Free Software for DOS
Desktops, Shells, GUIs

21 Aug 2006

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Desktop 2



For simpler, text-based interfaces, see the File Managers and the Menus & Program Executers pages.


Connect (CN, IBM Handshaker) — Integrated shell with impressive Norton Commander-style file manager.

* * * *

[added 1998-10-29, updated 2004-11-09]

Among freeware programs, Connect is truly in a class of its own. Connect is not just a file manager – but a multi-component programming environment and general shell. Connect can function as a nearly complete "desktop" environment. It sports a text mode, mouse- & menu-driven, multiple document ("Borland") interface. The various components share a common clipboard (even the configuration text boxes have clipboard support). Screenshot.

Connect incorporates several noteworthy units that should interest the non-programmer:

See the included READMEEN.HTM for an English overview of features. For a more in-depth evaluation of Connect see the OFM Paradigm page at Softpanorama.

Install notes: Unzip with create directories option. Modify cn.bat to point to Connect directory, adjust default archive and other settings as necessary. Installed files require about 6MB.

Disadvantages: Some configuration settings are nested deep within menus and may be difficult to locate during the initial learning phase. Many readers will not benefit from the help files because they are composed in Russian only.

Tips: Investigate the interface with the mouse – there are many context sensitive areas. Press both left and right mouse buttons when attempting to use drag and drop copy in file manager (and editor). Many file manager setting dialogs (e.g., display options, archive settings) are accessed through a right button pop up menu in file manager (same for the terminal). To view DBF files select a dbf file and invoke the VIEW command.

Here's another review at

Authors: Ian Balter, Ukraine; Dima Orlov, Israel (2002).

2002-09-16: v7.5. See docs for version history (in Russian).

Download (1.4MB).

For support files, source and info in English and Russian, go to the CONNECT files at Kiarchive, http, or ftp, and to Dima Orlov's CONNECT program support page (which also has an OS/2 version).

Mi-Shell (MSH) — Configurable and programmable Norton Commander-like shell.


[added 2004-12-17, updated 2005-12-09]

Mi-Shell is an interesting hybrid, a Norton Commander interface with a Unix-style structure. This large program can be run in one of two basic ways: "Out of the box" as an expanded Norton-style shell, or user-configured by means of scripts (ASCII files) and substitution of components. Mi-Shell starts up using a default script, CONFIG.MSH, which is itself a program, written in the MSH script language, that sets parameters for shell functions. CONFIG.MSH also calls up other, external programs that perform many functions. User-configuration can consist of changing the operation of internal functions, or replacing the default external programs, or both.

From the author's description:
...although MSH with all its configuration files has a rather large memory footprint (180K), it swaps itself out of memory when executing any command so its footprint is reduced to 20K (the swapping is by default to extended memory; you can set it so if you have no XMS it swaps to a directory you specify which may be a virtual disk in EMS); you can enable or disable the swapping selectively for selected programs, to take in account any particular requirements.

Some default support programs that can be changed by the user: On opening, Mi-Shell looks for the Berkeley Utilities, and will use some of them for standard functions. File / directory comparison tool is Delta. File editor is the standalone MWE (this one is included). Mi-Shell has many other functions, and many possibilities for expansion through use of the scripting language.

Author: Jean Michel, France (1997). Distributed by OPENetwork.

1997-08-17: v2.2. Formerly paid commercial software, now in the public domain and completely free.

Download (196K).

Go to Mi-Shell, The Programmable Shell, at OPENetwork, for a longer introduction with screenshots.

This section is devoted to free Graphical User Interfaces for DOS, all of them open source, released under GNU General Public License. Because custom applications must be coded specifically for these GUIs, their long term success or failure seems to depend partly on the level of interest that they generate within the programming community. Many free DOS GUIs have been initiated, but none seem to have garnered significant long-term attention.

GEM — GUI desktop for low resource PCs.


[added 2000-02-19, updated 2005-09-24]

GEM experienced its zenith during the mid to late 1980s ('85-'89). It is undergoing some additional development in the hands of independent programmers (e.g., FreeGEM). GEM remains a good choice for low resource PCs running DOS. The GEM desktop allows only one GEM application to run at a time, but the included desktop accessories (clock, calculator, print spooler) can be placed and moved on the desktop when a primary application is running. GEM supports CGA, EGA, and VGA video adapters (max 16 colors).

For a simple-to-install 1.3MB FreeGEM distribution which includes many of the latest enhancements to GEM by FreeGEM developers, see Owen Rudge's GEM Workshop (Here's a desktop screenshot of Owen's FreeGEM v1.2).

Shane Land has another set of GEMs: OpenGEM Release 4, the tiny GEMini file commander, and the new Project Liberation with a redesigned interface, new functions, and backward compatibility with older versions.

Various tweaks to the GEM desktop and other new features can be found at Ben Jemmett's site, Gem.

Applications: Several old applications for GEM (word processor, bitmap painter, vector drawing app, desktop publisher) are available at Christian Chech's Gem page.

Other active GEM projects & newer applications are listed on the FreeGEM webring.

Suggested by Max Geller.

Desktop2 — GUI desktop shell with program and file managers, text editor, more.


[added 1998-10-25, updated 2006-03-14]

Desktop2 represents a fairly complete VGA desktop shell that should be attractive to GUI enthusiasts. It is essentially a spruced-up file manager with a nice front-end menu. Overall impression: easy to set up; and well designed for its intended GUI audience. Includes hierarchical folder / icon-based program manager, well designed dual pane file manager, integrated text viewer and editor, file & text finder, calculator, alarm, cd player, and more. DSK2 doesn't support multitasking or task switching. I've encountered some erratic mouse behavior using certain dialog boxes. Not Win9x ready. Program is available in German and in English. Full manual (PostScript or pdf format) is available in German only. This is the only GUI listed here that is no longer in development.

Minimum requirements: 80286, DOS3.3, VGA, 640K mem (but 2MB recommended), mouse. Installed files require about 1.6MB.

640X480 screenshot of Desktop2's file manager on a 386 grayscale VGA laptop.

Author: Felix Ritter, Germany (1998).

In German
In English


In German:
Program, manual (ps)
Manual (ps)

Manual (pdf)
In English:
Program only

Get more info, color screenshots & source code (Borland C++, TASM) at the author's Desktop2 page.

SEAL — 32-bit GUI for 386+ / VGA; Win9x LFN support.


[added 2000-02-20, updated 2005-12-09]

SEAL is a 32-bit project that is still in development, placed here for the programmer as much as the end-user. Unlike some abandoned GUI projects, SEAL already has a selection of applications under development: A dual panel file manager, sound players for CD, MP3, MIDI/MOD, and WAV, an HTML viewer, a simple text editor, and a multi-format image viewer. Currently supports partial multitasking and task switching. Minimum requirements: 80486 CPU, 8MB RAM, 1.6MB disk space, any DOS 3.0+, VGA, DPMI provider (supplied by the OS or by CWSDPMI). Programmers are needed for this project. In progress: Transformation into XSeal, which will be the underlying system for several different graphical interfaces.

Important installation note: Before running SEAL you must edit the SEAL.INI file's [path] section.

Maintainer: Kostas Michalopoulos (2003). Suggested by Florian Xaver.

2003-05-19: Test version 2.12-unofficial released. Earlier v2.00.11 also remains available (see below).

Download SEAL212.ZIP (5.1MB).

Go to the SEAL Home Page for v2.00.11, other programs and info, and to the mailing list for even more info.

SEAL, XSeal and support utils are also available at the XSeal files page.

SWORD — GUI for most DOSes, on high-power machines.


[added 2005-12-09, updated 2006-03-14]

SWORD, the System of Windows for the Organization of the Desktop, provides a Unix/NeXT-style program management and development environment, based on object hierarchies. Originally for MS-DOS, versions 2.10 and 2.11 can be considered finished products, in the sense that they are stable and the download packages contain all of the main and support files needed to run them. Version 2.30 is a major extension, still in development and currently available for testing. It incorporates new graphics libraries, and is designed for compatibility with FreeDOS, with Enhanced DR-DOS, and even with WinXP.

Realistic minimum hardware requirements: 80486, 4MB RAM, 9MB HD space. Recommended: Pentium 90MHz+, 16MB+ RAM, 20MB HD space for serious work. The 16-bit v2.10 compilation might run on an 80386 (not on an 80286), if it's not pushed too hard.

A few of SWORD'S features:

Comments: Best working version is still 2.11. Most advanced version is 2.30, but it's not finished. Version 2.10 packages are useful if you only want to review the docs, or as samples of compiler capabilities.

Authors: Base code by Eric Nicolas, France (1993-96). Latest (2005) extensions and compilations by Florian Xaver, Austria (2005).


Three compilations: 16-bit TurboC; 32-bit DJGPP v1 (DOS extender built in), and DJGPP v2 [recommended] (requires DOS Protected Mode Interface, from the OS or from CWSDPMI).
32-bit DJGPP v2. Improved LFN support, upgraded graphics library & other fixes.
32-bit DJGPP v2. Test version, still in development.

Binaries, 16-bit
Binaries. 32-bit DJGPP v1
Binaries, 32-bit DJGPP v2
Source 1
Source 2

Binaries, source

Test binaries
Source, docs

Go to Florian Xaver's Sword for Dos / Home Page for news, screenshots and other tools.

Go to Eric Nicolas's Sword Home Page for background info and docs.

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