Contents | < Browse | Browse >

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
%%  REVIEW: DesktopMagic v2.0                    By: William Near       %%
%%  More than just a screen blanker...           W.NEAR@genie.geis.com  %%
%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Program: DesktopMagic v2.0

Publisher: Mediadesk
           1875 S. Bascom Ave.
           Bldg. 116, Suite 204
           Campbell, CA  95008-2359

           1-800-30-MDESK * Order & Product Info
           (510) 548-7117 * Order Fax
           (408) 374-7595 * Tech Support Hotline
           (408) 374-7596 * Tech Support Fax
           mdesk@netcom.com * Tech Support Internet
           73211,660 * Tech Support CompuServe


Description: DesktopMagic is advertised and described in the user's manual
as a complete system enhancement. It consists of a screen saver, mouse
speedup utility, and sound enhancements for the Workbench.

Suggested Retail Price: $39.95 + $5.00 S&H (direct from Mediadesk)
                        I paid 29.95 + $5.00 S&H from Creative Computers

System Requirements: 1MB RAM, Workbench 1.3 or higher, hard drive or second
floppy drive. Claims to support all major graphics boards for the Amiga.

System tested on: Amiga 2000, Workbench 3.1, GForce '030 accelerator @
50MHz., 1MB CHIP + 6MB FAST memory.


PACKAGING

DesktopMagic came with a colorful, 44 page manual, three disks, a
registration card and an order card for a friend, all shrink wrapped
together. If you can get a friend to purchase their own copy of Desktop-
Magic directly from Mediadesk then you will receive two Sound and Artwork
disks for free.


INSTALLATION

DesktopMagic (DM) uses the standard Commodore Installer program which
makes the program easy to set up on either your hard drive or on floppy
disks. I installed DM on my hard drive which used approximately 2.1 MB of
storage space. DM does not create its own drawer, so make sure that you
create one either before you run the Installer program or from within the
Installer; otherwise, you'll have the DM files scattered all over your hard
drive partition. During the installation process you will be prompted for
which effects you want to be installed. The choices are:

     OCS/ECS/AA - if you have the following: A500, 600, 1000, 1200, 2000,
                  2500, 3000 or 4000

     Graphic Card - if you have a graphics card installed in your system

     All Effects - if you would like to have every effect installed (it is
                   noted in the manual that all effects may not run
                   properly if the correct hardware is not installed on
                   your system i.e. some effects will only run correctly on
                   a graphics card equipped Amiga or on a WB 2.x+ system)

At the end of the installation process you are asked whether or not you
want DM to automatically run upon booting up your system. If you answer yes
the Installer will add a line to your S:User-Startup file. I chose not to
have the Installer add the line to my User-Startup and instead placed the
DM icon in my WBStartup drawer.

NOTE: If you have an A1200 or 4000 and a multisync monitor, you must be
certain that your monitor supports a 15kHz scan rate for some of the
effects to run properly. Also, if you have a graphics board you must be
certain that it offers Workbench emulation.


 INTERFACE

 DM has a nice user interface which opens a small window on the Workbench
 screen. To access the interface you can select the DesktopMagic menu choice
 from your Tools pulldown menu on the Workbench or press <Shift> + <F1>. On
 pre-2.x systems you can use the <Shift> + <F1> option only. The interface
 consists of: an effects window with scroll bar, About, Demo, Global, Hotkey,
 Effect, OK, Save, Audio, Quit and Cancel buttons, and finally Audio and
 Effects check boxes.

 * Effects window - This window lists all of the installed screen blanker
 effects and uses a scroll bar to access them.

 * About - This opens a small window with information about Mediadesk.

 * Demo - When you press this button the highlighted effect will open its own
 screen and run. Clicking the mouse button will return to the user interface.
 While some effects are running a gadget box will open on their window for
 user-defined settings.

 * Global - When this button is selected the following choices appear on the
 interface window:

      Timer - This sets the amount of time to wait until the
 screen blanker takes effect. The allowed range is between 10
 seconds and 10 minutes.

      Volume - This controls the tunes and sound effects volume.
 The setting range is between 0 and 64.

      Pri - DM's priority can be manually set from here. The
 range is between -30 and 0 with the default set to -20.

      Mouse - This is a mouse speedup setting. The available
 range is from .25 to 4.0. I found 2.0 to be about right for my
 taste (this is somewhat faster than the highest mouse movement
 speed under WB preferences.)

      CPU Idle - This controls the amount of idle time that the
    CPU has available before the blanker will activate.
 If the CPU does not have at least this amount of idle time
 then the blanker will not be executed. The range of this
 setting is between 0% and 99% This is a very nice feature,
 especially if you've ever used the C= Blanker
 and had it freeze on the screen while printing
 or doing some other CPU intensive activity.

 * Hotkey - The Hotkey button allows the user to define two key
 combinations, one to open the DM interface and one to instantly activate the
 chosen screen blanker.

 * Effect - When this buttons is selected the screen information displays two
 input fields. One field is for entering a sound file to be executed and the
 other field is for selecting the tune that will be executed whenever the
 chosen blanker is activated. Also, any parameters specific to the chosen
 blanker will be shown at this time i.e. number of objects on the screen,
 speed, etc.

 * OK - Selecting the OK button after making adjustments to DM's operation will
 save any new changes to DM's operation and close the user interface.

 * Save - Saves the user's changes to DM's operation and leaves the interface
 window open.

 * Audio - The audio section allows the user to assign sound files to be
 triggered when certain system events occur. The user can assign sounds to:
 Events, Keys, Program, Text and Time.

 The Events include: Alert - Visual warning message similar to
               system crashes.

                     ASLReq - A program opens a requester window.

                     AutoReq - The OS opens a message window.

                     Open screen - A screen is opened.

                     Open window - A window is opened.

                     Close screen - A screen is closed.

                     Close window - A window is closed.

                     Disk - A disk or removable cartridge is
              inserted or removed from the drive.

                     DisplayBeep - A warning message given by an
                                   application.

                     Left Button - Pressing the left mouse
                     button.

                     Right Button - Pressing the right mouse
                      button.

                     Start DM - Starting the DM program.

                     User Timeout - After a user-specified amount
                       of inactive time the sound
         will be triggered.

 The Keys include: ALT, Left Amiga, Right Amiga, CTRL, ESC, F1-F10, Numbers
 0-9, RETURN, SHIFT, SPACE, DEL, HELP, etc.

 The Program selection will assign a sound file to be played each time the
 specified program is loaded.

 The Text choice allows the user to assign a sound to a text string.

 The Time choice allows the user to assign a sound to clock functions
 including: full hour, Midnight, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 hours. This is a nice feature
 for making your clock chime with different sounds at several time intervals.

 NOTE: DM does not use standard digitized sound samples or have support for the
 use of standard MOD formats. You must purchase a program called Face the Music
 from Mediadesk in order to compose your own songs to be used with DM. All of
 the sound samples are in the .HSN format, the samples are created with a
 program called CrazySounds by, you guessed it, Mediadesk. CrazySounds is NOT
 available for the Amiga, only for the Atari and Windows platforms. I think
 that this is not a very good idea considering the vast number of MODs that are
 available to the Amiga community and IFF sound samples. Could Mediadesk just
 be trying to get a few extra bucks out of the end-user?

 There is a RAM/DISK cycle gadget which enables the user to decide if the sound
 files should be preloaded into RAM or loaded from disk as needed. Loading from
 disk can slow things a tiny bit, but it will save on the use of CHIP memory.

 A sound priority cycle gadget is included which allows the user to prioritize
 the execution of triggered sounds. These priority options are mainly useful if
 you have sounds assigned to the
 keys and the mouse buttons. When you press a mouse button and then you
 instantly hit a key you can decide in which order the sounds should be played.

 * Quit - Exits from the DM interface without saving any changes made.

 * Cancel - Closes the DM window and saves any changes made but does not
 activate those changes.

EFFECTS

DM comes with 29 effects for blanking the screen. The effects include:
     Aquarium - See the fish swimming in the tank. This is a nice effect.

     Blackscreen - Just as the name implies, it turns the screen black. A
                   boring effect for a screen blanker, but it doesn't
                   require as much CHIP memory as the other choices.

     Blanctris - This one is a Tetris game which is played by the computer.
                 It comes in two versions, one for ECS machines and one for
                 graphics board equipped machines. A nice blanker.

     Checkered Race - A checkerboard pattern scrolling towards the horizon.
                      Sort of a nice effect, but the horizon is gradually
                      shaded and doesn't seem to ever change. I thought the
                      idea of a screen blanker was NOT to leave the same
                      image on the screen for a long period of time.

     Clock - The current system time can be displayed either digitally or
             in analog mode on the screen. You can have the clock move
             around the screen or stay stationary.

     Cockroaches - Cockroaches crawl around the Workbench screen and smear
                   things up with their little feet.

     CrazyWorms - Worms move across a copy of your Workbench screen and eat
                  it up as they go. I tried this blanker and it didn't seem
                  to eat a copy of my Workbench, instead it put up its own
                  screen to use (disappointing.)

     Curtain - A little creature pulls a curtain down over your Workbench
               screen. This effect just turns your Workbench a solid color.
               Very boring.

     Eyes - Opens pairs of eyes on the screen that blink periodically. Nice
            blanker.

     Fireworks - Rockets fire up onto you Workbench screen and explode in
                 several different colors. This one has options to change
                 how the fireworks look. You can make the explosions
                 glimmer or fade. This is a very nice blanker.

     Flying Breakfast - Cups of coffee, eggs, egg cups, jars of jelly and
                        alarm clocks fly across the screen.

     Fractal - This one comes in two versions, one calculates the fractals
               with normal accuracy while the other calculates the fractals
               with double accuracy. The double accuracy calculations run
               at half the display speed of the normal version, but they
               look nicer.

     LFigures - Animated curves and lines randomly drawn using Lissajous'
                formula. Nice!

     Life - Graphic interpretation of the Life Algorithm. I found this one
            especially boring.

     Lightning - Lightning flashes across the screen with a variable number
                 of branches on each bolt. Very nice effect, especially in
                 a darkened room.

     Lines - A takeoff on the standard Workbench blanker. A nice effect.

     Meltdown - Watch your Workbench screen melt before your very eyes.
                Another nice effect, but this one should have some user
                defined parameters such as: the speed of the melting and
                the size of the chunks that melt etc.

     Messages - Places a scrap of paper on the screen with a user defined
                message written on it. Nice for an office environment.

     Mountain - Uses fractal algorithms to calculate a 3D mountain in
                either wire frame or solid modes. This one requires a high
                amount of CPU usage, but is one of the best blankers avail-
                able in this package.

     Mower - A small man with a lawn mower appears to mow your Workbench
             screen and turn it into a field of grass. This one has poten-
             tial, but the man and mower are crude renditions and it never
             did mow my Workbench screen, instead it used its own screen.
             Disappointing at best.

     MyAnimation - Allows the user to place one of his own IFF-ANIM format
                   animations in the program to be used as a blanker. A
                   nice addition if you're handy with DPaint's animation
                   creator.

     MyPicture - Another nice addition that allows the user to load one of
                 his images (IFF) and use it as a blanker. The picture then
                 moves randomly around the screen.

     Password - Lock the system from unauthorized use. After this blanker
                kicks in, with a black screen (yawn), whenever the mouse is
                moved or a key is pressed the user is prompted for the
                correct password. This would have been better implemented
                in the user interface as a separate option which would
                coexist with another selected blanker. As it stands, you
                have to choose between system security and a neat blanker.

     Plasma - Colorful wavelengths of color scroll across the screen.
              Another one of the better effects available in DM. You can
              adjust the wavelength for varying effects - nice.

     Puzzle - Breaks up your Workbench screen into little blocks and
              shuffles them around the screen. This is another blanker with
              great potential, but the user has no control over the speed
              at which the blocks are moving around the screen. If you've
              ever used the Tiles effect in BlitzBlank (PD) you'll see the
              pieces fly around your Workbench screen at lightning speeds
              (depending on your CPU), but they just pathetically crawl
              under DM's control. What could be more impressive to users of
              other platforms than seeing your Ami move graphics around at
              top speed? This used to be one of my favorite effects, but
              not DM's version of Puzzle.

     Rain - Raindrops fall from different directions across a darkened
            Workbench screen. Boring.

     Spotlights - This one is supposed to move spotlights around a darkened
                  Workbench screen, but I could never get this one to work!
                  The documentation states that a four color Workbench is
                  required. I certainly don't want to limit myself to four
                  colors on my Workbench just so I can use this effect.
                  BlitzBlanker had a very nice version of this one which
                  was another of my old favorites.

     Stars - This blanker comes in two versions, one for ECS machines and
             one for graphics board equipped machines. This one scrolls
             stars forward or sideways (sidewards as the manual states!) on
             a black screen. The stars can be made to spin left or right,
             or you can just leave them going straight ahead. This is
             another one of the better effects in DM.

     Tunnel - This one moves rectangular shapes in a night sky. Sort of
              like flying through a tunnel made up of shapes. Nice.

All of the aforementioned effects require varying amounts of CPU usage
ranging from Very Low to High. If you want to use some of the nicer effects
then you'd better have an accelerated machine. Also, most of the effects
require a lot of CHIP memory.


LIKES: I liked the easy installation of DM using the standard Commodore
       installer program. I had the program up and running in a matter of
       minutes.

       The user interface is well thought out and easy to use.

       Most of the screen blanking effects are nice, but most of them
       require large amounts of CHIP memory and don't offer much user
       configurability.

       The addition of the pulldown menu choice under the Tools menu on
       Workbench makes it easy to access DM's user interface.

       The sheer number of features included with the package make it worth
       the cost for the most part.

       Even though the program was written in Germany, the manual and
       interface lack the presence of misspelled words, grammatical errors,
       and punctuation errors so often found in imported software. Bravo!


DISLIKES: The lack of a built-in mouse blanker. Some of the screen blankers
          also blank the mouse, but others leave the pointer on the screen
          - not a good feature of a screen blanker.

          The user should be able to select which screen mode the blankers
          will run in i.e. Hi-Res Lace, Euro36, etc. As the program is
          written you have no control over the screen resolutions used or
          the number of colors.

          DM lacks a random feature that would allow the user to specify
          which blankers should be active and then have the program
          randomly select a blanker from that list. Now, you must select
          only one blanker and stick with it. If you want to switch blan-
          kers you must manually enter the DM interface and select a new
          blanker to use. There should also be an option that would
          randomly select a blanker from the active list and run the first
          one for a user specified amount of time and then switch to the
          next blanker in the active list etc. This feature alone would add
          much more flexibility to DM and cut down on the boredom factor
          when seeing the same old blanker time and time again.

          The blankers should have the option of being loaded from disk, as
          needed, like the sound files can.

          The Password feature MUST be implemented separately from the
          blankers. Why can't we have system security and a neat blanker at
          the same time?

          Some of the blankers need more user control settings and some of
          them have no control at all when they really should.

          DM should support standard MOD formats for the tunes and IFF
          digitized sound samples. The user has to either buy the tunes
          creation program for his Amiga or suffer with the limited tunes
          supplied by Mediadesk. Also, the sound samples are in a weird
          format which is supported by a single program that isn't even
          available for the Amiga.

          I've saved the BIGGEST fault of DesktopMagic for last. When DM is
          loaded directly from its Workbench icon or from the WBStartup
          drawer upon booting ALL associated files are loaded into your
          CHIP memory! What this means is that on a 1 meg CHIP machine you
          can end up with as little as 250k of CHIP memory left. I usually
          start out with 800k of chip on my Amiga 2000 after all the other
          Workbench launched programs are executed and all devices are
          mounted. I've watched as DM eats as much as 500k of CHIP memory
          from my 1 meg (CHIP) system. This forces the user to choose
          between using DM and using ANY other application due to the
          shortage of precious CHIP memory. I turned off all sound file
          loading and this saved about 100k, but I was still down to about
          350-400k of CHIP memory. This doesn't lend itself to running more
          than one small application, let alone ANY multitasking.


SUMMARY: I would recommend DesktopMagic to any user who has 2 megs of CHIP
memory in their machine. If you have two megs of CHIP memory to spare then
you won't really miss the memory that DM eats and you could enjoy all of
the benefits that this program has to offer. On the other hand, if you have
a 1 meg CHIP machine then I would say avoid DM until this major problem is
resolved in a future update. With only 1 meg of CHIP memory you will be
limited in the number of other small applications you can safely run. With
a 512k CHIP and 512k FAST memory (total 1 meg) machine I believe that you'd
only be able to run DM and nothing else - that's if DM didn't GURU your
system trying to use all of your CHIP memory!

I contacted Mediadesk's tech support by phone and by Internet mail. The
representative acknowledged the CHIP memory problem (yes, he called it a
problem too!) and said that the programmers will be working on it for the
next release. As it stands, I have chosen not to run DM on my system after
spending $34.95 for it because I can't do any serious work on my system
without the extra 500k of CHIP memory used by DM. I've gone back to my old
Commodore Blanker and will await the update to DesktopMagic, which I WILL
purchase.