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Alternative Desktops for Win32? 62

Posted by Cliff
from the really-personalizing-your-desktop dept.
BRock97 asks: "After having made Linux the default desktop on my laptop, I have gotten into the mode of wanting to make all my desktops pretty, including my Win32 gaming machine. There are commercial programs out there (such as Object Desktop), but at a price tag of $50, I want to do a little more research before I toss down that chunk of change for eye candy, which leads to my question. Anyone use such freely available shell replacements such as geoshell or LiteStep? Comments on stability, speed, and such? The themes look impressive and the available modules (especially for LiteStep) looks extensive. For that matter, anyone use Object Desktop" Microsoft offers some UI tweaking tools, but I'm not aware of that many all-desktop replacements out there. Are any other projects in the works aside from the ones listed? How difficult are such projects to work on given Microsoft's attitude on control of the Win32 desktop?
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Alternative Desktops for Win32?

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  • obligitary response: (Score:3, Informative)

    by b_pretender (105284) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @06:19PM (#3493527)
    Use Cygwin and Xfree86 within Windows.

    Run KDE or Gnome or any of the other desktop environments.

    My friend does this on his laptop. It is a very effective solution.

  • Litestep (Score:3, Informative)

    by silicon_synapse (145470) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @06:23PM (#3493544)
    I've used Litestep on Windows 2000. I loved it with the exception of two things. 1) a bad theme rendered it nearly unusable. I logged in as another user and reinstalled to fix it, but I later learned of a way I could have fixed it without reinstalling. Partially my fault. 2) The Start menu never seemed to update as I installed new software. It was as if it generated a static menu from the start menu during install.

    There were many things I really liked about it: multiple desktops, transparent menus, smaller interface features waste less screen space, right-click access to the start menu, etc. I eventually ditched it though mostly because of the start menu issue.
    • Re:Litestep (Score:2, Informative)

      by rootrider (103850)
      I'm not sure what the problem was... however, the popup can be fully dynamic now. Most themes (especially OTS themes) keep the start menu and other items (like the desktop) dynamic. Otherwise, you would have to recycle to update the popup.
      • That's nice to know. Is there a way to easily add icons to the desktop? That's something I never figured out. I didn't spend a lot of time researching it because it was on my work computer and I didn't have the time.
        • Re:Litestep (Score:2, Informative)

          by rootrider (103850)
          there's been a bit of work recently to recreate the Explorer desktop as a module. Nothing's been released yet though. Until then, you can use a module such as icon or folderview (check the module list [shellfront.org]
    • Re:Litestep (Score:3, Informative)

      by Shaheen (313)
      This is no longer a problem - the popup is dynamically generated from directories on the drive. Also, Litestep popups now use the shell namespace, which means so-called Special Folders (Start Menu, My Documents, etc.) are also accessible.

  • Although I haven't tried it out, LiteStep looks pretty impressive.

    If you like WindowMaker, give it a try.
  • Windows XP contains theme support. You can get themes here [themexp.org]. However, to actually use themes not signed by microsoft, you need an additional shareware program that costs $20 for long-term activation (this program is not written by MS). Seems to work pretty well, although the themes don't apply equally to all apps.
    • Re:Windows XP (Score:2, Informative)

      by nuggetman (242645)
      No you don't. Just download the hacked UxTheme.dll from www.tgtsoft.com and extract themes to c:\windows\resources\themes.
    • As someone else said, you can just replace the patched UxTheme.dll file. Not a process for the typical Windows simp, but for anyone here its probably a no-brainer. The main thing I wanted to mention is that themes apply to any app which is linked with a new enough version of the common controls AND has a manifest resource either compiled in or accompanying it that specifies it is to use themes. In essence, support for themes IS app-specific, but it is so incredibly easy to add (took me about 30 minutes to change and recompile 5 separate apps to support themes) that I don't think I've seen any app that purports to support XP and doesn't support themes.
  • Progman (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Trevelyan (535381)
    I tended to open system.ini and change the link:
    shell=Explorer.exe
    to
    shell=progman.exe

    for that nostalgic win3.1 look, with the added bounus that ur machine boot loads faster, and since progman dont load/run all the stuff in reg, it has less crap loaded, and to me is far more stable.

    ofcoure i found a better way, and now run debian, but i still do this on uni machine. as well as set the background to c:\windows\logos.sys (stretched) just to confuse the luser who uses the machine after me >:)
    • shell=progman.exe

      for that nostalgic win3.1 look, with the added bounus that ur machine boot loads faster, and since progman dont load/run all the stuff in reg, it has less crap loaded, and to me is far more stable.

      That stability is not an illusion: Explorer and its evil cousin, Internet Explorer, are responsible for 95% of the crashes and hangs that ordinary users experience on Windows, even on Windows NT & 2000. Windows NT 3.51 was quite a stable product, but then the Explorer UI came along and ruined that. Progman is the last stable user interface product Microsoft wrote (stable when running on NT or above, that is)...
  • geoShell (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gmaestro (316742)
    I'm forced to use win98 at work, and few weeks ago I installed geoshell. Very nice, multiple desktops and other toys. I cannot detect a difference in speed on the PIII-667 I use at work.

    I see some comments about liteStep's installation. for one, I couldn't find anything on LiteStep, and geoshell's install was effortless. I'm very happy with it.

  • Talisman (Score:2, Informative)

    by jwbozzy (519130)
    Talisman [lighttek.com] seems to be pretty cool, my girlfriend likes it alot, and it appears to be fairly customizable. I haven't used it all that much(GNOME user :P), but it seems pretty easy to play with and they offer a 30 day trial download. Of course, if you don't want to pay...geoshell works nicely.
  • by zulux (112259)
    If you just have a windows computer for games, just run the games in full screen mode and you won't have to look at windows at all.

    Hell, just make a desktop full of shortcuts and st the 'taskbar' to auto-hide, and you'll won't have to look at microsofts crappy GUI wigets again.

  • LiteStep (Score:3, Informative)

    by Keebler64 (578706) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @06:52PM (#3493714)
    I've been using LiteStep for 4 years now...(or since b23 was the first time I tried it.)
    Anyways...I have used it NON-Stop everyday that I've had access to a computer (Even at school)
    I find that, while setting up LiteStep can be abit hard or overwhelming at first. Great people have been able to help greatly by making distributions. such as Omar's LiteStep Installer [cjb.net] and other great works such as that.
    And as far as support... the community is great, IRC and the mailing list are awsome. And almost everyone is friendly and willing to help. Give it a try..
    • Yeah, I've been around since b21 or so. When fpn nearly died, and the core modules had added features that weren't complete (as they are now) and those themes were being shoved down my throat (hate theme.rc), I got out of the habit of using it.

      I have geoshell set up on a user in xp, but it crashes as often as it did before r3, imo, and has quirky features. But some of those features kick ass and all have fairly easy-to-adjust registry entry configs (which gets rid of open *.ini, forget to save, allow litestep to take metapad/notepad down with it, etc.).

      The real upshot of litestep, though, compared to the realitvely small (or small-voiced) geoshell community, is the willingness to help and support and develop.

      So, until they get those gui config editors released with the core modules, I'm sticking with xp explorer (fwiw, better than 98's) and/or geOShell.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 09, 2002 @06:57PM (#3493734)
    I've used LiteStep for about 2 years, off and on. It's extremely versitile, customizable, and a great replacement to the explorer shell. With all these bonuses, come drawbacks though.

    The biggest problem comes with the step.rc and individualization of themes. Simply put, the author creates a theme to his tastes, with his layouts, with his setup. When another person installs this theme, they are required to use his layout, or modify it themself. So basically, you have to understand how to use the step.rc to fix any quirks you don't like about it. Thankfully, this process has gotten a lot easier with standardization of themes, though LSDistro and more recently OTS. The entire setup is moved away into personal .rc files which the themes can't touch. They simple pull the info from said files and use them for the formatting. This applies to popup, hotkey, and variable setups. Before this, one would have to install multiple instances of LiteStep and use a shell selector to switch between the themes. Now LS has modularity and can switch themes on the fly.

    Another problem is the community itself, which has had it's ups and downs in the past few years. Currently, the main LiteStep site is down and the LiteStep theming community has floundered. This is the second time this has happend in the last few years and it sets us back when it comes to innovative theme development. We've also seen a bunch of our influential users/developers drop out of the scene from stupid users abusing them.

    As long as you can get over the learning curve of modifying a step.rc file and you can adapt to the new shell enviroment, you should do fine with LiteStep. However, until litestep.net comes back up, don't expect to find a ton of themes or help setting it up.

    On the horizion, we're looking at litestep.net coming up in a few months or so, as well as the much antisipated release of version .24.7 and a new dev. team dedicated to continuing to improve on LiteStep.
  • As much as I don't have to use Windows at all these days, I haven't used LiteStep in a while, but when I did, it made Windows tolerable, multiple desktops, a dock, among other things, made the Windows desktop much more usable. The only drawback was the awkwardness of editing configuration files in Windows; why I didn't download Emacs or Vim for Windows and save myself the aggravation of Notepad, I can't remember...

    --Shahms
  • WTH Are Shells? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rootrider (103850) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @07:28PM (#3493888) Homepage
    Explorer is a shell... but so many people can't stand it that we created our own :)

    Regarding the question about how MS deals with these shells: Well, the simple answer is that they don't. It keeps us off their back :). In fact, many of the well known win32 shell developers work or have worked at Microsoft. Alternative shells work just fine under Windows.

    Now, there are actually a ton of shells (see the list [shellfront.org]) out there for Windows, and most are open source in some way or other. The most popular (and one of the oldest) win32 shells is Litestep, which is GPL'd.

    For a somewhat decent overview of shells from a windows user's point of view, check out forum topic on deviantART [deviantart.com]. Alternative Windows Shells basically just replace the Explorer.exe file as the Windows shell... usually also resulting in the replacement of the well known taskbar, start menu, and desktop. Instead, you can use the tools provided by the shell to build your own interface. Shells are very similar to X desktop environments. They do not replace the Windows like a WM does. For general news and info regarding Windows shells, check out the following sites:

    Desktopian.org [desktopian.org] also covers Windows and shells news in-depth, along with some *nix related news.

    Litestep [graphic-language.net] is the oldest shell still in active development. It is by far the most popular shell (with an estimated 10,000+ users) and the most customizable shell (outside of Graphite). You can create almost whatever interface you want, thanks to the 300+ 3rd party modules for the shell. Litestep also has great support through the LS Mailing List and the IRC channels (#fpn, #ls2k, and #ls_help on irc.openprojects.net). Make sure to check out the following sites for Litestep:

    Litestep started in 1997 as a port of AfterSTEP to Windows. Since then, it's taken on a serious life of its own. It can do almost anything. Whether you're a minimalist, you love bar themes, you just want to get rid of the desktop icons and add to the popup, or you want your desktop to do everything under the sun, Litestep can do it. And if LS can't do something you want it to, then its active development core will probably create a module to do it soon :). Litestep is configured through .rc text files and often requires a good read of the documentation to figure it out. Litestep can look like anything, and do almost anything.

    The second most popular replacement shell is geOShell, which is largely a minimalist's shell. It has a GUI configuration for most things. geOShell's main site is geoshellx.com [geoshellx.com]. All information can be found there. They are also supported through the geoshellx.com forums and their IRC channel (#geoshell on irc.openprojects.net).

    Most win32 shells out there today are either derived from Litestep or geOShell in some way or other. However, there have been two blackbox 'ports' recently to Windows:

    Both of these shells natively support blackbox themes are very fast and light to run.

    It's impossible for me to explain everything here. However, for any *nix users who need to run Windows as well, these shells offer a great alternative to that drab and boring Explorer desktop. Win32 alternative shells even let you have your X desktop on Windows.

    Now, the advantage to Object Desktop (namely DesktopX and objectbar is that it doesn't require that you replace your shell (which is a registry key change in NT and a system.ini file edit in 9x). Configuration is accomplished by a GUI. DesktopX is extremely configurable. Keep in mind that running Object Desktop will use up excessive cpu and/or memory. They can do almost anything, but will also use up resources... unlike most shells.

    Hope this helps. Many *nix users are completely unaware of the Windows open-source community and of shells in general. We hope this will eventually change.

    • Re:WTH Are Shells? (Score:3, Informative)

      by rootrider (103850)
      As was so quickly pointed out to me, I forgot to mention SharpE [lowdimension.net]. SharpE is probably the closest to an Explorer clone, but with a ton of added features and easy configuration. SharpE community sites are starting to pop up and development is going well.
  • I've been using Litestep as primary shell for my Win98 (first just 98, then 98SE) PC and also my Win95C PC (which I don't use anymore) for, ooo, maybe 3 or 4 years now. I often cite it as a way of making Windows (9x) far more stable, though I've found even greater stability can be gained using an old version of TraySaver as well as Litestep. I'm not on my right PC at the moment, so I can't tell you exactly what version. Once you've replaced Explorer with Litestep, added Traysaver and use Mozilla instead of IE system stability increases at least ten-fold. If you use Explorer as the file manager it still crashes, but it doesn't take the whole machine with it. I can't remember the last time I had a fatal BSOD, although I do occasionally get Blue Screens Of A Really Tired Feeling. Often I don't actually know what's crashed after them, but rnaapp is the most likely one.

    However, I can not vouch for anything about Win9x, I've only just got an XP machine to play with and all I've done is change it back to the classic Win98 UI. If I could find a utility to slightly fade all windows that don't currently have the focus, that'd be enought for me for now.

  • I've been an obedient windows slave for years now, but I've decided, damnit, I'm going to stand up for myself! I, I, I'm going to THEME my desktop! There, I said it! And you can't stop me, Bill! Please - don't stop me, Bill ... (sob) I can't afford XP yet, bwah-hah-hah, I just can't afford it yet. I promise I'll have the money soon, I just need a little more time! Pleeaaaaase!
  • www.themexp.org
    And it's free too.
  • Litestep (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I've been following Litestep on and off since b.24 (I think) and find it to be the best shell replacement bar none (including *nix managers). It is the most customizable shell around and has recently become very modularized with the introduction of the Open Theme Standard. One other thing that has helped it become easy to use (good) themes as a newbie is the ability to make themes resolution independant in the latest dev builds by using environment variables such as $ResolutionX/2$. Theming has been made even more tolerable with the introduction of third party scripting modules such as mzscript.

    I do find the modules a little annoying and unstable sometimes but the Litestep core is solid as a rock (as far as i can tell). Ther are only two other things that bug me about Litestep.
    • 1) No built in Z-Order handling for modules
    • 2) No built in variable management

    Apart from that I highly recommend it to anyone who is a wee bit computer savvy and likes to be able to change EVERYTHING about their desktop.

    PS I'm not really a coward, Slashdot just wouldn't let me sign up.

    :: trankillity ::
  • by snol (175626)
    Litestep is what I use when I boot into Windows; if it didn't exist I probably would've moved to Linux much earlier. It requires that you play around with rc files and spend a few months getting to know modules and their quirks before it works really well, but really there are no limits once you get it going. My question wouldn't have been about alternate shells for windows, my question would've been whether there are any unix desktop environments that come at all close to comparing to Litestep. I'm probably being a little unfair to the multitude of other shells out there but really once I got the hang of Litestep I found it had so many possibilities that I didn't feel inclined to try any others.
    • Actually I should correct myself. With a good installer (and there are many - see rootrider's post [slashdot.org] for links) it's perfectly possible to get it working nicely with minimal interference. It's once you start trying to theme it yourself - which you probably will - that it takes some work to get to know.
    • Sure. Just about any UNIX desktop environment is as flexible as LiteStep. Roll your own...don't feel like you just need to use KDE or GNOME or something like that. I've got a rather nice desktop with sawfish, the sawfish pager, all status information being shown via gkrellm, and programs launched via the keyboard using xbindkeys. No GNOME or KDE flavoring necessary.

      AfterStep is probably the closest in functionality to LiteStep, but I personally prefer Enlightenment if you're looking for flash, Sawfish if you're looking for functionality, and Black Box if you're looking for speed.

      Steps in roll-your-own:

      Choose a base desktop environment (keep in mind that you can just mix and match bits of them...I used to use the GNOME panel without the rest of GNOME, and a roommate uses GNOME apps with the KDE environment):
      None
      GNOME [gnome.org]
      KDE [kde.org]
      ROX [sourceforge.net]
      foXdesktop [sourceforge.net]
      Perltop [sourceforge.net]
      Equinox [szm.com]
      XFce [xfce.org]
      Once you've chosen a desktop environment (or the lack of one), and possibly removed the parts of it that you don't like (with GNOME, I wholeheartedly suggest trying it without Nautilus, possibly without anything but the panel), then you get to choose a dock. Your current desktop may or may not include a dock/panel/wharf.

      If it doesn't, icedock [prosalg.no] provides an environment-independent wharf for the afterstep-style wharf system -- swallowing apps.
      gkrellm [gkrellm.net] (seems to be currently down) makes for a nice status-monitor style dock.
      Or you can make your own impromptu dock...I've built them before by starting xload and xlock with proper geometry arguments to stack them on top of each other, and having sawfish make the windows sticky and slap 'em at the edge of the screen.
      Now a window manager. There are so many of these that I'm not going to list them all. I'll mention a few notables:
      sawfish [sf.net] is a fairly fast, *extremely* flexible (everything's written in lisp, much like emacs) window manager that uses gtk. Currently GNOME's default. I love this thing, but it doesn't come with a pager, so you either need to use a base desktop environment with a pager or use spager [stanford.edu].
      enlightenment [enlightenment.org] is, at least until the next major release, still a window manager and not a desktop environment. Lots of emphasis on eye candy.
      ion [students.tut.fi], a novel window manager that's designed to be managed entirely with the keyboard and never overlap windows.
      blackbox [sourceforge.net] is what I'd suggest if you needed a fast environment that still looked nice.

      Most WMs support launching programs with given key combinations. I'd advise against this. The excellent XBindKeys [hocwp.free.fr] is window-manager independent, quite capable, allows you to kill off your window manager and still use keys to start programs, etc. Plus, there's a nice benefit to using a different program than your window manager to launch programs. If you never launch external programs with your WM, you can renice -10 `pidof sawfish` or whatever your window manager is. Making your window manager (and X) meaner with respect to CPU scheduling makes for a much more snappy environment when edge flipping or the like. Sure, it might take a sec for the mozilla windows in the background to finish redrawing when I flip to a new desktop, but in the meantime I can do my work without waiting around for them.

      The reason you don't want to make your WM meaner if you use it to launch programs is that then all the programs will also be equally mean.

      Decide on the Big Four applications of any X desktop. Text editor, web browser, file manager, and terminal emulator.

      Text editor:
      I can't possibly cover this holy war here. My personal preference is xemacs [xemacs.org], which is a bit of a learning curve for new users from Windows, but well worth it in power in the long run. You may want something that meshes more with the rest of your chosen desktop environment.

      Web browser:
      Just because KDE uses Konqueror and GNOME uses galeon by default is no reason to stick with those. Of course, you also can use either Konq without KDE or galeon without GNOME. You're rolling your own environment!
      mozilla [mozilla.org] is now (after years of work) a good web browser. Big, still slow and still RAM-hungry, but usably so.
      dillo [cipsga.org.br] Lightweight, very fast, pretty stable, very screen-space efficient...I can't say enough good things about dillo. If you use dillo as your primary browser, be aware of the fact that it has fewer features than the large browsers, that it doesn't currently (without a patch) support SSL, that it uses a UNIXish config-file preferences interface, and that it doesn't lay out nested tables or wrap text around images the same way Mozilla does. I keep Mozilla around as a backup browser, but dillo is so freakishly fast that it's hard to want to use anything else.
      There are a few other browsers, but Konqueror, Mozilla, and dillo are (IMHO) the big GUI players on Linux. Amaya is a specialty browser, Opera (thanks to its MDI interface) doesn't seem to have caught on much in the Linux world, and Navigator 4.x is definitely on its way out the door.

      File manager:
      You may choose to simply use a command-line shell and the standard file utilities (cp, rm, ls) to do your file management -- I do, and I've tried hard to give other things a chance. But if you prefer to use a specalized GUI tool:
      Konqueror [konqueror.org] can be used, even if you aren't using KDE (you do, of course, need the KDE libraries installed). Faster than gecko (the engine in mozilla and galeon) and almost as standards compliant, Konqueror has a lot of fans.
      GMC [gnome.org] is no longer being developed, but it's a reasonable lightweight interface.
      Nautilus [eazel.com], the current official GNOME file manager is big, slow, RAM-hungry, and pretty. Not sure how well Nautilus works outside of GNOME (given that Konqueror can work outside of KDE, I would expect this capability of Nautilus).
      ROX filer [sourceforge.net] is a very fast little gtk file manager.
      There are a lot [freshmeat.net] of file managers out there, so I won't list them all, especially as I'm happy with just bash and the POSIX tools.

      Terminal emulator:
      GNOME and KDE both come with terminal emulators -- gnome-terminal and Konsole. I'm not very impressed with either -- they're both very slow and aren't available apart from their associated desktop environment. Konsole supports tabbed terminals, which some people may like. Both of them are fairly easy to configure, and are suitable for newbies to work with.
      Multi Gnome Terminal [sourceforge.net] extends gnome-terminal significantly with Konsole-style tabs and a set of other features. If you like gnome-terminal, you should probably consider using this instead.
      Eterm [eterm.org] is a RAM-heavy terminal emulator that was designed to look nice. For all the tinting and blending it can do, reasonably fast.
      Aterm [sourceforge.net] seems to be basically a less featureful, less memory-hungry Eterm-like terminal.
      xterm [his.com] is the reasonably fast not-so-pretty fairly RAM-hungry terminal that's used all over the world.
      rxvt [rxvt.org] is easily my favorite terminal emulator. rxvt uses less RAM than anything else out there, and is incredibly fast. You can compile in only the features you want to use (which can, of course, also be disabled at runtime). Background images are supported, but emphasis is not much on eye candy. Very configurable. The biggest drawback is that configuration is through traditional UNIX methods, which may scare away some -- X resources, command line options, compile-time options.

      Whatever you do, choose a set of software that you like, and remember -- your desktop environment is based on Linux, which means it should composed of exactly the parts that you like most. Have fun!
      • Do you honestly believe that Afterstep is close to Litestep's functionality? Of course, Litestep can recreate the functionality of the basic AfterSTEP interface without any problem (really simple to do), but as I mentioned before, Litestep has really taken on a mind of its own. It's goals are to let you, the user, do what you want to do with your Windows interface. For users who are used to Litestep, it is often hard to move to *nix and find a suitable WM or environments. Of course there are *nix solutions that are just as flexible, especially after you leave the world of KDE and GNOME, but many users love what you can do with the 300+ LS modules and a simple text configuration file. Those thousands of LS themes are another reason to miss the shell when in *nix. Believe it or not, there is an effort to port PureLS [purels.org] (a straight C implementation of Litestep) to the Linux world, and there are probably atleast a few hundred people who can't wait for it. Regardless of whether *nix users think they would need or want an LS-like environment or not, there are enough LS users alone to create a supporting community for such a port.
  • Windows PowerPro (Score:2, Informative)

    by LarryRiedel (141315)

    Windows PowerPro [windowspowerpro.com], is a pretty good no cost Windows shell replacement. It has a lot of features, but it seems to be more oriented towards productivity than aesthetics. I found it easy to install and configure. It has been around for years, and used to be called "Stiletto". There is a somewhat active mailing list [yahoo.com].

  • Well, if you are already saddled with Windows XP, I hear that you can really skin it a *lot* more than previous releases. Google around.
  • by scowby (521272) on Thursday May 09, 2002 @10:18PM (#3494419) Homepage

    I've been using LiteStep for a few years and now use it exclusively at work. Even got a few of my colleagues to use it. But don't ask for tech support, go to the community to get your answers.

    The problem with LiteStep is that it has a fairly steep learning curve. This has improved with standards for themes (OTS) [cjb.net] appearing and a good installer. There are heaps of distros out there but LSDistro and OTS are two of the best. OTS has generally replaced LSDistro these days and most new themes come out as OTS compatible.

    Although these installers are in place and themes are more compatible, you still have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and dive into the configuration files to make a theme work the way you want it to. I've found that I generally download a theme and tweak it until I'm happy and then use that theme for ages.

    Anyway litestep is one of the best shell replacements out there because:

    • you can get the sourcecode and build it yourself
    • you can code up new modules to do anything you imagine
    • there is a well developed community
    • there are many themes available, try deviantArt [deviantart.com].
    • it's fully customizable
    • and you can almost forget you're using windows
    • The problem with LiteStep is that it has a fairly steep learning curve.
      You're absolutely right, the learning curve of Litestep is pretty rough. It's definitely been made with the same mentality of most *nix programs, almost everything is configured in a plain text file and you have to wade through documentation (which can be pretty sparse at times) trying to figure out how to get things to work.

      That being said, I think Litestep is a good place to start because it has a very active, strong, supportive community. #litestep on Efnet has many regulars that can help you with your first Litestep installation. LS Docs [slashdot.org] has the docs for the core modules. Also, emailing module authors directly or using the litestep mailing list [wuzzle.org] is also a good way to get feedback.

      What makes litestep better than other shells? I would say it's users who care about litestep.
  • Serenade and others (Score:2, Informative)

    by Courtah (568722)
    There's a surprising number of other shells out there besides just GeoShell and Litestep. Not just because I write it, but from what others tell me, Serenade is one of the most stable and user-friendly. As with anything under development, it's a work in progress, but it's very usable. You might consider checking it out at Courtah.net [courtah.net]. There are some nice themes at Skinbase [skinbase.org]. SharpE is also a nice shell, but lacks some customization abilities. I don't prefer Litestep because I think it's too disorganized (but it's the foundation of the community), and Geoshell is a nice shell despite forcing you to configure everything through the registry. In short, try many of them out, just make sure you read the directions on how to get your old shell back _carefully_. Look on ShellFront [shellfront.org] or Desktopian [desktopian.org] for more info/links.
    • by xannik (534808)
      I have been using Serenade for about 6 months now and I have to say that I am very impressed with the performance and speed that Serenade offers. Not to mention the user interface which is significantly better than the default explorer shell. Many new themes have been posted to skinbase.org [skinbase.org] recently showing the power of themes that Serenade offers. Serenade, although in the alpha stage, is a very mature product and the development is very responsive to user requests. The shell is written in VisualC++ and in the future will be adding scripting support for users to easily develop their own plugins using an interpreter based language (Romeo). If you want a shell that is extremely configurable yet light on resources (so light in fact that it takes up less resources than the default explorer shell), then try Serenade. It has an easy installation and should you decide to go back, uninstall is easy as well. Just follow the information on the website. Exciting things will be happening with the development of Serenade in the future, so keep your eyes on www.courtah.net [courtah.net]. Xan
  • I've been using litestep for a few years, on Win95, 98, 2k... loved it on all of them. LS is basically a module loader plus some, but the community support has allowed modules for pretty much anything you want. There are a lot of LS clones, and different LS builds, but they all work great! One just needs to not mind tweaking with preferences and their own setup... Some great LS sites: www.joeblade.com www.shellfront.org www.litestep.net -- down for now
  • When I first started using Litestep, it was mainly because of the Linux wave that came along a few years ago. I struggled with Linux on my machine for a few months, then smashed everything and started over with Windows. But seeing the cool enlightenment and other interfaces made me search for a way to customize windows, and that brought me to ls. I think, for any user, it is the best replacement shell, simply because it is the most customisable. Get litestep from http://ls-ots.cjb.net
  • Object Desktop (Score:2, Informative)

    by jenniferj (16471)
    I've used Object Desktop for the past year, and I really like it... They continually update their product: that $50 is a year's subscription to every update for every product, including anything new that they might release during the year. Future subscriptions are cheaper, too! Most of the programs are very careful of the system resources they use, and offer seemingly endless customization. There's also a well-established skinning community creating variations on everything to make OD that much more useful. I'd say try it out... there are shareware versions of all the popular programs, including Windowblinds and DesktopX.
    • Watch out for resource usage on some of these products. Especially on Windows 9x/ME, you can run into major problems because of the limited GDI resources Windows provides (Windowblinds can be especially bad about this, though it's better with newer versions) and its inability to deal with slight problems.

      My experience with Stardock products is that they are fairly heavy on GDI resource usage and that's something that can be hard to monitor, especially when they are loaded into every program in your system (Windowblinds). Also sometimes things don't operate 100 percent correctly, but they do some neat things like alpha blending on OSes that don't natively support it (though it's shakey at best). The nice thing about Stardock, though, is that there's an actual company behind them, so you can pay some $$$ and get support -- then again, you have to pay $$$.
  • As a long-time (3 years) developer of a Windows shell (Serenade, at http://www.courtah.net), I have come across many times when things just break with new versions of Windows, and things go awry. Things like grabbing the system tray are extremely annoying to do, and it seems like they change little aspects of it with every new version just to aggravate us. Also, starting with Windows 2000 they integrated things like the dialup-networking icon into the shell, so it goes away when you install another shell.

    For those who don't believe there are hidden Windows API calls, there are. Such as SwitchToThisWindow which actually sets focus to a foreground window (as opposed to SetForegroundWindow which just flashes it in 2000/XP). Combined with obscure things necessary to get shell hooks working and creating icons for InstallShield installers etc, they've successfully made it a pain to program the shells. But so long as people continue to use Windows, we'll keep hacking away.
  • While I had been one of Litesteps biggest supporters in the past. I feel that now it is lagging behind other desktop replacements for windows in terms of features. Having 300+ modules means nothing if they don't provide the features I want. I have been asking for some more features in the popup menu in terms of skinning.. but only one of the requested features got put in. All other additions seem to be stuff that I couldn't care less about. I guess that goes for litestep development in general. I've kinda lost faith that someone would step forward and code my requested-wanted features into a module or make a new module with the features. To me it seems, in general it's, "If you want a feature, don't hold your breath waiting for it, you may get lucky but again don't hold your breath". Plus it seems to be hip, or in or chic.. whatever to be minimalist and like blackbox'ish modules.. people seem to be more willing to make blackbox ports or modules than anything else... I might be alone here when I say I don't get too excited over blackbox ports.. I don't get excited over the real thing much less a port..
  • At the end of the day, for those serious about doing WORK on their box, the shell - however you dress it up - does not really matter. If I can boot alt shells 2.5 milliseconds faster than win 32 - do I really give a shit ? - What really matters is stability and, per se, the hardware and software config of the box/Users aptitude/knowldege. Whatever shell you run instead of Explorer, undrr Windows yer' still going to get bsod's..... fact. It's Widows - simple, live with it - or change it. Run Mandrake or Red Hat and things might be different - you may actually work faster,more securely, reliably and more enjoyably. In essence - do we really give a monkeys' if the taskbar looks good when u have to run that Excel doc out in 10 minutes because it HAS to be out or you're fired ? - Do we really give a monkeys' - when at work - that right clickin' instead of hitting the "start" button brings a different way to access your apps.? _ I sincerely "Don't know", sure - alternative shells CAN look good, subject to the authors' perception - - but at the end of the day - it IS windows after all. Got time on your hands to cusomize your desktop interface running Windows and join in a preceived community - fine, go ahead. Need to get the job done ? -, sorry - choose your Operating System first.
    • My WinXP Pro box has been up for 6 weeks, 3 days, 4 hours and 23 seconds as of this posting. Thats only because I don't like to keep my computer on during bad thunderstorms. With litestep, I get work done more efficiently, and I can still run the apps the rest of the civilized world runs without emulation. Want stability? Learn how to set up an operating system properly and think for yourself before falling into the "Windows BAD Linux GOOD" trap. I'm not slamming linux as an OS. Its great for certain things -- but on the box I use to browse the web, play games, and use MS Office, I'll stick to my stable, warezed version of WinXP, and feel just fine about it because Microsoft still ain't gettin my money.
  • I've used geOshell for over a year and a half. Before I installed it, my old primary desktop system (P166, 96 megs EDO RAM, Win98SE) would have to be rebooted after no more than 3 or 4 days under constant use. With geOshell, I actually went over 6 weeks without rebooting. So, for stability, nothing beats geOshell (on a Win32 machine).

    It uses a very small amout of system resources (I booted the above mentioned desktop system to 99% free resources) and is quite unobtrusive. Hitting Winkey + Z fades the user definable bars out of the way (mighty nice when you're playing a full screen game). The geObars are configurable with the use of plugins and are skinnable.

    The only difficulty some people may have is that it does require some registry editing. Keep in mind, however, that editing is only done in geOshell's registry key and will not affect anything else in the OS or other applications.

    Try it out. If you don't like it, all you need to do is change the shell from =geoshell.exe to =exploder.exe (or just double click the provided bat file to have it done for you).
  • I love LiteStep and use it all the time. Recently development has been slowed by hack attempts against the largest LS sites, but no worries: LS is already far more stable that the standard Windows GUI. I LOVE IT in short :)

    now the obligatory LS links:
    Desktopian [desktopian.org]
    FPN [mostelite.net]
    LiteStep.net [litestep.net]
    ShellFront [shellfront.org]
  • There are many, many good alternative shells out there. I suggest installing ShellON, or another shell switching app, and try several. Shareware Shells: Object Desktop Winstep Aston Talisman (my fave...) SharpE (Excellent) Open Source: Geoshell (Like sharpE, only more useful) Litestep (A must) Game OS (for gaming) Serenade (pretty, but not for me) Blackbox (yeah, black box runs on windows too) BlueBox I think alot of you are missing the primary reason for switching shells-reclaiming system resources. I run a laptop as my primary system, and it starts overheating at idle because explorer sucks up most of the systems resources. It's like installing a sports exhaust system in your honda. It breathes alot freer, runs faster, and has more horespower. An looks good too.
    • I think alot of you are missing the primary reason for switching shells-reclaiming system resources
      Actually, everyone runs an alternative shell for a different reason than the next person. There is no one singular reason, which is why we have so many shells. And with shells that are so customizable, you actually have tens, if not hundreds, of reasons that people run the shell. The point of shells are that they let you do what you want to do with your Windows interface.

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