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SharpE

SharpE

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SharpE, also shortened as #E, is an open-source shell
Shell (computing)
A shell is a piece of software that provides an interface for users of an operating system which provides access to the services of a kernel. However, the term is also applied very loosely to applications and may include any software that is "built around" a particular component, such as web...

 replacement for Microsoft Windows
Microsoft Windows
Microsoft Windows is a series of operating systems produced by Microsoft.Microsoft introduced an operating environment named Windows on November 20, 1985 as an add-on to MS-DOS in response to the growing interest in graphical user interfaces . Microsoft Windows came to dominate the world's personal...

 XP and later versions, released under the GNU General Public License
GNU General Public License
The GNU General Public License is the most widely used free software license, originally written by Richard Stallman for the GNU Project....

 (GPL). The goal of the project is to create a user friendly desktop environment that provides advanced and modern desktop features but remains easily configurable. As for any windows shell replacement it is still possible to run any native Windows application when SharpE is used.

SharpE has been in active development since 1997 and has been undergoing several rewrites and development team changes. It was originally developed by members of Low Dimension International, many of whom are no longer involved in LDI but are still involved in the project. SharpE split from LDI in summer 2005 and since then has been under continued development by the current development team.

SharpE is now known as SharpEnviro, since 2008.

Current Version


The shell is currently undergoing a complete rewrite, and hence there is not an officially labeled or stable release available at the moment. The developers are only releasing beta versions (which are called Testing Day or TD versions) on a regular basis. It is fairly stable and an installer is available.

The current release is Version 0.8 Release Candidate 2.

User Interface


A key improvement the SharpE shell has over Microsoft Windows Explorer shell is that it does not limit the desktop to a single or a fixed setup of the taskbar
Taskbar
In computing, a taskbar is a bar displayed on a full edge of a GUI desktop that is used to launch and monitor running applications. Microsoft incorporated a taskbar in Windows 95 and it has been a defining aspect of Microsoft Windows's graphical user interface ever since. Some desktop environments,...

. Therefore, any number of toolbars (called a SharpBar) may be created and customized with any module the user desires. The range of modules available span from standard system functionality like a taskbar or start menu button to advanced features like cpu monitor, notes or media controller. By April 2010, more than 20 modules for the SharpBar had been available. The choice of modules to be put onto a bar and the alignment of modules and bars on screen is entirely decided by user's configuration.
The visual appearance of all graphical elements is powered by a complex skin system which utilizes alpha blending and a layer-based rendering engine. An important characteristic of the SharpE skin system is the feature to change the colors of certain parts of the skin independently. For example, skins allow the user to change the color of background elements independently of other elements (such as button or highlight colors).

Configuring SharpE can be fully done using an easy-to-use graphical user interface
Graphical user interface
In computing, a graphical user interface is a type of user interface that allows users to interact with electronic devices with images rather than text commands. GUIs can be used in computers, hand-held devices such as MP3 players, portable media players or gaming devices, household appliances and...

. With SharpCenter, all settings of the shell can be managed and customized without the need to edit any settings file by hand. Even more complex parts of the shell such as the color scheme and toolbar management can be fully configured from within SharpCenter.

Technology


SharpE is developed to compile on Borland Delphi 2007, and targets Windows 2000 or higher. It makes heavy use of the JCL, JVCL and Graphics32 libraries for Delphi.

The shell is based on a modular design where the majority of functionality is loaded dynamically from external modules (Dynamic Link Libraries). There are three core components (SharpBar, SharpCore, SharpCenter) which uses and manages those modules, to expose the functionality of the modules to the end user. Such a modular system has the advantage where every interaction between modules and the hosting components is standardized through deployment of multiple Interfaces. Thus the interface data exchange and communication between the host components and modules is nearly unlimited, making it possible to share even complex functionality such as the skinning system.

The distinguishing feature from other shell replacement systems is that the modules are linked together by the core functionality provided by SharpCore. This means that certain functions such as Taskbar
Taskbar
In computing, a taskbar is a bar displayed on a full edge of a GUI desktop that is used to launch and monitor running applications. Microsoft incorporated a taskbar in Windows 95 and it has been a defining aspect of Microsoft Windows's graphical user interface ever since. Some desktop environments,...

, System Notification Area, Virtual Desktops
Virtual desktop
In computing, a virtual desktop is a term used with respect to user interfaces, usually within the WIMP paradigm, to describe ways in which the size of a computer's desktop environment is expanded beyond the physical limits of the screen's real estate through the use of software, This saves space...

, Application launching, among others, are always routed through and managed by SharpCore - thus making all modules use, share and access the same core functionality of the shell environment.

Due to the absence of 64-bit
64-bit
64-bit is a word size that defines certain classes of computer architecture, buses, memory and CPUs, and by extension the software that runs on them. 64-bit CPUs have existed in supercomputers since the 1970s and in RISC-based workstations and servers since the early 1990s...

 compiler for Delphi, a small number of parts and components of the shell are written in C#, requiring SharpE to be run with the presence of .NET Framework
.NET Framework
The .NET Framework is a software framework that runs primarily on Microsoft Windows. It includes a large library and supports several programming languages which allows language interoperability...

 3.5.

New Functionality


Some of the features which are distinctly new when compared to features in the Windows shell
Windows Shell
The Windows shell is the main graphical user interface in Microsoft Windows, and since Windows 95 hosted by Windows Explorer. The Windows shell includes well-known Windows components such as the Taskbar and the Start menu...

 are:
  • Multiple and independently configurable toolbars (which are similar to the taskbar
    Taskbar
    In computing, a taskbar is a bar displayed on a full edge of a GUI desktop that is used to launch and monitor running applications. Microsoft incorporated a taskbar in Windows 95 and it has been a defining aspect of Microsoft Windows's graphical user interface ever since. Some desktop environments,...

    ).
  • Application Bars (pinning applications to the taskbar
    Taskbar
    In computing, a taskbar is a bar displayed on a full edge of a GUI desktop that is used to launch and monitor running applications. Microsoft incorporated a taskbar in Windows 95 and it has been a defining aspect of Microsoft Windows's graphical user interface ever since. Some desktop environments,...

    , similar to what was introduced with Windows 7).
  • Up to 12 Virtual Desktops
    Virtual desktop
    In computing, a virtual desktop is a term used with respect to user interfaces, usually within the WIMP paradigm, to describe ways in which the size of a computer's desktop environment is expanded beyond the physical limits of the screen's real estate through the use of software, This saves space...

    .
  • Multi Monitor support (toolbars/taskbars on each monitor, different wallpapers on each monitor, etc).
  • Allows most common media players to be controlled directly from the toolbars or with special keys on multimedia keyboards (without the need of installing additional software).
  • Allows taking and organizing notes anywhere on screen.

Critique

  • Due to the modular design and the shell being written in Delphi, the memory and disc space usage is higher compared to other Windows shell replacements. With an overall memory usage of 40 MB to 60 MB and disc space requirements of about 120 MB, SharpE cannot be counted as among the lightweight minimalistic shells.

  • The absence of any free/personal version of Delphi 2007 (or later) available is a discouragement for third party developers to create new modules or contribute source code patches to the shell.

  • Although it is planned for future releases, Unicode support is still unavailable at this point.

See also



  • Shell (computing)
    Shell (computing)
    A shell is a piece of software that provides an interface for users of an operating system which provides access to the services of a kernel. However, the term is also applied very loosely to applications and may include any software that is "built around" a particular component, such as web...

  • Windows shell
    Windows Shell
    The Windows shell is the main graphical user interface in Microsoft Windows, and since Windows 95 hosted by Windows Explorer. The Windows shell includes well-known Windows components such as the Taskbar and the Start menu...

  • Windows shell replacement

External links