on September 26, 2001 by Toby
Windows 9x/Me Customization Part Two: Advanced
Alternative shells make a great impact on Windows
9x/Me, mainly because the default shell Windows uses is so horrible. The
following section of this article is for more advanced tweakers who
prefer to meddle with their shells. I’ve covered the old program
manager, and everyone’s favorite, Litestep. Other shells such as
darkstep are not covered, mainly because I found them to be user
unfriendly & not easily customizable.
A general guide to alternative shells is that they
can be changed via a file called system.ini, located in your
windows directory. If you ever need to change back to the default
windows shell (explorer), simply boot up into dos (you may want a
boot disk if you are using Windows Me), and type in edit
windows\system.ini, if you installed windows to that directory.
Simply change the shell= entry back to shell=explorer.exe.
If you ever get the warning "CANNOT FIND <shell file
name> PLEASE REINSTALL WINDOWS." do not reinstall
windows. Just follow the instructions above.
Program manager (program.exe) is the other shell
provided by Microsoft for use on windows machines. It is considerably
faster than explorer, however it is a lot simpler. Some may recognize
the name from Windows 3.x, and indeed it is practically the same shell
design, but it has been dragged into the 32 bit GUI of Windows 9x/Me.
There is no set install program for it; so you’ll have to tell windows
to load it manually. Click on start, run, and type in sysedit.
Move to the system.ini window. Look for the entry shell= under
the [boot] section. By default it will be shell=explorer.exe.
Change it to shell=progman.exe. Save changes & reboot.
You’ll need to create your own program groups (*.grp).
Functionality other than that is limited to run. It’s a very
fast shell, but not one I can easily recommend. If you grew up in the
world of 16 bit windows you might prefer this to any other shell.
Remember, it is only a shell, you are not reverting to an old operating
system. All other aspects other than your operating system other than
your desktop interface will remain the same.
Litestep is possibly the best alternative shell for
windows, based loosely on the designs from NextStep. It is the most
configurable shell around & has been gaining popularity ever since
it was released for Windows 95. You are not only able, but positively
encouraged to change any/all settings at will. At the time of writing, the
old litestep site was not up and running. Therefore all downloads
are linked to a new litestep site.
You can find a list of downloads with preset themes here. Don’t even
think about going for one of the newer “LSD4P” builds.
For the purpose of this article, I will be using an
old favorite of mine, Bluesteel.
Bluesteel was originally a theme created by Daniel Erat for a Window
Manager called Enlightenment. It has seen a lot of action under
X-Windows for Linux, and now for litestep.
The downloadable file should be either a compressed
zip archive, or self extracting .exe. In the event you download a
file with the .php3, they are basically renamed zip files,
so you can use WinZip. If you are given an archive, you will need
to run the install program. If you are already supplied with an install
program, all you need do is launch it.
If the file has an install program, it should guide
you through the process & should edit system.ini for you. If
it does not, extract all files to c:\litestep and follow the
steps above to edit system.ini, but edit the shell= line
to shell=c:\litestep\litestep.exe, substituting the directory if
you chose a custom one.
Once you have rebooted, you should face a desktop
Quite bland-looking. Your theme should have its own
background. The marble background from Bluesteel can be found in c:\litestep\images.
All changes central to litestep can be made from the
step.rc file, although changes will not take effect until you recycle or
restart windows, more details on this later.
For starters, if you can’t seem to find a way to
get into display properties, context click on the desktop and click on
run. Type in control.exe desk.cpl.
Now the default litestep menu configuration
doesn’t include much, especially with Bluesteel, so that’ll be the
first thing you’ll want to change. Open up the file c:\litestep\step.rc
in a text editing program of your choice. Notepad is sufficient, but you
can open it in Microsoft Word should you choose. If a shortcut to it is
not on the menu, click on run on the menu & browse to your program.