Pick Of DOS GUIs
I've been trying out some DOS GUIs lately just out of interest and have so far tried out 70.
While there are hundreds of DOS GUIs around (links to various sites below) I've settled on trying out the ones that at first look seemed promising.
I've uploaded details of 30 of these (in 26 posts) to the Internet Archive . . . click here to view that page.
I also created a page on the Internet Archive listing what I think are 11 of the better DOS GUIs that I'd tried (as at the end of November 2022) and uploaded those to the Internet Archive in a single zip file with a VirtualBox VHD and source file(s) for each one . . . click here to view that page on the Internet Archive.
This page started out as simply being basically a copy of the "Best 11 DOS GUIs" page on the Internet Archive but since then I've tried some more DOS GUIs - and will probably try a few more as well - so I've decided to update this page as I find more DOS GUIs that meet my criteria, rather than restrict this page to the original 11.
In which case, I now have 22 GUIs that I think best meet my criteria for a DOS GUI and listed those below as well as uploading them to the Internet Archive - click here to view the page on the Internet Archive or read on.
The other 48 I tried either didn't manage to meet the criteria I have for a DOS GUI, or in most cases met one or more of the exclusion criteria I had (see below for details of these).
My criteria for a DOS GUI are:
A full screen graphical interface (either text-based or graphics-based) that provides easy access to all DOS OS functions and installed DOS-based programs, without having to use the native DOS command line interface, as well as providing basic GUI management functions (Desktop, Taskbar and Menu shortcuts, etc.).
The "easy access" qualification means that providing a simple "Run DOS" dialog where you have to enter the DOS command such as "C:\XT_Easy\XTG.com" doesn't cut it - if I was happy doing that I'd keep working in DOS and not use a GUI. It also means that the GUI has to provide a means of adding a program or function shortcut to either the Desktop, Taskbar or Menu within the GUI to allow access that doesn't require entering DOS commands to run a program or function.
My definition means that single purpose DOS programs that run in full screen mode (either text-based or graphics-based) such as the XTree File Manager don't meet my definition of a DOS GUI as while they present an application based GUI to a user, they're one trick ponies in that the view presented to a user is an application specific GUI, not a general purpose OS GUI.
I think any good DOS GUI has two key elements - a full screen UI and a good Program/Menu/Shortcut Manager for program and OS management, so that the user can access any program they need via an easily accessable desktop shortcut or menu shortcut.
I had originally thought that the third key element for a GUI was a good File Manager, but after trying out 70 GUIs I've realised this isn't the case, as if the GUI has it's shortcut or menu creation process done well then a separate File Manager is not needed.
Whether or not the GUI provides it's own application programs such as Text Editor, etc. is irrelevant.
Anyways, that's pretty much how I define a DOS GUI - feel free to define yours as you see fit.
GUIs I think are worth trying:
With the above criteria in mind, the 22 DOS GUIs I think are well worth trying out are (in no particular order):
Click on a GUI name to see a separate page with details and screen shots of the GUI
(or to download the VHD I used for testing and the source (install) files for each GUI)
FastMenu Gold 7.0b
MOS 98 / MOS Remastered
QuikMenu 1.2e / QuikMenu 3.1h
Packard Bell Desktop 1991
ToyBox II 2.02a / MagicDesk 3.32
The UI experience varies for each GUI but all of these GUIs run DOS programs just fine.
Some are more usable than others (as you may discover).
The ones above are my picks from testing - download and try some yourself if you're interested in DOS GUIs.
I've uploaded (November 2022) a single .zip file with a VHD, install files and screenshots for the first 11 of the GUIs listed above (the second group of 11 starting with McShell are ones I've found since then).
To view that page on the Internet Archive . . . click here.
< Click here to download 1 .zip file with VHDs and install files for the first 11 DOS GUIs listed above >
Update December 2022:
I've now uploaded details of what I think are the best 22 DOS GUIs worth trying, as well as providing a summary and screenshot of each GUI together with a VHD and install files.
To view the updated page for 22 GUIs with all download links . . . click here.
< Click here to download 1 .zip file with VHD and install files for all 22 DOS GUIs listed above) >
The VHDs were created with VirtualBox 6.1.26 with DOS version 6.22, Cute Mouse and XTree installed.
A comment or two on some of the DOS GUIs I tried:
FUN500 was a marginal inclusion in the second list of 22 due to the small text size but as it shows some promise I included it - if the author would make the font size larger it would be a lot more usable.
Open Gem was a pass (I used GEM in the late 1980's-early 1990's) as it's really a File Manager at heart and quite clunky and rather functionally limited in usability compared to other GUIs.
MOS 98 and MOS Remastered were quite reasonable although rather basic in terms of functionality. However they both worked fine for me and ran DOS programs without any issues and both create program shortcuts. MOS Remastered is a more polished GUI than MOS 98. Both are by the same author, so credit where it's due.
I had also included FastMenu Lite 1.0c but after using it for a little while the constant shareware nags just became too much. A simple enough GUI, but annoying to use because of the constant nags.
One interesting quirk that stood out with quite a few GUIs was their author's seeming confusion that what they were producing was an operating system, judging from the number of times the abbreviation "OS" appears as part of the GUI name . . . you decide which ones.
The other interesting quirk was the compulsion of some authors to need to also write and include a text editor and/or paint program and/or image viewer and/or file manager and/or web browser and so on. A quirk perhaps related to the "I'm writing an operating system" quirk noted above.
As for the other 48 GUIs of the 70 I've tried so far:
I tried to ignore spending any time on GUIs that didn't fit well with my definition of a DOS GUI and I also ignored any that met one or more the following criteria:
* Had an interface like a dog's breakfast
* Were advertised as being "Demo", "Concept", "My First GUI", "Beta", ":-) :-)", "Hello Mom"
* Were designs of what a GUI could be, but were completely or practically non-functional
* Were File Managers pretending to be a DOS GUI
* Were straight-up vanity projects (here's looking at you, Qube and Ozone)
* GUIs that crashed on install
* GUIs that crashed on startup
* GUIs that crashed while running
* GUIs that crashed on exit
* GUIs that crashed randomly
* Refused to run DOS programs and would only runs apps in .XYZ format (found a few of those)
* Had install instructions along the lines of "Spudge the API32low.dll with JB's API fudger,
xor the DLL's with hex 32, tweak the kernel.exe debugger to accept tokens only, set extra
MEM=HI+year" and similar nonsense - if you can't create an installer, go play with Linux
* Shareware products that had excessive buy-me-now nags
* Were developed by a frustrated script kiddy maxxed out on Red Bull
* Were developed by a frustrated Linux user (aren't they all) to extract revenge on Microsoft users
I tried the following 48 GUIs but can't recommend them as they met one or more of the criteria above, usually multiple of the above (and sometimes most of the above) - and of those that crashed or errored on install or startup or when used, I didn't spend time troubleshooting them as I'm not your beta tester.
( Hyperlinked names have a separate page with details and screen shots of the GUI )
Asgard_1.6 - For me, almost nothing worked, seems more of a demo
Aura M4 - Demo
BlackStrip_1.5 - Rather confusing GUI, needs a little more work
CEUI - Seems to be an example of "Course 101 - Build a GUI"
Cobalt - Essentially a file manager presented as a GUI
Cybex Shell 2.0 - Demo
DC-OS b2 - Demo
EnSpireMe_0.3.0 - Seems the result of too much Red Bull mixed with Qbasic
EV5 - Nothing worked for me, perhaps just a dem
FastMenu Lite - OK, but the nags would be too much for everyday use
Fellowin - Won't run DOS programs
Flowers OS - Won't run DOS programs
FLY_DOS - Seems to be another example of "Course 101 - Build a GUI"
Gauvain_2.2 - Review on IA
GCOE_1.0.7 - Errored on startup
GEOS/GeoWorks - The most annoying of all - the 5 versions I have crashed on startup
GIMI_2.1 - Review on IA
Glance - So simple it's more of a demo
Glasses - Errors on install
Gooey - Demo
GOPOS - Errors on install
Gorin - Errors on setup
IBM_TopView - Unusable, will load but neither keyboard or mouse work
Icaro_6.4b - Refused to install
Ikon - Errored on startup
LA-OS - Several included apps kept crashing
MGUI - Won't run DOS programs
MOS_R1 - Author states it’s more of a demo, no file manager
New Deal Office - Errored on startup
OpenGEM - Brings back memories of GEM from the 80's, but at heart it's a file manager
OS-DOS - Errors on setup
Ozone_5.8.0 - Review on IA
POLIT v2005 - I originally thought this was a demo but I've changed my opinion
Plethora v2.2 - Won't install just loops
PsychDOS - Running any function causes it to quit and return to C:
Qube - Review on IA
RMOS_0.1 - Demo
SEAL_2.0.11 - Review on IA
Spectra (WinDOS) - Nothing worked for me, try it for yourself
Star Menu v7.1 - 10 second buy-me nag after every operation
Sword_2.11 - Demo
SYS2001 - Password locked - seriously ?
UniDesk 2008 - Demo
Viper_B3 - Demo
Winclone 1.0 - Demo
Windose_5.3 - Nothing worked for me, perhaps just a demo
Windose_5.4 - Nothing worked for me, perhaps just a demo
XGUI13 - Simple but the circus colour theme gave me a headache
Feel free to try any of these as your experience may vary, especially if you enjoy spudging widgets.
A few more:
I've also found another 20+ (claimed) DOS GUIs, but after a look through these most turned out to be either poorly done or incomplete hobbyist projects, or file file managers or menu programs calling themselves GUIs, so I'm not going to bother spending any time on writing them up here.
The few I found that were worth a mention in my opinion are:
XFDOS by Georg Potthast, which has a nice looking desktop . . .click here for details.
BB-OS by Ken Van Hoeylandt, a DOS GUI from 2001 . . . click here for details
Easy Working DOS, a text based GUI by Spinnaker Software from 1989. . . click here for details.
I'm not going to be spending any more time on DOS GUIs but feel free to explore for yourself.
I may do a quick review on Windows 3.1 shells and possibly a review of all the Xtree clones I've found over the last 30 years, but again, after the GUI experience my enthusiasm for DOS is heading south.
Some links for GUIs:
And . . . as you're interested in DOS GUIs, here are a some GUI related links:
http://old-dos.ru//index.php?page=files&mode=files&do=list&cat=108 (in RU)
Finally - if you're thinking of writing a GUI, first read ToastyTech's guide to GUI design by clicking here.
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