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BeOS Tip Roundup

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BeOS Tip Roundup

compiled by Scot Hacker, author of The BeOS Bible

A GOOD SET OF TIPS SAVES YOU TIME by teaching you new tricks and ways to simplify your daily work. The tips below are culled from The BeOS Tip Server, where you'll find hundreds of others. And don't forget The BeOS Bible: Each chapter is peppered with quick tips to help you master every aspect of the Be experience.


While the Tip Server is run by the author of The BeOS Bible, it's organized as an informal community project--many tips are submitted by visitors to the site (each tip below is credited to its contributor). Thus, content on the Tip Server does not necessarily reflect content in The BeOS Bible.

Make BeOS boot floppies (Intel)

It's a good idea to make a backup copy of your BeOS boot floppy--you never know when you might need it. You can do this by creating a raw disk image either from the file /boot/beos/system/zbeos or from the original floppy itself (the zbeos method is easier). While you can't boot a more recent version of the BeOS with an older boot floppy, you can always use the latest boot floppy to boot an older version of the OS.

Within the BeOS, you can either use a GUI tool like Crude Floppy Copy, or the dd command. To duplicate the image on the floppy, follow these steps:

  1. Open a Terminal window.
  2. Insert the boot floppy.
  3. Type "dd if=/dev/disk/floppy/raw of=bootflop.img."
  4. Wait for the copy to finish and remove the boot floppy.
  5. Insert a blank formatted disk.
  6. Type "dd if=bootflop.img of=/dev/disk/floppy/raw."
  7. Wait for the copy to finish.

To create a copy of the zbeos image, do the following:

  1. Open a Terminal window.
  2. Insert a floppy you don't mind overwriting.
  3. Type "dd if=/system/zbeos of=/dev/disk/floppy/raw."
  4. Wait for the copy to finish.

The same technique works within Linux. To create a boot floppy from Windows, search the Net for a tool called RAWRITE.EXE and run it according to the included instructions. Alternatively, launch a DOS session and type DiskCopy a: b: (swap SOURCE and DESTINATION as needed). --John Brajkovic

Launch email or URLs quickly

Next time you've got a Person file open, take a look at the field names on the left-hand side. Both E-mail and URL are underlined, indicating that they're links. Click the E-mail link to start a new message to that address, or click URL to send that location to your browser. --Scot Hacker

Make any image an icon

Here are three ways to create a BeOS icon from an image file.

Via Icon-o-Matic Double-click the icon well in any FileType panel. Once open, just drag any image for which you have an installed Translator into the main image area, and the image will scale appropriately. Do a little touch-up if necessary, save, and you're all set.

Via Thumbnail Install a copy of Thorsten Seitz's excellent Thumbnail. Run any image for which you have an installed Translator through Thumbnail, and the program will create an icon from that image, then store the icon in that file's icon attributes.


Via Photoshop In Photoshop for Mac OS or Windows, size your image to exactly 32 x 32 pixels and save it in .RAW format. Resize it again in 16 x 16 format and save it under a different name. Move both raw files to your BeOS machine.

Create a new file, right-click it, and choose Add-Ons | FileType. When the dialog pops up, drag your large image into the icon field. It should change into the new icon. Then drag in the small version. You won't get any feedback here, but it also will be imported (you need the small version of the icon for Tracker list views). --Scot Hacker

Clean up your icons

When you're using the Tracker in Mini Icon or Large Icon mode, it's easy for the arrangement of icons in the window to become messy. Some may even end up partially obscured by the window edges or by other icons. To quickly clean up a Tracker view, tap Alt+K, which will cause all icons to snap to the nearest point on an invisible grid.

Note, however, that this will not "squish out the white space"--to do that, use Shift+Alt+K, or hold down the Shift key when accessing the Window menu and the Clean Up option will change to Clean Up All. Then tap Alt+Y, and the Tracker window will resize itself optimally.

If you'd like to arrange your icons one at a time, just hold down the Alt key while dragging each icon. When you release the mouse button, the icon will snap to the nearest grid point.

All of these clean-up features work on the Desktop, too. --Scot Hacker

Kill apps with the Vulcan Death Grip

Killing apps from the command line axes only one thread at a time. Since the BeOS is aggressively multithreaded, you might have to do a lot of killing before an app finally dies.

An easier, less time-consuming method is the "Vulcan Death Grip" Tracker technique. Hold down the right Command, Option, Control, and Shift keys and then click on the app's icon in the DeskBar. The offending app should die a swift death. (Note: On a PC keyboard, use Ctrl+Alt+Shift.) --Ian Ollmann

Build tunnels to folders

Not only can symlinks launch documents and applications located elsewhere on your system, but if you create a link to a folder, it will work as a "drag-and-drop tunnel," meaning any items dropped on the link will magically be transported to the destination folder.

Let's say you're working on a project that you're storing in /boot/home/projects/reports/school/bebox/ and you're taking a lot of screenshots for it. Every time you take a screenshot, a targa file appears in your home directory; you've got to move it to the desired destination. However, you can create a link in your home directory to the remote directory, then drag your targas onto the link to move them.

This feature, by the way, can make for a great quick-and-dirty installation system that's user-friendly and requires no scripting or programming. --Scot Hacker

Window styles of the old and famous

The yellow title tabs on BeOS windows are arguably the most distinctive feature of the user interface. If you're not particularly impressed with them though, or if you're just nostalgic for the UI of another OS, you can easily change the window style to that of Mac OS, AmigaOS, or Windows 95. Hold down Control+Alt+Shift and access the Be menu. You'll see a previously hidden entry labeled Window Decor, from which you can choose any of these operating systems' window styles. --Scot Hacker

window styles

Send windows to the back

You probably already know you can minimize a window by double-clicking the title tab. But if you just want to get something out of your face fast without minimizing it out of view, try right-clicking the title tab. The window will blink back behind all other windows. --Scot Hacker

Bring back the Disks window

In Release 4, the Desktop is the root of the file system, meaning that all mounted disk volumes are mounted directly on the Desktop, rather than in the Disks window. Depending on your OS heritage and personal preference, this may or may not be what you want. For example, if you've got dozens of mounted disk volumes, you may find your Desktop very cluttered. Or, you may simply prefer the R3 Disks window to the new "Mac-style" mounting method.

Fortunately, you have the option to bring it back. Open the file ~/config/settings/Tracker/TrackerSettings in a text editor. The first lines should read:

  MountVolumesOntoDesktop on 

Just toggle the "off" and "on" arguments of these two lines, save the file, and restart Tracker (or reboot) to return the Desktop to more R3-like behavior. --Scot Hacker

Customize Tracker views

You can turn your People folder into an instant Rolodex. First, open the People folder, and on the Tracker's Attributes menu, deselect all the default attributes.

Now go to the bottom of the list and select only attributes under the Person submenu. Contact Name, Email Address, Home Phone, Work Phone, and Group give you a good working list for all your contacts.

You can then arrange the layout by sliding column headers to create the order you want. And clicking on any column header will sort your contacts--by Group or Phone Number, for example--for easy browsing. Since Tracker remembers every aspect of each folder's layout, your customized layout will be there when you return. --Richard R. McKinley

Dismiss parent windows

To avoid cluttering up your screen with lots of Tracker windows, hold down the right Control key when double-clicking a folder. This will simultaneously open the chosen folder and close the current window.

The right Control key, by the way, also maps to the left Windows key (Intel) and both Option keys (PowerPC). --Scot Hacker

Drag--and mean it

If you drag a file over an icon and the icon doesn't light up (i.e., it doesn't recognize the file as a supported type), try again--but this time, hold down the Control key while you drag. This will force the target to try to open the file, even if it isn't a registered handler for that file type. --Scot Hacker

Fast access to Add-Ons

Take a look at the contents of your /boot/home/config/add-ons/Tracker directory, and you'll notice that all of the files stored there end with -x. For example:

  Reveal Original-R
  Tracker Grep x86-G

These extra letters represent the keyboard shortcut you can use to access each Add-On. To launch a particular Add-On, hit Alt+Control+x, on the right side of your keyboard. For example, Alt+Control+T will invoke the TermHire Add-On and open a Terminal in the current directory. You can change these key mappings simply by changing your Add-Ons' filenames. --Scot Hacker

Self-destructing queries

As you know, queries are always automatically saved to /boot/home/queries. But as of R4, queries automatically delete themselves in seven days. If you want to make sure this doesn't happen to a query you're constructing, click the latch in the query interface to access additional options, then deselect the Temporary checkbox. --Scot Hacker

Batch-change file types

The FileTypes preferences panel has received a major overhaul in R4, though its functionality remains largely unchanged. One cool thing you can do with it is change the type of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of files at once.

Just select a group of files in the Tracker and drag that group onto the FileTypes panel. A special dialog box will appear, from which you can select a new type. After making your selection, pull down File | Save. Say yes to the confirmation dialog box, and all the files will instantly change to the new file type. --Scot Hacker

Multiply your workspaces

Once upon a time, the BeOS let you use up to 32 workspaces. With R4, that option has returned. By default, nine workspaces are enabled. To change this to any number between 1 and 32, launch the Screen preferences panel and click the Workspaces... button. For a classic example of BeOS real-time behaviors in action, keep the Workspaces preferences panel open while you do this, and notice how it rearranges itself dynamically as you change the number of available workspaces.

Note that you can use hotkeys to toggle among only workspaces 1 through 12; you'll need to use the Workspaces prefs panel to navigate through the rest. --Scot Hacker

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