Windows

Five cool alternatives to the Windows 7 desktop shell

Introduction

Some users think that the Windows Explorer shell is a fine desktop. But if you've played around in the land of Linux for a while, that less-than-flexible Explorer interface may not work for you. One solution is to install a replacement Explorer shell. There are plenty of shells to choose from, some open source, some proprietary. Here's a rundown of five of the most appealing choices.

Note: If you'd prefer to view this information as a blog post, check out this entry in our Five Apps blog.

Photo: iStockphoto.com/TopStep2005TopStep2005

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

48 comments
anbusi
anbusi

When are you planning to give us a full page option instead of 90's slideshows?

ITassasin
ITassasin

The ones that don't look like win7 are horrid..think i'll say stock

bobc4012
bobc4012

It would be better to make a downloadable PDF file (or at least a HTML/text file that I can copy with a "copy and paste). I find slide shows to be a PITA - especially when there are more than 2 (I was going to say 1, but I feel generous today).

aiellenon
aiellenon

The newest version of bblean was released in 2009 and xoblite's newest version is from 2005

doveman
doveman

That's because cans haven't been updated and made incompatible with your 'P-38', whereas OS get updated constantly and sometimes other software no longer works properly/does strange things unless it is also updated.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I don't get the significance. So an app is no longer under development; if it still works, what's the problem? A 'P-38' can opener from C-rations will still open cans.

doveman
doveman

Thanks for wasting my time telling me about stuff that's either not free or is years out of development!

Phaolan
Phaolan

I would have liked to try the SharpEnviro Shell, but according to their website, they stopped work on it back in December.

jpreza1
jpreza1

Reading this on a mobile device is very uncomfortable. I've been deterred from reading past articles as a result of this. I guess it's TR's method of encouragement to use their mobile app.

blueberry606
blueberry606

When are you guys going to post a proper story? Come on, refresh for every pic?

miguelguzman
miguelguzman

I too agree the slideshows on TR suck. It makes no sense to reload an entire page to just go to the next picture. It should be more like Facebook or many web sites out there. Coming from a technology site, this is too ironic and very disappointing.

netadmin
netadmin

Meh, I don't see the point in any of this. I do understand the importance of a desktop manager for Linux, but a replacement manager for windows - really? Just make a toolbar, or pin links to taskbar / start. Click the shortcut. Program running, job done.

mike_living
mike_living

I tried Window Blinds for XP & Vista and ran into occasional lockup problems. Didn't have the luxury of time to address the issues so I backed away from it. It looks like SharpEnviro is no longer going to have support. Their site states the following: "As of december 2011 the SharpEnviro project is no longer under active development. All files provided come without any warranty or support!" So if you want to experiment and have the older OS such as XP or Vista, you can give it a try. Personally XP or Vista is configurable enough and doesn't lead you down the support path rat hole some of these fanciful alternatives propose. A simple way to speed up the XP desktop without changing hardware is to make sure your wallpaper file size is small. It's certainly best to keep it under 1 MB. You can also switch to Classic view and change colors to what you want which keeps the performance demand low.

thephlipside
thephlipside

This post was sent to me in in the TR Daily Digest. Some of this stuff isn't even in development any more. The xoblite page doesn't seem to have been updated since Dec. 2005. They're still bragging about being on TechTV.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

I ain't gonna waste time clicking thru jpgs. Print info and let me read it quickly.

DeepField
DeepField

I just checked the websites for the last two recommendations: bbLean's last update was in 2009, and Xoblite's was in 2005! I don't know whether the author checked them on his computer, or just googled-copied-and-pasted what he found, but I am very hesitant to install a 2005 program on a computre that is four OS versions newer...

psobol
psobol

ShareEnviro while still free is no longer supported and does not guarantee it will work with Windows 7 SP1. Aston Shell offers a free trial download and has other offerings to add to the desktop "shell".

dhays
dhays

what the SHELL is supposed to do, but it looks like it clutters the desktop so much one cannot see the picture. I never use the desktop interface anyway why should I go for such a cluttered display? If it is a commonly used program (MsOffice for instance or a specific office file) I put them in the quick launch toolbar. I will sometimes add the destop toolbar for programs that are present there, but in no way do I want all that stuff cluttering my desktop! Some of those things look like a remote control, without clarification, I don't know what the littel pictures/icons refer to. I don't hav W7 to play with much except on my wife's laptop. Can't mess with it too much! XP Media Center on my desktop and the laptop I inherited from my daughter has XP as well.

ShadowSpawnOFCS
ShadowSpawnOFCS

"You won't be adding widgets and new and improved menus with WindowBlinds." If you get the entire Object Desktop suite instead of just the WindowBlinds component, it has tools for replacing menus, customizing dialogs, keyboard shortcuts, docks, gadgets, not to mention animated desktops, icon editors, virtual desktops, and a dozen other tools; $49.95 for the whole package.

jimmeq
jimmeq

Sharpenviro project closed December 2011. When was this slideshow written?

JayhawkJoe
JayhawkJoe

I too am sick of the slide shows. I would like to see one long page that I can just scroll through to read and view. Thank you.

danny
danny

We have reached the point where content is no longer important. We would rather have dancing bears and Flash content instead of actual content. But what do I know; I'm just an old green-screener?

Freetime000
Freetime000

Poor examples aside I too am sick and tired of the Slideshow Galleries on TR. Reloading an entire page for each picture is riduclous and looks like banner reload scam.

BillGates_z
BillGates_z

These are the absolutely worst ways th present this kind of information, yet TR does it over and over - WTF

mark.cooper
mark.cooper

I expect the folks that like Linux on computers and Android on phones/tablets would be attracted to this 'super customizable' eye candy. I spend most of my time using my core programs, not getting to them, let alone playing with the shell UI.

jimwebb9
jimwebb9

I'm surprised no mention was made of Stardock's variety of shell replacements- DesktopX, Object Desktop, Tiles, Fences... with a subscription to Object Desktop you can basically 'roll your own' and make Windows dance any way you want it to. WindowBlinds is the least of them.

Cynyster
Cynyster

I have used Windows Blinds for a while but not recently. (up until Vista came along) Windws Blinds is a seriously cool "Theme" switcher but I never really saw it as a "SHELL" To my way of thinking a "shell" replaces the windows experience rather than enhances it. (Don't get me wrong I loved window blinds it just was to much of a drag on my graphics card(s) ) I even messed around with LiteStep (which I didn't see mentioned here.. perhaps it is no longer in development) Most of the time, I found that replacing the shell caused more trouble than the "Coolness" was worth.

cavehomme1
cavehomme1

I would like to have the Windows XP shell on my Win 7 HP. Where could I get it, or the nearest alternative - and I don't mean the "windows classic" already provided which is not the same thing?

mike.smith
mike.smith

why on earth would anyone want to make the awesome windows explorer interface look like the really nastly linux one i just dont get it lol//

nomadtech
nomadtech

As of december 2011 the SharpEnviro project is no longer under active development. All files provided come without any warranty or support! It is uncertain if or how well the previously released versions of SharpEnviro will work with any new or updated Windows system after Windows 7 Service Pack 1. [...]

Mike Lonewolf
Mike Lonewolf

Actually Jack, if you download the add on package you can create more desktops with Stardock skinning, and if you incorporate GIMP even more.

a69grunt
a69grunt

The link below the introduction clearly reads - Note: If you'd prefer to view this information as a blog post, check out this entry in our Five Apps blog.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

OS and app updates can be easily applied for free; did you mean upGRADES? By the time support is dropped, the kind of problems you're talking about have usually all been patched. But say an OS or app problem crops up; use System Restore or other backup to put the OS back as it was. Upgrades aren't necessary unless you want to add new features. In that case, yes, you may need to upgrade the OS. But as long as you're working satisfactorily, you shouldn't need to.

a69grunt
a69grunt

The link below the introduction clearly reads - Note: If you'd prefer to view this information as a blog post, check out this entry in our Five Apps blog.

a69grunt
a69grunt

The link below the introduction clearly reads - Note: If you'd prefer to view this information as a blog post, check out this entry in our Five Apps blog.

a69grunt
a69grunt

The link below the introduction clearly reads - Note: If you'd prefer to view this information as a blog post, check out this entry in our Five Apps blog.

a69grunt
a69grunt

The link below the introduction clearly reads - Note: If you'd prefer to view this information as a blog post, check out this entry in our Five Apps blog.

Fireboss
Fireboss

The slideshow isn't your only alternative. Simply click the link on the first page of the post that clearly offers you a blog instead of a slide show. So, if you don't like it don't use it. Obviously some - enough to be significant - do like them. I personally find them shallow and not very informative. However complaining about something you are not required to use, costs you nothing and cause no harm to anyone is just a waste of time and energy.

a69grunt
a69grunt

Who's the stupidest shit ever that can't see the link below the introduction? It clearly reads - Note: If you'd prefer to view this information as a blog post, check out this entry in our Five Apps blog.

thoiness
thoiness

These are technically not "shell replacements." Shell replacements are shells that completely replace the explorer.exe process for a completely new GUI. Stardock does not have a product that does this. So technically speaking, the Stardock example in the images is incorrect for this slide show.

Mike Lonewolf
Mike Lonewolf

Jim? I asked the editor of this story if he HAD indeed used Stardock AKA Object Desktop, in the VERY first reply.

SirWizard
SirWizard

I use Classic Shell from sourceforge.net on my 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate. + It's a free download. + It provides the classic start menu that looks and acts like XP. + It offers a Windows Explorer toolbar with lots of really nice enhancements. + It has lots of custom settings so you can choose how it should look and work. + It's easy to configure the settings. When I click or hover over Start, my classic XP-style menu shows all the right things: app folders and apps that expand out with a click or a hover. The settings enable me to choose particular items to display as either a link or a menu, or not at all. I can set the menu, hover, and infotip delays. And the submenu column behavior, item order (with separators), and other Start menu features, as well as a backup/restore feature for saving all the settings to an XML file. But wait, there's more! Classic Shell provides a Windows Explorer toolbar with plenty of options that enable you to set it right. For example, my address bar always displays a regular backslash-delimited path instead of breadcrumbs. (I hate that breadcrumb interface, but you can set it if you like it.) I have the beloved Up-One-Level arrow. I have individual buttons for View details, View tiles, View large icons, and View extra large icons, so each option is available with a simple single click. (They're great for reviewing folders full of pictures.) There are plenty more configurable features and options. Download Classic Shell. You will like it.

ricegf
ricegf

Why on earth would anyone want to take an incredibly flexible and powerful Linux interface and paste it on top of nasty Windows 7 I just don't get. /mirror-troll ;-)

meronbar
meronbar

As for me, Aston be my shell at work from Windows NT 4 and till i forced to remove them by corp. policy few years above. But about your question - Aero GUI make my eyes feel sick very fast, and without them, W7 look just pure as they previous reincarnations.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I agree completely, but you can't tell some folks anything. They'd rather complain. TR does forget to include a non-slideshow version occasionally, but this wasn't one of those occasions.

jimwebb9
jimwebb9

I missed your comment, oh well