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.

EDIT: This is a mockup of how I remember it looking (made in a text editor): enter image description here

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    A tag like "identify-this-software" would fit, but the only existing one is specific to games. – George T Jul 11 '19 at 17:04
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    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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 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):

Menu software displayed on an IBM PC AT

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 '19 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 '19 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 '19 at 7:01
  • @GeorgeT Ah, I've never seen a software like that. Sorry – jacobtohahn Jul 14 '19 at 1:19

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

(Note that until 1993, with MS-DOS 6.0 and PC DOS 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.)

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    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 '19 at 18:31
  • I remember DOS Shell. :) It was definitely a different thing. – George T Jul 11 '19 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 '19 at 21:15
  • I guess it depends on your definition of "official," but XTree 1.0 was released in 1985 and offered a full TUI for managing files. Later versions included a menu-builder for launching applications, but I'm sure it's not what the original poster is describing. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XTree – Jim Nelson Sep 2 '20 at 19:29
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    @user1169420 Heh, I guess in one sense it is six of one and a half-dozen of the other. But I believe my interpretation is slightly more accurate: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS-DOS_Editor – RichF Dec 16 '20 at 18:06

I used this system! I can’t remember the name of it, but it was easy to set up and use. You could even have sub menus with it, like if you set up “G” for games, it could open another menu with the various games which could be accessed with one key. You could also assign different colors to different menus. It was really terrific for us DOS users. I keep thinking of the name “Cheetah,” but that might not be the name of this menu software.

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    If you remember more, please edit your answer to include it. As it stands, this is just barely an answer, because you've given a potential name. Stack Exchange sites work differently to most forums; see the tour and How to Answer for more information. – wizzwizz4 May 31 at 12:10
  • I added a mockup of how I remember it looking. – George T Jun 4 at 8:00

I still use an old programm simply called "Hard Disk Menu" (HDM). Perhaps it's this? I think there were newer versions of it, but my one is from 1986.enter image description here

The third box appears, when you press the '/' key for the configuration.

enter image description here

Perhaps this is the searched program..?


  • I added a mockup of how I remember it looking. – George T Jun 4 at 8:00

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