posted by Thom Holwerda on Thu 16th Apr 2009 21:39 UTC
IconAbout a year ago, OSNews reported on Grape, a new way to manage your desktop. Back then, Grape was only a concept, a set of ideas without an implementation. This is different now: Grape has been turned into an actual piece of working software, and the people behind the project, Yann Le Coroller and Dockland Software's Stephane, gave us early access by means of a beta release. We are also giving away beta access, se be sure to read on to the end of the article to find out how you can get beta access (hint: post a comment). Update: The response has been more substantial than I anticipated, so the cut-off point is 50 comments. Twelve comments left, guys and girls, so hurry up! Update II: Sorry guys, we're full already (that was quick)! Thanks for the enormous interest from everyone. I'll send the invites out today! Update III: All invites have been sent out. Enjoy testing Grape, and be sure to post your findings here on OSNews. Also, report any bugs here.


What is Grape?

It's kind of hard to put into words exactly how Grape works or what it does. The idea is that every file you throw onto your desktop turns into a preview, whether it be a document, video, or photo. You can work with these previews by resizing them, stacking them, moving them around, and grouping them by dragging boxes around them. A group of files is called a pile, and you can name these piles.

The key to Grape is zooming. You can zoom in on a pile - or any place of the desktop - via your mouse wheel. The cool thing is that the previews stay in their original size and location, so when you zoom in, a pile unravels itself, revealing more space to deal with the files it contains. Again, it's slightly problematic to put into words, so let's just look at a video of how the current version works:


Grape Desktop Zooming Interface 01 from yann le coroller on Vimeo.

After we ran our first article on Grape, Yann Le Coroller was contacted by Dockland Software's Stephane to talk about turning Grape into an actual piece of software. After using the beta (which shouldn't be called beta, according to Stephane, because it isn't feature complete yet), I can say that he has done an amazing job. The thing that struck me the most about the current version is its excellent performance, even on my old PowerMac Dual G4-450Mhz, and we're only at beta!


Working with Grape

Working with Grape does require a different approach to working with files on your desktop. Since all files are previews, you don't locate individual files by name, but by their contents. For files with multiple pages, you can scroll the preview. Video files can play and pause as well, and the preview will remain paused even if you go do something else. Another cool feature is the search function, which uses "highlight-as-you-type", making use of Spotlight technology.

Grape runs in its own window; it doesn't actually take over your desktop. Earlier versions did take over the desktop, but Yann explained that Grape can't yet fully "replace" the desktop, and as such, it makes more sense to run Grape in a full-screen window. In addition, clicking on a Grape "desktop" doesn't activate the Finder, but Grape itself. This could be confusing for users.

An additional benefit to running it in a window is that if you run in a dual-screen setup, you could use one screen for Grape, and the other to house your applications. Yann explained that a preference switch might be included later to toggle between "replace desktop mode" and "window mode".

Even when in a window, Grape houses the exact same set of files as are currently on your normal desktop. Drop a file on the Grape window, and it will appear on your desktop as well, and vice versa. For now, it does appear to be safer to drop files on the "real" desktop, as dropping files on the Grape window tends to crash the program (beta and all).

Stephane told us there's still a lot of work to be done on Grape. For instance, the original concept contained the idea of flipping over the previews to edit file and metadata - this has not yet been implemented at this moment. They also want to add more visualisations for other types of files, like folders. Work is also done on optimising Grape's performance.

Flipping.

Grape has certainly impressed me as a fresh take on the desktop paradigm, but without being too overwhelming or too complicated to get into. I could see Grape as particularly useful if it were possible to integrate it into Finder windows. This way, you could switch whatever directory in the Finder to "Grape view", and manage the files in said directory Grapefully (I'm so going to hell for that one).

For instance, if you are working on several projects, you could store each project's files in separate directories, and manage each of them with Grape. Instead of having a disorganised bunch of pictures, .doc files, .pdfs, and Excel worksheets in your thesis folder, you could use Grape to organise each filetype into a nice stack, zoom in on them, preview them all side-by-side, and so on, without ever opening an application.

Grape is currently a Mac OS X exclusive, and it will most likely stay that way for the foreseeable future as it depends on a boatload of Mac OS X technologies like Core Animation, Spotlight, Quick Look, and others. Grape is not open source, and it's also not free. The full version will cost money (price not yet determined), but a free "light version" will become available in the future.


You want beta access? You get beta access!

The final release is not here yet, and the beta is closed, but I have been authorised to give away beta access to whoever I think could be valuable to the testing process. So, if you want beta access to Grape, and start playing with it today, leave a comment or send us an email [Sorry, we're full already!], and I'll make sure you get access. You can get support, make feature requests, and post bugs in Dockland Software's Customer Support Community for Grape.

Grape already comes with an auto-update feature, so your beta copy will receive continuous bug fixes and improvements as time goes on.

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