Waiting for Chicago?: Two new shells
by Alan Zisman (c)
1994. First published in Our Computer Player, October, 1994
approx $65 (CDN)
Quarterdeck Canada: 416-360-5758
Phar Lap FrontRunner
$139 (US list)
Phar Lap: 800-292-9622
Despite reigning on the front covers of computer
the spring, Microsoft's Chicago upgrade to Windows won't be on the
store shelves before spring '95, and has been renamed Windows 95
to make it seem like that's what Microsoft had in mind all along.
If like many, you've been running Windows, but never
fond of Windows 3.x's awkward Program Manager front end, you don'
t have to wait that long to change your ways of working.
One of Windows' less well-known options is its ability
on new personalities, simply by changing what's known as 'the
shell'. The Windows shell is the program that automatically
starts up whenever you start Windows... and when you quit the
shell, you're out of Windows and back in DOS. By default,
Program Manager is Windows' shell-- but things don't have to
stay that way.
Several programs have been available for years as
the Norton and PC Tools Desktops, for instance. Both provided
many features that Microsoft left off-- the ability to drag
frequently used program icons onto the desktop, or being able to
nest program groups ('folders' to the Mac-world) within other
Both add viewers, calculators, notepads, and assorted
pony shows. But both require multiple megs of hard drive space,
and have an unfortunate tendancy to slow Windows down.
Enter SideBar and FrontRunner. Both are small and
products of companies better known for tight DOS code than
SideBar is a product of Quarterdeck, a company best
its QEMM memory manager and Desqview DOS multitasking
environment. Phar Lap is well-known for its DOS extenders...
utilities to enable programmers to write DOS programs that can
make use of protected memory on a 386 or better.
SideBar is a neat little gem, shipping on a single
requiring under a meg of hard drive space... a miracle almost
unheard of in this age of bloated software. A neat install
program lets you choose to run in as your Windows shell, or in
place of Windows Task Manager (a poorly known, but potentially
useful utility, that pops up whenever you either press Ctrl+Esc,
or double click on an unused piece of desktop). It lets you put
it in the Program Manager group of your choice, and even adds an
It replaced Program Manager with a neat and clean
toolbar down the right side, and icons for applications it's
found on your hard drive, neatly arranged out on the desktop.
Both arrangements are easily customized, in an object-oriented,
drag'n'drop manner. (Did you notice me using two trendy buzz-
words in that previous sentence?)
The IconBar along the side includes a recycling icon,
almost anything-- files, icons, what have you. There's a
preference icon, for customizing SideBar, a printer icon from
instant printing, and a task list to switch between programs.
A drive icon lets you open File Manager-like windows
drive. And a folders icon gives you your Program Manager
replacement, just a mouse click away.
When you install it, your current Program Manager
copied into SideBar's folders. But in addition, each folder
contains an icon to create new, nested folders. You can have a '
Correspondance' folder, with 'Business' and 'Personal' folders
inside. As with plain-vanilla Windows, you can drag file-icons
from the File Manager equivalent, to create icons for documents.
But here, you can also drag icons from a folder either
Iconbar on the side, or even out onto the desktop... wherever
you think it'll be most easily accessed. If you prefer, you can
even leave an entire folder out on the desktop. So you can have
a folder for a project, complete with your most used documents and
applications, conveniently at hand at any time. And with names
that can be up to 128 characters long, you can ignore the 8+3
limit to filenames that DOS still imposes on Windows.
You can even move a drive icon onto the IconBar or
you find yourself refering to its directories often.
Click on anything (even the blank desktop) with your
button, and you get a pop-up menu with your options for that
item. If you like, you can add a DOS command line and a status
line to the top and bottom of the IconBar.
SideBar comes from California's Quarterdeck. Phar Lap,
of FrontRunner, by comparison, are headquartered in Cambridge,
West Coast versus East Coast. Right brain intutive
SideBar lets you drag'n'drop or mouse click for just
anything. FrontRunner, by comparison, boasts of its supercharged
Command line? I'll bet you thought the whole point of
was so you'd never have to type out a command again.
Nevertheless, there are probably millions of closet
resentful that their years of command line practise is wasted
in the new era of graphical user interfaces. They're this
product's target group.
You get a better DOS box... in fact, FrontRunner opens
up with a
big, open command line. Complete with a 16,000 line command
history. You can paste text from a DOS box into the Windows
program of your choice, or open multiple command line windows,
all within the FrontRunner main window.
While SideBar automatically migrates your current
Manager groups and icons into its folders, FrontRunner places
the same things into its Run menu. It does allow icons a
marginal existence, however, letting you add the programs of
your choice onto its single toolbar. There's a customizable
status bar along the bottom, complete with animated animal,
trotting about (PharLap being named after a race horse).
FronRunner's command line boxes aren't just DOS
though. They can, for example, be used to start up a Windows
program, by typing its filename. With that massive command
history, you can scroll back and forth, allowing you to copy
screen output, to paste into Windows programs. As well, there's an
batch language, beefed up with commands that interact with
You can send text directly to the Clipboard, for
example, with a
simple batch command, CLIP. Or paste the Clipboard contents into
a text file. LISTBOX creates a Windows listbox, sending the
chosen item back to the batch file, while OPENBOX does the same
for the FILE/OPEN dialogue box. Instead of ECHO CTRL-G to play a
DOS beep, SNDPLAY will play the WAV file of your choice.
Serious programmers can create FrontRunner
in C code... the program's documentation has lots of examples,
for both Microsoft and Borland language users.
There's a free trial version that's fully featured,
by its lack of documentation, and a 60 minute limit any time it'
While SideBar is aiming to make Windows easier,
aiming to make it more powerful... for those with a preference
for the command line, and with the interests and skills of a
If you're tired of waiting for the promise of Chicago
your way of Windows, one or the other of these may be worth a
(Note from the year
2003): The above article was originally published in 1994, as a review.
A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from fans
hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to
a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software
since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone
looking for copies of older software to check at eBay
or at OldSoftware.com.If you
check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly
freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements
for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)