Anyone have some tips or suggestions on xoblite or alternate Windows shells in general?
February 1, 2005 8:42 AM   Subscribe

Alternate Windows shells. I just found out about these a few days ago, started playing with xoblite, and after a few days of configuring and learning its little personality I think I'm hooked. Anyone have some tips or suggestions on xoblite or alternate shells in general? Should I be too cool for them? Is there a much better one I should be using? Are these really better for system resources? Have you any horror stories or important information to impart?
posted by 31d1 to Computers & Internet (23 answers total)
A *looooong* time ago I used litestep on windows 95 and 98. :)

I stopped using it because, at the time (probably 5 years ago), it was more unstable than explorer.exe.

Their website appears to be here, but totally sucks.
posted by shepd at 8:46 AM on February 1, 2005

Shepd: I dunno about litestep, but I used Windowblinds a long time ago (Win95 or 98), and stopped using it, because it was so unstable. I'm using WindowBlindsXP now, and it's stable like a rock. The times appear to be a-changin'.

Of course, WindowBlinds is a theme manager, not an alternate shell, so it sits on top of regular Windows and consumes marginally more resources. Different beast than alternate shells.
posted by Bugbread at 8:53 AM on February 1, 2005

I also used to play along, loooong ago, when I dual booted Lin & Win. I think it was LiteStep or WindowMaker?? Not worth the hassle, generally. If someone ever ports Enlightenment to Win (FINAL DR17, that is), I might try it.
posted by Gyan at 8:54 AM on February 1, 2005

My experience so far is that xoblite itself is quite stable. Some of the plugins aren't as stable, but once I found the ones I like and got them configured right, it's solid. There's a documented shutdown bug which seems to behave differently on win2k and winxp, so I just got in the habit of using ctrl-alt-delete to shutdown or reboot and also not skinning the actual Windows windows.
I looked at Litestep - it looked nice but wasn't stable at all once I started messing with settings and styles, and my machine is too slow for me to want to use any extra resources on something like WindowBlinds.
posted by 31d1 at 9:06 AM on February 1, 2005

I was huge into alternative shells for quite a while, but eventually cast them aside as, for me:
1) They don't work nearly as well in the context of Windows as WMs and DEs work in *Nix.
2) Most of them are unstable and poorly supported. Not to mention extreme drama and angst within the LiteStep core team years ago.
3) I wasn't any more productive.
4) Explorer was actually stable in Win2k and WinXP.
5) I ended up moving to Linux and OS X.

In the end, the shells only gave me two useful things:
1) Virtual Desktops, which VirtuaWin (high quality product, poor quality website) provides with less hassle.
2) Easier program launching, which you can have in explorer by rightclicking on the taskbar, and adding the new toolbar "My Computer." This works best with a sane partition scheme (C for Windows core stuff, D for apps and games, E for personal documents, etc), so to launch any one program you just click on the arrow to pop up a menu, navigate to D->Apps->Program->Program.exe, and you're set.

But that said, ShellFront seems to still be alive and kicking, and it looks like it's still a good resource. I believe that bb4win, xoblite, litestep, and sharpE are the only shells still in active development. As an added bonus, it looks like sharpE has gone Open Source.
posted by SemiSophos at 9:15 AM on February 1, 2005

Thanks, SemiSophos - for the links and some food for thought...if my experience gets to annoying I would definitely want to keep both the right click menu and multiple desktops.

For now, another question occurs - if I am running another shell as my default shell and it crashes - I get a blank screen where the only command that works is Ctrl-Alt-Delete. I can logoff/logon or run things from there to restore, but is there a way to run the default windows shell from there? Typing explorer.exe at the run prompt only drings up a file manager window. Is there an exe for the whole shebang, taskbar and everything?
posted by 31d1 at 9:35 AM on February 1, 2005

I used GeoShell for ages. It was great.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:36 AM on February 1, 2005

I still use GeoShell. It's only gotten better. Very active development, good community and now GPL.
posted by box at 9:41 AM on February 1, 2005

which you can have in explorer by rightclicking on the taskbar, and adding the new toolbar "My Computer."

Hey, that's a nice tip, thanks!
posted by rushmc at 9:44 AM on February 1, 2005

I like the multiple desktop thing and the best that I've found is Dexpot.

It seems small and quick and I haven't noticed any instability. It is very customizable, looks great and it's freeware (with no hidden surprises). It may even be open source.
posted by MotorNeuron at 9:52 AM on February 1, 2005

I guess I can jump on the "I tried alterrnative shells a long time ago" bandwagon. I used LiteStep on Win98, and it actually was more stable than Explorer as a shell, plus it had virtual desktops and sweet sweet simplicity. I also used Trackerv3 to manage my files.

Still use this setup on that machine, and it's still great.
posted by breath at 9:56 AM on February 1, 2005

Box - how do you deal with portability with GeoShell. It seems like all the customization is done in the registry. How do you save your settings for an OS reinstall - or if you want to set up your preferred environment on another machine? I don't have much regedit knowledge, so I hope you'll pardon me if this is a dumb question...
posted by 31d1 at 9:58 AM on February 1, 2005

Regedit allows you to save particular segments of the registry (like, say, the Hotkey Current Users/Software/Geo/Geoshell folder--that might not be the exact location, as I'm at work and going from memory, but you get the gist) as a .reg file. The .reg file can then be edited with a text editor, copied to another computer, added to the registry (back in the day, this is how Geoshell users installed new skins and color schemes), etc.

And, since you mention not having much regedit knowledge, here's some important information: if you're using Regedit, be careful, and back up the entire registry before you do anything. Regedit is powerful stuff, and this precaution will go a long way to keep you from having a horror-story kind of experience.
posted by box at 10:28 AM on February 1, 2005

Wow, this also brings me back. I stopped using alternative shells once XP got the "hide certain tray icons" feature. Then I got OSX and dumped windows.

Anyways, really explore the plugins and configuration files for whatever shell you're using. You can get some crazy cool stuff going, if you spend some time learning. The only problem I had was that I used microsoft paint for editing things. No graphic design skill will stop you from doing really cool things, unless you are using a theme like Xhenit. (LiteStep specific, I don't remember how BB clones act)

Should you be too cool for them? It's really how much time you want to spend computing for computing's sake. It's just like deciding to invest the time to get linux running. You heard it's better, but you have to spend time to do it. Is the time/frustration you're to spend going to exceed the time you save? Then stop, otherwise, full steam ahead!

Should you use something else? You can try simpler shells like GeOShell - no config files, almost drag and drop. At the other end of the spectrum, LiteStep is really just a module management system with some light overlays of basic windows shell stuff. Really your choice of shell depends on the level of customizability and also time you want to spend customizing it. BB clones I think are in between the two.

I remember customizing fondly - LSXCommand with custom bangs was like an early version of Quicksilver for me. The coolest thing I did was having continuous voice recognition with VoiceX so I could yell "Next!" from across the room and have winamp do the right thing (!Amp_Next).

Memory management isn't really an issue nowadays, especially with XP. The fact is, you'll still (probably) be using explorer for file management, and that's where the process bloats up the most anyways. Also, stability can be a problem. Running a shell along side explorer can result in some nasty things.

Horror? Check the LSFAQ so you don't think you have to reinstall windows when a shell fails to load.

Community sites:
Shellfront is still going (as said). Interesting.
Blizzle is another site like shellfront, but focuses on blackbox clones more and has general news.
The LiteStep FAQ has very nice answers to "how do I make XShell boot on logon?" The installers I think have covered this now though.

The community of LiteStep in particular has really died over the years. Every so often, a site would be hacked and then it was usually retired after that. The development split didn't help either. ( was the best domain ever!)

As for what to do now? You can continue to explore alternative shells and make quite an environment, with a better looking taskbar and all kinds of neat weather, email, winamp widgets, virtual desktops, etc. You can make some wicked cool, really slick looking stuff in time. Check the theme and plugin sites!

I just use windows apps now with pages and pages of options and plugins (foobar2000 (audio), Miranda IM, hoekey, firefox) instead to feed my lust of beautiful customization.

The real problem is all these shells really don't hit the problems of launching and too many windows head on. Quicksilver and Exposé do. You can try AppRocket on windows. Kompose hits the best of expose and virtual desktops in KDE.

Wow, I wrote a lot. I guess I still like it...
posted by easyasy3k at 10:51 AM on February 1, 2005

I used Litestep with Win 98/98SE. Only stopped when XP came out. Don't know if it ever got updated, or really if it even needed to be. I found it incredibly stable when used in combination with TraySaver and it has the best virtual desktop manager.
posted by krisjohn at 1:51 PM on February 1, 2005

Oh, and since I'm not sure anyone has addressed the question of whether they're better for system resources:

Typically, a barebones installation that provides only the equivalent functionality as the Windows shell and taskbar uses fewer resources. When you start adding a bunch of extra functionality (multiple desktops, weather plugins, etc.), this is often no longer the case.

If you have a fairly new, fast computer, you won't notice the resource consumption one way or the other. If you have an older computer, my personal opinion is that your time and effort would be better spent by buying more RAM, or a faster processor, than it would be by messing around with plugin downloads and registry settings. With modern computers, the best reasons to use alternative Windows shells are extra functionality, aesthetic appeal (after years of using GeoShell, I find the site of a desktop full of icons absolutely hideous) and the sheer joy of tinkering with something in order to get it exactly the way you want it.
posted by box at 3:01 PM on February 1, 2005

Dang, that's 'sight,' not 'site' in the last graph. Shrug.
posted by box at 3:02 PM on February 1, 2005

Well, I just spent a couple of hours checking out GeoShell. It's not for me. Seems like none of these shell replacements are ready for prime time yet (selecting options in the REGISTRY? wtf?).
posted by rushmc at 3:04 PM on February 1, 2005

Oh, and easyasy3k is right about using Explorer as a file manager. I like Servant Salamander 1.52, a two-pane Norton Commander clone, but there are plenty of others. Between Geoshell, Firefox and Servant Salamander, there's no need to use Explorer for anything.
posted by box at 3:06 PM on February 1, 2005

box, I was going to mention Servant Salamander! I prefer the non-free version 2 though. Salamander has always looked stunning.

Also, Directory Opus has customization to the n-degree and looks (visually) almost as good as Salamander. I kind of miss overblown file managers on OSX... Path Finder just doesn't do it for me. Maybe I've grown away from cluttered/complex interfaces.
posted by easyasy3k at 3:20 PM on February 1, 2005

The sweetest file manager I have found is Total Commander. Way more functionality than Explorer - a souped up Norton Commander. I particularly like its built in ftp client.
posted by RMALCOLM at 3:27 PM on February 1, 2005 mks toolkit($)?
posted by nj_subgenius at 6:56 PM on February 1, 2005

nj_subgenius - nope. GUI shells are the popular replacement. I don't remember any tabbed/multi window terminal emulators for windows off of the top of my head.

DOS/cmd.exe still sucks terribly.

Monad (aka msh) is looking neat though. Too bad I still haven't been able to tinker with it.
posted by easyasy3k at 7:45 PM on February 1, 2005

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