"It's the kind of thing you'll enjoy if you enjoy that sort of
SECRETS OF NEODESK 4
PART ONE: A GUIDE TO NEODESK 4
(Covering NeoDesk 4 up to release 002)
by Al Fasoldt
PART 11: SCREEN GEMS
What you see is what you got
The popularity of the large-screen displays for the ST, TT and
Falcon has changed the demands on the desktop. Where once a
resolution of 640 X 200 was normal and a resolution of 640 X 400
was considered "high," for many users the standard TT and Falcon
resolution of 640 X 480 is now considered normal -- and a display
with four times that resolution (1280 X 960, TT High Resolution)
is not uncommon. The old standard of a four-color desktop for
normal use (the maximum that is possible in ST Medium Resolution
of 640 X 200) has been eclipsed by the 16- and 256-color displays
of the TT and Falcon, and even so-called True Color displays
(showing thousands or even millions of colors) are possible on
some Ataris. Clearly, the desktop is a more detailed and more
colorful place than ever before.
Yet while NeoDesk 4 is unique in taking advantage of these
large-screen displays, it is still capable of running to full
advantage on even the oldest display standard for the ST, the 320
X 200 ST Low Resolution screen. All the extended features of
NeoDesk 4 -- background pictures in color, animated icons, dialog
boxes in their own windows and more -- function in ST Low
Resolution mode, too. And because ST Low Resolution supports
NeoDesk 4's 16-color icons, owners of the oldest and simplest STs
are able to enjoy the rich graphical interface of NeoDesk 4 just
as owners of the most expensive Ataris are.
If icon, you can, too
NeoDesk 4's handling of color-plane settings (color modes) is
unusual. Whereas older versions of NeoDesk were not able to deal
effectively with colored icons when the desktop was running in
monochrome -- the icons usually turned out to be black on black -
- NeoDesk 4 has three separate icon configurations. If the
computer is running in monochrome (either black-and-white mode or
the unusual "duochrome" mode of some Ataris), NeoDesk 4 displays
two-color icons; if the computer is running in any color mode
that has more than two colors but less than 16, NeoDesk 4
displays four-color icons, and if 16 or more colors are present,
NeoDesk 4 uses 16-color icons. These are separate icons, not just
icons that look different in different displays. A folder icon,
for example, can look entirely different in monochrome than it
does in four-color mode, and both of them can be different from
the folder icon used in 16-color mode.
What if you have created icons in, say, 16 color mode but not
monochrome, and then boot up in monochrome? The older versions of
NeoDesk would have turned every color in an icon to black, but
NeoDesk 4 dithers color icons to gray patterns if it cannot find
corresponding monochrome icons. These are often not satisfactory
for everyday use (you will want to create your own versions at
some point), but they are much better than blacked-out icons.
NeoDesk 4 handles icons in another smart manner, too. Normally,
the same icon may be used to represent any number of items (a
Swiss army knife icon for a disk utility, for an undelete program
and for a control panel applet, for example), and you may find
you are assigning hundreds of icons but using only half that
number in unique ones. NeoDesk 4 checks the images in its icon
file for duplicates and stores pointers to icons that are the
same, saving memory and disk space.
We do Windows
Unique among Atari desktops, NeoDesk 4 is able to import icons
in the Microsoft Windows format. Nothing special needs to be
done. You merely run the NeoDesk 4 icon editor. It recognizes
both separate Windows icons and multi-icon Windows icon files.
You can drag a Windows icon into the NeoDesk 4 "NEOICONS.NIC"
file and use it immediately, or you can edit it to add animation
and support for monochrome and other color planes.
The NeoDesk 4 icon editor can also import all the Atari-specific
icon formats developed by both Atari and third-party companies,
can use Windows bitmap ("BMP") graphics for incorporation into
icons, can read Atari resource ("RSC") files for use in icons,
and, of course, lets you draw your own icons from scratch. Full
cut-and-paste facilities within the icon editor make it easy to
copy part of one icon to another.
An apparent limitation of NeoDesk 4 -- its inability to run the
icon editor as a separate, coexisting task while other operations
are taking place -- can easily be circumvented if you have enough
RAM and are running NeoDesk 4 under Geneva. Simply run a second
instance of NeoDesk 4 and use it to edit your icons. Switching
from one running copy of NeoDesk 4 to the other will be less
confusing if you set up the second one with a distinctive desktop
pattern or you run the second NeoDesk 4 in a window.
PART 12: ACCESSORIZE YOUR ATARI
The desktop doesn't have to be the size of your screen
An unusual feature of NeoDesk 4 is its ability to run as a desk
accessory. Yes, you heard that right; NeoDesk 4 can hide itself
away in the Desk menu of your Atari, ready to pop open just like
any other GEM desk accessory. A similarly unusual feature is
NeoDesk 4's ability to contain itself in a resizeable GEM window
whether run as an accessory or as a program.
When it is run as a desk accessory, NeoDesk 4 retains all the
functionality of the standard NeoDesk 4 setup. It still acts as
the shell (the central file-and-program controller) for all
operations, and still provides desktop macro keys and other
specialized features. What it gains when run this way -- as both
a desk accessory and as a program in which the desktop-in-a-
window feature is activated -- is a second identity. The
"desktop" suddenly becomes something new, not simply the
background space for all file and program activity but rather a
redefinable area on top of the bedrock of the operating system,
if you will pardon the metaphor. Resizing the NeoDesk 4 window so
that it covers only a small portion of the screen quickly frees
up the remaining space for anything else.
What could that "anything else" be? In a multitasking system or
a system making effective use of desk accessories, it could be
anything -- an image in its own GEM window (using Imagecopy or
1stView, to name just two programs that will do such a thing),
the Gribnif World Clock, a scientific calculator, an address
book, an archiver running in its own GEM window, a notepad, a
telecommunications applet in a window ... or just an expanse of
ordinary, featureless space. All of this can be done when NeoDesk
4 is running full-screen, of course, but without the panache;
anyone used to the way the Windows and Mac desktops look cannot
fail to be amused and amazed at a desktop that can collapse into
its own window. There is even something Trekkie about it.
If you decide to run NeoDesk 4 in a window, whether as a desk
accessory or a program, you will want to arrange its desktop
icons and windows more carefully than you would normally. An
ideal setup would display the most important icons and windows
when the NeoDesk 4 window is normal size, with ancillary icons
and windows coming out of hiding, so to speak, when the NeoDesk 4
window is made full-size. You can arrange the icons and windows
for this effect without a lot of difficulty. Such a desktop looks
like nothing else on any platform -- perfectly organized,
adaptable and easy to use.
PART 13: PICTURE THIS
Placing a pretty background on the desktop
The millions of Microsoft Windows users probably rank one
feature of Windows near the top in the category of Neat Things
Windows Can Do. (We'll skip the Unneat Things Windows Can Do!)
It's the desktop background, which can be a pattern or a picture.
Windows uses just one kind of graphic file for this background
wallpaper, a "BMP" file. (The name stands for "bitmap," but of
course lots of other graphics are bitmapped, too.)
If this is such a Neat Thing, how come Windows users can't do
what NeoDesk 4 users can do? NeoDesk 4 can use any BMP file for a
background picture, too, or any IMG file, or Degas graphic, or
Tiny-format picture ... you get the point. Desktop pictures are a
breeze for NeoDesk 4. It even dithers (creates patterns in) color
graphics so they can be viewed passably in monochrome. If you
have a Falcon or an ST or TT with a graphics card, you should be
able to use any 16-color Windows BMP file easily, and may be able
to use 256-color BMPs also.
If you have a favorite picture in a non-supported format such as
GIF or JPEG, you can quickly convert GIF and JPG files (and many
others) to a NeoDesk-usable format with either Imagecopy 3.5x or
GEM-View 3.x. For display sizes larger than ST High Resolution
(640X400), IMG files are better choices than BMPs when you are
converting pictures because they are quite a bit smaller.
Placing a picture of the desktop on the desktop
One of the easiest screen tricks any NeoDesk user can pull is
taking a snapshot of a typical desktop, using any of the many
snapshot utilities available (Imagecopy is superb) and then
selecting that snapshot as the background picture for NeoDesk. By
altering THAT desktop, which of course includes the
representation of the other desktop as the background, and then
taking a snapshot of it, you can create another background that
looks quite unusual. It could have, for example, 14 open windows
showing (seven for each desktop) even when you have no windows
open on the real desktop. As you can see, there is no limit to
the number of times you can do this.
You could also take a snapshot of the original Atari desktop and
use that as a NeoDesk background, if you find yourself longing
for the bad old days.
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
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 ro 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
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.)
PART 15: THE KEYS TO SUCCESS
Form and function
Both NeoDesk 4 and the official Atari desktops in TOS versions
from 2.05 on up have programmable hotkeys. These keys operate
only on the desktop. (In other words, while you can program them
to run any application, you cannot program them to perform
functions within an application. They are cleared out of memory
whenever an application or desk accessory is active as the top
window. Hotkeys you create on the desktop will not interfere with
hotkeys or function keys that are built into any of your
By "hotkeys" I am referring to both the set of separate keys at
the top of the keyboard labeled "F1" through "F10" and the keys
on the main keyboard. Both NeoDesk and the later TOS desktops
allow you to assign any "Fkey" function key and any keyboard
character key to certain actions, but in other ways the two
desktops differ. NeoDesk 4's method uses an actual macro program,
which records a series of desktop operations for later playback,
while Atari's method merely links a single keystroke to a single
operation. The NeoDesk method is much more powerful and far more
The TOS desktops have these limitations:
1. They allow the assignment of only 20 Fkeys, from F1 to Shift-
2. They do not let you use Control- or Alt-key combinations with
either the Fkey assignments or keyboard hotkeys.
3. They do not recognize the Esc, Tab, Backspace, Delete, Help
or Undo keys as assignable hotkeys.
4. They will not perform any function associated with a file
except to run an executable program.
NeoDesk 4 offers these advantages:
1. You can choose from a total of 120 possible Fkey combinations
alone. That is, any Fkey can use Control, Left Shift, Alternate,
Right Shift, Control-Left Shift, Alternate-Left Shift, Left
Shift-Right Shift (and so on) as modifier keys.
2. Any keyboard keys can be used with any of the modifier keys,
in any combination, for macros. Thus you could assign a
particular action to Control-LShift-Alt-RShift-A, for example.
3. Any key on the keyboard except the four modifier keys
(Control, Alternate and the two shift keys) can be used as a
macro hotkey. For example, the Undo key, which ordinarily has no
function on the desktop, can be mapped as the "Close Window" key.
4. Most importantly, a NeoDesk 4 macro can perform any function
that can be done from the desktop. It can run an application,
show a text, open a specific drive or folder window, move a
window, load a NeoDesk information file, and do any of dozens of
other functions. A NeoDesk macro can even load a different set of
NeoDesk macros. Without question, NeoDesk's macro function is one
of its salient strengths.
How NeoDesk does it
NeoDesk does not record keystrokes and mouse movements when you
create a macro. Instead, it keeps track of system activity. This
is, at the same time, a much better way of recording macros than
the typical method of mimicking keystrokes and mouse clicks, and
a much worse way. It all depends on what you want a macro to do.
If you want a macro to exactly reproduce every keystroke and
every single- and double-click of your mouse, you should purchase
the Geneva Macro utility from Gribnif or CodeKeys from CodeHead
Software. However, if you only want your macros to reproduce the
results of your keystrokes or mouse clicks, NeoDesk's macro
function is ideal.
Perhaps an example will make this distinction clear. Suppose you
have installed the icon for EDGE.PRG, the Diamond Edge hard-disk
maintenance utility, on your desktop. You start the begin-macro
function in NeoDesk, run Diamond Edge, and then exit. At that
time you end the macro and assign a key combination to it.
Any time you want to run Diamond Edge, you can simply press that
hotkey. Does that mean that NeoDesk is double-clicking on the
EDGE.PRG icon for you? (This is what CodeKeys would do, if you
were to create a macro to run Diamond Edge from the NeoDesk
desktop with CodeKeys.) You can find out by removing the EDGE.PRG
icon from your desktop and pressing the hotkey again; Diamond
Edge runs as before. What NeoDesk recorded when it monitored your
activity when creating the macro was that a file named EDGE.PRG
in a specified folder and path was being opened and, therefore,
This difference between the way NeoDesk records and runs macros
and the way an external program such as the Geneva Macro utility
or CodeKeys runs them is crucial. Because NeoDesk monitors all
its system activity, its macros can do anything that you can do
at the keyboard or with the mouse. We'll have a few dramatic
examples of this below.
Make me a macro. (ZAP! You're a macro.)
NeoDesk macros are easy to create and even easier to use. You
can drop the "Options" menu down and click on "Begin Macro," or
press Control-Esc. From that point on, your desktop operations
will be recorded until you end the macro with a menu click or a
second Control-Esc. NeoDesk 4 then asks you to assign a "Keyboard
Shortcut" -- a hotkey -- to the macro. You can click on the "Read
Key" box and press any key on the keyboard, and then decide
whether you want to add any of the modifier keys to the hotkey by
clicking on one or more of the four modifier-key buttons. (Any
combination is possible.)
Then click on one of the three radio buttons at the bottom
(Install, Remove, Cancel). "Install" saves the macro in the
NeoDesk 4 configuration stored in your computer's memory. The
macro will run, but it will not be saved permanently unless you
choose "Save Configuration" under the "Options" drop-down menu.
"Remove" erases the macro from memory. "Cancel" does not operate
the way you might expect: Rather than canceling the macro, it
cancels your decision to end the macro. Think of it as the
"Cancel-macro-end" button and you'll understand it better. If you
are creating a macro and decide to cancel it, you must click on
"Remove" and not "Cancel."
Macros that do more than run programs
NeoDesk macros are great for running your favorite applications
with one keystroke. But if that is all you do with NeoDesk
macros, you are missing out on a lot of NeoDesk's flexibility.
Macros can chain programs together; that is, a single NeoDesk
macro can run a series of programs, with each succeeding
application running when the previous one stops. (Just keep the
macro recorder on while you do this yourself from the desktop.)
Macros can show text files. Big deal, right? It IS a big deal if
one of your text files happens to be a list of macro-key
assignments -- in other words, a Help file. After you have set up
your macros, open up your word processor or text editor and write
a neat, single-page list of macros and their functions. Entries
could look something like this:
Diamond Edge..............F2 Close all windows....RS-Undo
ST Fax....................F3 Close window............Undo
ST Writer.................F4 Close folder..........A-Undo
Flash II..................F5 Select all items......Insert
Good HD backup............F6 Send formfeed............C-F
GEnieLamp..............LS-F3 Reload configuration.....A-R
Spell check.............A-F4 Load macro set #2.......LS-2
In this list, "LS" stands for "Left Shift" and "RS" stands for
"Right Shift." "A" means "Alternate" and "C" means "Control."
If you decide to create a macro that lists macro-key
assignments, I suggest you follow the convention of using F1 to
display the Help file. Then make use of the NeoDesk Desktop Notes
function by writing a short desktop note that says the following:
Press F1 for Help
This keeps most of the Desktop Notes capacity free for other
Special macros, or how to make them call themselves
One of the mysteries of NeoDesk, to many users, seems to be one
of the menu items under the "Options" drop-down menu. It's always
grayed out, and that means you can't do anything with it. So why
is it there?
In truth, this menu item -- "Load Configuration" -- is not
always grayed out, but there is something you need to do to
before you can use it. It switches from gray (the universal
indication in most user interfaces that a menu item is turned
off) to normal as soon as you click on any NeoDesk configuration
file. In other words, if a NeoDesk configuration file ending in
the extensions ".INF," ".MAC" or ".NOT" is selected, the "Load
Configuration" function is enabled. This allows you to load
another configuration into NeoDesk -- another complete NeoDesk
information file, another set of macros or another collection of
NeoDesk's pre-assigned hotkey for that function is Control-L.
So, by clicking once on an alternate NeoDesk information file and
pressing Control-L, NeoDesk will immediately take on a new
But that's too much trouble, especially since a macro can do it
all. Do the same thing while recording a macro, and then save the
macro under a key combination that makes intuitive sense -- Alt-I
for the main alternative information file, for example, and Alt-
Shift-I for a lesser-used one.
Do the same for macro keys. Somehow, there's a sense of minor
triumph in getting a macro program to load and unload its own
keys. First, of course, you'll need to create separate sets of
keyboard macros, saving them under different names (but all with
".MAC" extensions). Then click on each of the macro-key sets one
at a time, creating new macros among the primary macro keys that
load each of the other macro-key files. But be careful to include
one macro in each set of macros that reloads the main set.
If this is confusing, let me try a simple explanation. Here is a
set of three macro keys, which in this small example could be the
primary NeoDesk macros:
F1 Show Help file
F2 Run Aladdin
F3 Load macro set 2
Here is macro set 2:
F1 Run Calligrapher
F2 Run spell checker
F3 Load macro set 1
That's how easy it is. Keep your layout simple at first; if
you're not careful, your macros-calling-macros operation can
become too convoluted to follow. This, in itself, is a good
reason to maintain a Help file that can be viewed with a single
keystroke. (Ideally, of course, each set of macro keys should
share many common macros -- keystrokes for closing windows, for
selecting all files in a window, and so on, and especially for
viewing the Help file. But I cannot emphasize enough the need for
a macro in each set of macros that returns you to the master
macro assignments. If you leave that out, you will have to
manually load the original macros back in.)
PART 16: ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS
PATH=, and all that garbage
NeoDesk 4 is unusual in offering complete control over the Atari
system environment. By "environment" I am referring to an area of
memory that the operating system uses as a sort of information
pool that all applications can make use of. The concept of a
system environment may be familiar to MS-DOS users, who often
need to set the DOS environment through such statements in their
bootup files as "PATH=;C:\;C:\DOS" and so on. The ability to set
environmental variables was built into the Atari operating system
from the start, although few users know about it.
The system environment can contain pointers to locations in your
file storage where certain support files can be found, and it can
tell an application where to create temporary files. It can do a
lot of other things too, if the applications that are running
That's the problem. Most applications do not make use of the
environment in any creative way, and so the system environment is
one of those aspects of NeoDesk that you could safely ignore most
of the time. But if you take advantage of it, you may find it
surprisingly useful when running some applications.
The most common use is to set a temporary-path variable,
available to any application that checks the environment.
Archivers that are properly written usually look for a TEMP
statement to find the designated location of a temporary storage
area to hold scratch files that are deleted after the archive is
finished. To enter a variable for a temporary storage area,
create a folder on a partition of your hard drive (or on a large-
capacity floppy disk) that has 1 megabyte or more of free space.
Name the folder TEMP. In the "Edit Environment" menu under the
"Options" drop-down menu, type "TEMP=C:\TEMP\" (or whatever the
pathname is) in one of the environmental-variable slots, and then
save the configuration file. In my own setup, I have a second
temporary-path variable named "TMP=C:\TEMP\" because some
applications look for a "TMP" variable instead of one named
Another function of the system environment is setting a general
PATH variable. This is used by all GEM applications to locate
their resource files, and is entered as "PATH=C:\PATHNAME\". If
you make use of this variable, you can place all the ".RSC" files
of every GEM application in your collection into a single folder
(or into a group of folders, if you have more than 100 or so),
and of course you can then remove all the ".RSC" files from their
scattered locations among dozens or even hundreds of folders.
This GEM pipeline for resource files should work properly for all
applications that follow standard programming guidelines; I have
seen only a few programs that could not find their ".RSC" files
this way. If an application complains through an alert box that
it cannot find its ".RSC" file, you can move that particular file
back into the same folder that the application runs from.
Desk accessories present a difficulty for this method, however.
Because DAs run before NeoDesk takes control of the system
environment, they will not find their resource files and
therefore will refuse to load. STeno and STalker are two common
desk accessories that must locate their resource files before
NeoDesk loads. (This problem is not solved by installing NeoDesk
as an auto-running application under the TOS desktop.)
You can get around this in three ways. The most effective is to
purchase Geneva, which provides complete environmental control in
addition to its multitasking abilities. The second is to place
the resource files for desk accessories in the root directory of
your boot drive (or in the folder the accessories are loaded
from, if you use ACC.PRG or MultiDesk). The third is to avoid
using NeoDesk's environment manager and use Ian Lepore's
GEMENV.PRG instead. GEMENV.PRG runs from the AUTO folder, is
easily configured, and has the advantage of working with the TOS
desktop as well as the NeoDesk desktop.
PART 17: TRASHY STUFF
TOS out your old receptacle
NeoDesk comes with a recoverable trash can, which can be used as
a NeoDesk-compliant desk accessory or as a stand-alone
application. In either method of operation, dragging an icon of a
file or a filename to the special NeoDesk recoverable-trash-can
icon removes the file from view and makes it appear to be
deleted. At regular intervals, you click on the trash can and
select the files you want NeoDesk to dump. At that time they are
erased. Until you empty the trash, you are able to open the trash
can and take out any files you have decided to keep.
This is an excellent idea, and is the way some other operating
systems work. (The Apple Macintosh's trash can also saves files
that are deleted, but it does not save them indefinitely the way
NeoDesk will do if you fail to empty the trash; this is both good
and bad, depending on how much disk space you have available and
how much you value your files.)
However, there are a few cautions that you should be aware of.
First, the way NeoDesk 4's recoverable trash can stores its
pending-delete files and folders is non-standard. (If there WERE
a standard, it would be non-standard, if you know what I mean.)
This means that any application that searches through root
directories and folders for all available files and then
reorganizes them to improve disk performance will scramble
everything being saved in the recoverable trash can. To make this
as clear as possible, if you use Diamond Edge, Cleanup ST or any
other hard-disk defragmenter, you must first empty the NeoDesk
Second, the sole purpose of tossing anything away is to get rid
of it. This may seem too obvious for a comment, but if you use a
recoverable trash can as a regular way of putting files and
folders into suspended animation, you probably are ignoring some
basic housekeeping duties. (And you may have a few closets that
the local fire-inspection brigade would like to look at, too!)
Old files that are not needed just get in the way.
Third, you may wish to consider an even better recoverable trash
can if you are worried about the danger of using a disk utility
when files and folders marked for deletion are in the NeoDesk
trash can. This better method is simple: Create a folder named
TRASH on your hard disk and assign a trash-can icon to it (call
it "Trash folder" when you place it on the desktop). If you have
files that you want to delete but are unsure if you may need to
refer to them in the next week or so, drag them onto this icon
the same way you would drag them into the trash. Every now and
then, open this folder and drag all the files you know you don't
need into the real trash can.
This method has no drawbacks, except of course for the
progressive loss of disk space if you forget to empty the trash
folder. Hard-disk defraggers will cause no harm, since everything
in the trash folder is still alive and well -- and, of course,
visible to the rest of the operating system. A minor
inconvenience of this method is that restoring files to their
former folders is not automatic, as it is with the NeoDesk trash
can; you have to remember where they came from and put them back
manually. But it's a lot safer.
PART 18: ORDER OUT OF CHAOS
A,B,D,C and so on
NeoDesk can show the contents of a root directory or folder in
five different orders, sorting by name, date, size, type, and, in
effect, none of the above. It is this last sort option that
matters most, because it shows you the actual physical order of
each file and folder in the disk directory. This is important
because the Atari operating system loads and runs programs in the
AUTO folder in the order that they are found in the directory. It
also loads desk accessories in the order they are found in the
boot disk's root directory. It does not use alphabetical order,
as many users assume.
Among the mysteries of the way directory entries are ordered is
a genuine oddity. Normally, directory entries are written anew
each time a file is created in the folder or moved into it, with
the latest additions taking up a directory slot at the end of the
list. But this does not hold true if a file is deleted and
another file is copied into the folder; the operating system
sometimes will place the latest file's directory entry into the
slot just vacated, and sometimes will put the new entry at the
The only way to know for sure what order the files are in is to
view the list with the "No Sort" option turned on, under the
"Sort" drop-down menu. This would hold only academic interest
except for the "Reorder Items" option in the "Sort" menu, which
lets you arrange the contents of a folder or a root directory in
any way you like. When you click on "Reorder Items" a second
time, NeoDesk rewrites the directory listing to match the exact
order of files in the top desktop window.
Reordering files in the AUTO folder is a common activity among
Atari users, and NeoDesk makes it easy. But NeoDesk 4 can also be
used to reorder the desk accessories in the root directory of the
boot disk, too, because of a second quirk in the way the ST, TT
and Falcon operate. Desk accessories are not necessarily loaded
in the order in which they appear in the "Desk" menu, even though
the order that they load can be very important. MultiDesk Deluxe,
for example, should always be loaded last. To make sure it loads
last, place it at the bottom of the list of desk accessories
using the "Reorder items" facility.
Finally, reordering a root directory or folder in any location
has a further benefit. When NeoDesk 4 rewrites the directory, all
the slots still occupied by deleted files and folders are cleared
out. This makes directory searches appreciably faster; the
difference in a directory with hundreds of files in it (and
perhaps just as many deleted file entries) can be measured as a
speedup of five times or even more.
However, keep in mind that this kind of directory cleanup
eliminates most chances of restoring files that have been
deleted. The rough-and-ready method of file restoration used by
many utilities depends on the presence of a valid directory entry
for every file that has been deleted -- which NeoDesk 4's reorder
PART 19: DESKTOP TRICKS
What, no icons?
Among your alternative NeoDesk configurations can be one that
presents a blank desktop or one that shows nothing but a desktop
background picture. The only item visible on such a desktop is
the main GEM menu bar. This is a neat little trick, one that you
will not see on many computers under Windows, OS/2 or the
Macintosh Finder -- nor, of course, on other Ataris.
Every experienced Atari user knows the apparent drawback of a
desktop with absolutely no icons. Because no device icons are
installed, there is no way to access any files.
Actually, this is not the case. The only thing you can't do is
click on a drive icon. You CAN drop down the "Options" menu and
load another configuration, however, and you can run any macro.
So the way to do this is to create an alternative desktop that
has no icons on it. Delete all of them by selecting them in a
group, pressing Control-D and then clicking on the "Remove" box,
and then saving that desktop under a unique name. I suggest
NEOBLNK3.INF for an ST high-resolution desktop, for example. (The
"3" indicates ST hi-res, following official Atari practice for
GDOS device names.) Then record a macro that loads that desktop
information file. Make sure you have another macro that restores
your standard desktop.
Where's my trash can?
Another nifty trick is to take the trash can out of the desktop
for those times when inexperienced users are going to work or
play at your Atari. NeoDesk 4 still provides a way of deleting
files without dragging them to the trash can (through a keyboard
combination and by dragging files to the trash can icon within
each window), but your data will be safer if your desktop trash
can is stowed away. Again, make sure you have a macro that will
reload the standard desktop.
Just a couple of choices
Another trick is to create an alternative desktop that has only
a few icons in it, perhaps just the icons for a basic word
processor, a spelling checker and a telecommunications program.
New users who become confused by too many choices will find such
a desktop very friendly.
It's up to you
Perhaps the best neat trick of all is to use your imagination to
set up your NeoDesk 4 desktop in a way that suits you best.
You're the judge of what you want; do it your way, and by all
means make it fun.
(This document is part of the "Secrets of ..." series of guides
to Atari computing. Others in the series are available from GEnie
and some other online services.)
Al's "Secrets of Geneva", as a matter of fact, may be found in
ST NEWS Volume 10 Issue 1.
Copyright (C) 1995 by Al Fasoldt. All rights reserved.
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.