Computer file management has always been something of a dry subject. When showing off the capabilities of an Amiga one invariably turned to a game with stunning graphics, a music sequencer or a 2D or 3D graphics tool. However, for day-to-day use a file management tool can become invaluable. It's only when returning to life without that your reliance on it becomes clear.
Directory Opus (DOpus) is just such a tool and one that has been evolving for more than twenty years since its first release on the Amiga. Its creator, Jonathan Potter, became an Amiga programmer in the late 80s: "I had a C64 and had been programming it in (mainly) BASIC and a little assembler, when I saw this amazing new computer in the local computer shop. I think I sold my C64 that same week and bought an A1000."
Jonathan's DOpus can perhaps best be described as the middle ground between the basic visual file management tool supplied with the operating system and the advanced command line. The Amiga's operating system came with Intuition, a windowing system, and Workbench, a graphical drag and drop interface. Workbench works as required to a certain extent but the AmigaDOS command line is needed for more advanced functionality.
DOpus evolved from JPDirUtil (Jonathan Potter Directory Utility). Jonathan's aim was "to access the power and the flexibility of command line tools from a graphical interface." and he recalls that "back in those days there were FAR more command line programs around and in use than there are now. The configurable buttons in JPDirUtil were a way to hook your command line tools into the file manager - in a sense providing a very simple 'plugin' system."
There was one major feature that JPDirUtil lacked and which appeared in its successor DOpus. Instead of using a single pane to display directories and files, DOpus would feature source and destination panes side-by-side. Jonathan recalls how this came about: "I think the idea came from a friend of mine, Andrew Wilson, who suggested that being able to see the source and destination directories at the same time would make the program a lot more useful. At that point I’d never used a PC and never seen Norton Commander or any other dual pane file manager before, so I don’t know if his idea was truly original or if he'd been inspired by those other tools, but it made sense to me."
The name Directory Opus arose from fairly simple and classical origins. "It’s a bit pretentious really" says Jonathan, "The "Directory" part comes from "Directory Utility" which is what those class of tools (file managers) were known as on the Amiga. "Opus" comes from "Magnum opus" which means "great work" in Latin. I guess I knew it was going to be a great program right from the start :)"
DOpus 1 was released in 1990 but that early version is a rather rare beast these days ("I probably have the source code on a floppy in the shed at my parent’s house, if anything could be found to read it and if the disc still worked." says Jonathan). It was released under the "Left Side Software" label, a company name that Jonathan used to market the file manager.
Jonathan explains that versions 1 and 2 of DOpus were commercial releases: "Opus was never shareware (in the original sense of shareware, meaning "try this and use it and send a donation if you feel like it). It was always intended as commercial software."
DOpus 3 was released at the end of 1991 but this version would be published by a company called INOVAtronics following a simple phone call: "Tim Martin called me one day and asked if I would be interested in them publishing it."
Version 3 came with a variety of free utilities which added further functionality to Workbench: TicTacToe (a game), WorldTime (a world clock), SuperPlay (a sound player), PopInfo (system information), PopDir (directory information), ZeroVirus (a virus checker). For Jonathan these utilities were a result of studying the Amiga "A lot of them were just me learning about and teaching myself about programming the Amiga. Some of them (PopInfo I think) in particular were truly awful code, although they kind of worked. I think the ideas for some of them came from people at the local user’s group, although it’s a long time ago now!"
As well as writing DOpus and various utilities, Jonathan produced an educational game called "Jara Tava: Isle of Fire" for the Education Department of South Australia: "Ha, I’d forgotten about that. I did some contract programming for a couple of years for Angle Park Computing Centre (which was a government run institution that was charged with finding some way to use these new fangled computers for education). Jara Tava was a port from a game on another platform (I can’t remember which, but it would have been an 8 bit platform - possibly Amstrad). I did some other stuff for them too, there was a free-form database I think and possibly one or two other "educational games"."
Although INOVAtronics published DOpus 3, releases such as 3.52 still mention only Left Side Software. Jonathan explains that "it wasn’t until version 4 that they had any real input into the software, so that’s why they weren’t mentioned earlier. Eddie Churchill particularly had a lot of influence over the direction Opus 4 went in."
The primary markets for DOpus were Germany and the UK, according to an interview with Tim Martin and Eddie Churchill of INOVAtronics. However, one factor that affected sales of DOpus was the ubiquity of piracy. "If everyone who used Opus had paid for it I’d be a lot wealthier than I am today, that’s for sure!" says Jonathan.
In many ways DOpus 4 reached a zenith for that particular line of the software: "Opus 4 was the first with a full ARexx interface and so was definitely the most complex and powerful version until that point." However, for Jonathan DOpus it was "still tied to the traditional full-screen two window display".
1995's DOpus 5 was "almost completely rewritten" by Jonathan and marks a major evolution point. The first major difference was that DOpus moved from two static side-by-side listers to a model where many unrestricted listers could be opened at once. However, DOpus 4 had been like a comforting companion for many and Jonathan met with some user resistance to the changes: "Yes, rather a lot :)". Jonathan "was amazed how many people seemed wedded to the idea of two static lists. It just seemed obvious to me how much more flexible the program was if you could pop open one or more Listers any time you wanted."
The second major departure from the previous version is the "Workbench Replacement Mode" where DOpus acted not only as a program within Workbench but as a substitute. For Jonathan this was the logical conclusion to the progression that started with the replacement of command line functions: "It came out of the idea of not having a `main window` as such - and without a main window you needed some way to actually open an Opus lister. It seemed obvious that the existing interface of icons on the desktop, which people were used to and which were often ignored completely by Opus users, would fit well in the metaphor. We’ve kept the same idea in the Windows version."
In DOpus' Amiga heyday, the World Wide Web was still in its infancy and paper magazines were popular. It was common for magazines to include mostly complete, but older, versions of software on their cover mounts to encourage upgrades to the latest versions. CU Amiga magazine included DOpus 4 on their February 1995 issue and DOpus 5.11 on their April 1997 issue. However, Jonathan didn't see a great deal of benefit from this practice: "I can’t remember a coverdisc deal that ever led to any meaningful increase in sales, no."
DOpus 5 saw a 5.5 update in 1996 and in 1997 and 1998, two special versions named Magellan and Magellan II. Magellan was named after the Portuguese explorer and circumnavigator, according to Jonathan: "Yes I think so, although Greg came up with that idea so you’d really have to ask him."
Magellan II was the last version of DOpus for the Amiga but there were still some developments in the following years. The source code of DOpus 4.12 was released in 2000, without any issues, "other than some mild embarrassment over how bad a lot of that code was :)". There were some commercial attempts to continue Amiga development by other companies (Hyperion and Guru Meditation), under licence from GPSoftware. However, nothing came of these deals.
Although development was discontinued on the Amiga, GPSoftware continued the release numbering when DOpus 6 debuted on Windows: "I think at that point we were aware there were lots of Amiga users making the switch to Windows. Opus had been very popular on the Amiga so obviously these were users we wanted to reach, so it made sense for Windows Opus to be a a continuation of the Amiga product rather than a completely new one. Also although it was a complete rewrite for Windows, a lot of the ideas had come from the Amiga version so it was also a sort of homage if you like. I don't think either Greg or I could quite believe we were really leaving the Amiga completely."
DOpus PC is a replacement for Windows Explorer and GPSoftware has found that Microsoft hasn't made it easy to integrate: "Despite what many Microsoft people say about how important backwards compatibility is to them, we have found that every new version of Windows has broken something, normally to do with Explorer Replacement mode. There’s still no officially supported way of designating an alternate file/folder browser like there is with a web browser, so Explorer Replacement mode is a long series of hacks and kludges and the steps we have to take grows with each Windows version. Microsoft seem to love inventing new ways to do the same things. Each new version of Windows seems to add at least one or two new ways of associating a filetype with a particular program, so it’s a constant battle keeping up."
DOpus on Windows contains a lot of features, including but not limited to advanced searching and renaming, built-in FTP, archive integration, file copy queuing, directory synchronisation and batch image processing. It's also highly configurable but is there a danger that so much underlying power will be overlooked? Jonathan explains that "I’m sure people miss lots of features, but the alternative would be to overwhelm new users with a huge number of toolbar buttons and menus and I think that would be even worse. We did make a big effort with Opus 10 to redo the default menus and toolbars to expose a lot more of the functionality."
Another feature of DOpus PC which arguably stems from its Amiga origins is its eager user base. DOpus' direction is significantly driven by users: "We’ve always relied on user feedback for new feature ideas - I would say at least half of the features in Opus would be as the direct result of user feedback. I like to think we have a great relationship with our users, and I suspect we are one of the more responsive software companies around in terms of taking on-board user feedback."
As with the Amiga's basic Workbench file management system, Microsoft's Windows Explorer is hard to return to after DOpus PC. Jonathan has a theory on why this core part of Windows is so underdeveloped: "I suspect they consider Explorer does everything it needs to do. Microsoft’s target has not been the computing expert for a long time now - each version of Windows dumbs down the interface more and more as they continually target novices at the expense of people who actually know how to use their computers. Explorer is the logical evolution of that train of thought."
DOpus continues life on the PC but does Jonathan still long for development on the Amiga? "I miss the sense of community, that was a big thing on the Amiga. Everyone pretty much knew everyone else. I’ve never had that feeling on the Windows platform at all."
Despite DOpus' new home there is still much user interest in the Amiga and a recent project aimed to raise funds to buy the Magellan II source code. Jonathan is "amazed actually that there are still so many Amiga users around."
Visit the Directory Opus homepage at http://www.gpsoft.com.au