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28 October 99

OK probably by now some of you know that the private beta of DarkStep (that's the name of the mysterious shell folks <g>) was released on Sunday night. The release version was 0.90 and the first public beta version will probably be 0.91 with all the fixes for the bugs that the private beta testers report. Speaking of beta testers, I must say that I have a might fine bunch indeed :-)

As some of you probably know by now, TinOmen posted a very detailed description of running the beta on his popular site the very next day itself! He reported that he had some sort of success with running LiteStep modules out of the box but also pointed out that he couldn't get multiple "LoadModule" lines to work. Then the next day I received a really detailed bug report from demigod who among a lot of other things let me know that he could get the vanilla version of Maduin's systray.dll working fine with DarkStep! That was quite a big relief for me because now what with the console from where you can launch any app and the working systray, DarkStep is a fully operational shell - quite a minimalist one but yet operational :-)

While DarkStep is not competing against any shell out there <g>, LiteStep being the most widely known and acclaimed one, it will be against LiteStep that DarkStep will be measured and demigod let me know that speedwise and performancewise DarkStep performed creditably indeed. Of course, the thing to keep in mind is that DarkStep currently isn't loading any modules or theme graphics and so it is still really doubtful as to whether it will continue to show this kind of performance but I am nevertheless pleased by something that Bob Wells said: "Frankly Fahim, I *personally* don't care if you add *any* more functionality
to DS or not!  I very possibly will stick with this build for my permanent working environment!  With the right app(s) running, who needs a taskbar, popup menu, etc. ?"

I am really flattered that quite a few of the private beta testers seem to feel that DarkStep is performing so well on its very first run - especially as I'd just written the shell and tested basic functionality but didn't do any extensive tesing <vbg> I have found out quite a few problem areas due to the reports of the tester and already fixed some of them on Monday. Actually, Bob is using this newer version (call it 0.901 <g>). But I do have to fix a few other things and to tweak LS module compatibility as currently there seems to be a problem with LS modules receiving Step.Rc config info but they will work with the default settings if they can. Unfortunately, I got the megapack of 11 CDs from CheapBytes with 6 different distros of Linux and I probably will be busy with that for a few days <g> (I spent last night installing Caldera OpenLinux 2.3 - pretty good experience)

What is planned for the near future is to fix the bugs that have been reported to me so far and to make certain that at least some LS modules can function properly with DarkStep - if I can get 90% of the modules to work, I'd be satisfied :-) Once I get the shell tweaked to that level, I'll probably release a public beta. Then I intend to merge in multi-image format support and then there will be one more beta and perhaps a few more bug fix releases before the first full release ...

DarkStep will differ from LiteStep in one particular area - if I can help it, the shell itself will remain as it currently is. A very minimalist shell which you can use out of the box but with no extra modules that expand the functionality. If somebody wants expanded functionality, they can always use any of the third-party modules out there but I don't intend to compete with all the programming talent out there <vbg> So I will continue to improve upon the core and might even write a few modules (or convert the ones I'd done for LiteStep into native DarkStep format to take advantage of the theming and stuff ...) but the shell will always remain a core that provides functionality for other modules that can be plugged in if you need them. Or you can keep it lean and mean as Bob Wells has done.

Incidentally, Bob has been running his DarkStep setup for over a day now and he reports that it performs very well and that he has had no trouble at all. He has posted a screenshot of his desktop at ScreenShotz.Net here. He's using Box IP and Icon3D and I must say that even I am impressed <vbg> And to think that I was running DarkStep with this plain green background and nothing else at all on my desktop! I was beginning to feel like a guy who's just moved into an empty house :-)

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