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How to be a Pinboard power user

By Peter Scheele. Published: 20th Aug 2006, 13:39:34 | Permalink | Printable

Pin the file on the donkey

Pinboard power user Peter Scheele reveals an interesting approach to pinning files and applications to the RISC OS desktop's backdrop.

Welcome to the pinboard
There are usually two ways to start a program on RISC OS: you can either go to the filer window where the program is stored and double-click the left mouse button to launch the program, or you can 'pin' the program's icon on the pinboard and start it from there. The advantage of the second method is that you can conveniently put all the icons you need to the pinboard which makes it easy to find them.

Putting too many icons on the pinboard can create a cluttered desktop, so here we'll look at a neat trick that will allow you to switch between collections of pinned files and applications. First, a quick tour of the pinboard.

The interactive help for the pinboard says you can "drag files, directories or applications to the pinboard to install them as icons". After doing so, you can save the layout of the pinboard, with the position of its icons, as a file to your hard disc. Click the middle mouse button over the pinboard and go to the Save sub menu. The interactive help says you can "move the pointer right to specify a filename under which to save the pinboard, or click Select to save the pinboard under the current filename". Once you have found an appropriate place on your hard disc to store this pinboard file, every time you add or move an icon, you should remember to save this file again.

To make sure your pinboard layout is present every time you start your RISC OS computer, double click on !Boot on your hard disc to open the system's configuration options. Then select Boot, then Run, and drag the aforementioned pinboard file onto the dialog box and click on Set. This means your custom pinboard file will be executed automatically during start-up.

How to design a pinboard menu structure
After putting more and more icons onto the pinboard, things can get out of hand. However, you can group icons in a visual way to make them easier to find. For example, you can put all the icons that belong to writing documents together, and all the icons that belong to programming or games or internet. It's like ordering books on a shelf according to subjects.

First think about the subjects. What are the main things you do with your computer? Writing, programming, making web pages with HTML, gaming, making pictures with ArtWorks or PhotoDesk or similar. And what are the main programs, files or directories you want to open? A list like the one below makes things very clear.


You can also make a menu-like structure as well. Here's the plan: you have a main menu which can open a number of separate sub menus. From any sub menu you can go back to the main menu. When you open a sub menu, the main menu disappears and is replaced with the sub menu's contents. When you return to the main menu, the sub menu disappears and the main menu reappears.

In the filer, make a new directory and call it Pinboards. Open its directory window. Now you need to put an empty file called 'Main' in this directory. The filetype should be Obey. The quickest way to do this is to take an editor like Edit, StrongED or Zap, and click the middle mouse button over the editor's iconbar icon. From there, open the 'Create' sub menu, and make an Obey file. Save this empty Obey file into the Pinboards directory and call it 'Main' - we'll fill it later.

The sub menus
First click the middle mouse button over the pinboard, go to 'Options' and tick 'Grid lock'. This keeps icons ordered into tidy columns and rows. Now drag the icon 'Main' from the filer window to a place on the pinboard - in the upper left corner, for instance. In every menu you make, Main should be in the same position. See the screenshot on the left.

Then drag all the icons that fit within a subject to an appropriate place on the screen. Save the lot from the pinboard menu, giving the settings file the name of the subject; for example, Admin, see the screenshot on the right. Then remove all the icons except Main, and start again with a new sub menu. You have to do this for each the subjects you want to have, saving each sub menu with an appropriate name into the Pinboard directory. To remove a pinned icon, click the middle mouse button over one and, depending on which version of RISC OS you're using, click on 'Remove' in the 'Selection' sub menu, or click on 'Remove icon'.

The main menu
When you're done, remove all the icons from the pinboard. Then drag all the Obey files except Main to where you want them, see the screenshot below, and save them as 'Main' from the pinboard menu. The original empty file will be replaced by the new one, which will link together your sub menu files.

Now the testing. Double click on Admin in the Pinboards directory, and you‘ll see all the icons belonging to Admin plus the Main icon will appear on the backdrop. Double click on Main, and you'll see the top level subjects reappear again. You can do the same with Apps, Files and all the other icons. And you see that you always can return to Main to make a new choice. If all works fine, make the 'Main' Obey file autostart as explained above.

How to maintain this all
Well, adding new icons to a subject is always possible, but you have to save it again with the correct menu name. And adding a new subject to the Main menu is easy too. But if you remove files from your hard disc, don't forget to remove the relevant icon from its menu.

Below is the text in the Obey file Admin as an example. The Pinboard command will remove existing pinned icons, and the commands that follow it will pin on the files relating to the admin subject.

X Pin ADFS::Iyonix.$.Pinboards.Main 60 1702
X Pin ADFS::Iyonix.$.Applics.!Schema2 27 1586
X Pin ADFS::Iyonix.$.Applics.!Organizer 212 1586
X Pin ADFS::Iyonix.$.Applics.DataPower2.!DataPower 392 1585

If the Schema2 program is moved to ADFS::Iyonix.$.!Schema2, you'll see that the Obey file will continue to refer to ADFS::Iyonix.$.Applics.!Schema2, but the operating system will not find it there anymore. After moving or deleting a program, you always have to update the menu.

In summary
This shows where to drag the 'Main' Obey icon to the pinboard.This shows how to add icons to the desktop from a filer window.
Here, the sub menu layout on the pinboard is saved to a filer window.Next, the desktop is cleared except for the icon Main, and more icons are dragged from filer windows for the next menu.
This is the finishing touch. You drag all your previous sub menu Obey icons to the pinboard. Then you save it with the name Main back to the filer window again and that's it

Although I initially wrote that there are two ways to start a program, there are actually a number of ways - you can use a program like WimpBar, NeXTBar, Director or some other other desktop utility. But using the pinboard is a trick that will astonish everyone.


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A fantastic and clear article showing some of the true power of the RISC OS pinboard. Thank you, Peter!

It may be worth remembering that you can also change the background image displayed for each pinboard - so you could have an image for each 'menu' related to the tasks contained in it, as a visual aid to further improve the user experience.

 is a RISC OS Usertamias on 21/8/06 9:46AM
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I make good use of my pinboard in a similar but slightly different way. I use !StrongMen for several tasks including opening certain user and system directories. I have several pinboards an have their obey files as items in !StrongMen. This allows me to switch between my pinboards really fast.

The pinboard may be one of RISC OS's most underated features.

 is a RISC OS Useracornnutcase on 21/8/06 11:35AM
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Good article and a few nice ideas indeed. But the statement "But using the pinboard is a trick that will astonish everyone." at the end is beyond me. Why should starting apps from the pinboard astonish others - that is a feature much used in Linux and even in Windows where it's called desktop and is basically a folder. You can create a like menus system for Windows too by moving the folder contents around though it might be tricky to keep the icon postisions though it can probably be done too.

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 21/8/06 5:07PM
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Oh, sorry. The sentence should have been: "But using the pinboard this way is a trick...".

 is a RISC OS Userpscheele on 21/8/06 6:17PM
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@hzn: True, modern pinboards on other OSs can usually be customised much better via modern web technologies like XML. On my Windows desktop I can easily display all the system sensors readings, like water-temperature (I have water-cooling), how many W of heat-energy is being dissipated by ma radiators, the fan-speeds, CPU-temperatures, liters/min flowing through the water-cooling-system, HDD-temperatures, GPU-temperature, etc. I can also display web-feeds and news-tickers on the desktop.

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 21/8/06 8:42PM
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That is a very good and well written article.

In reply to JGZimmerle with web-feeds Hermes fetch web-feeds and displays them in your emails, Ticker scrolls them across the desktop

 is a RISC OS UserRevin Kevin on 21/8/06 8:48PM
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A great article demonstrating a true desktop, unlike the Windows desktop, which is essentially a web browser with some extra features.

 is a RISC OS UserMikeCarter on 22/8/06 10:54AM
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@MikeCarter: And what is so wrong with having such a very flexible desktop as the Windows desktop? I think it is great shame on RISC OS that even such simple things like the desktops of other OSs offer more (useful) features and are more web-standards compliant than even the very best web-browers RISC OS has to offer.

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 22/8/06 12:16PM
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It's a little unfair to compare RISC OS browsers with the Windows Desktop, as if this is anything other than comparing them with IE. Sure, there are holes in RISC OS browser capabilities, but that's a different issue, really (wouldn't you say?).

I agree there's nothing wrong with having additional flexibility on the desktop, but it has to be said that the Windows Active Desktop is a pretty bad implementation in my opinion. E.g. it annoyingly changes the behaviour of file icons and the context menu. You can do some clever stuff with it, but really it's no different to having a separate layer of windows behind the normal one. In my opinion it's a cludge to get around the fact that windows jump to the front all over the place and there are no virtual desktops.

One of the reasons I like this article is that (as well as providing a neat idea) it highlights the way RISC OS works differently from most desktops on other platforms. That is, it's not just a virtual folder and is controllable using scripts.

 is a RISC OS Userflypig on 22/8/06 2:06PM
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Okay, so I was not very fair in my comparison, but I'm really getting p***ed-off at all those comments wich imply that whatever feature RISC OS does not offer, can not possibly be a good and useful feature. It is just arrogant to assume that RISC OS' way of doing things is universally the best and there is nothing it can learn from other operating systems. It is especially annoying and frustrating for the ones among us (including me) who would really like to use RISC OS as their primary platform, but simply can't because it has fallen behind too much.

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 22/8/06 3:02PM
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Sure, I agree there is a tendency to pretend that whatever's not available on RISC OS is not needed, until it becomes available at which point it's better than anything else! Sometimes it's good to be reminded of this.

Nonetheless, personally I find that some of the best things about RISC OS are the things it does *differently*. It would be a shame to lose those in the scrabble to make RISC OS work in the same way as everything else. After all, if RISC OS becomes like everything else, then there's little point in using it at all. I'm not disagreeing with what you've said though.

The PD scene used to be awash with desktop 'enhancements' that added moving pictures, widgets etc. to the pinboard. The best one I thought had cockroaches that scuttled under the windows when you moved them (from *Info probably). A universal way to add functionality to the pinboard would be a really useful addition to the OS. In the meantime, it's nice to be reminded of the functionality that's already there.

 is a RISC OS Userflypig on 22/8/06 3:22PM
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