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Country of Origin: United States
When it came to managing your files, many were in one of two camps – XTree or Norton Commander. I was in the XTree camp; probably from someone purchasing a used computer and creating backups of whatever happened to be on it. Early DOS users only had the command prompt to navigate through files, which had been fine when PCs were still sold with only floppy disk drives. The introduction of hard disk drives despite being meagre by today’s standards brought about a desire to view and manage the contents of such drives in a better way.
Jeffery C. Johnson, a software engineer at Executive Systems Inc. (ESI) had been the instigator of XTree that saw its first version released on April 1, 1985. By this stage PC-DOS and MS-DOS were on their third versions, both adding support for high density floppy disks and the FAT16 file system for larger capacity hard disks.
At its peak was this copy, XTree Pro Gold 1.3 dated from 1989. The Gold edition was a follow-up release from the previous XTree Pro. Whilst the box I obtained was a bit squashed, the contents itself was still in rather good condition. Unlike other software of the era, both a single 3½” and two 5¼” floppy disks were provided, instead of the need to fill out a voucher. The back of the box claimed an IBM PC, XT, AT, PS/2 or compatible with 256 KB RAM running MS-DOS 3.1 or higher were its system requirements.
With a lack of swapping around lots of floppies, installation was exceptionally simple and short. Not on by default, an option to create a simple batch file is there in order to start XTree direct from the C:\> command prompt. I wondered why the XTGOLD directory wasn’t just added to the Path command line within AUTOEXEC.BAT to achieve the same thing.
In next to no time, XTree can load and will default with the following appearance. It wasn’t able to cope with displaying all that free space on a 2 GB hard disk though, developed at a time when a 20-30 MB hard disk was commonplace.
Reviewing the Readme file gave insight as to the new features with Version 1.3:
- Mouse support was now added, allowing scrolling, tagging, and selecting commands;
- Pressing F8 introduced split screen to provide two independent views, something that Norton Commander always had;
- Pressing F9 brings up the customisable Application Menu for quick access executing other programs or batch files. An option is available to reduce the memory footprint of XTree down to 7 KB to free up for larger DOS programs;
- Pressing F10 now displays the Quick Reference Help providing all commands available at a point in time; and
- EGA and VGA support allowing additional lines of information to be shown, taking advantage of the higher resolution these standards provide over CGA.
Over the following year five minor version releases (up to 1.44) had been made largely improving file viewers and fix issues that occurred in specific scenarios.
By far XTree’s biggest success was on the DOS platform; Microsoft’s own MS-DOS Shell didn’t pull users away. A Macintosh version was also made around this time known as XTreeMac. It didn’t translate well for the majority of Macintosh users, who were mostly content with how things were. A lack of market research was blamed and was killed off before System 7.0. A short-lived Unix version also followed though there had only been tentative commercial interest at ESI. Second best was XTree for Windows during the Windows 3.x days, which persevered up to Version 4.0 in 1994 signalling the end of what had been a handy utility.