Aston (also known as Astonshell and Aston Shell) is a commercial shell replacement application for Microsoft Windows 9x/NT/ME/2K/XP. Developed by Gladiators Software in the beginning of 1999, Aston has become quite popular and at present time it’s one of the most actively developed shell replacement applications for Windows.
Unlike some other shell replacement applications (mostly built on the top of Litestep) Aston has been created from the scratch on pure Win32 API in order to utilize one’s computer’s power more efficiently. The program has been originally created as a fast and stable alternative to Windows’ native Explorer shell and later got some additional features like support for skins, plug-ins and so on.
Aston Shell has been named after Aston Martin cars which are assembled to fit certain individual’s needs. The name greatly reflects the initial purpose of the program: create individual, easily customizeable Desktop interfaces. You can actually change any parameter of Aston Desktop from font color to the look and behaviour of certain elements. Any of these manipulations are done with the help of graphical user interface (classic shells like Litestep required you to edit all configuration files manually).
At present time Aston is mostly used on out of the date computers which are too slow to run Windows’ native shell well, as well as on newer computers to obtain a responsible and nice looking Desktop interface.
Even though there’re numerous free alternatives available (including Litestep, SharpE, BB4Win and others) Aston remains popular and has its own community, which actively influences the development process and creates new Themes (hundreds of them are available on the official website).
Aston consists of four main applications:
Core application: the one you see most of the time when running the program.
A-Master: configuration utility, letting you edit any program’s parameter via a GUI.
Theme Wizard: theme compilation, configuration and setup utility, also letting you edit icon and cursor schemes.
Shell Swapper: used to switch between Explorer shell and Aston Shell
Interfaces, created with the help of Aston shell are not completely different from ones of Explorer: you still have the Desktop, Taskbar, system tray area and so on. At the same time there’re many distinctions like inability to place files on the Desktop (which is considered being a feature), Toolbar side panels and so on. Aston also supports placing 32 bit PNG icons on the Desktop which is otherwise impossible in Windows 9x.
The Aston update cycle is quite long and new versions usually come out after nearly a year of development.
At present time Gladiators Software is developing a new project (codenamed A2), which should become a successor of Aston and in some time completely replace it. There’s not much information available except that it would only work on Windows 2000 and above, support Widgets and should not have the weakness of Aston Shell (like a lack of multimonitor support, poor work on 64 bit systems and so on.)