File: XTree:\History |Bottom_of_page

The story began back in 1978, at a time the home computer industry was just in its infancy, when Henry Hernandez, R. Thomas Smith Jr. and Dale Sinor founded a company named "Executive Systems Inc." (ESI), residing in California, USA. Their initial business was systems consulting and contract programming.

It has been just three years before when the first significant commercially available personal computer, the >MITS Altair 8800, was released, a computer equipped with a 2 MHz 8-bit chip, as few as 256 bytes (!) of RAM, no keyboard and no screen, just a set of 34 LEDs and 25 switches for programming purposes! The first models with a certain similarity of what we would consider as a reasonable computer came out in 1977, the >Apple II and the >Commodore PET, and another year later, the year ESI was formed, Intel presented the >"8086", the first 16-bit microprocessor chip, though becoming widespread not until a number of years thereafter.

Another major event of computer history took place in 1981, the >IBM PC has been introduced, setting THE standard of personal computer design for the next decade(s). To develop an operating system software for their new PC systems, IBM contracted with Microsoft, and Microsoft, since it practically had no background in operating systems, acquired "QDOS" ("Quick and Dirty Operating System" [!]) from Seattle Computer Products (SCP) company. QDOS actually was a clone of Digital Research Inc.'s >"CP/M" operating system, (introduced in 1976), so the >first DOS version by Microsoft was very similar to >CP/M, for example it still had no implementation of an hierarchical directory filesystem. The support for a >UNIX-derived subdirectory structure (as well as hard drive access) has been added not until the MS DOS 2.0 version in 1983. This was also the year when the last >CP/M-equipped computers came out, such as the >Epson QX-10. By the way, a hard drive was yet just an optional external device those days (and a hardly affordable one, too).

It has been these particular Epson QX-10 model that earned Executive Systems Inc. in 1983 a momentous order, namely to design its BIOS and some utility software. And a year later Epson asked them to develop some further utilities for their new PC DOS computers. The ESI staff has been working hard to fulfill the task as thorough as possible, and the outcome seemed to appeal to Epson, so even more orders like that followed. As a result of this kind of work, the people of Executive Systems soon were faced with an immense number of files, spread across several hard disks and hundreds of floppies.

And while there virtually hasn't been any software available these days, that could seriously handle such a mess, they simply had to develop that kind of tool on their own! What has been projected now was an application that should clearly represent the operating system's directory structure on the screen, while also providing an easy-to-use interface to offer access to all the file maintaining DOS commands. It was at the end of 1984 and the birth of XTree took place in Sherman Oaks, California!

To speak with the introductory words of an early XTree manual


XTree 2 screenshot "The purpose of XTREE is to facilitate the file and directory maintenance process by providing you commands to access, delete, rename, view, move, list, or show any and all files within any and all directories on your floppy and hard disks.  XTREE is remarkable for its ease of use, clarity of organization, and multitude of services. XTREE presents a visualization of the directories, subdirectories, and files on your disks in clear, graphic screen displays.  Statistical  data is also displayed at all times; this data is updated as you  perform your tasks."

The name "XTree" has been chosen with respect to the tree-like manner the directory structure is displayed on the screen, a manner which, by the way, has been taken up by nearly every subsequent file managing software unto this day.

The very first version of XTree was introduced to the public at the West Coast Computer Faire, San Francisco on April 1st, 1985. It consisted of a single executable file, just 35 kB in size (in a time when the common size of a 5.25" floppy was 180 kB)!

This unique tool turned out to become a big hit soon, it was effusively reviewed by such influential persons like >John Dvorak, and received the prestigious >PC Magazine "Editor's Choice" Award (just as later on XTreePro in 1987 and XTreeProGold in 1990 did).
Commercial success also appeared immediately, it was simply the right product at the right time (and, by the way, released one year *before* the first version of its long-time rival, the }Norton Commander).

Still in 1985, a second version of XTree has been issued, which added a bunch of essential new commands (known as the "Alt"-menu).
Particularly this version has become extraordinary popular, and five years after it, surprisingly even a free evaluation version of XTree 2 has been brought out, and rumor has it the reason for Executive Systems to do so was because the commercial versions were so frequently pirated. The company decided to put a free version into the public domain. After all, a much better version was already on the store shelves, so they decided to wink at the pirated copies of XTree 2.0 and regard them as cheap advertising.

Two further significant steps of XTree development have been published, in 1987 the XTreePro, and in 1989 the XTreeProGold versions, both adding even more handy features, like the "1Word" ASCII editor and the ability of dealing with compressed archives in the ARC-format.
Subsequent projects of the corporation, now under the brand of "XTree Company" as a division of Executive Systems Inc., have been to step into more environments than the DOS one, and, as a result, in 1989 an XTree program for Novell network systems has been released, called "XTreeNet", furthermore versions for Unix also followed, and even an adaptation for the Apple Macintosh, the "XTreeMac", has been issued.

XTreeMac was written by Custom Software Inc. and based on their XTree-like Macintosh file-manager named "Organizer", drafted between 1986-87. XTree Company decided to publish this software in 1988 and it turned out to become a great flop. Actually there hasn't really been a demand for a particular file-manager for the MacOS, because unlike DOS, the Macintosh already shipped with a graphical user interface for organizing files. Although XTreeMac had some unique features like printing a complete directory tree, its usefulness was not apparent to most Mac users. Perhaps another factor contributing to the lackluster sales was the large number of bugs in the initial release. The bug-fixed 1.02 version from 1989 couldn't salvage the project any more, so it was buried just one year after its initiation.

In the meantime the company didn't limit themselves to design file managers only any longer, they now also brought out several more award winning packaged products, as there are XTree Tools for Networks, NetControl SNMP Console Manager, the HOT menuing system, and ViruSafe, a virus scan tool acquired from EliaShim Micro. XTree Company grew to a successful $20 million product development company.

Remarkably enough, there have been even more aspects, where they succeeded to set standards:
In 1989 they launched the first ever software amnesty program for pirated copies on the U.S. market, and two years later the XTree people made an effort to become the first major software publisher being conscious of their environmental responsibility. Under the slogan "Project Green" they began to pay particular attention to the recycling capabilities of the software's distribution packaging. In connection with this, XTree Company also joined the "American Forests" >Global Releaf program for planting trees in reforestation projects.

Software development also was going ahead very well, particularly the DOS versions experienced a continuing and very successful development. More and more handy features were added through the years. These enhancements were based, in large part, on the feedback and recommendations of users of the product. The size of the package grew from the 35 kB of the very first release to the approximately 3 MB of a completely installed XTreeGold 3.0 version from 1993. Yet XTree for DOS is one of the few examples, where (nearly) all of those additions were highly functional and not at all superfluous (just take away the pull-down menus, perhaps).
    ...and decline

With the grown popularity of >Microsoft Windows in the early 1990s, XTree Company also wanted to participate in that booming market. So they began to put an enormous effort into the development of a fashionable Windows surface, and thus XTree for Windows 1.0 was brought out in 1992. But what in the world has driven their designers not make use of none of the proven XTreeGold keyboard shortcuts, and to introduce a stylish new graphical user interface that hardly has got to do anything with the lucid one of it's DOS colleagues? Actually, it was more similar to the 1988 released |XTreeMac failure. (By the way, another proof for the fact that Apple's Macintosh concept supplied many ideas that Microsoft Windows (and many applications) have just imitated a couple of years later!).
And although XTree for Windows has been a carefully developed, powerful, and outstanding piece of software - a praise which truly can't be lauded for all Windows applications around - it became a financial disaster for XTree Company. A great amount of money went into that development, but it never earned back as a profit. Then, with the impending explosion of Windows taking over everywhere, the principals of the company may have decided that the potential future earnings from the file manager market place wouldn't continue to return a profit on continued investment in XTree.
After issuing more than six great works in their last year of existence, as there are for example XTreeGold 3.01 (the last DOS version), XTree for Windows 2.0, and XTreeNet 3.01, the company finally became a victim of the growing process of mergers in computer industry. It has been swallowed up by the rivaling Central Point Software in November 1993.
Although officially announced as a merger, this, in fact, rather has been a takeover; Central Point, primary known for their DOS utility collection "PC Tools", wanted to increase their competence in the upcoming network-market and therefore has been especially keen on XTree Company's networking products.

However, Central Point, which itself had to deal with financial difficulties, didn't have much time to take pleasure in their new acquisition, because they themselves have been acquired by another company, Symantec Inc., just about half a year later.
Symantec, founded in 1982, was a corporation that tried their luck on the highly contested software market mainly with >acquisitions of successful competitors (somewhat resembling the Microsoft strategy). One of their biggest deals so far has been the takeover of Peter Norton Computing in 1990, along with their utmost popular products >"Norton Commander" and >"Norton Utilities".
As a result, Symantec - before anyone realized it - assumed almost complete ownership of the Windows utilities market.

XTree development continued under the aegis of Central Point Inc., respectively Central Point as a department of Symantec Inc., in only one subsequent product, the Windows version of XTreeGold. However, the new owners regrettably were neither interested in spending any further effort on the DOS programs, nor to thoroughly adapt the powerful XTreeGold for DOS concept to a Windows user interface. What they realized in fact with XTreeGold for Windows 4.0 was, strictly speaking, just an oversized and somewhat circumstantial blend between Central Point's PC Tools and some original XTree ideas, resulting in an application that runs terribly unreliable on some systems. The Long File Name support they were trying to add in the days when Windows95 yet has been on the sketchboard, was a rather half-hearted solution and never has been undertaken the indispensable further development.
Announced in September 1994, XTreeGold for Windows 4.0 at the same time marked a last step of XTree-named lineage. Symantec had not the least interest in continuing the development on any further independent XTree version, their intention seemed to be just to swallow all rival firms and then cease their competitive products.

In 1995 they presented the Norton Navigator File Manager, based on XTreeGold for Windows (and some portions of Central Point's PC Tools) as the official XTree successor, equipped with an "XTreeGold compatibility mode" which supplies a }user interface very similar to its predecessor, with most of the familiar hotkeys there, along with the standard, alt and control menus at the bottom of the screen. And there is a bunch of new features and additional utilities added, for example direct FTP access from within the file manager. And although this new application was obviously a very powerful one, it proofed to be fairly far away from the unsurpassed speed and ease of use of the DOS XTree products. So most users couldn't see this as a serious replacement for the legendary and beloved old XTreeGold versions.

However, a last bit of XTree feeling has survived with this software though, as long as in 1998 Symantec dropped the product from the market. And so the very last chapter of official XTree history has been finally closed.

During the 10 years of official XTree history the original DOS product has been evolved also for a number of further operating systems, as there are Unix, MacOS, Novell Netware, and Windows. However, there never has been an XTree version for >IBM's OS/2 (although such a project at least once has been considered!) and this has been the motive for the Australian programmer Kim G. Henkel, in late 1993 to start writing a clone of XTreeGold 3.0 DOS as a native OS/2 application, calling it "ZTreeBold".
After the XTree development has been ceased in 1994, and the release of Microsoft's Windows 95 confronted a DOS application like XTreeGold with some insurmountable limitations, Kim G. Henkel decided to port his ZTreeBold also to Windows 95/NT and thus released the first version of "ZTreeWin" in 1996.


ZTreeWin screenshot The >ZTree programs for OS/2 and Win95/NT are released as Shareware and, although they are true 32bit applications, both operate in pure text-mode, therefore bringing the look and feel as well as the speed of use of the legendary XTree for DOS versions to modern 32bit operating systems, avoiding the DOS imposed limitations and, moreover, providing some cautious but utmost useful improvements. ZTree is able to handle long file and directory names, log to an unlimited number of disks and files, and allows the use of any current or future archiving program.

Driven by the insatiable desire for an intimate filemanager interface for their respective favorite platform, there have been more programmers creating XTree clones for a number of other operating systems, too. And, encouraged by the millions of XTree fans there still are all over the world, many of these private exercises eventually have been released to the public.
Particularly it has been Unix systems in all its flavours, for which incarnations of the abandoned XTree product have been developed. So there are, for example, >ytree by Werner Bregulla, XTC by Peter Kelly, linuXtree by Dan Stahlke, and, above all, >UnixTree by Rob Juergens, the latter now representing the leading adaptation for Unix systems.
To sum up, one can say that the XTree idea is anything but dead and gloriously continues to live through all those commendable clones and in all their grateful users.


Last updated 08-21-05
XTree and XTreeGold are registered trademarks of Symantec Inc.
Windows and Windows95 are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.
Other brands and products are trademarks of their respective holders.

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