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Replacing Windows Desktop: Alternative Shell Overview

Sooner or later, each user has a desire to improve the appearance of Windows, adjust it to your taste, or optimize the performance of routine operations. Well, and since the capabilities of the standard Explorer for these purposes are not enough, it is best to use alternative Windows shells. The most interesting of them are presented in this article.

Object Desktop

"Heavyweight" in the area of ​​shell replacements (the official name of such shells) - both in functionality and in size and price. In fact, this is a whole complex of programs for the total customization of the appearance of Windows. Its main components are WindowBlinds, a well-known program for customizing the graphical user interface, DesktopX Desktop Replacement, tools for creating pop-up menus, hot keys, panels (ObjectBar) and visual effects (WindowFX), various cursors (CursorXP) and Desktop themes ( WinStyles). Since in this case we are interested in an alternative to the Windows Desktop, we will focus on DesktopX and WindowBlinds.

DesktopX is not a self-contained shell - rather, it is a themes and skins manager for the Desktop. With it, you can also create your own desktop objects, be it shortcuts to applications, folders, or simply decorative items ranging in size from 16 16 to 64 64 dots with the possibility of animating them. Additional topics can be downloaded from www.wincustomize.com or you can create them yourself using Winstyles utility from the same company.

WindowBlinds - one of the most popular programs for changing the GUI of Windows. Thanks to it, it is easy to "remake" the OS interface under Mac OS, Windows XP and 3.11, etc., using ready-made skins or creating them yourself (in SkinStudio). The registered version of WindowBlinds provides additional settings for the taskbar, scrolling, etc., and more supported programs. Unfortunately, the latest version of the program - 4.1 - works only with Windows 2000 / XP, and for owners of 98 / Me only 3.5 is available.

Yes, and at the end, I must mention another nuance of Object Desktop: all its components can be downloaded separately on the developer’s website www.stardock.com . If you want to install them at the same time, then you need to register for free in the Stardock.net zone and download the Stardock Central utility, with which you can install the Object Desktop modules you are interested in.
Object Desktop
Thanks to a set of utilities Object Desktop, the OS interface is easy to "remake" under Mac OS, Windows XP and 3.11, etc.
Price - $ 49.95
Developer Stardock Corporation
Www.objectdesktop.net website
+   Self-sufficient set of utilities for total customization of the appearance of Windows
-   High price; there is no common trial version for all program components
!   The easiest and fastest way to transform the look of Windows, however, and the most expensive


LiteStep v. 0.24.6

The undoubted leader among the large cohort of free alternative Windows shells. The program allows you to completely change the appearance and functionality of the graphical user interface (GUI) of Windows, which is not available when working in Explorer. But nothing in this world is free, and in this case LiteStep has to pay for the functionality and beauty of an absolutely non-intuitive program configuration - by editing text files.

So, with the disadvantages sort of figured out, it's time to move on to the merits of the program. The most important of them is its modular structure, which allows you to connect to it all sorts of plug-ins created by third-party developers. Due to this, all the power of LiteStep is realized - for example, the modules of "hot keys", the command line or the context menu (which, in terms of functionality, are head and shoulders above their counterparts from the standard Windows shell), the virtual desktop manager and much more. However, sometimes with the work of some plug-ins, something is not "glued", but there's nothing you can do about it - that's what the open-source project is about.

Naturally, it was not done without a huge number of very different topics - by the way, you can create them yourself. Thanks to the incredible flexibility of the settings and the maximum freedom of creativity provided to the user, the themes differ extremely from one another - it is often understood that LiteStep is just in front of you only by digging through the insides of the shell, since you cannot say this by its appearance.

Thus, LiteStep will be a reasonable alternative to Explorer for advanced users who are not afraid to manually edit text files with the program settings; inexperienced in this case it is necessary to study in detail a very voluminous help system ...
Object Desktop
Thanks to a set of utilities Object Desktop, the OS interface is easy to "remake" under Mac OS, Windows XP and 3.11, etc.
Freeware
Developer LiteStep Development Team
Website www.litestep.net
File size 1.1 MB
+   Free; modular structure; great functionality
-   Not very user-friendly interface; setting by editing text files
!   An excellent choice for fans of fine-tuning the system "by itself"


Win3D build 2000

A very unusual shell that translates your Desktop into the real 3D thing. Forget about the usual desktop and native Main Menu - instead, Win3D offers four “rooms” (Internet, Office, Games, Multimedia), where the user-selected applications are located. So, the Office compartment contains three-dimensional shortcuts of popular office programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint ...) that accurately reflect their function: for Excel this is a diagram, for Word it is a sheet of paper, and the Basket has a hatch on the floor. Right there in the form of boxes are the labels of frequently used folders ( My Documents , Desktop , Program Files , logical disks, etc.) and in the neighborhood - screen settings, keyboard layouts, mouse and peripherals.

An unforgettable impression is made by the Game department, made in the form of a three-section hemisphere, on the inner surface of which the game labels are located. The Internet contains Favorites links, shortcuts for calling the mail client and browser, and the Multimedia section is devoted to the corresponding software installed on the user's PC. Well, one of the “walls” of Win3D can be adapted for slideshows of “wallpapers” and photos, not to mention the instantaneous change of color of any interface component. Unfortunately, with all its attractive appearance to use this shell in everyday work, to put it mildly, is not very convenient. But just “traveling” from the compartment to the compartment is a real pleasure, so everyone is recommended to look at Win3D.
Win3D build 2000
Using Win3D shell in daily work is not very convenient, but just “traveling” from compartment to compartment is a real pleasure.
Freeware
Developer Clockwise Technologies
Website www.clockwise3d.com
Download size 2.27 MB
+   Original concept; three-dimensional interface
-   Mediocre texture quality; lack of program updates; inconvenience of use
!   Not the best way to make your desktop three-dimensional.


Hoverdesk v. 2.50

A very nice replacement for the standard Windows Desktop. The grouping on the taskbar of all windows of a single application (a la Windows XP) and a perfectly implemented menu compare favorably with other Hoverdesk programs. It offers a user-friendly, easily customizable interface, a system resource monitor with a built-in RAM optimizer, by the way, very efficient, as well as a virtual desktop manager. The latter, it seems, has become a kind of "calling card" of most alternative shells. Special context deserves the context menu of the program, which provides access not only to the folders of the Main menu, but also to any file or directory on the logical or removable drives of the computer. Moreover, in contrast to the Windows menu, in the Hoverdesk submenu or the contents of the folder "falls out" only after a mouse click on the corresponding menu item. It may take a little more time, but it guarantees the absence of annoying “collapses” of the whole “multi-storey structure” at the most inappropriate moment. Of course, there is a change of skins, and detailed settings for each element of the interface (choice of font, textures, buttons, etc.) along with Cyrillic support. True, in some unofficial topics errors may occur when displaying Cyrillic characters, but this is not so bad. By the way, although the authors of the program, in the first place, position it as a "add-on" over Windows, it is quite possible to work with it as an independent shell. To do this, you need to download any shell manager (for example, ShellOn, www.dx13.co.uk/shellon/index.html ).
Hoverdesk v. 2.50
From the other Hoverdesk programs, the grouping on the taskbar of all windows of one application (a la Windows XP) and the excellently implemented menu compare favorably.
Shareware (30 days trial, registration - $ 19.95)
Developer Hover
Website www.verdesk.net
Download size 3.5 MB
URL www.hoverdesk.net/dl/en/HDsetup.zip
+   Convenient menu; grouping windows of one application on the taskbar; good functionality
-   Full version paid; the program is not a self-contained shell
!   Successful replacement of Windows Desktop. Unfortunately, paid


Winstep

Winstep, like Hoverdesk, is a kind of "add-on" over Windows Desktop, successfully complementing its functions. The program consists of three modules: NextStart, WorkShelf and Font Browser. As in the case of Object Desktop, each of them can be downloaded and purchased separately, but in order to use all the features of the program, it is advisable to use them together. WorkShelf is a replacement for the taskbar, quick launch and systray. It consists of 6 departments: Main (the actual settings of the program and the Recycle Bin ), Desktop (all the application shortcuts from the Desktop are here), Control Panel, Quick Launch and Tasks. The basket and the clock are presented in the form of separate modules with the possibility of flexible adjustment of their appearance.

NextStart, in turn, "complements" the main menu and taskbar, making working with them even more convenient. As in Hoverdesk, here you can quickly get to the desired file or folder on the media directly from the Main Menu. Font Browser is a handy utility for viewing installed fonts in the system and is not directly related to the two components described above. Both NextStart and WorkShelf are extremely flexible in customization, which makes it possible to adapt them to any tastes and desires of users. Unfortunately, all this is broken about the complete lack of support for the Cyrillic alphabet and the rather high price of the program, which does not allow us to recommend it to anyone.
Winstep
All the advantages of the Winstep shell are "broken" about the complete lack of support for the Cyrillic alphabet and the rather high price of the program.
Shareware (30 days trial, registration - $ 39.95)
Developer Winstep Software Technologies
Www.winstep.net website
Download size 5,79MB
URL www.winstep.net/winstep.zip
+   Functionality; detailed setting of each program element
-   Clearly overpriced; the program is not a self-contained shell; no Cyrillic support
!   It makes sense to use the program in English versions of Windows.


Aston v. 1.8.2

Very successful development of Russian craftsmen. Most of all, Aston impresses with its spectacular appearance and a huge number of various themes and skins (see www.astonshel. Com / themes / for more details), which, together with the ability to customize each element in detail, allows you to customize this graphical shell to suit any tastes and needs of the user.

The program contains the main elements of Windows Desktop - Desktop, taskbar, systray, Main menu, - which makes the transition from Explorer to Aston completely painless. The built-in Shell Swapper allows you to quickly switch between them. But the main "highlight" of Aston is a convenient visual configuration of each of its elements, which does not require studying the structure and commands of the configuration files. It is worth mentioning the easily customizable toolbars (multi-level panels with buttons) of any size, designed for quick launch of selected applications. And of course, it is impossible not to note the modest resource-intensiveness of this shell in combination with high stability, which is a very rare case today.

The program leaves a very pleasant impression and rightfully deserves the title of one of the best shells for Windows. The only pity is that the 30-day trial period is painfully short ...
Aston v. 1.8.2
Shareware (30 days trial, registration - $ 25)
Gladiators Software Developer
Web site www.astonshell.com/rus/index.html
Download size 1.57 MB
URL www.astonshell.com/rus/files/aston.zip
+   Spectacular appearance; nice interface; convenient visual configuration of each program element
-   Shareware distribution
!   One of the best alternative shells


Talisman Desktop v. 2.6 build 2601

Another successful development of ex-USSR programmers. The program can work in four modes: a normal application (that is, like all other programs in Windows), applications without a Windows taskbar, a panel on the desktop, and the shell itself. Moreover, switching between them, as well as the change of themes, is carried out literally with one touch, which is very convenient. The well-thought-out Talisman interface also deserves praise: all the shortcuts of the Desktop in a reduced form are located on the right side of the Desktop Panel, and on the left on the corresponding panel are the most popular "office" applications. The same can be said about the context menu and the taskbar, where, among other things, the media player control buttons “settled”. Well, Talisman Object Editor allows you to create, modify and delete any components of themes. Using the built-in editor, you can also write scripts for the program to execute a series of commands, which greatly expands its capabilities. Another advantage of Talisman is the use of any pictures instead of standard icons, as well as 32-bit Windows XP icons from 16 16 to 128 128 pixels. Needless to say, it will pleasantly surprise you after this updated Desktop.

In short, the program is undoubtedly successful and along with Aston and LiteStep is the best choice among alternative Windows shells. True, for former fellow citizens, developers could lower the price ...
Talisman Desktop v. 2.6 build 2601
Along with Aston and LifeStep Talisman (developed by ex-USSR programmers) is the best choice among alternative Windows shells.
Shareware (30 days trial, registration - $ 25)
Lighttek Software Developer
Website www.lighttek.com/talisman.htm
Download size 3,62 MB
URL www.neosoft.ru/files/talisman.zip
+   Flexibility to customize the interface; several modes of operation; many functions
-   Shareware distribution
!   Worthy competitor Aston and Object Desktop