I got the suggestion to try rlwrap as an alternative to emacs in order to get a better shell. I've tried it, and here's my professional review: it rocks. I've showed it to a couple of colleagues and they were dully impressed as well. I think, actually, that I like it better than the emacs shell. It's quick, and it keeps its history separate from your bash history, which is very nice. It also remembers history across sessions, which doesn't happen if I close and re-open the emacs shell.
You can use apt to install rlwrap on Ubuntu Feisty Fawn (universe repo). It's also available with the cygwin setup.exe thinger. I had to compile it for my old redhat 8 box (don't ask), but that was super simple. Overall, a very nice little tool.