HPLX.NET REVIEWS Software Carousel

 Vital Statistics

Publisher/Manufacturer: Sunshine Software
Contact: (800) 553-0400
Price: $89.95  

About the Product

Software Carousel is a task-switcher for the 200LX.  It used to be a very popular task switcher for DOS, before everybody went to Windows.  With the advent of large-memory 200LX's, Software Carousel has come back into popularity, at least for palmtoppers.  The version we now have has been specially modified to work closely with the 200LX and to provide special features.

What use is Software Carousel, some may ask, if the System Manager that comes built-in to the 200LX can already switch between applications?  Well, here's the deal.  The System Manager can only task-switch between the built-in applications.  If you add a non-System Manager compliant application to your 200LX, there could be problems.  You might be able to run it in a DOS shell, as long as it's not too big.  But if you have more than one DOS program, you won't be able to run both at once.  Not only would that leave you with precious little memory, but the System Manager just won't run more than one DOS shell at once.  And many DOS programs require so much memory that you won't even be able to run them while System Manager is running.  You'll have to terminate all the applications you have open, go to the Application Manager, and terminate to a DOS prompt.  All to run one lousy program!

This is where Software Carousel steps in.  When you feel the need to run a DOS application, rather than terminating everything, you just press a user-defined key combination.  Seconds later, you're in a new workspace.  A completely new, customizable DOS space.  It's like switching to another 200LX, only without the hassle of having to cram a separate machine in your pocket.  Note that you can have up to twelve different work areas, too.  It's much more efficient than trying to carry twelve 200LX's around with you.

Not only can you run a number of DOS programs, but Software Carousel also lets you run more than one copy of the System Manager!  Just switch to a different work area, and zammo!  You can be be working on another database, or memo, or spreadsheet.  Just about the only application you can't open another copy of is the Appointment Book, out of concern for file corruption (according to the documentation).  And of course you don't want to have the same file open in more than one work area.  But other than those limitations, you can do just about anything you want.

Are there any downsides to Software Carousel?  Well, there are some.  The worst part about Software Carousel is the space it takes up.  The files themselves occupy just under 500K on my C: drive.  However, that's trivial compared to the amount of space taken up by the swap file.  When you first install it, Software Carousel creates a hidden file on your drive (usually called ~CAROSEL.TMP) that it uses to swap data for the various work areas.  The file needs to as large as the combined memory sizes you've allocated for all of your work areas, plus maybe 16-32K per area just to be on the safe side.  (You can allocate whatever memory you like to each work space-- say, 128K to a space that you'll just be doing DOS commands in, or the maximum (around 550K) to an area that will be running a memory-hungry program.)  So, if you have 5 work areas that have 546K apiece (the maximum size my system will allow; actual maximum will vary depending on TSRs loaded before Carousel), you'd need a swap file of size (546K+32K)*5=2,890K.  That's a lot!  Obviously, you'll need at least a 4MB 200LX to use Software Carousel effectively.  And preferably, you'll want a 6MB or even 8MB 200LX in order to store other programs and have many work areas available.

"Wait," you may be saying.  "What if I put the swap file on my FLASH CARD instead of the C: drive?  Then I could have all the space I need!"  Well, perhaps.  But consider these points:

When this is considered, it's probably a better idea to get a large C: drive if you intend to use Software Carousel, even if the cost is greater.

There are different ways you can configure your swap file.  You can configure it to do a disk file, or (the only other option of use to palmtoppers) you can set it to use expanded memory.  You won't save any disk space this way, since to use EMM on your 200LX you still have to create a swap file.  But maybe there's a speed difference.  Let's take a look at a table of the various configurations you could have and how long each one takes to swap.  All tests are conducted on my 200LX, which is a clock-doubled unit with a 6MB C: drive.  Times would be approximately doubled on a factory-fresh unit.

Average time to swap between two 546K work areas
Using a C: disk file:              1.3 seconds
Using an A: disk file:            2.9 seconds
Using expanded memory:     0.9 seconds

So, you do gain some speed by using expanded memory instead of a disk file.  Of course, you also have to consider that the EMM driver will take up 5K or so of memory...which might be put to better use elsewhere.  It's up to you.
IMPORTANT NOTE: my flash card (A: drive) is a Microtech high-speed storMate card, which writes at three times the speed of normal flash cards.  If you have this brand of card, your time will be close to that shown above.  HOWEVER, if you have another brand of card, such as SanDisk, Verbatim, IBM, HP, Pretec, MagicRAM, etc. it will will take around three times longer to swap.  That's almost nine seconds!  If you have one of these and a non-clock-doubled 200LX, you'll jump to over 17 seconds swap time.  Only the incredibly patient with nothing very important to do will want to choose this route.  

The Verdict

Software Carousel is a utility that everybody who wants to run external programs on their 200LX should have.  

So that's it for the review of Software Carousel.  Please visit the Unusual Way to Use Software Carousel page if you want to read more.

Copyright 1999, David Sargeant.
Last Updated 1-2-1999

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