Hack 23 Empower Windows Explorer with PowerDesk


Supplanted by this most powerful utility, Windows Explorer will no longer draw curses or contribute to increased Macintosh sales.

I'm guessing that you have a Leatherman multitool. No hacker worth his weight in solder would leave home without it. In fact, I'll go further and guess that you have at least two. You probably have a large one that you keep in your glove box and a small one that you carry with you at all times, even to weddings (just in case). If I'm correct?or if you're wondering where to buy such a useful tool?then you will love PowerDesk.

PowerDesk is the multitool of utilities. This beast is no mere Swiss Army Knife. There's no unnecessary toothpick, leather punch, or nail file here; it's a pair of vise grips with four screwdrivers, a strong blade, wire cutters, pliers, an Allen wrench, a corkscrew, and a bottle opener. It's the software that those guys on Junkyard Wars would use if they put down their cutting torch and picked up a computer.

OK, maybe I'm being melodramatic, but PowerDesk really is a useful utility for your computer. PowerDesk combines much of the functionality of Windows Explorer, the old Windows File Manager, WinZip, and a host of other programs. If you find yourself with more than one program open for manipulating files, you probably need PowerDesk. While many of the features of PowerDesk are available in Windows XP, PowerDesk puts them all in one convenient location. PowerDesk also runs on older versions of Windows, which may not have the advanced file-handling features that Windows XP has.

PowerDesk is available from VCOM at http://www.v-com.com/product/pd_ind.html. PowerDesk Pro sells on the VCOM web site for $39.95. You can also download an evaluation version that has fewer features.

When you install PowerDesk on your computer, the installer will ask you if you want to associate ZIP and other archive files with PowerDesk. If you already use a ZIP file manager, such as WinZip, you might not want to allow PowerDesk to handle these types by default. After installing PowerDesk, you should not need to restart your computer.

While PowerDesk is a separate application, it is integrated into Windows Explorer, so you have access to many of its features even when you aren't running it. In Windows Explorer, if you right-click with the mouse you will see a submenu called PowerDesk, where you have access to many of PowerDesk's functions.

When you start PowerDesk, you will be faced with a window that looks similar to the one shown in Figure 3-10. As you click around PowerDesk, most of the things you see should look familiar. Those that aren't so familiar are grouped well, so they are easy to find and understand.

Figure 3-10. The PowerDesk main window

Each of the toolbars that shows up in PowerDesk is configurable. Use the Options Customize Toolbar menu item to modify the toolbars as you wish. The bottom toolbar in Figure 3-10 is called the Launchbar and is similar to the Quick Launch area of the Windows XP Taskbar. You add programs by dragging icons onto the Launchbar and dropping them.

When you restart PowerDesk, you are placed back at the location you were when you left. I find this to be such a simple, yet useful, feature. If you create a shortcut to PowerDesk, you can force it to open at a specific location by putting the name of the directory after the program name in the Target field of the shortcut properties.

PowerDesk has so many features that we could spend an entire chapter of this book describing them, and even then there would be things we'd miss. So, I'm going to give a brief summary of the coolest features and leave the rest as an exercise for the reader:

  • Most of the features of the Windows Explorer are available from the File and Tools menus. You can open, delete, and rename files. You can map network drives, format diskettes, and empty the trash.

  • PowerDesk provides Move To and Copy To icons on the main toolbar, context menu, and File menu for moving and copying files to a specific location. You can recreate this functionality [Hack #27] in Windows Explorer without using PowerDesk.

  • The File Finder feature provides many options for finding files on your computer. You can have PowerDesk search for Microsoft Word documents beginning with the word "Hack," modified in the last three days, and containing the word "wireless."

  • PowerDesk has the ability to find and rename a group of files according to parameters that you define. For example, let's say you have a bunch of digital photographs from your trip to Belize. The digital camera doesn't know you went to Belize, and neither does Windows XP. Using PowerDesk, select the files you want to rename and choose File Rename. PowerDesk shows a list of the files to be renamed and gives you a place to rename the files something like Belize 2003 Vacation.JPG. The first file will be named Belize 2003 Vacation.JPG, the second file will be named Belize 2003 Vacation (1).JPG, and so on. PowerDesk also has a more powerful group-rename feature that uses wildcards and pattern matching to find files and choose their new names.

  • PowerDesk provides a built-in FTP client for transferring files from a remote file server (much like WinFTP). The connection to the remote server appears as if it were just another folder on your computer. PowerDesk FTP can even resume interrupted downloads.

  • You can convert image files between the numerous available formats with File Convert Picture Format.

  • Security-conscious users will appreciate the Destroy File feature. This feature not only deletes a file from the filesystem, but it also wipes the disk drive where the file existed. Needless to say, using this feature will also prevent you from recovering the file, so don't test it out on your favorite photo from the Belize vacation.

  • If you are truly security-conscious, do not use the Encrypt/Decrypt feature of PowerDesk. Details on the algorithm they use are not available. In the security world, it's common practice to describe how your cryptography works and rely on the strength of the key to protect the data. PowerDesk does allow you to choose 56-bit DES encryption for your data, but 56-bit encryption is the bare minimum these days. Do you want to trust your financial data to the bare minimum? I didn't think so.

  • PowerDesk manages ZIP file archives as well as files that are stored using the older UUENCODE format.

  • For copying files between two locations, use the Dual Pane view. This view displays two independent file browsers side-by-side, so you can easily copy files from one to the other without worrying about other windows getting in your way.

  • If you find yourself managing the same set of files on two different disks, the Compare Folders feature is a great time saver. Select the folder that you want to compare, and let PowerDesk find the other folder and compare the contents.

  • I run a network at home, and not all of our computers run Windows XP. PowerDesk provides a level playing field between the different versions of Windows so that I can always be assured that I have the tools I need on every computer I use.

There is so much more to PowerDesk than the few pages in this book. If the things you've read here interest you, download the evaluation version and try it for yourself.

?Eric Cloninger