Is LiteStep a step in the right direction?


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Rating: Needs some work


With a nick like PokPok you’d think I’d be more nerd-like, but in fact I’m just a standard issue human with a semi-normal brain just like regular folks. Still, like most of you, I can find my way out of a maze if there’s a nice juicy piece of cheese waiting for me at the exit. Furthermore, I can (usually) chew gum and walk simultaneously without injuring myself severely, and I actually read without moving my lips. More to the point, if someone were to smack me with a computer, I’d understand the source of my pain. In other words, I’m not a complete dolt when it comes to using a computer, though there are plenty of folks that know more than I do, I’ll freely admit that. In fact, what I don’t know about computers would fill volumes, but I get by just fine anyway.

Sorry about all that bragging but it’s all true, every word of it, and I still couldn’t even begin to get LiteStep to work. I tried out the BlueVoid {by Marvilla} Fully Themed Installation by WareWolf version of LiteStep, version 0.245. I should point out that not only did I try LiteStep in Windows 98, I also tried something that the designers probably never intended — or at least I could find no specific mention that LiteStep would work with Windows 2000. However, it does mention that it will work with NT 4 (SP 3/4) so I took a shot at it on my test-bed computer, The World Famous Amazing Ol’ Turd. Silly me, it didn’t work properly in either operating system.

Basically LiteStep is a shell replacement for Explorer in Windows 9x and NT. The claim is that you end up with a more reliable and more efficient working environment. That may be so if you’re a shaman with special powers over the laws of science and nature in this universe. Unfortunately my magic powers just aren’t what they used to be (just ask the wife). However, considering that Windows Explorer, in its various guises in each version of Windows, is a very feature-rich environment, some would say overly-rich, I can certainly believe that LiteStep could potentially speed things up, if they can ever get it to work on computers that is. And even though Windows 98, when properly installed and configured, is a reasonably stable operating system, anything that improves the working environment deserves consideration. Unfortunately, though LiteStep might be faster, it loses so much functionality that any gains are lost.

If you’ve scampered over to any of the LiteStep web sites, you’ve seen that they’ve come up with a very visually appealing environment. I was intrigued and hoped this would carry through to the operating system once their product was installed. As it happens it does beautifully, but more on that in a minute. Suffice to say that the more I looked around their web sites and read up on their product, the more interested I became in trying it out.

Actually, as an experiment, I first installed LiteStep in Windows 2000. To LiteStep’s credit, that it loaded at all is commendable. The new installer for version 0.245 worked perfectly. It even made an entry in my Add/Remove Programs applet in the Control Panel. (This, as it turned out, was a very, very good thing.) During the installation, it offered the option of saving copies of all files replaced or modified. Regardless of the platform on which it is installed, I strongly recommend you avail yourself of this feature. When the routine was complete I rebooted as suggested. That’s when the fun really started.

Once again, to LiteStep’s credit, it is remarkable that the machine booted at all considering the unintended environment. As it went through the boot process it kept popping up one error dialog box after another saying that this DLL or that Module couldn’t be found. Even so, in time I was amazed to see a wonderfully weird looking desktop with some simple but elegant icons along each side when the whole plot finally settled down. “Cool beans!” says I looking it all over for the first time. This just might work out after all. Instead of the usual desktop icons, so familiar to Windows, Mac, BeOS and Linux KDE or Gnome users, there were shortcuts on the left side of the desktop to things like “Browser” and “Logoff”. I didn’t know what would happen when I clicked that button because I use three different browsers regularly. As it happens, it was a link to Netscape … but it didn’t work. So I started to click some of the other buttons to see if I could get anything to work. None of the links on the left side of the desktop worked. Even the “Logoff” button failed.

Eventually I got Internet Explorer up and running, but that’s about the only functional item available. I then tried right clicking the desktop to see if I could get this all sorted out manually. Nothing. The right click feature was absent. Right about then I started to rummage around for my Windows 2000 CD and prepared myself for the inevitable format and reinstall. But then I got lucky. I remembered that I keep a shortcut to the Windows 2000 Task Manager in the Startup folder, so it was available to me. I managed to get Windows Explorer to launch and I drilled down to the Control Panel and uninstalled LiteStep as fast as my pudgy little digits could carry me.

Yet again, and finally, to LiteStep’s credit the uninstaller worked like a charm. It cleanly and completely removed LiteStep and restored my beloved Windows 2000 installation to its semi-pristine condition. I breathed a sigh of relief and boxed my ears for trying such a silly move. I’ll repeat, in fairness to the authors LiteStep was not intended for Windows 2000. It was however, built with Windows 98 in mind. So, still hoping to get it all working, I then tried LiteStep on another of my computers with Windows 98 installed. Too bad the results were almost identical; I was so disappointed.

In Windows 98 (First Edition) the installation proceeded normally. Being smarter than your average box of rocks, I did avail myself of the complete undo features presented during the installation. When the installation was complete I rebooted as requested only to be met by one of those same error dialog boxes I’d seen in Windows 2000. I can’t fault LiteStep for choking when installed on an unintended operating system, but Windows 98 is right there on the list of O-kee-do-kee platforms. What’s more, the error I received indicated that LiteStep couldn’t find one of its very own DLLs, located right there in its own directory. Oy!

Fortunately, once again, it completed booting up. The boot up sequence was a little faster than the standard boot time for Windows 98 on this same machine. However, I don’t perceive boot time as a problem on any operating system that I use (Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000, Linux and BeOS) so this single advantage didn’t have me deeply impressed. Again I was presented with a very attractive looking desktop with those same blue buttons along both sides of the screen. And once again none of the buttons on the left worked. Not even one. As it happens, these buttons on the left are generic shortcuts to mIRC and Netscape and the like, all placed there whether you have these programs installed or not. Maybe I’m just odd, but this strikes me as poor strategy that is bound to cause confusion among newbies (to LiteStep) such as myself. I suppose I could go download and install mIRC, and then put the fix on that shortcut button so it will work, but … well, let’s just say that I don’t think that’s going to happen, not on my computers anyway.

Some of the buttons on the right side of the screen actually worked. In fact, the LiteStep replacement for the Start menu is very attractive and tidy, though it lacks the useful on-mouseover flyout menus. This kind of menu is available though from any number of freeware utility makers out there as an independent installation, no need to replace your entire shell just for that.

Call me old fashioned, call me whatever you’d like, but I frequently use the right click context menu on the desktop of all of my operating system regularly. It is an extremely powerful tool and I don’t care to give that up. Here’s where LiteStep really lost me. Unless it’s hidden somewhere under a virtual rock, or maybe I just didn’t get the memo on the secret handshake, there is no right click functionality on the desktop. That alone had me completely flummoxed.

Once I started to fiddle with what I could get working I soon discovered that at least half the time, whatever I tried resulted in an error dialog. This claim of enhanced reliability is, well, on the two machines on which I tried it, just not correct. Maybe Kosmo Nerdly could get out his C++ kit and reconfigurate all my flux capacitors so they’d all be aligned and all, and maybe it could have all been a conflagration of bad karma rather than a problem with LiteStep, but I doubt it. Fortunately the uninstaller worked as effectively in Windows 98 as it had in Windows 2000 so I was no worse off for having tried it out — and that’s probably the best thing I can say about my LiteStep adventures.

On one hand, the authors of LiteStep deserve credit for endeavoring to improve the environment in which most computer users toil. It is a good thing to have a multiplicity of options available when considering how to shape our working tools. Full credit to the folks at LiteStep for having the right idea. LiteStep is distributed under the GNU license, similar to Linux, and its creators should be commended for their philanthropic efforts. I intend to check back in on their efforts regularly. I’d like nothing more than to see them succeed in their efforts, but that potential has not yet been realized.

;~* … PokPok

Submitted by: PokPok

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