capsule review

Overflow 2.5.2

Judging by the varied offerings found on download sites such as VersionTracker and MacUpdate, among the third-party add-ons Mac OS X users most crave are ways to quickly access their applications, files, and folders. I’m personally a huge fan of LaunchBar (   ), and other Macworld editors love Butler (   ) and Quicksilver (   ), but keyboard-based launchers aren’t for everyone. The alternative is a window-, dock-, or palette-based utility. A traditional favorite is DragThing, but I’ve also been impressed by Stunt Software’s Overflow 2.5.2 (   ; $15), which integrates well with the Mac OS X Dock.

Overflow—so named because it’s designed to hold all the stuff that won’t fit in your Dock (or that you don’t want cluttering up your Dock)—provides elements of both the Dock and Exposé/Dashboard. It’s Dock-like in that you can drag applications, folders, and documents into the Overflow window, and then access those items with a single click (or, in the case of applications or folders, drag items onto them). It’s similar to Exposé and Dashboard in that Overflow’s floating window is normally hidden, but quickly appears whenever you click on the Overflow icon in the Dock or press an assigned hot key (F1 by default).

Overflow first launch

When you first launch Overflow, it displays its default window setup, which includes two categories, Dock Applications and Dock Items. Each is a separate “screen” in Overflow’s window. The former includes a sampling of applications currently in your Dock; the latter is a sampling of all the folders and files currently on the right-hand side of your Dock. Where this window appears depends on how you invoke it: clicking the Overflow icon in the Dock makes the window appear just above the Overflow icon (as shown at right); pressing the hot key displays the window in the middle of your screen. (A handy option in Overflow’s preferences lets you change the latter behavior so that the window always appears directly underneath your mouse cursor.)

Overflow customized 1

At any time, you can drag an application, folder, or file into an empty space in the window to add it to Overflow. You can create new categories by right-clicking in the category list. By clicking the Edit button in the window, you can resize the window; move items around; remove items (by dragging them off the window); and even drag an item to a different category to move it to that category screen. You can also add or remove items by clicking on the Add or Remove button, respectively. If your category names are too long, you can drag the left-hand side of the window to widen the listing.

Although such customization is easy, I did discover a few minor annoyances. The first is that there’s no Undo feature. I also wish that when you drag an item into a well with an existing item, the existing item would slide to an open well; instead, the dragged item replaces the existing item. Finally, when reducing the size of the window, Overflow lets you make the window too small for the number of items in some of your categories; similarly, if there are open wells in the middle of a category screen, items on the edge of the window don’t automatically shift to those wells to fit the smaller window size. As a result, you can end up with hidden items that are only revealed when you increase the size of the window again.

As I noted above, you can click on any icon in Overflow to launch or open that item; clicking on a category switches the view to that category. However, keyboard-centric people can also navigate Overflow’s window using the keyboard. You can use Tab or the arrow keys to highlight an item, and then press Space or Return to open the item. Page Up and Down cycle through categories. (You can also skip directly to a category by pressing Command+ # , where # is the category’s position in the category list.) As with the Dock, Command-clicking on an item reveals it in the Finder. Clicking on any item, pressing Escape, or switching to another application automatically hides the Overflow window.

As with Exposé, you can use these controls while dragging a file. So, for example, you can drag a Word document from an email or the Finder, activate Overflow using its hot key, use the controls to switch to the category containing Pages, and then drop the document on the Pages icon to open it in Pages.

Best of all, you can access all of Overflow’s features without pressing a key or opening Overflow separately: If you drag an item onto the Overflow icon in the Dock, the Overflow window will pop up and allow you to perform any of the actions described above; if you drag an item onto a category name within the Overflow window, Overflow switches to that category, letting you drop the item onto an icon, or into an empty well, on that screen. These features make Overflow feel like a true extension to the Dock itself.

Finally, another neat feature is the ability to view—and access—the contents of any folder you’ve added to Overflow: right-click on the folder and its contents are listed in a hierarchical menu. Choose an item in this menu to open it. (What I’d really like to see here is true spring-loaded-folder functionality: it would be great if you could drag a file onto a folder and have the contents menu appear, letting you place the file in a particular subfolder.)

Overflow customized 2

Via Overflow’s preferences, you can customize the look of the Overflow window: the window color, the size of each icon, vertical and horizontal spacing, and the font size for item titles. You can also choose whether or not to always display item titles (instead of just when your mouse cursor is over an item), and you can add a subtle well border around each icon. Overflow looks good and works well even when you bump everything up to its largest values, making it a useful utility for the visually impaired. One quirk here: the Always Show Item Titles option doesn’t display titles when in edit mode; I found this odd, as you’re likely to need to know the names of items when organizing them.

If you’re still not convinced that Overflow is worth a try, I encourage you to watch the demo movie Stunt Software has provided on the company’s Web site; it lets you see most of these features in action and is what convinced me to take a look at Overflow in the first place.

Long-time DragThing users may not be impressed by Overflow, which is simpler than their favorite, but for others who’ve been frustrated by the limitations of the Dock—in terms of features or size—Overflow is worth a try. It works well, is easy to use, and looks great.

Overflow 2.5.2 requires Mac OS X 10.4 or later and is a Universal binary.

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