Click right on with RISC OSBy Martin Hansen. Published: 22nd Mar 2008, 11:59:51 | Permalink | Printable
Martin Hansen runs through a few useful desktop tricks you may not be aware ofWhen asked what they most like about RISC OS, many enthusiasts are likely to mention the fluid, slick and intuitive manner with which user and computer interact. In other words, the graphical user interface, or the GUI as the geeks would have us call it. With RISC OS, the GUI encourages all applications to work in a similar way, and to have the same feel. Faced with new RISC OS software, a user already has a good idea of how to drive it and explore.
Drag-and-drop between easily resizable windows has long been a key assistant in making the whole RISC OS experience gel together. It is difficult to properly impress upon users of even the most up-to-date versions of Windows just how clunky and clumsy their GUI is, in comparison.
As a person forced to use Microsoft Windows applications at work, I have noted progress being made towards settling upon a more consistent approach across that platform's main applications over the years. Sadly, the standard settled upon remains less than it could be and certainly still far less than what Acorn got right, with RISC OS 3, almost twenty years ago.
It's the GUI that allows RISC OS users to still claim for that they have the productive operating system.
New old tricks
I suspect that many RISC OS users, myself included, have never sat down with a manual and systematically taught themselves how to use all of the GUI features of RISC OS. It's intuitive to use, we like to believe, and therefore there is no need.
Recently, however, I realised that there are many aspects to the user interface that I have managed to remain ignorant of, even though I use it a couple of hours every day. Having tumbled upon one non-obvious feature, which I shall describe shortly, I sat down with Acorn's Style Guide manual and discovered a few more. Then, with some systematic exploration, a few more still.
I'm no beginner to these things. It occurred to me that other users might appreciate my passing on my growing collection of tricks when using the RISC OS GUI.
The polite iconbar
One particularly useful trick that I discovered by accident many years ago concerns how to quickly and temporarily access the iconbar when the bit of it that you require is covered by an application's window. Simply drag the mouse pointer down and off the bottom of the screen and hold it there. A second later the iconbar pops into the foreground and will stay there while the mouse remains inside it. You all knew that one, right?
The disappearing and reappearing filer window
It's easy to overuse the left-hand 'select' mouse button on the RISC OS three-button mouse, but don't forget that the right-hand 'adjust' button often does something similar but usefully different. For example, a double-click on a directory with either button opens the directory window. With select the window containing the parent directory remains open. With adjust it closes. If you've never tried doing that before, try it out now. It's a neat way of stopping the desktop becoming cluttered with several open windows that are not required other than to pass through.
Of course, this rather begs the question, how does one get back to the parent directory? The answer is to click on the filer window's close icon not with select - which will just close the window - but instead with adjust. Magic.
The persistent menu
Another useful situation in which adjust is more appropriate than select is when you're choosing items from a menu. For example, suppose you're using Draw and you open a menu to set up the style for the text. Navigate through the menu tree, for example, Style => Font name => Homerton => Bold, and pick the font weight with adjust. The entire menu tree will stay on screen. One can now slide left back across the tree to, say, Font size, and then right again to choose the required size. It's so much slicker than reopening the menus and sub-menus from scratch again and again, which is what would happen if you used the select button. Much less mouse movement and thought equals greater productivity.
Navigating menus... click for larger
The foolhardy desktop
The relative ease with which a RISC OS machine, with BBC BASIC built in, allows users to write simple multitasking desktop programs inevitably results in a fair number of machine crashes when things go wrong. However, before reaching for the Ctrl-Break reset combination, it's worth pressing F12 and, even if you cannot see any image or only rubbish on screen, type in the word
desktop and press the return key twice. Often, the system recovers and continues soldiering on.
The icon of our pinboard
Now, it is time to reveal a feature of the GUI that I did not know about. I've saved it to the end of this article in the hope that, by now, I have revealed something that you, the reader, did not know about, and this should hopefully lessen the chorus of "I can't believe you didn't know that". Here it is: on any window, clicking select on the window close icon while holding down the Shift key iconises the window onto the pinboard - or in other words, hides the window and places a little icon on the pinboard in its place. You can bring the window back by double-clicking on the window's icon on the pinboard.
Many applications include a custom icon to display on the pinboard when a window is iconised, including, from now on, my own. In the example below,
ic_magic, is the new iconise-to-the-pinboard sprite in the !Sprites22 file for one of my programs.
Iconise windows... click for larger
OK, having got my shameful admission out of the way, here is a question to finish on. What happens if you click adjust on a filer window close icon while holding down the Shift key?
If you can't work it out, close all windows except one that is not a root directory viewer and try it out. I've never subscribed to the sentiment that you can't teach old dogs new tricks, so if you have a nifty and elegant GUI trick, you're welcome to post it below.
A detailed look at the RISC OS 3 GUI
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