for laptop/notebook users is that XWorkplace now also enhances OS/2's Mouse settings notebook. The most impressive feature I saw in this is that you can now enable and disable the Comet Cursor feature (adds a colorful tail to your mouse pointer so that it's easier to track on laptop displays) without rebooting your system. In OS/2's default configuration, this is not possible.

One more obvious, amd quite helpful, feature of XWorkplace 0.93 is the inclusion of the PageMage virtual desktops program. In true XWorkplace style, you get an easy to understand configuration notebook interface for this right alongside your other screen options (such as resolution and color depth).

And all of this is free under the GNU General Public License (GPL). The source code for XWorkplace is available from OS/2 Netl@bs (http://www.netlabs.org/). Judging by the XWorkplace User Guide ~Reference (in OS/2 .INF format and included with the binary distribution of the program) this is now a collaborative effort between Ulrich Moeller (author of XFolder) and Christian Langanke (author of Animated Mouse Pointer for OS/2). I guess the only way to make this better would be to add Daniela Engert and Alessandro Cantatore (of Styler/2 fame) to the project - or for any other aspiring OS/2 developers to take the open source and modify it in amazing new ways to keep OS/2 in the lead as far as usefulness and visual attractiveness.

What Did I Not Like About XWorkplace 0.93?

I found that the PageMage component crashed on me quite often and for no obvious reason, and when it does so, its page in the Screen configuration notebook vanishes. Only a reboot appears to be capable of bringing it back.

Also, one new feature that sounds quite interesting, Extended file type associations, claims to not work properly yet and that daily use is "NOT recommended". Too bad because I'd like to know how it works and to see it in action. But this is, as stated in the documentation, a developer release.

While the new sounds object has a lot more power than the one included with OS/2 Warp 4.0, there was one feature I liked more in the IBM version - having one listbox of sound events and another of sound files. This made it incredibly easy to play each sound in a selected directory in sequence to determine which might be best for the currently chosen sound event. The way XWorkplace 0.93 has it, you have the list of sound events and then a browse button which simply brings up a standard file open dialog. You have to then select a sound and push the Play button, if you don't like it you click Browse again, select a sound, push Play, etc.

Still Needed

Fly-over tooltips for settings are nice, but I'm the kind of person who likes to have a folder with no icon text (such as running my Minimized Window Viewer at all times with no text, which conserves a lot of space). I'd like to have fly-over tooltips be available for objects in folders which simply pop up the object name when the mouse is held over them for a second. It's a usability feature when you're only running in 800x600 resolution but want to pack as much stuff onto the desktop as you can.

Tooltips are also not currently available in all dialogs. The settings notebooks don't tend to use them except in a few scattered places. I wouldn't mind seeing tooltips become the standard because they are so context-sensitive.

Having a trash can from which accidentally deleted items can be recovered has its uses, but the current version is missing a fundamental feature that lets you specify that the trash should be emptied on every system shutdown or at regular intervals (much as the desktop archiving tool works). The reason I bring this up is that the trash is considered to be just another folder and, if you put something into it that has the same name as an existing item in the trash, you get the prompt asking you to rename the object. Well I might not be in the habit of manually emptying my trash every day and don't necessarily want these prompts when I'm deleting stuff.

The Inevitable Conclusion

XWorkplace is so incredibly feature packed and easy to use that I can come to only one conclusion - this is the best OS/2 software money can't buy (PMView 2.0 being the best that money can buy :-)).

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