Montage Help Contents Montage Help

Introduction

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Montage is a tool for visually organizing and using any kind of information on your Windows personal computer.  This documentation is aimed at helping you get started using Montage, while also providing a detailed reference that is integrated into Montage's help facilities.  To begin, you'll need to download and run the automated Montage setup program, MOSETUP.EXE, or download a more compact form of the program and perform some simple, manual file copying steps.  Detailed installation instructions are provided.

The purpose of Montage is to make it easier to put your computer's power to work, saving you time and allowing you to be more productive.  Montage improves and extends upon elements of the familiar Windows user interface, enabling you to work with your favorite applications more conveniently and efficiently.  If you're acquainted with Windows Explorer, you should find Montage simple to understand and use.

When you launch MONTAGE3.EXE or open a Montage metafile, a Montage Desktop window appears, containing any number of Montage Shortcuts.  A Montage Desktop is like a Windows desktop within its own window, and each Montage Shortcut is like a Windows shortcut (aka a link) sitting on the Windows desktop.  Double-clicking or pressing the Enter key on a Montage Shortcut launches an application, Shortcuts have user-settable properties, and they can be dragged and dropped, like Windows links.  Beyond that, the similarity ends.

Montage screen shot - click to watch it open
Screen shot of a simple Montage Desktop window 
containing 7 Shortcuts, 4 of which are open. 
(Click to view an animation of the opening of this montage.)

One of the essential differences between Montage and its Windows counterparts comes down to state-saving and restoration.  When you open a montage, it not only displays the previous arrangement of Shortcuts, but also automatically launches and restores the previous layout of any number of open external application windows (as well as built-in viewers), precisely as they were last left.  As you open and close individual Shortcuts, Montage remembers the position and size of the target application window, and it saves you the trouble of manually restoring the previous configuration.

Another way that Montage extends upon the basic features of Windows is through its ability to detect, monitor, and control applications directly from their Shortcuts.  Each Shortcut corresponds not just to an application or document, like a Windows link, but to a particular instance of that application, with a particular arrangement and state of existence.  Montage's unique highlighting modes immediately make it apparent when a Shortcut is currently open.  Through its menus and extended Shortcut Properties, Montage makes Shortcuts more powerful and convenient than ordinary Windows links, enabling you to work faster and make better use of limited screen space.

Because it uses its own metafiles to store configuration details, instead of relying upon the Windows Registry, Montage has the inherent advantage of greater modularity, which is an essential requirement for portability.  A number of unique portability features make montages easy to back up or move to an entirely different computer, even if it has a different version of Windows and different applications installed at different locations.

Neither programs nor the data that they operate upon are in any way altered by using them through Montage, so you can rest assured that your applications will continue to operate normally and your data will remain intact and accessible, with or without Montage.  Montage doesn't force you to change your ways, but it may tempt you into doing some things a bit differently.
 


Example of graphical montages

This screen shot was created by opening a graphical montage (back, upper right) showing a wide field of the sky around the constellation Virgo.  Double-clicking on a transparent Shortcut (highlighted in red) opened a second montage (center), displaying a magnified view of that region, between the stars Epsilon and Rho.  From there, another Shortcut led to the further magnified view of 1 degree around spiral galaxy M90 (left).  Finally, the labeled Shortcut for M90 led to the montage (foreground, bottom) containing a color image of M90, plus standard iconic Shortcuts to various related references.  (See image credits below.)

Graphical montages

In a further departure from the "standard" style resembling Windows Explorer (depicted above), Montage supports graphical styles, as illustrated in the screen shot at the right.  Instead of using icons to represent Shortcuts, a graphical montage contains transparent Shortcuts superimposed against a background graphic (wallpaper).  Thus the placement of a transparent Shortcut within a graphical montage may be sufficient to make its meaning clear, and arrangements of such Shortcuts provide a powerful way of annotating the background image.  As a further refinement, you can quickly cycle through a collection of alternate wallpapers specifically selected for each montage.

Transparent Shortcuts have adjustable borders, and optionally include a title, whose color is user-selectable, since it must contrast against the background.  Whether to display titles and show borders of Shortcuts can be toggled ON or OFF, and an optional mouse-over effect is supported, as well as flexible Shortcut tips.  These features make it possible to use a graphical montage in a variety of configurations, ranging from a completely unobstructed view of the background, to a view that fully reveals all of the Shortcuts, as shown in this example.

While the appearance of standard and graphical montages may be very different, both styles are functionally equivalent.  The distinction between styles is not absolute, though, since there is a range of options and hybrid configurations.  Typically you would start by selecting either the Standard Style or Graphical Style settings, and then adjust individual options as desired.

Our little astronomy example shows how different styles of montage and types of information can be freely intermixed, but we could just as well have chosen an entirely different illustration.  For example, you could:

  • create a tourist guide to a city, incorporating maps, photos, and web links relating to points of interest
  • use architectural diagrams to describe an office building or a mall, including details about its occupants
  • work with CAD images to organize, maintain, and present information relating to the design of anything from an automobile to an aircraft carrier
  • annotate a background image of the periodic table with Shortcuts to montages about each element
  • create a gallery of thumbnail images of famous people, linking to their Wikipedia pages

The same concepts can be applied to building montages of any sort, taking advantage of appropriate graphics as an organizational device, or simply working with logical groupings and orderly layouts to help make any complex body of information more manageable.
 


Dynamic Internet fetching

Montage supports a unique way of transparently incorporating files that can be retrieved on demand from known Internet addresses.  This capability, referred to as dynamic fetching, is particularly useful in combination with Montage's graphical features, i.e. background wallpapers, icons, and the ability to launch various types of image viewing applications, for example Internet Explorer or Montage's built-in image viewer.  Dynamic fetching makes it possible to construct and distribute highly compact, graphical montages that appear to contain large amounts of image data, but physically contain a much smaller amount of information.  Dynamic fetching also is useful as an efficient way of selectively distributing any sort of large body of data, graphical or non-graphical.  For example, this is how the Montage Samples are distributed.

How dynamic fetching works

The underlying mechanism for dynamic fetching is built into the way that Montage locates the files to which it refers, or more specifically, what Montage does when a file is not found.  When a file such as a wallpaper, icon, or Shortcut target is not found and the Fetch on Demand option is enabled, before assuming the file truly doesn't exist, Montage checks for the presence of a corresponding URL link.  I.e. Montage looks for an Internet shortcut in the expected location, named identically to the file being sought, but having the ".URL" suffix.  For example, if the missing file is named "Sample Image.JPG", Montage looks for a file named "Sample Image.JPG.URL" in the same directory.  Finding that the .URL file exists, Montage automatically attempts retrieve the target of this link across the Internet, store the result in the heretofore missing file ("Sample Image.JPG"), and continue as usual, as though the file had been there all along.  (Optionally, Montage will prompt for confirmation before performing each download, or you can enable automatic downloads without prompting.)

Once a missing file has been fetched there is no need to fetch it again, so subsequent references will be much faster and require no Internet connection.  If the file is later deleted, but its corresponding .URL link is left intact, Montage can simply use the same strategy to retrieve the file again, as needed.  Montage has an Analyze command, which summarizes the status of missing and fetchable files, and there are commands to Fetch All missing files, with or without prompting.  Additional Internet Fetching options that can be set on a per-montage basis include a fetch timeout interval, and a toggle indicating whether to pre-fetch icons.

Montage's dynamic fetching capability can be thought of as a variation on the familiar concept of browser caching, but with a twist.  In the usual model of browsing, you request an explicit URL, and the location of temporarily cached files is transparent.  If the browser cache happens to contain an entry for the requested URL, the browser quickly returns that page (or image), without having to retrieve it across the Internet.  By contrast, Montage first looks for a local file at a specified location, without regard for the URL from which it can be retrieved.  Montage doesn't need a special cache directory, because it knows exactly where the file is kept locally, and where it can be found on the Internet (from its corresponding .URL link).  Either approach has the benefit of greatly speeding up subsequent references to the same file, but Montage's scheme has the advantage of enabling any application, not just a browser, to access its files transparently across the Internet.  Montage also provides a much greater degree of control over the disposition of individual "cached" files.

Dynamic fetching from password-protected sites

In addition to fetching publicly accessible web pages and images, Montage can retrieve any type of file from private, password-protected web sites, such as those restricted to registered subscribers.  Montage supports basic access authentication, a standard Internet protocol for requiring credentials (a user name and password) to be supplied before retrieving a web resource.  Browsers typically trigger a generic login dialog when confronted with such web pages, forcing the user to enter a valid user name and password before proceeding.  In the context of dynamic fetching, as opposed to browsing, there is no such login dialog, because the required credentials are passed automatically by Montage.  This requires that you have used Montage's Registration / Authentication dialog to specify one or more private web sites and your registered user credentials for those sites.  (For security purposes, the authentication table in which this information is stored is encrypted.)  After you have entered your credentials for a given private web site, Montage will be able to fetch content from that web site without any further interaction, as if that site were public.

Fetching entire montages

The basic dynamic fetching capability described so far deals with retrieval of missing, but fetchable, individual files, where a corresponding Internet shortcut locates of a copy of the file.  But if the file in question is a montage, i.e. specified as a filename with the MO3 extension, it will not suffice simply to retrieve that one file.  To begin with, a Montage metafile consists of several separate files (with extensions .MO3, .FPT, and .CDX), which always must be copied or moved together.  Furthermore, a montage generally contains references to other external files, some of which may need to accompany it for the montage to be usable.  Thus the basic logic of dynamic fetching for single files has been extended to fetch multiple files when dealing with missing montages.

When a missing montage is fetched, it is initially downloaded into the target directory as a compressed montage, represented by a standard ZIP file.  The contents of this ZIP file are extracted automatically into that directory and possibly some number of its sub-directories (created automatically, if necessary).  After extraction of its contents, the downloaded ZIP file is deleted, so the net result is that multiple files have been fetched, including the required components of the montage.

Besides containing the three essential component files, a compressed montage can contain any number of additional files, which may be organized into a tree of sub-directories under the main directory containing the primary montage components.  These additional files are extracted automatically as part of the process of dynamic fetching.  There is no absolute requirement as to which additional files must be included, so this is a decision made by the author or publisher of such fetchable montages.

The Save to Zip command generates a modular, portable, and maximally fetchable ZIP file from the current montage.  In other words, Save to Zip produces the smallest ZIP file sufficient to fetch the current montage, including any files it references (but not other montages) that lie within the same directory subtree, but are not themselves separately fetchable.  For those files referenced that are fetchable, only the corresponding URL links are stored in the compressed montage.  By publishing this ZIP file to a predetermined web address and providing a correspondingly named Internet shortcut to this file in place of the montage, a publisher need only distribute that link to make the entire montage and its accompanying files dynamically fetchable.

Fetching the Montage samples

There is a collection of sample montages, which you are encouraged to explore by using the Help, Samples command.  These samples are not physically included in the Montage program setup - they are automatically obtained in piecemeal fashion through Montage's dynamic Internet fetching facility, if and when you first attempt to use them.  The main sample montage and many of the samples it leads to are publicly accessible, and these contain a variety of helpful examples of Montage usage.  In addition to the public samples, some private samples are provided, which are restricted to Montage subscribers.  To access these private samples, you will need to have entered your registered Montage user name and password through the Registration / Authentication dialog, which you can get to via the Help, Register command.


Integrated help facilities

The Montage Help pages are available both on the web and in an HTML Help file, MONTAGE.CHM, which would normally reside in your Montage program directory.  Note that the online Montage Help web pages generally reflect the latest release, whereas your local copy of the Montage Help file, MONTAGE.CHM, should correspond to the version of the Montage program (MONTAGE3.EXE) that you are currently using.  If you performed a quick-installation of Montage, as opposed to a full setup, a separate help runtime registration step is required for optional support of Montage's integrated, context-sensitive help.  In any case, you should still be able to open and peruse the local Montage Help file, so long as a proper installation of HTML Help is on your computer.

Montage's integrated program help features include:

If the Montage Help file is missing, these features are disabled or they simply do nothing.

Documentation conventions

The following general documentation conventions apply to Montage Help pages, both on the web and in the Help file:

Types of hypertext links

Support for browsing within frames

Both the Montage web site and the Montage Help file optionally work with browser frames, where one frame (the contents frame) is at the top and a second frame (the article frame) is at the bottom, and there is an adjustable horizontal divider between them.  When browsing in framed mode, clicking on a normal link in the upper frame loads the target page in the lower frame, except for bold faced links, which generally are intra-page jumps or otherwise navigate within the upper frame (if present).  Frames can be useful for quickly browsing through many references that have been gathered into an outline, using a single browser window.  Each Montage Help page includes an Unframe link (in the page header and footer), which you can always use to get back to the normal, unframed mode.  Only certain pages (aka "frameable" pages) contain a Frame link, which puts you into framed mode, for example see Help Contents and Montage Knowledge Base.

Help page headers and footers

The Help pages have a distinctive header and footer layout, somewhat different from the rest of the Montage web site.  Help page headers and footers include the following links:

Image credits

Astronomical images used in Montage web pages and Help are courtesy of the following sources:

All copyrighted images are the property of their respective copyright holders.

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Montage Help page, last edited: 12/31/10 16:20
http://ideaxchg.com/montage/help/helpintro.htm
Copyright SpaceTime Systems 2003-2011