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Updated Products: X-Finder

Looking for a better Filer and/or App Manager for your HP Palmtop? Here's an in-depth look at the latest version of X-Finder.

By Peniel Romanelli

X-Finder is a GUI program launcher (like the Palmtop's Application Manager), a file manager, an archive manager, an icon viewer and a file transfer program all in one package. It knows how to handle long file names, aliases for paths, and symbolic links. The program is stable and user-configurable. The launcher and file manager are much more powerful and versatile than those built in to the Palmtop. Basic installation is fairly simple.

However, be forewarned: X-Finder is a Palmtop "power-user" tool. Setting it up exactly the way you want it is no trivial task. You'll find that it can take the place of many of your favorite file-manager programs and, as a result, you may wind up reconfiguring much of your current Palmtop setup. Don't expect the folks at Hewlett-Packard or Thaddeus Computing to answer questions about X-Finder. If you need help getting it to work, post a message on the HPLX-L list. There are a growing number of X-Finder users who will try to answer your questions.

The program was first mentioned in the Nov/Dec 1998 issue of The HP Palmtop Paper. Since then, the author Gaku Nakagawa has updated the program and Toshiki Sasabe has done his usual great job of translating the documentation into English. The program still remains free for personal use.

Memory Considerations

X-Finder uses about 65K bytes of memory to run. However, if you close Filer by using the CLOSEFLR program and don't start Application Manager, you'll lose only 7K bytes of memory overall. The trade-off is worth it.

Screen 1 shows the XF starting display on my palmtop. This is a GUI launcher that can use over 200 icons. The icons on my Palmtop screen are set up to launch my favorite programs, my most-frequently-used databases and to open other program folders. This setup is substantially different from the default Palmtop setup that comes in the X-Finder (XF) archive.

Screen 1: The opening screen of X-Finder can look like App Manager

The Yin/Yang icon (top left) opens the XF file manager with a split screen - drive C: on the left, A: on the right. (See Screen 2).

Screen 2: X-Finder displays more information than Filer

There are several options for the launcher and file manager screens that will be described later.

The two icons labeled "More DOS Apps" and "Games" open HDM folders to launch programs. Eventually I'll convert the HDM menu program to X-Finder but for now this is the setup that I use. There are also icons that start macros to open the main Phonebook using different subsets.

X-Finder's Features; The GUI Launcher

XF starts with a screen similar in appearance and function to the Application Manager's screen. From this screen you can start any of the built-in applications, any DOS or System Manager Compliant programs and XF's file manager. In addition, XF will open databases from icons, run macros from icons and even access files and run programs on a remote computer. EXM programs can be launched even if they're not registered in App Mgr or MoreEXM. You can nest one XF screen within another. That way you can have separate screens for games, communication software and infrequently used programs. How to do this will be described later.

The default, opening screen is set up to select from three palmtop drives, remote drives and the split screen file manager. It is also configured to open the Phonebook and Appointment PIMs, to run CHKDSK on either A or C, and to do remote backups. This is my personal configuration. However, with X-Finder, you can adopt the configuration provided with the initial installation, tweak it a little or tweak it a lot as I have. Almost everything about XF is user-definable.

The screen items are defined in what I call the "X-Files" (they use extensions .xfd, .xfe, .xff, .xfk, .xfl, and .xfm). These will be located in their own directory (C:\PALMTOP is the default) or they may even be kept in an LZH archive. The X-Files contain drive or directory paths for the file manager (.xfd), executable DOS and/or XF commands (.xfe and .xfm), symbolic links (.xff), or nothing at all (.xfk and .xfl). These last two are zero byte files with the hex code of an application hotkey or the name of an EXM as their name! If you download XFP3.ZIP from SUPER, it contains X-Files for drives, .xfk zero-byte files for built-in apps and a program that will create .xfl zero-byte files for all the EXMs installed in App Mgr and MoreEXM.

Secondary launcher screens (See Screen 3) are set up by creating a directory that includes a caret (^) in its name. (The one shown is called REMOTE^). This will use the same system of X-Files to define items for launch. A symbolic link can then be created with the main /Palmtop screen.

Screen 3: X-Finder can link with remote drives for backup.

The order of icons on the screen is alphanumeric by default, but can be changed in the FINDER.ENV file or from the menu. Reverse date/time sort works best for me. Icons are contained in the C:\_DAT\ICON.LZH file and are used directly from the archive. Each icon shares the name of the associated X-File. For example, if you have a file called FORTH.XFE that starts HP-Pygmy Forth, then the icon would be FORTH.ICN. Icons can also be associated with file extensions. A collection of icons to use with XF is available as XICONS.ZIP.

XF can launch more programs than the built-in Application Manager. However, it does not have the ease of use of App Mgr. There is no "Add-an-application" key. Rather, you have to create an .XF? file in the Palmtop directory.

The File Manager

Some configurations of the XF file manager may resemble Filer, but it's really a lot more. Like Filer, it can use either a full width or split screen (Screen 4) display. It can also provide a GUI file listing - also full width or split screen. If you use the list view, you can tell XF to display the date and time the files were last modified.

Screen 4: X-Finder can serve as an icon viewer as well as a program launcher.

At the bottom (just above the function keys) a status line shows the number of marked files (for copy, move, or delete), the name of the file at the cursor, its size, date/time stamp and attributes. Read-only files are underlined in the listing (Screen 5).

Screen 5: X-Finder can show the date and time stamp for all files

The [Tab]key switches the cursor from one side of the split screen to the other. Pressing [Shift][Tab] toggles between split screen and full-width display. The format for each side of the split screen can be chosen independently. Zoom ([Fn][Spacebar]) rotates the display mode between Detail (including date/time info), List (names only - two columns per half-screen), and Icons.

Probably the most significant advantage is that XF treats .ZIP and .LZH archives like directories. This is transparent to the user. Selecting an archive will bring up a file listing exactly like a directory. File copy, move, delete, and rename work as usual. Archived text files can be viewed or edited. About the only differences between working in a directory and an archive is that file attributes can't be changed in archives.

XF provides the ability to associate file extensions with certain programs (similar to using FILER.INI on the HP 200LX). However, unlike the associations in FILER.INI, XF will let you link a file to several different programs. You choose which program to use by the [Enter], [Shift][Enter], [Ctrl][Enter], or [Ctrl][Shift][Enter] keys. For example, .pcx, .gif, .jpg etc. files are associated with LXPIC. Selecting the file and hitting [Enter] displays the image. A .doc file could be displayed using LIST when [Enter] is pressed, and with VIEW if [Ctrl][Enter] is pressed.

This multiple association feature could let you eliminate the FILER.INI file along with the CHOICE.LXB file and the LXBatch program if you use them. XF does everything these programs and files can do and more. If you haven't tried using CHOICE. LXB, spend your time setting up XF and save the LXBatch program for something else.

The file association logic works with DOS programs, EXMs, and the built-in apps. Lotus .wk1 worksheets can be opened in 123, databases in the appropriate app, HTML documents in HV etc. Add as many associations as you want in FINDER.ENV.

XF can use long file names for both files and for the path headings on the file manager screen. Using this feature is very simple. For files, just move the highlight (or box cursor in the icon screen) to the file, and hit the comma key to bring up the "Extra Name" dialog box. Type the name and [Enter]. For paths, hit [Shift][.] (use the . on the numeric pad!) for the "Extra Title" dialog.

Another powerful capability of XF is the creation of symbolic links. This can be used to add entries to the Palmtop launcher screen. To use this feature, select a file in the file manager, press [Spacebar] to mark it, move to the /Palmtop screen or directory then hit [Ctrl][-]. Press [Enter] to confirm and the link is created. This adds an .xff file to the palmtop directory and gives the .xff the original filename as an alias. Symbolic links to databases will let you open them in their proper application. EXMs and DOS executables can be run from symbolic links. XF treats symbolic links exactly as if the linked file was selected in the file manager.

For easy recovery of deleted files, XF uses a trashcan. This, by default, is C:\TRASH. Deleted files are moved there. Files deleted from Trash are gone. Trash can fill up quickly, so it's a good idea to check it periodically, and clean it out. Trash is also used as a temporary directory when working with archives.

The Icon Viewer/Manager

The file manager also acts as an icon viewer when the iconized listing is selected. This makes it simple to add icons to the ICON.LZH and ICONFLD.LZH files used by XF. Just browse through the icons, mark the ones you like, and press [Shift][Enter] for ICON.LZH or [Ctrl][Enter] for ICONFLD.LZH. Icons are automatically added to the .lzh archives in uncompressed form. You may need to rename the icon(s) in your .lzh file, but this is done transparently, just like renaming a file in a directory.

Remote Links

Using the remote link feature of XF requires the installation of a small program (XFS.EXE) on the remote machine. This works with IBM compatible Windows or DOS computers (including palmtops). The palmtop (client) and the server are linked using the connectivity cable. Starting XFS on the remote machine and selecting a remote drive in XF will show the remote drive in the XF file manager screen. Drives and directories on the remote machine are handled just like local drives and directories. This is very similar to using Filer to transfer files between a palmtop and the HP Connectivity Pack on a desktop computer. You can even run programs on the Palmtop using commands from the remote computer.

To transfer files between palmtops using XF you'll need a cable. XF/XFS doesn't have IR capability.

Summary

X-Finder offers incredible power and versatility for managing applications, files, and archives. It's easy to install but not particularly intuitive to customize. Because so many aspects of XF are configurable, there's a lot to learn and master.

Installing And Setting Up X-Finder

iPhone Life magazine


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