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MS-DOS Executive

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MS-DOS Executive

The Windows shell is the graphical user interface for the desktop in Microsoft Windows. The Windows shell includes well-known Windows components such as the taskbar and the Start menu. The Windows shell is also not to be confused with Windows' window manager (the Desktop Window Manager in Windows Vista and forward or the USER subsystem in previous versions), which displays windows and controls how they look. Starting with Windows 8, the legacy Windows Shell has been supplemented by the Immersive shell, designed based on Metro design language.



The Windows shell desktop is an array of computer icons, rendered behind all open windows. The typical icons displayed on the desktop represent:

User's files and folders
Users and software may store computer files and folders on desktop. Naturally, on a newly-installed version of Windows, such items do not exist. Software installers commonly place files known as shortcuts on desktop, allowing users to launch installed software. Users may store personal documents on desktop.
Special folders
Apart from ordinary files and folders, special folders may appear on desktop. Unlike ordinary folders, special folders do not point to an absolute location on hard disk drive. Rather, they may open a folder whose location differs from computer to computer (e.g. Documents), a virtual folder whose contents is an aggregate of several folders on disk (e.g. Recycle Bin or Libraries) or a folder window whose content is not files, but rather user interface elements rendered as icons for convenience (e.g. Network). They may even open windows that do not resemble a folder at all (e.g. Control Panel.
The special folders that appear on desktop by default and the special folders than can appear on desktop depend on which version of Windows is installed. Starting with Windows XP, only Recycle Bin appears on desktop by default, but Windows Vista and newer versions allows Computer, Network, User's Files, Control Panel and Recycle Bin to be placed on desktop.

Starting with Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008, Windows Desktop Gadgets may appear on desktop. These gadgets are discontinued with Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8.


Windows taskbar a toolbar-like element that by default, appears as horizontal bar at the bottom of the desktop. It may be relocated to the top, left or right edges of the screen. Starting with Windows 98, its size can be changed. Taskbar can be configuration to stay on top of all applications or to collapse and hide when it is not used.

Depending on the version of operating system installed, the following elements may appear on taskbar:

  • Start button: Provides access to the Start menu. Removed in Windows 8, in favor of the Start charm (see below), only to be reinstated in Windows 8.1. In most versions of Windows, it appear on the left-hand corner; in Arabic, Hebrew or Persian variants of Windows, it appears on the right-hand corner.
  • List of open windows: Most of the taskbar area is by default dedicated to the list open windows. Active window appears as a depressed button in this list.
  • Shortcuts: An update to Windows 95 and Windows NT 4 added a Quick Launch Bar that could hold file shortcuts, similar to desktop. Windows 7 merged this area into list of open windows by adding "pinning" and "jump list" features.
  • Deskbands: Toolbars provided by Windows or other programs for easier access to that program's functions; for more information, see Template:Section link
  • Notification area: Display from a speech bubble which pops out from the relevant notification icons, while system icons provide access to commonly accessed functions like volume control and network status. Date and time also appears in this area.

The charms

Windows 8 introduced the charms, a secondary taskbar that holds five buttons that open functional areas of Windows.

Start screen

The Start screen, formerly the Start menu, as its name suggests, is a form of start menu in Microsoft Windows. Depending on the version of Windows, the Start screen features the following:

  • Launching applications: Start screen's primary function is to present a list of shortcuts for installed software, allowing users to launch them.
  • Invoking special folders: Until Windows 8, the Start menu was a mean of invoking special folders such as Computer, Network, Control Panel, etc. In Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, the only special folder that can be invoked from Start screen is Desktop.
  • Searching: Starting with Windows Vista, searching for installed software, and by extensions files and folders became a function of the Start menu.
  • Ending user session: Logging off and shutdown has always been a function of the Start menu. In Windows 8, the shutdown function was moved out of the Start screen, only to be brought back in Windows 8.1.


Main article: Autoplay

Autoplay is a feature introduced in Windows XP that examines newly inserted removable media for content and displays a dialog containing options related to that media.


Windows 1.0 and 2.0: The MS-DOS Executive

The first public demonstration of Windows, in 1983, had a simplistic shell called the Session Control Layer, which served as a constantly visible menu at the bottom of the screen. Clicking on Run would display a list of programs that one could launch, and clicking on Session Control would display a list of programs already running so one could switch between them.[1]

When Windows 1.0 shipped in November 1985, it used the MS-DOS Executive as its shell. MS-DOS Executive was a simple file manager that differentiated between files and folders by bold type, since it lacked support for icons, although this made the program somewhat faster than the file manager that came with Windows 3.0. Programs could be launched by double-clicking on them. Files could be filtered for executable type, or by a user-selected wildcard, and the display mode could be toggled between full and compact descriptions. But the file date column was not Y2K compliant.

Windows 2.0 also shipped with MS-DOS Executive as the shell. This version bore little change from its predecessor.

Windows 3.x, NT 3.x: Program Manager

Windows 3.0, introduced in May 1990, shipped with a new shell, called Program Manager. Based on Microsoft's work with OS/2 1.0's Desktop Manager, Program Manager sorted program shortcuts into groups (although unlike Desktop Manager, these were housed in a single window, in order to show off Microsoft's new Multiple Document Interface.

Program Manager in Windows 3.1 introduced the new Startup group, which Program Manager would check on launch and start any programs it found in it, and wrappable icon titles.[2] Program Manager was also ported to Windows NT 3.1, and retained in Windows NT 3.51.

Windows 95: Windows Explorer replaces Program Manager

Windows 95 introduced a new shell. The desktop was now a container for files, folders and system areas such as My Computer, Network Neighborhood, and the Recycle Bin, as well as shortcuts, which were now implemented as files. The taskbar was introduced, with an area consisting of buttons representing open windows, a digital clock, a "notifications area" for background processes and system notifications, and the Start button, which harbored the Start menu. The Start menu contained links to settings, recently used files and, like Program Manager before it, shortcuts and program groups. Since it provided both shell and file management functions, Explorer replaced both Program Manager and File Manager.

Program Manager was also included in Windows 95 as an "escape hatch", in case the user disliked the new interface.[3] This was included with all versions of Windows up to and including Windows XP Service Pack 1. In SP2 and SP3, PROGMAN.EXE is just an icon library, and it was completely removed from Windows Vista in 2006.

The new shell was also ported to Windows NT, first as the NewShell update for Windows NT 3.51 and then integrated fully into Windows NT 4.0.

Nashville: The Windows Desktop Update

In early 1996, Netscape announced that the next release of its browser, codenamed "Constellation", would completely integrate with Windows and add a new shell, codenamed "HomePort", which would present the same files and shortcuts no matter which machine a user logged in to.[4][5][6] Microsoft started working on a similar Internet Explorer release, codenamed "Nashville". Internet Explorer 4.0 was redesigned and resulted in two products: the standalone IE4 and the Windows Desktop Update, which updated the shell with features such as Active Desktop, Active Channels, Web folders, desktop toolbars such as the Quick Launch bars, ability to minimize windows by clicking their button on the taskbar, HTML-based folder customization, single click launching, image thumbnails, folder infotips, web view in folders, Back and Forward navigation buttons, larger toolbar buttons with text labels, favorites, file attributes in Details view, and an address bar in Windows Explorer, among other features. It also introduced the My Documents shell folder.

Future Windows releases, like Windows 95C (OSR 2.5) and Windows 98, included Internet Explorer 4 and the features of the Windows Desktop Update already built in, and improvements were made in Windows 2000 and Windows Me, such as personalized menus, ability to drag and sort menu items, sort by name function in menus, cascading Start menu special folders, customizable toolbars for Explorer, auto-complete in Windows Explorer address bar and Run box, displaying comments in file shortcuts as tooltips, advanced file type association features, extensible columns in Details view (IColumnProvider interface), icon overlays, places bar in common dialogs, high-color notification area icons and a search pane in Explorer.

The 2000s: Taskbar and Start Menu Improvements

Windows XP introduced a new Start Menu, with shortcuts to shell locations on the right and a list of most frequently used applications on the left. It also grouped taskbar buttons from the same program if the taskbar got too crowded, and hid notification icons if they had not been used for a while. For the first time, Windows XP hid most of the shell folders from the desktop by default, leaving only the recycle bin (although the user could get them back if they desired). Windows XP also introduced numerous other shell enhancements.

In the early days of the Longhorn project, an experimental sidebar, with plugins similar to taskbar plugins and a notifications history was built into the shell. However, when Longhorn was reset this was ditched in favor of a separate program that provided Web-enabled gadgets, replacing Active Desktop.

Windows Vista introduced to the shell a searchable Start menu and live taskbar previews. It also introduced a redesigned Alt-Tab switcher, also with live previews. Windows 7 added 'pinned' shortcuts and 'jump lists' to the taskbar, and automatically grouped program windows into one icon (although this could be reversed.) The Windows 7 shell also re-absorbed the responsibility of rendering gadgets.

Windows Server 2008 introduced the possibility to have a Windows install without the shell, resulting in less services loaded and running.[7][8]

Shell replacements

Main article: Windows shell replacement

Windows supports the ability to replace the Windows shell with another program.[9] There also exists a number of third party shells designed to be used in place of the standard Windows shell.

See also

External links


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