Object Desktop 2004

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, September 2004, send e-mail
Published by: Stardock Corporation, go to the web site
Requires: Windows 98, 98SE, Me, 2000 or XP; Pentium III or faster CPU, 128MB RAM
MSRP: $49.95

When this product was first reviewed by Kickstartnews it received raves. Stardock hasn't rested on its laurels and now, six years after the software was first released, the suite has grown and added many very useful features. What exactly does Object Desktop do? It is quite simply an operating system environment and feature enhancement tool. With it and the components it contains, you can change, add to and customize your system's operating environment and shell. The Object Desktop software package contains a large number of components and in this review I've tried to briefly cover every one of them.

The WindowBlinds component allows you to customize the look and feel of the Windows graphical user interface (GUI). With it, you can simulate the look of the MAC OS, the Library Computer Access and Retrieval System (LCAR) interface familiar to Trekkers, create a Matrix-themed interface or use any of the many available customizations (there are hundreds now). ObjectBar goes hand-in-hand with WindowBlinds and allows you to customize the Start bar to your heart's content.

With SkinStudio you can design your own skins for WindowBlinds, ObjectBar and some of the other components. SkinStudio is a powerful visual interface creation environment that makes it easy to create WindowBlinds skins and skins for other programs as well.

IconPackager allows you to alter and modify the application icons throughout your environment it also allows you to save predefined libraries of icons for different environments. IconDeveloper which is also included in the Object Desktop package allows you to create your own Windows icons. With it you can import and modify existing icons to suit and it will even auto generate different standard icon sizes. By right clicking on a graphic you can also create an icon from it very easily. Icon X completes the experience by allowing you to add drop shadows, behaviours and color changes to your icons when you mouse over them.

WindowFX is a great little program that adds special effects to your GUI such as animations, transition, drop-shadows, animated desktop icons, transparency and much more. It does however have one big drawback in that it is very processor intensive. Be careful when activating too many feature because it can slow down your system.

DesktopX is the one component which I felt showed the true potential of Object Desktop 2004. It allows you to create and define your own GUI and add customizable objects and widgets. Easily design your own desktops or use desktop (themes) created by others to maximize your productivity and computing experience. It also allows for the desktop integration of Active X controls and extends functionality with VBScript or Javascript. Future support will also include C# and Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML). One lovely feature DesktopX adds is the ability to run Widgets even if Object Desktop itself is not active. I've used this with several very cool Widgets I've found.

Other enhancements include the Keyboard LaunchPad which allows you to define hot keys for anything from your top applications through to your favorite web sites. ObjectZip allows you to integrate the handling of ZIP files as if they were standard folders. Object Edit can be used instead of Notepad and has a more robust range of editing facilities.

Tab LaunchPad is also one of my faves, categorizing your programs through an easy to use tabbed interface. I like it because I have hundreds of applications which I use on a regular basis and this helped me to organize them all more effectively.

SpringFolders makes folders open automatically when you drag a file onto them. Other utilities include DriveScan and Object Sweeper, which between them, allow you to graphically map disk usage and eliminate wasted disk space.

Finally, Theme Manager pulls all the skins, themes, icons and more together. With it you can save your customization into a single suite in order to back up your environment and settings for later use should you decide to make some changes or even reformat your drive. Component Tray allows you to access all the components installed on your system and quickly switch between recently used skins and themes.

All of the components in Object Desktop are managed and updated through Stardock Central. This program acts as a conduit through which you can update your software, chat with other users and explore the Stardock forums.

All of the components in Object Desktop 2004 are very well integrated and Stardock has done a great job of facilitating the customization of Windows through these components. The enhancements that they have added to the Windows shell are fairly transparent to the user and are also well thought out. Much consideration has been placed on the future extensibility of the Object Desktop and its place in Windows.

Cons: Some of the customizations are not exactly up-to-date and as a result they fail to load completely. Using all of the components places a large load on your system resources which means that sometimes a great deal of tweaking is required to ensure a responsive environment. The web-based support system is okay but could be improved by changing from newsgroups to a forum-based system. You can access the forums through Stardock Central, but it would be nice to be able to access them through the web site.

Pros: Extremely powerful and easy to use. Highly configurable. Allows you to use only the parts that you like. DesktopX is extremely powerful and very well conceived.

I have thoroughly enjoyed playing with this suite and although I won't use the whole suite in my day-to-day creative design work, I will continue to use parts of it to enhance my working environment. For users who dislike the look and feel of Windows but have too much invested in it to switch to a Mac OS or Linux computer, Object Desktop 2004 is a great option and for those of you who like something a little more personal. I highly recommend it. One cautionary note: it can be very time consuming and very addictive.

Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to: whine@kickstartnews.com




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