My father's computer in the early 90s (probably 1991, or at the latest 1992) had a piece of software that acted as an application launcher. I think it was simply called "menu".

Its graphics were simple text-based ones, with all borders drawn as characters such as full block (similarly to classic DOS software like QBASIC and LOTUS 1-2-3).

The application simply displayed a 3x3 grid of white rectangles, and each had the name of a program in it. Pressing a function key (F1-F9) would launch the corresponding software, and page up/down switched "pages" (groups of 9 applications).

Other keys were used to edit which application corresponded to each rectangle, probably with the path to an executable and a display name.

Once an application was launched an exited, it would simply drop back to a command line. I think the command to make the menu appear again was simply menu.This was definitely not run on Windows, simply MS-DOS.

I've tried a few searches but I couldn't find any reference to such a launcher. Given the simplicity, I think it's entirely possible that a programmer friend of my father had made it for us, but I'd like to be sure.

• A tag like "identify-this-software" would fit, but the only existing one is specific to games. – George T Jul 11 at 17:04
• Even with your good description, without more information, this will be hopeless. There have been gazillions of Menu applications. From simple batch files, written by users or their software suppliers (which your description fits quite well) asking for "Press F for Filing" all the way to replacement shells. Many PC-Manufacturers even added similar systems to their OEM-DOS (Like Siemens did for the PC-D starting with DOS 2). That stuff was plenty. – Raffzahn Jul 11 at 18:24
• The closest thing I've personally seen to this was At Ease on the Macintosh, but that's undoubtedly the wrong answer. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/At_Ease – smitelli Jul 11 at 18:33

There were a number of menu builders for DOS such as MenuWorks and PowerMenu. Here is a 1988 article that reviews some others.

• I operated a dial-up BBS back in the early 90s and I recall there were many shareware/freeware “menu” programs too. – Michael Tracy Jul 21 at 19:10

I think I know what software you're talking about. I picked up an IBM PC AT off of eBay about a year ago, and the hard drive worked perfectly fine. When I first booted the machine, I was greeted with a text-based menu software, looking like this (I took this photo long after I restored the computer):

After a quick Google search of the company and software, which I have forgotten the name of, all I could find was a Google Books copy of a magazine from the 80's briefly mentioning the release of the software. As far as I know, I'm one of the only people with a copy of the software, named "menu.exe". I hope this is what you were looking for.

Edit: After looking through the magazine linked in snips-n-snails' answer, I found a picture of the software, made by Direct Access.

• @jacobtohan Do you have a website? I want to see more pictures of your lab. – snips-n-snails Jul 13 at 3:00
• @snips-n-snails I've actually been working on a website in my spare time and could probably have something up somewhat soon. I have a few more photos and can create an album and link it here tomorrow if you'd like. – jacobtohahn Jul 13 at 3:17
• Thank you, but I definitely remember the 3x3 grid being there. I don't think this is it, unless it has different modes. – George T Jul 13 at 7:01
• @GeorgeT Ah, I've never seen a software like that. Sorry – jacobtohahn Jul 14 at 1:19

I believe the first official TUI (Text User Interface) file manager for DOS was DOS Shell, first distributed as part of MSDOS and PCDOS v4.0 (1988). Microsoft eventually dropped it from its distributions (though it would still function), probably as a small incentive to MSDOS users to add an early version of Windows instead. I believe PCDOS kept it thru its final version (7.x).

(Note that until 1993, with MSDOS 6.0 and PCDOS 6.1, they were essentially differently-branded versions of the same software. After that, there was still a lot of commonality. Immediate differences included Microsoft's dropping of DOS Shell, IBM's dropping of QBASIC and adding the superior E editor instead. (The Microsoft editor had been QBASIC with a different skin.) PC DOS 7 added IBM's own Rexx language to re-offer a programming language to its distribution.)

• Doesn't sound like DOS Shell from the OP's description. DOS Shell either showed a pair of panes (one for the directory tree and one for the files) or a long list of program launch shortcuts. Neither of those views really match up with the 3x3 grid of big boxes. – smitelli Jul 11 at 18:31
• I remember DOS Shell. :) It was definitely a different thing. – George T Jul 11 at 19:02
• Microsoft still provided DOS Shell on later DOS versions, up to MS-DOS 6.22, but it was on the disk of supplements (along with accessibility tools, the BASIC example programs, EXE2BIN etc.). – Stephen Kitt Jul 11 at 21:15