The Blob 1.0, by Crabby Apple Software
Posted: 31-Aug-2004

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Crabby Apple Software Type: FREEWARE

Reviewer: Diane Love Class: UTILITY
     
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Introduction
Shortly after Mac OS X 10.3 Panther was released in 2003, strange rumors began to circulate on the web, regarding some obscure commands that you could type into your terminal in order to make an enigmatic translucent aqua Blob appear on your display. The Blob provided another way to invoke the new Expose functions provided by Panther.


Apple's "Aqua Blob"

As a reminder, Expose can do three things, each with one keystroke. F11 makes every window fly off beyond the edges of your screen till you ask them to come back again with another F11. This allows you to get at the buried leaf mold of icons on your desktop. Alternatively you can use F9 to make every open window shrink and slide so that all appear together tiling your screen. One click of the mouse in the window of your choice brings everything back to the proper size with your selected window on top. Finally F10 is like F9 but restricting itself to the windows of the active application.

Expose also allows you to assign these functions to other keys or to mouse gestures like a movement into a corner of the display. Unfortunately many people find that no matter what keys they choose for Expose, they end up with a clash with an application shortcut. The mouse in the corner approach is promising but likely to demonstrate how frequently you end up in those corners by accident.

The Panther Blob allows you to do the F9 thing and the F10 thing. Click in the Blob for F10. Option-click for F9. Shift in addition to either of these does the same thing very slowly.

Rumor sites were full of speculation about all this. Was it a feature that Apple didn't have time to put into Panther in a more obvious way before release? Was it some test code that Apple forgot to remove before releasing Panther? Was slo-mo mode provided for dramatic emphasis or just for checking the Expose window sliding algorithms?

I tried it out from the terminal but was unhappy about having to type obscure strings. Suppose I lost the undo code? How would I remove the Blob?

Enter "The Blob"
Pretty soon after all the fuss over the mysterious Blob, a freeware application called "The Blob" appeared on the Apple OS X download website. It has a simple user interface which allows you to enable and disable the Blob, and select the images used for the dormant and active Blob states. The application comes with some shiny golden emoticons to use as alternatives to the shimmering translucent aqua version that comes out of the box.


The Blob application


The application The Blob performs its duties adequately and without any special installation requirements. It seems unwilling to allow a regular user to change the icons even when the admin password is entered. If the admin user does this then the new icons are available to a regular user. It's always necessary to disable and re-enable the Blob to make new icons take effect. People using Dock replacement haxies should proceed with caution since changing the Blob's status also kills and relaunches the Dock.

Using the Blob
I can vouch that it's quite possible to ignore the aqua Blob completely when you don't need it. Although it's on top of everything, it does nothing unless you click in it. Clicking and dragging moves it without invoking it. If it ever happened to get on top of something you wanted to click, it would be simple to nudge it elsewhere. I tend to leave it half way down the right of my display and it never gets in the way.

I do find it disappointing that the F11 function to remove all windows is not provided, since this is the Expose function I use most at present. This is really not the fault of the application but rather the underlying Panther Blob code.

Filmic Heritage
To many people, "The Blob" will always mean the 1950's horror film starring Steve McQueen. A meteorite falls to earth and out comes a turnip-sized blob. The blob rolls around eating everything in its path, getting bigger and bigger as it goes. To others, the shimmering globe may trigger recollections of the sinister Loc Nar, the ball of concentrated evil from the film Heavy Metal. This basketball-sized glowing green object rolls through space and time causing madness and mayhem wherever it appears.

Clearly then, the authors of The Blob are failing to make the most of their creation. The next release ought to add a "50's Blob" mode where the Blob grows over time, perhaps in response to user inactivity. Loc Nar mode, on the other hand, ought to cause the stationary Blob to mysteriously roll around the screen and back to its starting point.

As a minimum, developing a plug-in architecture to accept other applications like MoonDock would avoid duplication of circular objects on the display while adding the useful feature of a moon phase display to the Blob.

Summary
"The Blob" is a freeware application that allows you to unleash the undocumented Panther aqua Blob on your system without using the terminal. This in turn provides an original and thought-provoking method of activating Panther's Expose functions. I recommend Panther users to try out The Blob, despite its permission problems, possible interference with Dock replacement haxies, and failure to take the idea to the limits of the human imagination. It's small, free, fun and less harmful than the 50's film version. Like an executive toy on your desk, the Blob will catch your eye, demanding to be clicked when you are in need of inspiration, and delighting visitors from the world of Windows.

Pros

  • unobtrusive
  • cool
  • movable
  • customizable


Cons

  • permission problems with non-admin users
  • relaunches Dock when used
  • no support for desktop-clearing Expose function
  • fails to take advantage of its filmic heritage


Overall Rating

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice