Classic Shell: A Start Menu Replacement

| 1142 words | ~6 mins

Update 2023-06-29: Classic Shell has been discontinued, but there are alternatives and it is open source. A maintained fork named Open Shell is available.

On the twenty-ninth of July, many of you received your upgrade to Windows 10. The operating system is great as long as you ignore the blatant security problems and the problems in the new start menu. Fortunately the latter is easily fixed with the program Classic Shell.

What is wrong with the Start Menu?

Everyone was excited about the implementation of the Start Menu in Windows 10, but this is not the menu of yesteryear. It has numerous improvements over the old menus:

Image: Windows 10 Start Menu
  • Better Search
  • Live Tiles (Questionable improvement, but we will get to that in a minute.)
  • New Animations
  • Cortana Integration

The better search in Windows 10 is wonderful, in earlier versions of Windows search was almost entirely useless. Now you can start typing in the name of whatever you need to find and it will find it, though application launchers still do a better job. The animations are smooth and have a nice feel to them.

Cortana is a feature I do not use for the privacy reasons, but if you are okay with sacrificing privacy for convenience it may be a boon.

Now the problems that come with the menu:

  • Most of the Live Tiles are useless advertisements for Microsoft programs, not something you should expect for a professional operating system. The other programs connect your start menu to the internet. This sounds nice to some, but first, this is a security risk and second, why would you want to be bombarded with information every time you try to launch a program?

The new search is everywhere in Windows 10 so there is no reason to use the default start menu there either. You could use an application launcher to search and launch programs instead.

  • Then there is the problem of customization. Wist you can pin programs the menu as bulky live tiles, you can not change the menu’s appearance much, other than accent color and its size.
  • Some programs do not even show up in the apps menu. The uninstallers and sub-folders do not show up at all. How is one to be productive if they must make new program shortcuts for their programs and place them on the desktop or if they must go into the control panel whenever they wish to uninstall a program?

How do we fix it?

We can use Classic Shell. This is a free program that will add a new start menu and replace the old one. This will work on other versions of Windows so do not fell left out if you have not upgraded yet.

The first thing that you need to do is download and install Classic Shell form their site here:

After the install you will be prompted with an options screen.

Image: Classic Shell Settings

Start Menu Style

The first option available to you in Classic Shell is to choose the style of the start menu. The classic style is similar to the Windows 95 and 98 menus, this has little advantage over the default menu in Windows 10. The next option looks more like Windows Xp’s menu with multiple columns for the programs menu, this is useful if you do not want to scroll through a list of programs as everything will be on the screen at once. The last option looks more like the Windows 7 with a single column programs menu.

At this point you can hit OK if you do not want to go through the host of configuration settings available. The style serves as a base for what your menu will look like, but there is more customization to be had.

The next option available to you is to replace the start button. You can change the start button (Start Orb). You have three options: Aero, the Classic Shell Logo; Classic, the Classic Shell Logo on what looks like a Windows 98 start button; and Custom, this is where you can get creative.

Start orbs can be downloaded from websites like Deviantart or make yourself. They are images that have three frames, the first is when the menu is idle, the next is when the mouse is hovering over the button, the last is when the menu is open.

Basic Settings

To get a little bit more power out of Classic Shell you can go to the Basic Settings tab. To some of you this may look like a lot, but it is only scratching the surface of what Classic Shell can do.

As there are many options I will list them and what they do along with any comments or recommendations I have. I will be omitting self explanatory options.

  • Shift + Click: Self Explanatory, Classic Star Menu is the one for Classic Shell, Windows Start is the default one of your OS. I recommend leaving this on the default menu as you never know when you will need it.
  • All Programs style: Cascading will make the all programs menu multi-columned like in Windows XP and earlier. Inside main menu will have your programs in a scrollable list much like Windows 7.
  • Show recent or frequent programs: On the bottom of the Classic Shell start menu you will have a list of programs, this setting allows you to choose what is displayed. Recent programs will show a list of the last run programs. Frequent programs lists the most used programs.
  • Shutdown Command: This allows you to decide what the Shutdown button will do. There is a drop-down menu for the other options by default so this option is only useful if you need to default to something else a lot.


This is where you will do most of your basic cosmetic changes in Classic Shell. The options are simple. First you have a drop down for what skin you wish to use and underneath a few options for changing skin specific details. Windows Aero is the default Windows 7 look. I will not go into detail about this as it is dependent on your style, skin, and personal preference.

Customize Start Menu

The links you see on the right of the Windows XP and 7 menus are under this tab. This is a feature that they took out of Windows 8 and 10 that is most useful. You can decide to hide or show any menu item.

But There is More

If you click the Show All settings at the top of the settings window it will reveal multitudes of new options. You can change the color of Windows 10’s task bar or change the height and width of the start menu by the pixel, but we will not cover these setting here. We have covered a lot today and will explore more about Classic Shell in the future.