ZZTECHS, the maker of Zlauncher, claims on their website that “Zlauncher is a powerful system management program that integrates the system supervisor, application/database manager and expansion card manager. It is more than a standard launcher”. While I found this to be accurate, it must be the most humble claim I have ever heard. Is it ‘more than a standard launcher’? Oh yeah. In fact, I’d say it’s more like a new operating system – it’s that powerful – and I found this to be a good thing. If you are the trusting type, then take my word for it and get this program. But one man’s treasure is another man’s trash. So in this review I’ll try to provide as much detail as possible, from installation through operation and user modifications, to hopefully provide an unbiased account of Zlauncher and let you be the judge. Note that this review discusses Zlauncher as installed on the Tungsten T only – I make no claims as to the performance of Zlauncher on other Palm OS systems. Also note that a full review of all the features of Zlauncher is not possible in the limited space available here. If interested in Zlauncher after reading this review, a 30-day fully functioning version of Zlauncher, including the 45-page manual, is available for download from ZZTECHS.
Zlauncher is a complete (i.e. RAM and multiple expansion cards) file manager combined with an easy-to-configure application launcher. It also comes with its own ‘Quick-Launch’ capability to easily launch your favorite, most recent, or most commonly used programs. It offers top and bottom tool bars that can be configured to your taste & needs using up to 36 available tools. Additional tools are available in sliding non-configurable control & tool panels. It supports Hi-Res icons & small fonts with up to full 16-bit color depth. For those who prefer the “Tab Look”, up to 10 category tabs can be visible at one time. I also found it extremely easy to add my own background pictures and even my own skins (called ‘Themes’ in Zlauncher). After-purchase support for Zlauncher is also fantastic, from ZZTECHS themselves to a nice Yahoo! User Group, as well as freeware developers of Themes and theme generation programs. And the price for all this? A mere $12. Needless to say, I found Zlauncher to be one of the most flexible, powerful, yet most cost-effective enhancements I’ve made to my PDA.
Installation of Zlauncher requires the main program, an icon set, a background image, and a Theme. Zlauncher also comes with ‘Zlauncher Manager’, a small (~9k) separate program that allows you to manage the Zlauncher files themselves. A screenshot from Zlauncher Manager is provided in Figure 1 that shows the files I installed for Zlauncher onto my Tungsten T (TT). Note that my installation takes up about 1.1MB and includes my own background image (‘VLA.bmp’), the Zlauncher program & databases, my own Theme, plus the standard Zlauncher icon set. The documentation provided with Zlauncher is well written in covering the available features. In addition, I found the Zlauncher’s User Group on Yahoo.com provided invaluable insights into harnessing the full potential of Zlauncher.
Figure 1. ZLauncher Installation
Application Launcher. While I found Zlauncher to be capable of doing many things and doing them well, I was most interested in how it performed as an application launcher because that is the one thing I use the most. I have purchased three other application launchers, and have tried several others. But all have come up short either immediately or eventually. Some launchers were unreliable, others were too difficult to modify to suit my own particular tastes, while the rest simply came up short in desired features. I found Zlauncher to be error free after 3 weeks of heavy use and very robust both in flexibility and capability. I’m able to launch every one of my programs from either RAM or SD card without a hitch or too much of a delay (as I noticed in some launchers when trying to launch an application from my SD card). But what really sets Zlauncher apart from others in terms of application launcher is the ease with which one can modify the look, feel, and function of the application launcher.
Zlauncher provides three different modes for displaying applications: Icon View, Detail View, and List View. Each view is easily selected through the main menu, or by tapping on the view selection tool icon (icon). Screenshots of each view are provided in Figures 2 – 4 and discussed briefly below, followed by a detailed discussion of features that are common to all three views.
Figure 2. Icon View
Icon View (Figure 2) offers the advantage of large easy to see & tap program icons – nice if you have few programs on a particular category or your stylus accuracy ain’t what it used to be. The downside of this view is that it minimizes the number of visible program icons and thus increases the chance you’ll have to scroll (note scroll bar on right of screen) to find the desired program.
Figure 3. List View
List View (Figure 3) is similar to Icon View, except the program icons are minimized. The pros & cons of this view are as expected – maximizes the number of visible icons but forces one to be a bit more accurate in tapping small icons. Given the fact that my TT is jam-packed with stuff and I am a self-proclaimed Stylus Ace, I use this view most often. And if the standard List View isn’t enough, you can really maximize program visibility by hiding both the top and bottom tool bars (tap on the arrows above and below the scroll bar). The result is shown below in Figure 5.
Figure 4. List View (Maximum)
Last but not least is Detail View, which is shown in Figure 5. As the name implies, it offers a quick method of viewing file details such as program name, creator, type, and size. A limitation of Detail View, IMO, is that the available file attribute parameters are fixed and limited. But then again, the Detail View is not designed to be a file manager – this is addressed by Zlauncher elsewhere and discussed below. Rather, Detail View seems to be designed as a quick way to view those file attributes most often needed. Whether or not you agree with Zlauncher’s choice of available attributes in Detail View is up to you. While the available file attributes are somewhat limited and can not be modified, you can sort by attribute by simply tapping on the attribute column header. Note that top – level file management on the SD card can also be conducted using the Detail View by selecting the SD Card Tab (second tab from right in Figure 5).
Figure 5. Detail View
Zlauncher’s application launcher operations are basically the same regardless of which view you use. Within each view, everything from font to color to column width, etc can be easily modified to suit your tastes. Zlauncher can display up to 10 tabbed categories at one time – more tabs can be created which one then scrolls through to view. I’m not a fan of scrolling through tabs, so I kept my tabs down to 10. The tabs themselves can be labeled with the category text, text plus icon, or simply with an icon (Zlauncher ships with an 85-icon set).
For a quick tour of the features common to each of the three views, I’ll start at the top left of the Zlauncher desktop in Figure 2, 3, or 5. First we see the menu icon, then the time, battery life, available free space for internal and then external memory, and then the category label for the active tab. Moving down past the row of 10 tabs are the program icons. You’ll note that some of the files shown include a small icon in the upper right corner of the program icon - this indicates that program or file is located on external memory (an SD card in my case). Zlauncher also lists all programs located on external memory in a separate “Card” tab – shown in Figures 2-5 as the tab second from the right. All views feature Adjustable Tool Bars on top and bottom, Sliding Control/Tool Panels, and Fixed Pop-Up context menus. As shown in Figure 6, the top and bottom tool bars can display time, battery life, available memory on internal and external memory, and selected category. In addition, each tool bar can display up to 12 different tools (36 available). I did notice, however, that the tool icons and indicator (time, battery, memory, category) icons use the same space – hence one can show either 12 tools and no indicators, a mix of the two, or all indicators and no tools on either top or bottom bar. Hence, I chose to place all indicators on the top bar and my desired tools on the bottom bar.
Figure 6. Adjusting the Tool Bars
Sliding Control/Tool Panels are also available, and are activated by tapping on one of the blue triangles located at either end of the bottom Adjustable Tool Bar. Tap on the left triangle brings up a Control Panel that allows you to modify general Zlauncher preferences, display settings, color settings, and dialog settings. Tapping on the right blue triangle brings up the Tool Panel that allows you to modify category settings, create/edit category tabs, beam entire categories or individual items, obtain system or file info, or view a Windows-like trash bin. Note that the Tool Panel contains slightly different tools when viewing the external memory category to facilitate file management.
In addition to Tool Bars and Sliding Panels, Zlauncher also provides context menus that pop up during extended tapping of program and file icons. These menus allow the user to launch the application, change its category (which can also be done by drag & drop to the desired tab), moving items between internal & external memory, deleting, obtaining file information, beaming, etc.
To add my background picture (in this case that of the Very Large Array in New Mexico), all I had to do was put a 320x320 Bitmap picture onto my SD card and then activate it with a tap within the Zlauncher Manager (see Figure 1 – Vla.bmp). Other picture formats (PGP, JPG) are also supported but according to the Zlauncher manual, only by using the Sony JpegUtil Library (available for Clie NR/NX/NZ series and T650C/T665C/T675C). But using a simple freeware picture program, one can easily save any picture as BMP so this was no real limitation for me.
File Manager. Zlauncher also provides a full-featured file manager. I won’t spend much time discussing this as I use this feature much less than the application launcher side of Zlauncher. But most people I know (including myself) do need to perform periodic file management. Prior to Zlauncher, I had found a pretty good application launcher and a nice file manager but never a single integrated program that could do well in both areas. Not only is Zlauncher a superb application launcher, it is the best file manager I have tried to date.
Figure 7. File Manager
A typical screen shot of Zlauncher in file management mode is shown in Figure 7. Note that Zlauncher’s file manager is reached by at least two ways from the application launcher screens discussed above – either from the main menu, or by tapping on the “file management icon on the Tool Bar (assuming you added this tool to the tool bar). As with the application launcher views, Zlauncher’s file manager provides several ways to operate. One method is to use the tools presented in the tool bar shown at the bottom of Figure 7. Pop-Up context menus are also available through extended taps on a file of interest. Unlike the application launcher however, the tool bar in the file manager can not be modified, and there are no Sliding Control Panels.
I found Zlauncher’s file manager very easy to use and as powerful as any other I have ever used. On my color TT, data files are colored black, programs colored red, while database files were colored blue. Note I have not figured out how or if these colors can be modified. File operations (move, delete, copy, etc) on single, multiple, or all files were easily conducted using either the main menu or the Pop-Up context menus. As with the Detail View in the Zlauncher application launcher, Zlauncher’s file manager allows one to easily sort by file name or attribute. But the attributes available in the file manager are adjustable and more numerous than found in the Detail View (see Figure 8).
Figure 8. File Attributes with File Manager
Final Notes & Summary.
The features I’ve described in this review only briefly cover what I found to be the main points and features offered by Zlauncher. A full review would require, well, a 45-page user manual. Fortunately, Zlauncher, including the user manual, are available as 30-day shareware and if interested then I recommend you try it yourself and conduct your own “full review”. I will add that while Zlauncher does allow one to basically make their own application launcher and file manager, to really “make it your own” requires your own Themes and icons. Normally a task for programmers and not mentioned in the Zlauncher user manual, one should note that a website not affiliated with Zlauncher offers Zlauncher ThemeMaker, which is a free windows-based program that I found was easy to use to make my own Themes.
After a month of heavy use, I was unable to find anything wrong with Zlauncher. Using a Tungsten T sporting a packed 128MB SD card I did notice that it takes about 2 seconds for Zlauncher to start up when returning from other applications. While no big deal to me, it may be something to look for when trying Zlauncher out on slower PDAs. Other than this, I must admit that my “test data” shows Zlauncher to be near flawless.
Zlauncher, IMO, is one of those pieces of software that from time to time come along and become the standard bearer for all to follow. To get the full understanding of all Zlauncher has to offer does require one to read the user manual (gasp!). However, the result is pretty amazing IMO. A top of the line integrated application launcher and file manager for $12? Tough to pass up.
Recommended Buy: Yes
Rating: 5 (out of 5)
• Well-integrated and reliable application launcher and file manager
• Fully customizable (and easy to do)
• Low Cost ($12)
• Excellent documentation
• Decent support both from ZZTECHs and from user communities
• A minor, yet noticeable delay in start-up with a Tungsten T using a packed 128MB SD card
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