Classic Shell Review

key review info
application features
  • Classic Start menu, Classic Windows Explorer and Classic Internet Explorer
  • (4 more, see all...)

It is not a novelty anymore that most Windows 8 and 8.1 users miss the simplicity provided by the classical Start menu

Classic Shell comes to their aid with three components that address the Start menu, Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer.

They boast rich and intuitive options for configuring everything, from selecting the exact apps to display in Start menu, to editing title bar colors in IE.

The installation part takes little time. The full pack contains Classic Explorer (adds a toolbar to Windows Explorer, replaces the copy UI and fixes some usability issues), Classic Start Menu (configurable, replaces the Windows Start menu), Classic IE (allows title bar and status bar customization in Internet Explorer) and Classic Shell Update (automatically checks for program updates).

Any of these modules can be excluded from the setup. Once it is done, Classic Shell automatically replaces the previous Start menu in Windows 7, or Start screen in Windows 8/8.1, without asking for system reboot.

The best part in Windows 8.1 is that it actually gives purpose to the Start button (which otherwise brings up the Start screen), by redesigning it into the Windows 7 Start menu, complete with a button that shows the Start screen, shortcuts to frequently accessed applications and system locations (e.g. pictures, music, documents, Control Panel, Devices and Printers), a real-time search function, and power management buttons.

The configuration panel is accessible through Start button's right-click menu, along with the option to exit the tool and return to default settings. There are four tabs displayed here, dedicated to the Start menu style, basic settings, skin, and Start menu customization, respectively.

It is possible to save all current settings to XML for future sessions, as well as to restore them to default. A search function is available throughout the entire panel.

Instead of the Windows 7 style, users may opt for a classical look (with a cascading Programs menu) or classical with two columns.

Unlike the Windows 7 theme, these two leave room for arranging the menu items in any order, and they include a folder with quick access to all Windows 8 apps. The regular Start button can be replaced with a Classic Shell Aero or Classic look, or custom image with the BMP or PNG format.

Hotkeys can be mapped for left click, Shift + click, Windows key and Shift + Windows key actions, such as opening the classic Start menu or Start screen. The computer, favorites, recent documents, and Control Panel can be displayed as links/menus or hidden from the list, while the Metro screen can be skipped. These basic settings can be restored to default.

In addition, the Start menu may be coated in one of the seven skins available: classic, skin, full glass, smoked glass, Windows 8, Windows Aero, Windows basic, and Windows XP Luna, as well as removed completely. Each one has its own customization set. For example, the user picture and name can be hidden, while large fonts and small icons may be applied.

More settings become available by ticking a box on the upper part of the panel. For instance, additional items may be hidden from the Start menu such as the search bar, help and support, run function, or PC log off. The search box's results can be restricted to a custom number of items per category, while autocomplete may be deactivated.

As far as the menu look is concerned, it is possible to disable taskbar transparency in Windows 8 and 8.1, tweak the small and large icon sizes, main menu and sub menu width, choose an animation and font smoothing mode or disable them to improve menu loading speed, as well as edit the user name text and menu caption.

Classic Shell's configuration dialog holds a tab with two lists corresponding to the current menu items and available commands, respectively. In other words, users may inspect recorded entries, delete items and add new ones, create submenus, and even edit item properties in terms of command, link, label, tip, icon, and others (e.g. split button item, multi-column, hide extensions, don't track recent items).

Custom audio tracks with the WAV file type may be assigned to the main menu, sub menu, command and drop sound, in order to replace the default ones. The right-click menu can be disabled, while Classic Shell's Start menu can be set to automatically run at system startup. It is wrapped in numerous UI languages that merely require a program restart to apply settings.

Classic Explorer creates a toolbar in Windows Explorer on the upper part of the screen and contains buttons for basic operations, namely Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, item properties, email (via the default client), and settings dialog.

The navigation pane style can be selected between Windows XP classic, XP simple and Vista, while automatic navigation may always be active or only when using the keyboard. Plus, it is possible to disable breadcrumbs, hide the status bar, as well as add an icon overlay for shared folders. Just like in Classic Shell Start menu, users may edit properties for current toolbar buttons as well as add new commands.

Last but not least, Classic IE is an extension designed for Internet Explorer that allows users to view a title bar caption with the current page's full title, along with the security zone and loading progress in the status bar.

The title bar caption or icon may be hidden from display, in addition to the progress and zone. Moreover, users may customize title bar text colors in normal, maximized, inactive, and maximized and inactive mode, set text glow color, and perform other actions.

The Good

Classic Shell is compatible with Windows 7 and 8/8.1, 32-bit and 64-bit. It does not create an icon in the taskbar or system tray at startup, so it is non-intrusive. CPU and RAM usage is reduced to a minimal level. The app is free to use.

Users may effortlessly arrange items in the Start menu using drag-and-drop support. Multiple languages are available for the user interface of all three components (a simple program restart is required), along with help documentation.

The configuration set for each Classic Shell module can be backed up to XML and used in later sessions or on other computers.

The Bad

When picking a custom picture from the computer to replace the Start button, users should be cautious and get one with a small resolution (preferably the same as the default Start button), since Classic Shell does not automatically resize the image to fit it in the small frame.

The program does not offer to create desktop icons during setup, thus forcing the user to look for the executable and configuration files in the installed directory.

The Truth

In a nutshell, Classic Shell is an approachable software utility with a meticulous customization set when it comes to the Start menu (especially useful in Windows 8 and 8.1) and Windows Explorer, letting users match each element to their own taste.
user interface 5
features 5
ease of use 4
pricing / value 5

final rating 5
Editor's review