Windows 11 - first round of desktop usability tweaks

Updated: August 25, 2021

Welcome to my Windows 11 purification guide. I reviewed the Dev build some time ago, I noticed a whole bunch of problems and inconsistencies, and then kept on using the new operating system for a while since, and with each update, I like it less and less. It's getting more and more of that Windows 8 feel, which means stuff that no one needs or asks for being added, because.

Since I value my intelligence and time so much, I felt a keen need to write an article and show you how to undo most of the "modern" and useless features in Windows 11, so you can have a decent, efficient desktop experience, without any lost productivity. This means tweaking the system menu, adding shortcuts to the taskbar, removing useless programs, reverting the Explorer functionality to how it should be, and then some. Please note, everything I write here may change or become irrelevant, because Windows 11 is still in its preview phase, and therefore, some of the options and settings here may never reach the production state. For the time being, enjoy this guide.

Teaser

Move the Start menu to the left

By default, the menu is positioned in the center, which makes no sense in Windows. Settings, Personalization, Taskbar. Expand the sub-section named Taskbar behaviors, and here, select Left under Taskbar alignment. The change is immediate.

Menu on the left

Change the new Windows 11 menu to classic (Windows 10) look

As I've outlined in my review, the new menu has tons of problems. It's rather useless. And just like the Start Screen in Windows 8, it introduces unnecessary mouse clicks. Want to see all your apps, you must click on that button in the top-right corner, even if you have zero pinned apps.

Empty

An example of what the menu looks like without pinned apps or recommendation. And it STILL never goes to your list of apps, even if this entire screen is empty. Talk about bad design and useless clicks. Just like the Start Screen in Windows 8. Exactly like that. EXACTLY. A useless overlay, and then extra clicks to get to what people actually care about. Ten years, and a new generation of marketing folks and devs are making the same mistakes again.

And then, when you do switch to All apps, things are equally bad - just look at that useless width:

Menu too wide

To work around this problem, we need to look at two things:

In the first Dev release, it is (was) possible to switch to the menu as it is in Windows 10 through a registry hack, followed by a reboot. The path you need to open is:

HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced

Here, in the right pane, right-click > create new DWORD, name it Start_ShowClassicMode, and set its integer value to 1. I hoped this path would stay around, because I see no reasonable way the new menu can be used without losing IQ points by the dozens each time.

Classic menu path

However, this does NOT work in the latest build. Just like in Windows 8, Microsoft first allowed users to completely disable the Start Screen, and then, in one of the later preview builds, they took the option away, and left the users with a nonsense, low-IQ solution. The same thing is happening here. Exactly the same. The history repeat itself. 100% repeats itself. The Windows 10 menu ain't perfect, but it's more efficient than this nonsense in Windows 11.

Alas, in the latest build, the registry hack above does not work. So the solution is to use Open-Shell, which is the reincarnation of Classic Shell, an awesome piece of software that gives users the ability to have a normal menu, minus any of the low-IQ stuff. Thus, we fight intellectual inferiority.

Open-Shell

At the moment, Open-Shell does not integrate perfectly with Windows 11, but it works fine. I hope the existing issues will be polished, and by the time Windows 11 launches officially, smart people will be able to use an alternative to the extra-click nonsense, and not have to deal with any useless or pointless "pinned" apps or "recommendations" for people who can barely count to seven without getting confused. Very soon, I shall also follow up with a guide showing you how to tweak Open-Shell for best use in this new operating system.

Show Desktop icon in the taskbar, on the left side

This thing reminds me of the exercise I had to do in Gnome, to create a custom Show desktop launcher. A convolution that is unnecessary, but alas, that's life. The sad thing is, Show desktop actually exists as a shortcut under Quick Launch, but you cannot pin it to the taskbar.

Quick Launch

We will do like we did in my tutorial on how to create pinned icon shortcuts to random folders in Explorer. The basic principle is the same, with some interesting modifications. To wit:

Pin to taskbar

Pinned

At this point, there are two options before us - depending on whether there is an EXISTING Show Desktop shortcut in the Quick Launch directory, as shown in the screenshot above. Let's assume the file does not exist for the moment.

[Shell]
Command=2
IconFile=explorer.exe,3
[Taskbar]
Command=ToggleDesktop

%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User pinned\Taskbar

Properties

"%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch\User pinned\Taskbar\Show Desktop.scf"

Icon

Added

If the Show Desktop shortcut already exists in the top-level directory under Quick Launch (as it often does by default), you can then simply edit the path in the Target line to point to that rather than your custom created Show Desktop.scf file.

Lastly, you can do another trick, and that's the following Target line:

%windir%\explorer.exe shell:::{3080F90D-D7AD-11D9-BD98-0000947B0257}

Old Explorer behavior

I have already shown you the "new" Explorer, which looks ugly and useless, and also does not respect my accent color selection. You can make Windows use the classic (Windows 10) looks. Launch Explorer, select options. Then, under View, select Launch folder windows in a separate process.

Explorer

Furthermore, in more recent Dev builds, the Explorer icons/shortcuts, including any custom pinned ones, launch the new explorer rather than the old one. Once again, this makes for an ugly usecase, because the new Explorer does not use accent color, so there's no separation between foreground and background windows. More modern development hipsterology nonsense.

New Explorer

Ugly, low-resolution, pale nonsense that does not respect my accent color. Another modern turdling.

The solution is to create a registry key. Start regedit. Navigate to:

HKLM\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Shell Extensions

Here, in the left pane, right click on Shell Extensions > New Key, and call it Blocked. Select it, then in the right pane, create a new string named:

{e2bf9676-5f8f-435c-97eb-11607a5bedf7}

Old Explorer behavior

Close regedit. Reboot. And enjoy normal, sane Explorer behavior, with the old styling and normal use of the accent color, as intended. One more problem nailed.

Explorer fixed

Finally, reduce the icon spacing if you want. Explorer > Options > Decrease space ...

Icon spacing

Remove "chat" from your system

In one of the many Dev build updates, I suddenly discovered a new icon on my taskbar. Not only was it something I haven't added, it was also audaciously the FIRST icon on the left - not the far end of the taskbar, oh no. Turns out, Microsoft decided to add Teams (Preview) into Windows 11. First, I didn't ask for it, but okay. Second, I didn't ask for it to pollute my taskbar. Third, I sure didn't ask for it to be added to my Startup list!

We're seeing stuff from the Windows XP era brought into 2021, in every shape and fashion. Back in the day, Windows XP had Messenger, and it allowed you to chat with friends and colleagues. The only problem was, it was mostly used to spam people, and as a convenient vector of infection if you didn't have your firewall turned on, which very few people had in the pre-SP2 era. Then, in those days, there was a term for stuff that was added to your programs and made run on startup without your consent. Oh right.

Chat added

And so, here's the sad thing. I don't mind Teams. I used it. It's a very decent program. Really.

But after this nonsense? It's on my blacklist. Never to be used again.

This is a good lesson in how not to win friends and alienate customers. New stuff isn't a problem. A chat problem isn't a problem, either. But forcing it onto users like this, that's too much. Foot-in-the-door sales tactics? Miss me with that nonsense. Does this remind you of anything? Yes, OneDrive stuff. Guess what else is blacklisted on me boxen?

Teams added to startup list

Remove Teams

Teams removed

How to get rid of useless extras in one easy step!

Lock screen

Lastly, make sure there are no unnecessary distractions on your lock screen. Remove fun facts, tips and other nonsense, and change the screen status to None. There's no reason whatsoever why anything should be shown on the lock screen - the idea is to HIDE your desktop and make it inaccessible to others, do you pin sticky notes on the door of your house? Plus, why would you use the so-called modern apps on the desktop? They bring no value or efficiency. They are touch-optimized, meaning inferior desktop experience.

Lock screen

Conclusion

If someone tells you "embrace the change", "move with the times", or "learn new ways", remind them that fads come and go, and that you can also learn new things working in a penal colony in the sub-arctic, that does not mean it's a useful way of spending one's time. Measure efficiency. That's all. Perhaps people who embrace the whole "inspiring" "modernology" may have nothing better to do with their lives, but if you are keen on being productive, you need dem tweaks.

I am sad and angry to even have to write this guide, but hey. The bigger problem remains the Janus personality of Microsoft development. Some truly awesome and state-of-the-art stuff, like say EMET or Exploit Protection or Visual Studio, side by side with some rather useless stuff, like these desktop shenanigans. I loved Windows Phone, I loved my Lumia phones, but then NONE of the solutions used there work on the classic PC. But it's okay. Let Microsoft make money off the normies and their low-IQ needs, I'll enjoy my dividend some day, and everyone will be happy. For the time being, we've got these tech tips to keep the experience sufferable. Bye bye.

Cheers.

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