View From the Podium
Adam Hough, Chair-Grinch adamh@spots.ab.ca

[Evidence of how backlogged AR has been...sorry, folks...-Jason]

Since it's the holiday season and everyone has a bit more time to play with their computers, I figure for this month I'd just go through some of the pieces of software that I find makes using the Amiga that much more, well, fun. I'll not be mentioning specific applications as I consider those to be what I use the Amiga for; these are the programs that assist me in using the Amiga. The programs are mostly shareware or freeware, but there are one or two commercial programs in there for good measure.

The top of the list is Directory Opus Magellan. As a file organiser it's first rate; as a Workbench replacement it's unparalleled. I utterly refuse to go back to using command line interfaces, SID or, ugh, the Workbench proper...

The next is MUI 3.8 which beyond being essential to a lot of the software I run allows me to make my Amiga interface look much more attractive. Grey and blue gets a little dull after a while...

Borderblank is a hold over from when I ran on regular Amiga screens and served the purpose of creating a black square around screens like Workbench, rather than letting the overscan create wide borders off to the left. I'm not sure that it actually does anything under Cybergraphics but I haven't got around to removing it yet!

NewIcons 3 and MagicWorkbench round off the desktop appearance area. I truly like what NewIcons tries to achieve in colour mapping icons to what they should look like rather than the hit and miss approach of the default Amiga icon system. I just prefer the MWB icon design to the NewIcons ones, although those have improved dramatically over the last couple of revisions.

ToolManager 2.1a is slowly being phased out, but since Opus doesn't yet have pop-up docks, it still has a use. My docks are simple but contain multiview, golded and exchange for handling those commodity based programs.

And since I'm in the process of mentioning it, GoldED v3. In my mind it's the best text editor I've ever had on the Amiga. It might not work out for XDME or CED fans, but I like it better than them by far.

Cyberpatcher is only useful for CyberStorm or Blizzard 060 boards but makes floating point operations so much faster. The same scene rendered under Cinema 4D with Cyberpatcher took half the time it did without it. Very worthwhile.

Dashboard 1.7 is a really old program that doesn't recognise anything about the 040. However it still runs well. It's a combination of gas gauges and bar charts and shows everything from CPU use to memory and time and date. Useful for checking to see if you Amiga has just locked up or something has grabbed input.device away from the mouse for an extended period.

On The Ball 1.5 (or OTB for short) is a Personal Information Manager from Oregon Research. I've been using it for ages and ages. It stores addresses, schedules appointments, preserves memos and works as an excellent calendar. Despite having moved most of my need for it over to my USR Pilot, it still works as a handy desktop calendar. Ok, so this is an app rather than a utility, but it's always sitting on my desktop, so I might as well mention it!

PowerSnap 2.2a extends the Amiga's Conclip device. This is similar to the Windows ability to select text from pretty much anywhere and drop it anywhere else. Extremely useful for copying URLs that pop up in email messages or IRC to my browser, although it's rather more versatile than that!

Hand in hand with PowerSnap is CyberGrab 1.2. This is a screen grabber for CyberGraphics. I have to mention it as none of the other screen grabbers I've tried actually work -- at worst they crash the machine, at best they merely save grey pixels... This one does what it's supposed to and so is handy for sending in screengrabs along with bug reports or for Run AMUC reviews.

PrinterCGFXpatch 1.10 is rather simplistic but works. The Amiga has a significant problem dumping bitmaps to the printer that aren't on an Amiga planar screen. What this patch does it remap the screen slightly so that Cybergraphics screens are treated like Amiga screens and can be printed. It only works in 256 colours or less at the moment, but it's still useful.

Also in the patching area, I run PowerPatcher. This is a fairly old program and I'm sure of little use now, but what it does it intercept file read calls to PowerPacked files and makes them transparent to the calling program. In other words, PowerPacked files can be read as easily as normal, uncompressed ones. Four years ago PowerPacker was an extremely popular format and it was incredibly annoying to have to unpack those files if I wanted to view or use them with anything other than the PowerPacker compatible programs.

SCSIMounter 2.03 was a recommendation from one of the AMUCcers and I've appreciated it ever since. I have a Jaz drive on my Amiga and frequently want to change cartridges. The problem is that because I used a Rigid Disk Block on them rather than a mountlist, simply changing the disk achieves nothing and typically a reboot was required to access the new cartridge. What SCSImounter does is allow me to dismount and remount the device, loading in a new RDB on the fly. Hey presto, no more reboots and my RDB won't get corrupted!

SysInspector 1.7 is a utility along the lines of ARTM or SysInfo except it's supported and reliable. It's also rather more feature filled. Basically it allows you to look and examine just about every aspect of the Amiga for library revisions to memory contents to hardware listings to current system tasks and you can fiddle with just about all of them. Highly, highly recommended.

Also in the system info area is SnoopDos 3. This is a program I truly wish was on the PC. What SnoopDOS does is track all files requests (and several other OS level operations) as they happen. The program is so incredibly useful for tracking down missing files or trying to figure out why a specific application won't run. Any Amiga I use will have SnoopDOS installed on it before I've finished. It's also freeware.

ASIMcdfs 3.8 is my CD-ROM filing system. this is basically what allows me to read CDs. It supports ISO9660 (the most common CD format), RockRidge (the next most common format), HFS (the Macintosh CD format) and a few others. What it also does is directly support reading and converting CDDA which is the audio CD format and so can read the digital tracks off and convert them to several popular 16 bit file formats. It's shortly going to be upgraded to handle Microsoft Windows's Joliet format so no more CDs with "afilen~1.txt" names -- or even "sara~202.mp3" ones...

Over in the communications arena, I use a small program called Telser 1.40. What this does is pretend to be a serial port over the internet. The advantage of this is that I can use a regular communications program like Term 4.7 to talk to various ASCII based online services like BIX or AmigaZone rather than having to use a dedicated Telnet client like AmTerm. It's also especially good for playing MUDs as I can then use the scripting features, logging features, hot keys and all the other wonderful gadgets that have been added to Term over the years. It can also accept incoming calls over the internet so if you want to run an Internet BBS using the same software you used to use for regular phone lines, you can. Very nifty!

I should mention a few others I've tried and discarded over the years. Top of the list is MagicMenu II. It's a wonderful idea -- the menus on the top of the screen that appear when you press the right button are moved to underneath where your mouse pointer currently is. The problem is that stability of my system when this is installed goes way down so I don't dare use it.

Equally bad on the stability stakes are MCP and MCX, two "hack" collections. While the authors claim that they are stable I've never had much luck with them installed. Others claim not to have any difficulties. They do serve a purpose in collecting together many OS enhancements that make the Amiga nicer to use but I value stability above that.

ViNCEd and KingCON are two shell replacements for the rather pedestrian Amiga shell. Technically they're actually console replacements but the shell is where you notice them the most. The former is hard to configure and causes all sorts of interesting side effects and is banished from my system. The other I've just never installed but hear good things about. KingCON's major problem is that its author has moved onto greener pastures and no longer supports it. Since it was designed for AmigaDOS 2.04 I'm a little leary about using it under AmigaDOS 3.1

Executive which is a dynamic task scheduler is another program that's come and gone. The premise is excellent is that it tries to make the Amiga more responsive by juggling the relative priorities of programs. I just found that it tended to lock up the machine. Again, other people have had far more luck with it than I have so you may well want to take a look.

The final entry is Wonder Computer's PowerManager. I bought this originally for the AmiJam screen saver and started to play with a few of its other features. Those included the ability to power down monitors and drives, cache harddrives to improve speed, and a few other things. Generally I found that the harddrives always powered down *just* before I was to use them again and took a while to spin back up to reading speed; the monitor I was using wasn't DPMS compatible so shutting it down was not a good idea; the screen saver wouldn't run under CyberGraphics; and I kept on running out of memory for the cache -- either the amount was too small to be useful or too large for me to use of the rest of the system. The software was fine but it wasn't a good match for my needs so went.

There've been many more commodities and utilities that I've been through but this is I suppose the shortlist. I find that most of the fun I get from using an Amiga is that I have it highly configured to my own tastes; ironically enough I find it easier to use another person's Windows 95 system than another person's Amiga for that very reason. The Amiga lends itself to being customised to the hilt so one Amiga is very rarely like another. I hope you take the time to look at a few of the programs I mentioned and see if any suit your system. For the moment, I'd not be seen dead without them on mine!



Regards

Adam Hough (adamh@spots.ab.ca) http://www.spots.ab.ca/~adamh (Personal Opinion)


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