DragThing 5.0.2, by TLA Systems
Posted: 4-Mar-2004

5 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: TLA Systems Type: SHAREWARE

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: UTILITY
     
$29   Download

Overview
DragThing is a desktop utility that makes items on your Mac such as files, folders, applications, disks, URLs, and even windows, quickly and easily accessible, while taking up as little space on your screen as possible. Enabling speedy access to your items are DragThing docks, and unlike the Mac OS X system Dock, DragThing docks are highly configurable, can be layered, and you can have multiple docks customized to suit your specific needs. DragThing also supports hot keys, a desktop Trash, and desktop sounds.

Price
Single user license is $29 (upgrade from earlier versions is $12)

Requirements

  • Version 5.0.1 requires Mac OS X 10.2 or later
  • Version 4.6.1 requires Mac OS X 10.1.5 or later, or Mac OS 9 with CarbonLib 1.6
  • Version 2.9 requires Mac OS 7.5.5 or later (does not work on Mac OS X)


Setup
Obtaining DragThing is as simple as going to the DragThing web site and downloading the application installer. After downloaded, run the installer, and you can begin using DragThing immediately. DragThing is shareware, and can be used unregistered so that you can determine if you like it. If you like it, then you can register your copy for $29 (or $12 if you are upgrading from a previous version). Registering DragThing provides you a serial number that will deactivate the shareware reminder message that is displayed when DragThing starts up, and also enables more features that are not included with the unregistered version (such as floating dock windows and hot keys). The only problem I experienced is that after registering DragThing under my account, I discovered that other users on my computer were still getting the shareware message. This means that you must enter the serial number for each user account on the machine.

When you first start DragThing, it automatically starts you off with a dock that is displayed on your desktop that includes four layers: Applications, Documents, Folders, and URLs. It even fills in some of the buttons for you to get your started (such as iTunes and Safari under applications, and DragThing web sites under URLs). Customizing DragThing to better suit your needs and work habits is where the fun really begins.

In Use
A DragThing dock sits on your desktop, and is made up of cells that contain individual dock items (such as files, applications, folders, etc.), providing you quick access to any of these items. You can also create multiple layers of these cells within a dock to organize several different kinds of items (the example above shows 4 layers, with the Applications layer being on top). Clicking on a layer tab places that layer's dock items on top. You can style each layer in several different ways, including colors, fonts, cell design, layer tabs, etc. (too many to list for this review). Adding items to a layer is as simple as dragging the item to a layer tab and letting DragThing decide where to put it, or dragging to an empty cell of your choosing. Removing an item from the dock can be done by control-clicking (or right-clicking) a cell and choosing "Move to Trash". Don't worry, it doesn't actually move the original item to the trash, just an alias to that item.

DragThing dock after revised for my own tastes

With my primary dock setup with several layers, each representing a category (such as "Internet", "Games", "Utilities", etc.), it became a breeze to get to my favorite applications fast and easy. No more hunting for items through folders or on my desktop. With DragThing's multiple rows and multiple layers, you get access to far more items than provided by the OS X Dock, including categorical organization. You can also setup up "hot spots", so that if my screen is filled with windows covering my dock, I simply move the cursor to my screen hot spot (in my case, it is the top left corner), and DragThing docks rise to the front for easy and immediate access. Optionally, you can have the dock float on top all the time, but that can be rather obtrusive.

DragThing supports drag and drop so that you can drag files onto a dock item to have the file open with that application. Have a file you want to launch with a particular application, but it is in a layer that is not in front? No problem - just drag the file over the layer tab that you need, and DragThing automatically senses the mouse and brings that layer to the front. Then you can drop the file on the desired item to launch it. For example, say you have a .bin file that you want to open with Stuffit Expander, but the Games layer is the frontmost layer in your dock. Drag the file over the Utilities layer tab, and after the Utilities layer comes to the top, drag and drop the file onto the Expander item in the layer.

The dock that you create with items of your own choosing is known as a "static" dock. All items in a static dock are managed by the user. In addition to static docks, however, DragThing also supports "dynamic" docks that can change throughout your session. There are three types of dynamic docks in DragThing: Process, Disk, and Window. The Process Dock shows all the items which are currently running, with various options such as showing background apps or listing items in the order they were launched. This dock is similar to the old OS 9 application window (created when you dragged the application menu off the top menu bar), but with much more flexibility and customization. There is also the Disk Dock that shows mounted hard disks, removable media, connected servers, and more. Finally, there is the Window dock which shows all the open windows. This dock may not seem useful at first, but it actually provides a very nice function. Back in OS 9, if you clicked on an open window from another application, the Finder not only put that application in front, it brought all of it's associated windows with it. However, in OS X, the Finder only brings the one window that you clicked on to the front, leaving associated windows behind windows belonging to other applications. This can be chaotic and very frustrating when dealing with several apps and several windows, but with DragThing's Window Dock, you can manage all your windows quite easily. By choosing to sort your Window dock by application, all of your windows are easily available without having to hunt through open windows. While Apple's Exposé provides some window management functionality, I found that the DragThing Window dock is much easier to use than Exposé. All of these dynamic docks are optional, and can be turned on or off as you desire. They can also be styled and customized just like the static docks.

The Docks settings panel; 1 of 11 settings categories under Preferences

The amount of customization that DragThing supports can be overwhelming. DragThing preferences apply to all docks, and contains 11 categories of preferences: General, Docks, Items, Appearance, Colours, Textures, Sounds, Hot Keys, Trash, Software Update, and Advanced. You can further refine your settings for each dock by choosing the Dock Options or Layer Options settings (under the Edit menu). Dock Options includes settings in the following categories: General, Visibility, Hot Keys, and Advanced. Layer Options allow you to specify the design of your dock (either for all layers in that dock, or for each individual layer). In addition to all the settings options, you can also change some of the view options on the fly using the View menu. The view menu also provides the method of displaying your cells: small icons, icons, large icons, and names (no icon). Finally, as if the built-in options were not enough, DragThing also provides a Scripts menu for executing Applescripts of your choosing (and includes several scripts to start your off with).

Some of the settings that I found most useful include using a hot spot to bring DragThing to the front, choosing the Brushed Metal texture for my dock layers, customizing the colors for my layers, activating DragThing sounds, and bringing back the Desktop "Trash" icon. For some reason, Apple abandoned the desktop trash in OS X and stuck it in the dock (which is just plain wrong). DragThing puts the trash back on your desktop, and the DragThing trash looks and behaves just like the OS 9 desktop trash. One thing that could improve the desktop trash, as well as the DragThing docks in general, is to somehow get the Finder to recognize the screen real estate that is being used by them. For instance, when I have a lot of volumes that mount on my system, instead of stopping short of the trash icon and starting a new column at the top, the Finder will overlay a mounted volume right on top of the trash can. In addition to that, sometimes the Finder places files and folders behind my DragThing dock, forcing me to minimize the dock so that I can drag the item to a better place on my desktop. One work around for this is to place invisible files with blank names on your desktop in the areas where you don't want the Finder to use.

For those of you who liked to use the "tabs" in OS 9, you can customize DragThing to reproduce that behavior by using the "Show Dock as a Drawer" option under Dock options Visibility tab. I was not a fan of OS 9 tabs, so I don't use this visibility option. However, I do use the other visibility option for translucency. You can adjust the translucency of your docks from Opaque to fully transparent, and everywhere in between. I set mine up to be slightly transparent when the cursor is not over it, and then fully opaque on mouse over. The translucency effect helps you to see when the Finder places an item on the desktop behind the dock.

One other issue to note with DragThing is the fact that it provides all the functionality of the Dock, plus much more, and all in a better package. How can that be a bad thing? The reason this is an issue is because after getting up and running on DragThing, you immediately want to dispose of the OS X Dock. All it does is interfere with your desktop and your productivity. Unfortunately, there is no way to eliminate the OS X Dock. You can set the Dock to hide, but it still rears its ugly head when you mouse over the bottom edge of the screen. It would be nice if DragThing incorporated some of the animation features of the OS X Dock, such as the genie effects and enlarged icons during mouse over. That way if we ever find a good utility to eliminate the OS X Dock completely, DragThing would leave nothing to be missed.

Summary

As Apple appears to be growing somewhat rigid in terms of providing functionality and flexibility in the Mac OS interface, and it is nice to know that there is a third party tool such as DragThing that fills one of those gaps. DragThing is a gem of a desktop utility, providing organized and quick access to all the programs, folders and files that you access the most. DragThing is more than just a OS X Dock replacement utility; it is arguably the best desktop management tool available for Mac OS X. With its rich feature set, and easy customization, this desktop utility has something for everyone. DragThing is intuitive, reliable and very stable, and is definitely worth a look for anyone looking to improve their OS X experience.

Pros

  • Quick and organized access to files, folders and applications
  • Flexible, versatile, and highly customizable
  • Docks can have multiple rows and multiple layers
  • Brings back the desktop trash

Cons

  • Trash icon can be overlayed by Finder
  • Finder can place items behind docks
  • Does not support animations found in the OS X Dock
  • Installation only registers for the installing user account


Overall Rating

5 out of 5 Mice