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Hands-on Review: Launcher X
By: Scott Windom
November 19, 2002

Well, it's out of beta. People have been waiting with varying degrees of patience for Launcher X for a long time, myself one of them. I was an avid user of Launcher III before Launcher X came out and have been looking forward to it with all the rest.

Customization
When I first installed Launcher X, the customization was the first thing that hit me. Actually, the first thing was that it ran in hi-res on my HandEra 330, but when I started looking at the customization options, I was highly impressed. I started out working with the category tabs and discovered immediately that they could be changed. By putting in a space for the name of each tab and then selecting a graphic from a list provided, I was able to represent each category with a picture instead of a word, thereby allowing myself to add more tabs without having to scroll through them. I was also impressed that I was able to put the tabs at the top or either side of the screen. I could also select one skin that didn't display the tabs at all. All this out of the box, without installing skin number one.

Icon and List Views
Launcher XThose of you who have been struggling with large and small icons, large and small list views, rejoice. Launcher X offers more options here, too. You get these four options and in addition, you can then select how many columns to use. If you are able to recognize all of your applications by just their respective graphics, you can cram more apps into one screen than ever before, and the excellent hi-res support means that you can do it without your reading glasses. If you're really interested, you can even set the color of the text in which the app names are displayed. All of these options can be set in each category independently. Organization of apps can be alphabetical or as you set it, allowing you to prioritize your apps and put the most important ones so that they are easily accessed.

Gadgets
The gadget icons are in the same place, on the bottom of the screen, just as in Launcher III. The old ones are back with reinforcements. A favorite of mine is a new one to allow the user to send a file as an e-mail attachment by dragging it to the button. However, in this version, there is a small arrow on one side of the gadget toolbar which can be tapped to hide it. This option is useful if you need all the screen real estate you can get, or if you just don't use a lot of gadgets.

Security
Speaking of hidden, you can also hide and password protect tabs, in order to prevent unauthorized access.

Hi-Res
A word about hi-res support in Launcher X: As I mentioned earlier, Launcher X supports several different hi-res API's. A new addition is that it achieves this support without added bulk. There is a Sony hi-res add-in, a HandEra add-in, and an OS5 add-in as of this writing. This means that I am able to use Launcher X with hi-res support for my own device without having to carry around hi-res support for anyone else's device and the added bulk that comes with it. This is a very well-advised move on the part of the Launcher X developers.

Launcher XSkins
Along the same lines as hi-res support by now is the ability to create skins. Because the launcher has just been released, there are not many skins available at the moment. However, I thought it worthy of mention, because there are already a few and Launcher X is designed to be eminently skinnable. I would look for a lot of activity in the future.

Improvements
A lot of what makes Launcher X a great improvement over Launcher III is obviously visible. The hi-res support makes it easier to use on devices that take advantage of it. However, much of the improvement is also in the finer points, the details that make the launcher just a bit easier to use. For example, if you have a lot of apps or a large card, you can set it not to refresh when it is run. If you run in this mode, or you have changed something and need to force a rescan, there is a refresh button conveniently situated near the clock. It is surprising how many taps this has saved me over having to find the menu selection to refresh. This is just one of many subtle enhancements made since our last look at Launcher III.

Card Support
Launcher XFor those of you who use Launcher III, you know how the card support works. For those of you who do not, let me explain it. When an app is dropped on the card tool, the user has the option of either moving or copying the selected app to the card. Launcher X maintains this, but adds a bit more flair to it. With a separate file browser application, it allows the user to select where on the card--and in the case of HandEra users, where on which card--to place the application. Consequently, an app can be moved around to any location on the card without the necessity of a separate file manager. This lends itself to another feature of Launcher X, an ability unprecedented among other launchers, even those with card support: Applications can be stored in any folder on the card, not just in the /Palm/Launcher folder. In addition to this folder, I added a few others to the scan list on my device. This enabled me to organize my apps not only into tabs in the launcher, but also by type into folders, so I don't have to look at so many files in the main launcher directory.

Card Refresh
Now, on to what I didn't like, however little of it there is. I have noticed that when I have a lot of apps on my card, the refresh rate is somewhat slow when I refresh the launcher. This would not be as much of a problem if it were not for the fact that it is required so often. For example, whenever PiDirect II is enabled on my HandEra 330, the launcher must be refreshed in order to see the new app.. It also must be refreshed when PiDirect II is disabled, because tapping the icon of an app which is no longer there causes a fatal exception. After testing, it seems that this problem, in the defense of the developer, only manifests itself on devices with a great many applications. Refreshes on my NX70V are almost instantaneous. The only time it really bogged down was when I was refreshing over 100 apps, most on a card, from my HandEra 330. I tend to think that most users will not carry quite this much weight in apps.

Apps Button Remap
In speaking of my second negative finding, perhaps I should say something of myself. When I first started out in Palm OS computing, one of the first third-party apps I ever tried was a launcher. I used it for a while and finally decided to go back to the built-in launcher. I deleted the third-party app and to my horror, my Palm Vx had reverted to something that looked a lot like Palm OS 1.0. To make a long story short, after tech support couldn't help me, I ended up spending most of a day blanking both my device and my user.

After that experience, I essentially stopped using third-party launchers of any variety for a long time. Even after that, I used them only as utilities, not allowing them to remap my apps button. Unfortunately, though, Launcher X does not allow one this luxury. Instead, it simply remaps the Apps button when it is first run, then undoes that when the "Exit Launcher X" menu option is selected. I would much prefer a check box, so I know where the launcher stands.

In conclusion, it seems that Launcher X, though a long time in coming, is well worth a look. Launcher III customers will find the same attractive feature set, all the workhorse that the ancestor was, back with reinforcements. For those of you used to other launchers with more eye candy than Launcher III provided, you will also be pleasantly greeted, especially if you have a hi-res display on which to view the new material. All in all, anyone interested in purchasing a third-party launcher or switching to a new one should give Launcher X a serious look.

PIC Bottom Line

PROS
CONS
  • Hi-res/Hi-res+ support for HandEra and Sony devices
  • OS5 support
  • Hi-res support without added bulk
  • Almost unlimited customization
  • Store apps in any card directory
  • Slow refresh for large cards
  • No selector to remap or not remap the apps button

RATING: 9 / 10
Usability: 5
Appearance: 5
Value: 4.5

Launcher X is available from Benc Software. It is $24.95 for new users, and $7.95 for Launcher III owners.

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Looks good from a Launcher III perspective

bookrats @ 11/19/2002 11:50:49 AM #
Thank you -- a very useful review, particularly for a Launcher III user. I just got my upgrade notice this morning ($5.95), and I'm very interested in trying it out.

----

[i]"I'm warning you ... if you kill me, they'll just send 008!"[/i]

Jeff Meyer

RE: Looks good from a Launcher III perspective
mike500 @ 11/19/2002 12:47:19 PM #
This is great!
I especially like the option of no text under the icons. (This is done by making the canvas and text the same color) Who needs the names? We all know what our applications are! And this way you can get four rows of icons showing.
One thing that bothered me was that the tabs with "icons only" are too small. I prefer no names, just icons so I named the tab with five blanks spaces and chose the "both" option to have both the icon and name appear. Now I have a nice size tab with only an icon. If you only have five or so tabs you may as well use the extra apace with bigger tabs. In fact you can arrange them in a way that all your tabs will utilize all the available space by reducing or increasing the amount of blank spaces you put in the name field!

Maybe for Palms, but not for the NR70

all74 @ 11/19/2002 11:53:39 AM #
I had this program on my NR70 for about 1 minute. After that it was obvious that YiShow was far superior, at least for the NR70. I can imagine that for the Palm series this would be pretty good, but not for the NR/NX CLIEs
RE: Maybe for Palms, but not for the NR70
markgm @ 11/19/2002 12:07:40 PM #
I used it on my NR as a beta, and now in it's full version on my NX, and I would not consider using anything else. It could have more bells and whistles, but it is the most polished and stable launcher I have used to date.

RE: Maybe for Palms, but not for the NR70
digilaw @ 11/19/2002 1:42:37 PM #
I agree with the first poster. I do not want to start any launcher wars but to just express personal dissapointment. Somehow, after all the wait it is very disapointing to discover Yishow is a superior launcher (again personal opinion). In no way am I saying that Launcher X did not do what it said it would. Besides the marginaly useful "homer" button (there are a bunch of other apps that do this function) everything Benc advertised was there. However, Yishow has everything launcher x has plus a far superior file manager.

RE: Maybe for Palms, but not for the NR70
ardee @ 11/19/2002 1:43:16 PM #
Why do you (original poster) think YiShow is better? Supporting argument(s) please!


RE: Maybe for Palms, but not for the NR70
Take1 @ 11/19/2002 2:49:00 PM #
In certain ways, LauncherX is better (tabs, vfs app mover, color schemes, etc.). Small icons on the TT look better with Launcher X than on YiShow for Palm. YiShow uses the OS's small icons instead of scaling the large ones to a smaller size for better look/resolution.

YiShow has the advantage with it's built in file browser, photo app. (slideshow feature), and document reader. I prefer YiShow on the Clie models and LauncherX for the TT. It also has the ability to use wallpapers.

Note: Since a large amount of OS5 apps (built-in and 3rd Party) don't use transparent backgrounds, the wallpaper and color backgrounds of both launchers are worthless (IMHO). Unless you like looking at a nice wallpaper or a colored tab window with icons surrouned by a white square! A hack like AppIcon is needed to take full advantage of skins/colors.

I think the lines will blur a little more with time as both launchers are work in progress.



RE: Maybe for Palms, but not for the NR70
Ronin @ 11/19/2002 4:48:23 PM #
LX and LIII have one feature that I find to be very handy that is not mentioned very often - the ability to create shortcuts to applications stored on the card.

The shortcut is handy, particularly, when you want to transfer a program to the card that has a hotsync conduit. Usually, such an app must stay in internal RAM to sync but with the small shortcut file in RAM and the actual program on the card the conduit is fooled into thinking that the program is in RAM and the program syncs as usual. The only other program that I am aware of that creates similar shortcuts is PowerRun, however, the shortcut is not recognized by the conduit to allow sync (at least the last time I tried PowerRun).

Yet another tool to use in moving files to external storage.

In the Spirit of Umoja,
Ronin

RE: Maybe for Palms, but not for the NR70
anjrober1 @ 11/19/2002 4:58:05 PM #
See I had the completely opposite feeling. I liked some of the earlier versions of YShow, but hated the last 2 releases. I had been using MegaLauncher but love the new LauncherX. YShow was so flakey. Lots of resets. Even caused me to lose data. That is the only time in 5+ years of heavy palm use that I lost data.

RE: Maybe for Palms, but not for the NR70
Gepeto- @ 11/19/2002 5:02:11 PM #
Same for me, used to use MegaLauncher, and LauncherX is very fine with me. Couldn't stand Yishow.

RE: Maybe for Palms, but not for the NR70
OcellNuri @ 11/20/2002 6:30:02 PM #
Ronin:

I know for sure that LX and YiShow both let you make shortcuts. I am pretty sure that ZLauncher also works this way. I can't remember about MegaLauncher and Silver Screen though.

It is a great feature indeed. But I just want to make sure that every knows that LIII is not the only launcher that can do this.

It's "Ocell" for short.

RE: Maybe for Palms, but not for the NR70
emceephd @ 11/21/2002 9:42:42 AM #
How do you make shortcuts for files on an SD Card in LX?

Slower than I had hoped

Tim Hill @ 11/19/2002 11:54:09 AM #
This isn't the speed demon I had hoped for and it seems to have added little to the functionality of the long-in-the-tooth Launcher III, other than new pictures. Having to manually refresh the screen to have decent speed is not really a long-term solution. It seems like the other launchers out there have already done most (if not more) than is here--see ZLaucher, et al.

RE: Slower than I had hoped
PDA Stephen @ 11/21/2002 11:23:43 AM #
I tried SliverScreen, ZLauncher, and LauncherX. I like ZLauncher myself. The thing I find most handy is if you tap and hold on an icon, a list of actions popup allowing me to do copy, move, delete, info ... I find that is easier that dragging the icon to the gadget bar at the bottom (which ZLauncher can do, too). I also like the recycle bin in ZLauncher, you can recover a deleted application is you later change your mind. ZLauncher can do short cut to SD card, also. You can rearrange tabs by simply dragging them on screen (easiler than Launcher X).

--
Stephen ԿԬ

Skins

Ronin @ 11/19/2002 11:59:38 AM #
Hey, were did you get the skins in the article from?

In the Spirit of Umoja,
Ronin
RE: Skins
Take1 @ 11/21/2002 2:42:11 AM #
Go to ClieSource and look under downloads/skins/LauncherX

And MORE...

mtc111 @ 11/19/2002 11:59:48 AM #
I liked the review. I really like the product. I'm very pleased with the upgrade policy. There's more to the product than what's reviewed. The "file info" capability is very nice. My one complaint is the removal of the "home tab" option in preferences that makes the 1st tab the one that is always displayed when the launcher is launched. However, I'll get over it.
RE: And MORE...
DaveyDave @ 11/19/2002 12:28:35 PM #
Not so fast... Go to "Edit Category List" in the menu. There is an "Always Start in:" option to select the category to, well, always start in. This is much nicer than L3 because you can choose. L3 just let you always start at the 1st tab.

Dave

RE: And MORE...
Mead Lawson @ 11/19/2002 12:37:30 PM #
mtc111,

You can still have the Always Start Here feature you're used to using. Go to "Edit Category List" then choose from the tab list for "Always Start In".

I'm still using LIII v2.2 on my Treo 180g. I'll surely register LauncherX when I get a color Palm (Tungsten-T v2.0 with OSv6 - maybe mid '03?).

Best,

Mead

RE: And MORE...
mtc111 @ 11/19/2002 12:54:25 PM #
Hey! Thanks for the info. I jumped into the app w/o reading through the documentation... and, I paid the price.

Now I'm simply ecstatic.

Homer?

johnwin @ 11/19/2002 12:20:02 PM #
What happened to the 'Homer' button?

RE: Homer?
bookrats @ 11/19/2002 1:03:36 PM #
From the Launcher X FAQ page at http://www.launcherx.com/support/:

----
I've heard information about a 'Homer' function. What is it?

"Homer" is a feature that will be implemented in a future Launcher X release. When complete, it will allow quick launching into your most frequently used apps from within any application.
---

Speaking for myself, this isn't a big deal -- I have McPhling, which is excellent, and sounds as if it's pretty much matches Homer's functionality (though there's very little detail about what the latter actually is.)

If I were B. Benc, I'd look into licensing McPhling to ship with Launcher X under the name of Homer. It's a rock-solid hack. (But, come to think of it, I imagine it won't work under Palm OS 5.0).


----

[i]"I'm warning you ... if you kill me, they'll just send 008!"[/i]

Jeff Meyer

RE: Homer?
orev @ 11/19/2002 1:04:44 PM #
My guess is that they wanted to get something released finally, so they scrubbed some of the more complex features. We'll probably see it in a later release.

RE: Homer?
Beavis @ 11/19/2002 1:09:41 PM #
DOH!

RE: Homer?
costein @ 11/19/2002 1:13:14 PM #
A Little OT, but McPhling is now available for OS5. Check PalmGear.

RE: Homer?
ardee @ 11/19/2002 1:45:05 PM #
I concur, McPhling is rock-solid and a MUST-have!


RE: Homer?
I.M Anonymous @ 11/19/2002 4:56:25 PM #
I personally prefer Phlegm Hack over McPhiling -- I find its penstrokes more convenient.

RE: Homer?
mike500 @ 11/19/2002 5:46:54 PM #
Thanks for letting me know about McPhling, Until ten minutes ago I was still using SwitchHack which does not support switching back to VFS apps.

RE: Homer?
ardee @ 11/19/2002 6:40:19 PM #
"McPhling is based heavily on Mitch Blevin's Phlegm Hack. McPhling simply adds a few features and fixes some bugs and goes on from there."


RE: Homer?
yoyoman412 @ 11/19/2002 9:24:35 PM #
For some reason when I have Mcphling enabled, Blazer wont start correctly, but when I un enable it, Blazer starts fine. So Im looking forward to the Homer function becuase I imagine my Mcphling prblem wont happen with Homer.

RE: Homer?
johnwin @ 11/20/2002 5:48:06 AM #
I to use McPhling but it just anoys me that after all this time waiting one of the featured functions of the app has quietly evaporated. Just my 0.02

RE: Homer?
VisorMiser @ 11/20/2002 3:12:35 PM #
McPhling rocks, highly customizable and it's 10 bucks (instead of 12) till the end of November. I applaud the developer for having the confidence & guts to put out his app on the honor system, fully functional w/o expiration date.

TT D-pad

sandbuck @ 11/19/2002 12:24:53 PM #
Does it support the TT D-pad?

RE: TT D-pad
Operator99 @ 11/19/2002 12:27:25 PM #
Yup. And it really is quite a nice upgrade. Esp. the file manager - it might not replace McFile or Filez, both of which I have used (now using McFile), but it does 90% of what I use Mcfile for. The tiny icons are great for squeezing more on the screen and...if the development continues as it did from launcherIII ver. 1.x to LauncherIII ver 3.x, we should be in for some really nice enhancements. The d-pad support alone is enough to get me away from Silver or the Tungsten/Palm built in launcher.

RE: TT D-pad
HAFranks @ 11/19/2002 12:31:22 PM #
I've installed it this morning. The TT D-pad is supported. Both the selector button and the 4-way scroll.

My only problem is that I paid for the upgrade this morning and they still have not sent the upgrade key.

RE: TT D-pad
mtc111 @ 11/19/2002 12:56:49 PM #
You are not alone

RE: TT D-pad
mtc111 @ 11/19/2002 1:10:57 PM #
Oops again. Just got my reg code. Maybe you are alone.

RE: TT D-pad
HAFranks @ 11/19/2002 2:15:16 PM #
I just got my code.

categories (copy/move)

eddarkuk @ 11/19/2002 12:47:24 PM #
can you have a file in only one category or does it allow a category with all files in it?

RE: categories (copy/move)
saw9000 @ 11/19/2002 4:59:54 PM #
I don't quite see what you're asking.
Scott

HandEra Moderator
Off-Topic Moderator
I'm trying to be PC, I really am, but I'm just too into handhelds.
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