Alternative shells for windows

Best Windows (Alternative) Shell Replacement Programs

You can completely change its look and feel and use less resources

Looking for some good desktop/shell replacement programs for Windows? For those of you who feel the need, the need to customize, an alternative shell to the Windows shell is one possible solution.

So what exactly is a shell replacement? It’s basically a program that will integrate with Windows and replace the default shell. The shell is GUI interface that you use to run programs or view files, etc.

By replacing the shell, you can completely change the look and feel of the GUI. Usually when replacing the Windows shell, users are looking for more control and customization options than what is provided in Windows.

Also, a lot of shells end up using less resources than the default shell. There used to be a lot of different shell replacement programs out there, but for whatever reason, almost all have stalled development.

Instead, it seems nowadays there are more desktop customization utilities than shell replacements. I’ll also mention some of the most popular programs for customizing the Windows 10 GUI.

In this article, I will list out active and stalled projects that are the best replacement shells for Windows. All of the shells are easy to uninstall if you don’t like them, which is good.

CarioShell (active)

CarioShell is the only modern looking and active Windows shell alternative that allows you to access your files and programs faster from the desktop.

It kind of makes your Windows desktop look more like the Mac OS X desktop. It’s not highly customizable or anything like that, but it does give your desktop a unique look.

Classic Shell (stalled)

Classic Shell was active till the end of 2017, but the developer has stopped working on it after 8 long years. Hopefully, someone picks it back up for him because it’s definitely one of the better shell replacements.

As the name suggests, it can give Windows that classic look from older versions. It’s also highly customizable, which is kind of the point if you are replacing your entire Windows shell. Since the last stable release was just in 2017, it still works fine in Windows 10, 8, 7, etc.

Emerge Desktop (stalled)

Emerge Desktop was probably one of the most popular Windows replacement shells out there before it stopped developed in 2015. It replaces Windows Explorer, the taskbar, the start button and pretty much everything else.

Sharpenviro (stalled)

Another good shell alternative is Sharpenviro. It works on Windows XP, Vista and 7. You can create multiple toolbars that are similar to the Windows taskbar, but you can customize them and they can also include real-time info like monitoring CPU, taking notes, getting weather reports, etc.

You can also customize pretty much everything, which is the hallmark of a good shell replacement program. Sharpenviro also supports multiple monitors, which is essential nowadays since a lot of people have more than one monitor. You can also create virtual desktops to manage your desktop windows.

LiteStep (stalled)

LiteStep was another awesome replacement desktop for your Windows PC. Just install it and then start installing themes, scripts or modules. You can customize your desktop in a multitude of ways and it’s all open source and free.

Using LiteStep with some of the modules requires a little more technical experience than some of the other programs, but it can do just about anything you want if you get into it.

LiteStep has been around for a very long time and the latest release was in 2011, so quite a while back. It’s probably not going to work with Windows 10. However, the themes and modules are still being updated/created by users.

Talisman Desktop (stalled)

Talisman Dekstop is a commercial shell replacement that has a good number of themes you can download to fully customize your desktop environment. You can create multilevel desktops, desktop panels, and lots more.

With a little bit of self-learning, you can customize the taskbar, system tray, clock, start menu, explorer interface, etc. Only works up to Windows 7.

AstonShell (stalled)

AstonShell is definitely not my favorite shell replacement program, but it might be great for some! If you really liked specific themes like Christmas or Disney, etc, then you can use AstonShell to download all kinds of crazy themes and convert your desktop into whatever you like.

bbLean (stalled)

For those of you who like the minimalistic look for your desktop, bbLean is a good choice. It hasn’t been updated since 2009, but a lot of people still love using it because of the simple GUI interface. But just like with most shell replacement programs, new themes are always being created.

Desktop Customization Tools

As you can see, there aren’t many active shell replacement programs left out there. Instead, there are still a decent number of desktop customization tools. These programs let you change the look and feel of the desktop, taskbar, start menu, etc., just like a shell replacement.

One of the most popular desktop customization tools is Rainmeter. Rainmeter is open source and has a very active developer community. It basically lets you display customizable skins on your desktop that can include pretty much anything.

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Another popular set of customization tools is from a company called Stardock. One utility they sell is WindowBlinds.

This program will let you add customized skins to your desktop windows. You can then add backgrounds, textures and colors to the skin. You can adjust the fonts and create your own skins too.

They also have other customization software like Start10, Groupy, Fences, Tiles, etc. Those are probably the two most popular Windows customization tools that are still actively developed.

Overall, there aren’t a lot of shell replacements or desktop customization programs out there, which makes choosing one a bit easier. If you are using a Windows shell replacement program that I haven’t mentioned here, feel free to let us know about it in the comments. Enjoy!

Founder of Online Tech Tips and managing editor. He began blogging in 2007 and quit his job in 2010 to blog full-time. He has over 15 years of industry experience in IT and holds several technical certifications. Read Aseem’s Full Bio


List of alternative shells for Windows

This is a list of software that provides an alternative graphical user interface for Microsoft Windows operating systems. The technical term for this interface is a shell . Windows’ standard user interface is the Windows shell; Windows 3.0 and Windows 3.1x have a different shell, called Program Manager. The programs in this list do not restyle the Windows shell, but replace it; therefore, they look and function differently, and have different configuration options.


See also

The graphical user interface is a form of user interface that allows users to interact with electronic devices through graphical icons and audio indicator such as primary notation, instead of text-based user interfaces, typed command labels or text navigation. GUIs were introduced in reaction to the perceived steep learning curve of command-line interfaces (CLIs), which require commands to be typed on a computer keyboard.

Microsoft Windows was announced by Bill Gates on November 10, 1983. Microsoft introduced Windows as a graphical user interface for MS-DOS, which had been introduced a two years earlier. The product line evolved in the 1990s from an operating environment into a fully complete, modern operating system over two lines of development, each with their own separate codebase.

The history of the graphical user interface, understood as the use of graphic icons and a pointing device to control a computer, covers a five-decade span of incremental refinements, built on some constant core principles. Several vendors have created their own windowing systems based on independent code, but with basic elements in common that define the WIMP «window, icon, menu and pointing device» paradigm.

Microsoft Windows, commonly referred to as Windows, is a group of several proprietary graphical operating system families, all of which are developed and marketed by Microsoft. Each family caters to a certain sector of the computing industry. Active Microsoft Windows families include Windows NT and Windows IoT; these may encompass subfamilies, e.g. Windows Server or Windows Embedded Compact. Defunct Microsoft Windows families include Windows 9x, Windows Mobile and Windows Phone.

Qt is a free and open-source widget toolkit for creating graphical user interfaces as well as cross-platform applications that run on various software and hardware platforms such as Linux, Windows, macOS, Android or embedded systems with little or no change in the underlying codebase while still being a native application with native capabilities and speed.

Windows 95 is a consumer-oriented operating system developed by Microsoft as part of its Windows 9x family of operating systems. The first operating system in the 9x family, it is the successor to Windows 3.1x, and was released to manufacturing on August 15, 1995, and generally to retail on August 24, 1995. Windows 95 merged Microsoft’s formerly separate MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows products, and featured significant improvements over its predecessor, most notably in the graphical user interface (GUI) and in its simplified «plug-and-play» features. There were also major changes made to the core components of the operating system, such as moving from a mainly cooperatively multitasked 16-bit architecture to a 32-bit preemptive multitasking architecture, at least when running only 32-bit protected mode applications.

GNUstep is a free software implementation of the Cocoa Objective-C frameworks, widget toolkit, and application development tools for Unix-like operating systems and Microsoft Windows. It is part of the GNU Project.

In computing, a desktop environment (DE) is an implementation of the desktop metaphor made of a bundle of programs running on top of a computer operating system that share a common graphical user interface (GUI), sometimes described as a graphical shell. The desktop environment was seen mostly on personal computers until the rise of mobile computing. Desktop GUIs help the user to easily access and edit files, while they usually do not provide access to all of the features found in the underlying operating system. Instead, the traditional command-line interface (CLI) is still used when full control over the operating system is required.

In computing, a windowing system is software that manages separately different parts of display screens. It is a type of graphical user interface (GUI) which implements the WIMP paradigm for a user interface.

In computer software, an operating environment or integrated applications environment is the environment in which users run application software. The environment consists of a user interface provided by an applications manager and usually an application programming interface (API) to the applications manager.

A taskbar is an element of a graphical user interface which has various purposes. It typically shows which programs are currently running.

Windows NT 4.0 is an operating system that is part of Microsoft’s Windows NT family of operating systems. It was released to manufacturing on July 31, 1996, and was launched to retail on August 24, 1996. It was Microsoft’s primary business-oriented operating system until the introduction of Windows 2000. Workstation, server and embedded editions were sold; all editions feature a graphical user interface similar to that of Windows 95.

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Program Manager is the shell of Windows 3.x and Windows NT 3.x operating systems. This shell exposed a task-oriented graphical user interface (GUI), consisting of icons arranged into program groups. It replaced MS-DOS Executive, a file manager, as the default Windows shell.

A window manager is system software that controls the placement and appearance of windows within a windowing system in a graphical user interface. Most window managers are designed to help provide a desktop environment. They work in conjunction with the underlying graphical system that provides required functionality—support for graphics hardware, pointing devices, and a keyboard, and are often written and created using a widget toolkit.

In computing, a shell is a command-line interpreter which exposes access to an operating system’s services. In general, operating system shells use either a command-line interface (CLI) or graphical user interface (GUI), depending on a computer’s role and particular operation. It is named a shell because it is the outermost layer around the operating system.

File Manager is a file manager program bundled with releases of OS/2 and Microsoft Windows between 1990 and 1999 and available from 6 April 2018 as an optional download for all modern releases of Windows, including Windows 10.

In computing, the trash is temporary storage for files that have been deleted in a file manager by the user, but not yet permanently erased from the file system. Typically, a recycle bin is presented as a special file directory to the user, allowing the user to browse deleted (removed) files, undelete those that were deleted by mistake, or delete them permanently.

The family of Macintosh operating systems developed by Apple Inc. includes the graphical user interface-based operating systems it has designed for use with its Macintosh series of personal computers since 1984, as well as the related system software it once created for compatible third-party systems.

GNOME is a free and open-source desktop environment for Unix-like operating systems. GNOME was originally an acronym for GNU Network Object Model Environment, but the acronym was dropped because it no longer reflected the vision of the GNOME project.

The terms Pop-up notification, toast, passive pop-up, snackbar, desktop notification, notification bubble, or simply notification all refer to a graphical control element that communicates certain events to the user without forcing them to react to this notification immediately, unlike conventional pop-up windows. Desktop notifications usually disappear automatically after a short amount of time. Often their content is then stored in some widget that allows the users to access past notifications at a more convenient time.


3 программы, которые прокачают Пуск в Windows 10. Он станет удобнее и функциональнее

Меню «Пуск» — важнейшая часть Windows, с которой миллионы людей по всему миру взаимодействуют каждый день. Однако, несмотря на все улучшения в последних версиях системы, многим оно по-прежнему не нравится. Некоторые пользователи банально привыкли к «Пуску» из Windows 7 с ярлыками для папок и без плиток, пользы от которых мало. На этот случай есть достаточно сторонних утилит, что могут заменить стандартное меню «Пуск» на более функциональное.


Start10 — современное и удобное меню

Start10 — это новая утилита, разработанная специально под Windows 10 для замены стандартного «Пуска» на более компактный и красивый.

Вместо необъемлемого полотна из разноразмерных плиток, приложение предлагает пользователю компактное и привычное меню с быстрым доступом к избранным папкам и системным настройкам. Кроме этого, в отличие от других утилит эта позволяет отображать установленные программы и в виде сетки, напоминающей Windows 10X.

Пользоваться приложением легко, а с недавнего обновления Start10 получил поддержку новой белой темы одного из обновлений Windows 10. Также, пользователю доступно огромное множество предзагруженных иконок «Пуска» и отдельная галерея на случай, если стандартных будет мало.

StartIsBack — самая функциональная замена «Пуску»

StartIsBack — пожалуй, самое мощное приложение для замены стандартного меню «Пуск».

Программа кардинально меняет стандартное меню Windows 10. На место списка приложений с плитками приходит полюбившееся многим меню с панелью быстрого доступа к избранным папкам и недавним документам, а также отдельное меню с избранными программами.

В отличие от других утилит с подобным функционалом, эта может невероятно гибко настраивать внешний вид панели задач — не составит труда максимально приблизить ее к фирменному дизайну Aero из Windows 7. Кроме этого, в приложении есть много встроенных тем, а также поддержка размытия, похожего на Fluent Design последних версий Windows 10.

Open Shell — лучшее бесплатное меню для Windows

Open Shell — это отличная замена стандартного меню «Пуск» на основе исходного кода некогда популярной утилиты Classic Shell.

Одним из преимуществ перед другими приложениями будет возможность скопировать внешний вид главного меню не только из Windows 7, но и XP. Конечно, пользы от него будет мало, но чувство ностальгии вызовет у каждого. А обилие настроек и встроенных тем поможет настроить «Пуск» под любой вкус.

Кроме этого, у Open Shell нет пробного периода, как и необходимости платить за её использование.


7 Best Classic Shell Alternatives To Get Old Windows Look & Features

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There are many users who still prefer the old start menu like the predecessors of Windows 8 used to have. But unfortunately, the new Windows versions are missing the iconic start menu. To solve this issue, the developers came up with Classic Shell. With this software, you can change the start menu and taskbar and the file explorer to the old style of the Windows. But there are other Classic Shell alternatives with much better start menu styles and customization options that you can try.

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Why Classic Shell Alternatives?

Though Classic Shell has its own place, there are some drawbacks to it. It does not have much customization options in case you want some other menu styles. And as per the latest news, the developers have stopped making the updated versions and is officially discontinued. This means there will be no new features available, just the old ones.

So if you are looking for something like Classic Shell to make your Windows look like the old ones or completely different, then go through the article. We have made a list of best Classic Shell alternatives which you may like.

1. Start Button 8

Just like the Classic Shell, this application will also let you use the old school start menu on your Windows 8 or Windows 10 desktops. Not only this, it has customization options available and you can also use them with every version of Windows. After installing this software, everything will be normal as always.

But once you tap on the Windows icon in the taskbar, you will be able to see the newly added start menu option. It will have the folders and applications which you can access and a search bar just like the old ones. You can drag and drop the start menu to the desired location where you want it to be opened on the screen. This tool also allows customizing various aspects including the start menu icon as per your preferences.

2. Start Menu Modifier

This is tool will let you change the layout of your Windows start menu. In Windows 8, the start menu and the desktop have a separate window. To make it a little easy, this software will show you the start menu in the same Windows as the desktop. You can access it by clicking the Windows icon in the taskbar and customize it according to your requirements. The start menu can be on the bottom, up or with some other settings as per your desire.

3. Start Menu 8

One of the best classic shell alternatives with some very impressive customization options. You can set a start menu either in the old style or new Windows style with some customizations. Users can also change the start menu icon from the given options. I liked what they have given and I myself used the Big Hero icon. There are animations for this icon which can be seen when clicking or hovering the mouse over it.

Apart from this, you can set hotkeys for some of the Windows tasks, change the user interface and select which applications should appear on the start menu. You can set settings like when the mouse pointer is taken over pictures or any other folder in the menu then whether it should show expanded folders or not; just like a hierarchical tree form in old Windows menu.

4. Open Shell

This application is similar to Classic Shell and all the features are also common between them. Open shell was formerly known as Classic start. Just like Classic shell, with this application, you can change the layout of your start menu to the old style with all the similar features and functions. Not only this you can also change the file explorer appearance to the one of Windows XP or Vista or set hotkeys or combination keys for various Windows actions.

5. Start 10

Yet another Classic shell alternative specifically for Windows 10 start menu replacement. It will let you change the start menu into Windows 7 style. You can quickly access most of the universal applications and programs from this start menu. Like every other tool, it also has some editing options available to make it more like your type. If you use multiple desktops then it can set one main start button on one of them for every connected desktop.

6. Startisback

Like the above-mentioned applications, Startisback will also let you customize the start menu on your Windows 8 or 10. As the software is finished installing, you will be able to use the start menu even with the keyboard Windows button unlike most of the softwares on this list. If you want to access the startscreen then you can select it from the start menu at the top.

You can change the appearance of the start menu style, taskbar and the start buttons from the given options. It can even let you set hot corners. Here when you take the mouse to a corner then a dedicated Windows action like taking a snap, or recent applications etc. can be set. You can also select the program to be displayed in the menu as per your choice.

7. Skip Metro Suite

People look for these softwares through which operating on Windows 8 or higher can be a little less messy. There are so many options available that one can easily get confused. So to make the current Windows easy to use without getting annoyed we have Skip Metro suite. Though it will not make changes to your existing start menu or taskbars like the softwares mentioned above. But you can disable some of the functions of Windows 8 like the App Switcher, sidebar and a few more. This way you can still use the latest Windows without banging your head.

Just like Classic Shell, these applications will let you change the appearance of your Windows. Not only that, you can customize them as you want and change the different aspects as per your requirements. It will also make the usage of new Windows very easy which can be a little hard to operate or understand quickly.


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