Updated: March 21, 2020
Some weeks ago, I encountered the Windows 10 black-screen search bug while setting up a new computer, just before I managed to put in the tweak that disables any sort of online search functionality. This was a silly bug that shouldn't have happened, and a day later, I would have missed it. But it got me thinking. Maybe it's time to re-explore Classic Shell?
Classic Shell was the one tool that allowed me to use Windows 8, without having to go through the chromosomally challenged full-screen Start Screen that was supposed to be the new rage of touchified nonsense in the desktop space. Then, I discovered that Classic Shell had ceased development. But there's a fork available, called Open-Shell, and it's also supposed to work on Windows 10. So I started testing.
Get up, set up
The installation is trivial. Once it finishes, the first time you activate the Windows menu, you'll see the Open-Shell configuration menu. At this point, it runs in simple mode, with fewer options exposed to the end user, and it focuses on helping you choose the right layout. You can go for classique or more modern style, and there are several skins available to help you achieve that. None of the layouts mimic Windows 10. Instead, the latest Windows-like layout you get is Windows 7, perhaps with the Windows 8 color palette.
I wasn't too sure about the initial look and feel. I mean, yes, not bad. You can have Metro style with reduced transparency, but I had no pinned slash favorite applications shown, and the menu color was different from the taskbar. Which means, it's time to exercise some of them advanced options.
Tweaking, polishing, perfection
I enabled the Show all settings option, and then went for it. The thing is, the process can be rather overwhelming. In most cases, you won't need to change much. But there are some useful extras you should consider. For example, there's the whole Search the Internet setting. Not sure what this is meant to be.
You can also enable the options to show recent and frequent apps in the menu - this is regardless of what you have configured in Windows 10. So even if you don't want the standard Windows 10 Start menu to show any usage, Open-Shell can do this separately. You can also always manually pin apps as you see fit.
Then, menu skin color. Again, very easy to change. Just search for the string color with the Show all settings checkbox enabled. It will allow you to override the menu glass color. Best, you also have the Taskbar color for reference, and you can actually click on the color rectangle and use the color chart to manually select whatever hue you fancy. I decided to match the color of the two elements.
And there you have it - recent apps at the top, pinned apps below, color match, everything. Sweet.
Another thing is - Open-Shell also lets you have a more classic Window Explorer, if you will. You can choose this component during the installation. Then, once it's installed, if you don't like it, you can simply turn it off, and your Windows Explorer won't be touched or changed in any way.
That said, the Open-Shell toolbar is actually quite practical. Now, for some weird reason, it was placed on the right side for me rather than left, go figure. However, this is easy to change. Right click to unlock, then drag the toolbar to the left (or remove it altogether, if you're unhappy).
I then decided to explore (get it, explore) the settings, and predictably, Open-Shell has it all. First, the basics, but then, you can also toggle the Show all settings options, and then really go wild. I was able to customize the toolbar to my liking, including the position of different buttons, separators and then some. Really useful, as you can have a powerful and accessible quick-action bar right there, something that Windows 10 does not have, other than a massive and rather busy ribbon, that is. In fact, the removal of the New Folder button, the way it was in the rather cushty Windows 7, to what's currently a small button in the window titlebar, is a big productivity hit. Yes, you can move the quick-access bar below the ribbon, but it's still too small. You need to be far more precise with the mouse cursor, and that bleeds away precious time. Not so with Open-Shell.
Open-Shell is an excellent menu replacement for any which Windows version you like. If you're not in the mood for the whole online search nonsense and associated bugs, tiles and whatever, or the fact you need to tie in so-called modern app usage with the ability to simply show recently used programs, then Open-Shell offers a superb alternative. You have great freedom in altering the look & feel, so you end up with a jolly handsome menu.
Then, you can also add a toolbar to your Window Explorer, for extra productivity. With (large) and easily clickable shortcuts for common actions, you can enhance your efficiency. It's so much easier to aim at the big toolbar in the middle top of the screen than tiny, narrowly spaced icons in the titlebar - to say nothing of the fact you can easily miss. All in all, you can't beat the classic desktop formula. The modern solutions, anything to do with touch, simply fails the simple efficiency test. With that in mind, I suggest you take Open-Shell for a spin, and explore its many useful, practical and productivity-focused aspects. Take care.