An Effective Cure for Cluttered Desktop Syndrome

By Joseph Moran | Posted September 29, 2005

Look at the monitor display of most PCs, and what you'll see can often be best described as chaotic. After all, the typical desktop (including ours and probably yours as well) is likely to contain dozens – if not scores – of icons comprising Windows desktop items, application and document shortcuts, downloaded files and so forth. While some people may actually prefer operating in this kind of disordered and ad-hoc environment, many people experience it as a subtle productivity drain and an aesthetic eyesore.

If you're in the latter category, you'll appreciate StarDock's ObjectDock utility, an effective cure for Cluttered Desktop Syndrome. ObjectDock lets you clean up all that desktop detritus by organizing your items into one or more customizable tabbed docks that keep all that stuff out of sight yet close at hand. ObjectDock not only organizes your shortcuts, it also reduces or entirely eliminates the need for such mainstay Windows components as the Start menu, taskbar and tray.

ObjectDock gives you a choice of two different dock styles. You can anchor the Standard dock to the top, bottom, left or right of the screen where it simply grows wider as you add more items to it. Alternatively, you can choose a tabbed dock style to place items in separate categories. This style has the added ability to be resized and float anywhere on the desktop. Both dock types can display many pieces of information, including application and document shortcuts, icons residing in the Windows Tray, and running applications – much like the Taskbar.

Moving a mouse over a specific item in a dock, highlights it with a cool-looking zoom effect (one of several available). Since ObjectDock lets you create multiple iterations of each kind of dock, you have a great deal of freedom to organize information the way you prefer. In fact, ObjectDock renders the Windows Tray and Taskbar superfluous and will even give you the option of hiding them to reclaim their space — and you probably won't miss them in the least. Application icons in a dock glow when they require attention, just as they blink in the Taskbar.

We have only one caveat: if you want to display both Tray and Taskbar icons in the same dock, you must use the tabbed variety, since doing so in a standard dock would cause it to stretch out longer than a boa constrictor. (Our initial installation of ObjectDock wasn't able to display Tray icons correctly, but a patch cleared up the problem.)

Although ObjectDock certainly packs a great deal of information into a small space, it also lets you make use of real estate outside the limited confines of a dock. For example, adding a Start Menu dock entry will give you access to your entire Programs folder (which will expand as needed). Or you can use ObjectDock's visually striking Flyout menus, which float a rotating series of icons right over the desktop. These Flyout menus are good for frequently used special Windows folders like My Computer, Network Connections and Favorites.

A Handful of Docklets
ObjectDock also supports something called docklets, which despite the name aren't mini-docks but rather mini-applications that run inside a dock (applets would actually be probably a more accurate name for them). ObjectDock comes with a handful of docklets that, for example, display your system's remaining battery charge, the day, date and time and even your local temperature via a live link to weather.com. (There's also a docklet that lets you conduct Google searches, though it's hard to get more convenient than the Google Toolbar for this task.) You can download other docklets that range from the practical (a hard drive space indicator) to whimsical (a magic 8 ball) at StarDock's www.wincustomize.com site.

At the same site, you'll also find skins to customize the way your docklets look and a variety of alternative icons for common applications (some standard icons look bad when enlarged). While downloading these components is easy enough, figuring out how to install them often isn't — none of the items we downloaded included any instructions on how to integrate them into ObjectDock.

ObjectDock's only real shortcoming (albeit a relatively minor one) is its lack of any real documentation or even online help. Although the product operation is reasonably intuitive, the only way to master it is by time-consuming trial and error. And as it turns out, ObjectDock isn't very trial-and-error friendly, since changes made via the dock configuration dialogs take place immediately and none of the dialogs offers a Cancel button. This makes undoing modifications more of a hassle than it should be.

ObjectDock is compatible with Windows 2000 and XP only and costs $19.95 to register. You can download a free and unlimited use version of the utility, but it only lets you have one dock and omits several features of the registered version, including the ability to use a tabbed dock or display tray icons on the dock.

All in all, ObjectDock's usefulness more than compensates for the product's few rough edges. The utility is powerful, flexible and attractive, and if your Windows Desktop looks like a disaster area, ObjectDock is an excellent way to clean up the mess once and for all.

Pros: Efficiently organizes applications and document shortcuts; can effectively take the place of Windows Taskbar and Tray, eye-catching design and tools

Cons: Sparse documentation and no online help, process for installing personalized dock skins and other content is unclear

Adapted from winplanet.com.

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