Looking for good desktop / shell replacement programs for Windows? For those of you who feel the need for customization, an alternative shell to the Windows shell is one possible solution.
So what exactly is shell replacement? Basically, it is a program that integrates with Windows and replaces the default shell. The shell is the graphical interface that you use to launch programs or view files, etc.
By replacing the skin, you can completely change the look of the GUI. Typically, when replacing the Windows shell, users are looking for more control and customization than Windows provides.
In addition, many shells use fewer resources than the default shell. There used to be many different shell replacement programs, but for some reason almost all of them stalled.
Instead, there seems to be more desktop customization utilities currently out there than shell replacers. I will also mention some of the most popular Windows 10 GUI customization programs.
In this article, I will list the active and paused projects that are the best shell replacement for Windows. All shells are easy to remove if you don’t like them, which is good.
CarioShell is the only modern and active alternative to the Windows shell that allows you to quickly access files and programs from the desktop.
It kind of makes your Windows desktop look more like a Mac OS X desktop. It can’t be customized or anything, but it gives your desktop a unique look.
Classic shell (discontinued)
Classic Shell was active until the end of 2017, but after 8 long years, the developer stopped working on it. Hopefully someone will pick it up for it, because it is definitely one of the best shell replacements.
As the name suggests, it can give Windows a classic look over earlier versions. In addition, it is highly customizable, which is essential if you are replacing the entire Windows shell. Since the last stable release was only released in 2017, it still works great on Windows 10, 8, 7, etc.
Emerge Desktop (Discontinued)
Emerge Desktop was probably one of the most popular Windows replacement shells before it stopped development in 2015. It replaces Windows Explorer, the taskbar, the start button, and more.
Another good alternative to the shell is Sharpenviro It works on Windows XP, Vista and 7. You can create multiple toolbars similar to the Windows taskbar, but you can customize them and they can also include real-time information like CPU monitoring, taking notes, getting weather reports, etc.
You can also customize pretty much anything that is the hallmark of a good shell replacement program. Sharpenviro also supports multiple monitors, which is very important these days as many people have more than one monitor. You can also create virtual desktops to manage your desktop windows.
LiteStep was another great desktop replacement for your Windows PC. Just install it and then proceed with installing themes, scripts or modules. You can customize your desktop in a variety of ways, all open source and free.
Using LiteStep with some modules requires a little more technical experience than some other programs, but it can do whatever you want if you get into it.
LiteStep has been around for a very long time, and the last release was in 2011, that is, quite a long time ago. It probably won’t work with Windows 10. However, themes and modules are still being updated / created by users.
Talisman Desktop (Discontinued)
Talisman Dekstop is a commercial shell replacement that has a large number of themes that you can download to completely customize your desktop environment. You can create layered desktops, desktop panels, and more.
With a little self-learning, you can customize the taskbar, taskbar, clock, start menu, explorer interface, and more. Only works up to Windows 7.
Aston Shell (defunct)
AstonShell is definitely not my favorite shell replacement program, but for some it might be great! If you really like certain themes like Christmas or Disney, etc., you can use AstonShell to download all kinds of crazy themes and transform your desktop into whatever you like.
This is definitely not for those looking for a minimalist or modern look. Plus, AstonShell isn’t free, so you’ll have to shell out $ 30 if you really want to turn your desktop into something crazy. Also, it hasn’t been updated since 2010, which is eons ago!
For those of you who like a minimalist desktop look, bbLean is a good choice. It hasn’t been updated since 2009, but many people still love to use it due to its simple graphical interface. But as is the case with most shell replacement programs, new themes are always created.
Desktop customization tools
As you can see, there are not so many active shell replacement programs. Instead, there are still a decent amount of desktop customization tools. These programs allow you to change the appearance of the desktop, taskbar, start menu, and more, just like when replacing the shell.
One of the most popular desktop customization tools is Rainmeter Rainmeter is open source and has a very active developer community. Basically, it allows you to display custom skins on your desktop, which can include anything.
Another popular set of tuning tools from Stardock. They sell the WindowBlinds utility.
This program will allow you to add custom skins to your desktop windows. Then you can add backgrounds, textures and colors to the skin. You can customize fonts and create your own skins.
They also have other customization software such as Start10, Groupy, Fences, Tiles, etc. These are probably two of the most popular Windows customization tools still under active development.
Overall, there aren’t many shell replacement or desktop customization programs out there, making the choice a little easier. If you are using a Windows shell replacement program that I did not mention here, feel free to let us know in the comments. Enjoy!