back to article OpenShell has been working on a classic replacement for Windows 11's Start menu

There is a very preliminary FOSS Start menu replacement for Windows 11 – but it's not quite there yet. Windows 11 is an interesting release, given that Microsoft once said there wouldn't be any more versions. One might be forgiven for thinking that to reverse that major decision, it would have to be something pretty epochal… …

  1. Craig 2

    If there's one thing I really hate about UI updates it's pointlessly moving shit about.... Just about sums up Windows for me.

    1. codejunky Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Craig 2

      Its almost like users want to know where things are

      1. theOtherJT

        Re: Craig 2

        I'm starting to wonder if the same people who manage superstore layouts are working on the Windows desktop these days. Gotta keep moving things around every year or so to encourage shoppers to wander around your store and therefore maybe picking up an extra item or two, rather than just going straight to the section they want and grabbing the one thing they came in here for. Maybe they think the same approach will get us to try all those new "features" we didn't ask for.

        1. Tams

          Re: Craig 2

          Every year or so?

          Oh, you have no idea...

    2. AMBxx Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      I'm stopping on 10 until I can move the Taskbar to the side. Bottom makes no sense on a wide screen laptop.

      1. davidp231

        I'm not touching 11 either, but not because my hardware can't support it. I prefer knowing what all my open tasks are called and I think they disabled that feature in 11 so it's just buttons and you have to hover to see what's what?

      2. Schultz

        Why the taskbar must be on the side:

        Any serious text document I work on, or code, will stretch beyond the bottom of my screen. If you take away from the vertical real estate, I'll waste more time scrolling to find the relevant part of the text.

        For quite some time, MS tried to steal my productivity by reducing useful vertical screen space: taskbar, window titles, menu bars, ribbons, status bar .... it's quite ridiculous.

        I guess it's all right for watching youtube.

        1. X5-332960073452
          Trollface

          Re: Why the taskbar must be on the side:

          Simple - turn your monitor on its side!

          1. LionelB Bronze badge

            Re: Why the taskbar must be on the side:

            Then, position your monitor next to the sofa, and lie down on your side. No, wait...

        2. -v(o.o)v-

          Re: Why the taskbar must be on the side:

          I do not agree to this at all.

          It is actually the opposite. Things are supposed to be scrolled vertically. Most things don't fit vertically and scrolling so is a fact if life.

          Instead it is the horizontal screen real estate that must be optimized to avoid scrolling in two directions.

          And scrolling vertically is needed only to view more stuff. Horizontally scrolling must be avoided so that one doesn't have to scroll every line.

      3. gobaskof

        Exactly! Your taskbar, you choose the position and format. This was my big beef with the Unity desktop in the days of yore. I like my taskbar at the bottom, and I hate it collapsed into icons. Unity had no customisation options, it was a left-side icon bar. I have a wide monitor, I want every window listed with some words. We all work differently, let us customise. Luckily you could always purge Unity from the system and use a desktop you want.

    3. bernmeister

      UI changes

      Your right, messing about with the UI is pointless. Many users try their hardest to make the new version of Windows look as much like their previous setup. I rather liked the layout of XP and so do many others. Its difficult to do it with 10, I haven't seen 11 yet.

  2. AlanSh

    Works for me

    I use a combination of Open Shell and Explorer Patch which gives me back resizeable task bar, the Windows 7 style menu and all over on the LH side.

    Alan

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Works for me

      I've just installed StartAllBack on a colleague's computer, and it's pretty nice. Weirdly it seems to default to making everything look like Windows 8 (but with a Start Menu) - which is odd, as Windows 8 was surely the least popular release. But you can make things look more like Win 10 or Win 7.

      Startdock's Start 11 fixes the Start menu, but that's the least annoying of Microsoft's changes. It's the forced grouping of icons on the task bar that's most annoying - so you have to hover the mouse over them to switch windows - so ungrouping them so you have an icon for each window is available in StartAllBack but not Start11. And it's at least 50c cheaper...

      I didn't try OpenShell because it wasn't finished, and StartAllBack had already made the user happy. It's also on a month's free trial. Though I imagine OpenShell might end up being the best and certainly the most flexible.

      The new settings menu is also terrible, but I've not got Win11 on my computer yet, so haven't looked into something to fix that.

      Hopefully I can ride this out until the inevitable Windows 12, where they put things back with only a few changes kept for pride's sake - as with Win 10. Although I think I slightly prefer 10 to 7. Oh and Windows ME was still worse than 8 - but only just...

    2. X5-332960073452
      Pint

      Re: Works for me

      Perfect combination (IMHO) -----------> for you

  3. ITMA Bronze badge
    Flame

    Dear Microsoft.....

    Rule #1

    If it ain't broke - DON'T BLOODY FIX IT!!!!!

    1. nijam Silver badge

      Re: Dear Microsoft.....

      > Rule#1: If it ain't broke ...

      Not relevant to Microsoft products.

      1. ITMA Bronze badge
        Devil

        Re: Dear Microsoft.....

        "> Rule#1: If it ain't broke ...

        Not relevant to Microsoft products."

        Ah... You mean the Microsoft internal memo:

        "If it ain't broke - BREAK IT!! If it is already broken, break it some more!"

    2. Snake Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: "If it ain't broke..."

      You all fail to miss the point: at EVERY stage of development, in every OS UI, pretty much someone will say that "It is fine, don't change it!".

      There are people [here] that have stated that they would still be using Win3.11's Program Manager if they could, for goodness sake.

      There is a natural resistance to change, and that resistance is often placed into the form of "I like it just the way it is, thank you very much" regardless of how much the paradigms around that object has changed. People were 'perfectly OK' with the dial when pushbuttons replaced it on telephone; remember how much resistance there was to the widespread adoption of fuel injection over carburetors?

      If left to the resister's opinion on changes, we'd probably all still be using teletype terminals.

      I have no problem with Win 11's interface, I am only waiting until stability and bugs are reduced to the level of 'modest' patches required rather than the current (seemingly frequent) 'fix it now' revelations. It seems close now, maybe another 1/2 year or so, then I will probably switch over as the daily driver. On my personal system, Win 11 seems faster in UI response time and the Desktop experience is somewhat clean & less cluttered than both Win 7 and Win 10 (which was their intention). I guess YMMV.

      Icon: mine is the Nomex weave.

      1. ITMA Bronze badge

        Re: "If it ain't broke..."

        Sorry - actually no I'm not sorry - but that is a load of dingo's kidneys.

        You are confusing "ludites" with those who just don't see the point of change for the sake of it.

        Change that produces benefit can be fine, providing the benefits it brings outweigh the downsides - and there are almost always downsides to any change.

        Too many of the more recent changes in the Windows GUI, are "New Coke" fiascos.

        Nothing wrong with the old one and the bulk of the changes seem to have no real benefit for most - the biggest benefits I can think of being to those who thought up these changes to try to justify their jobs.

        1. David 132 Silver badge

          Re: "If it ain't broke..."

          At the risk of sounding like a broken record (or whatever the 21st century equivalent is... "a tiktok video stuck on 'endless repeat'"?), there's a quote I read just after the release of Windows 8 that sums this up for me.

          "Microsoft, we wanted familiar ways to do unfamiliar things. What you've given us is unfamiliar ways to do familiar things..."

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: "If it ain't broke..."

        would still be using Win3.11's Program Manager if they could

        I doubt this very much given how much of a kludge was from a start – it was designed specifically to work around Xerox's patent claims on GUIs and has left a legacy of confusion between links and objects.

      3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: "If it ain't broke..."

        Snake,

        While I agree with you that users are resistant to change - this is perfectly understandable. Change adds confusion. Now there are some good reasons for changing things, but what they've done to the start menu and the taskbar have just made them objectively worse. They've not added anything new, you could already make them pretty much do what Win 11 does, in Win 10 - it's just that most people chose not to. And what they've done now is remove choice and make users have to click more buttons in order to do stuff they're obviously going to want to do. Hence I say objectively worse, this isn't a subjective matter of taste. They've not simplified anything, or made anything quicker or even made some parts of the OS that were unused more obvious, they've just stuck sand into the works of everyone's workflow.

        Now where I might agree with you is the hatred of the ribbon in Office. Although again, continual tweaks and changes to it are confusing and annoying. But I've a different perspective on this, as I've both cursed it and praised it. I used to be a heavy Excel user, and knew where everything was in the menus. But now I use Excel a lot, but only for very basic stuff. As a basic user, the ribbon is close to perfect. It pretty much shows all the stuff I ever use, in a very easy to reach way - and once I got used to it is quicker and better than hunting through menus. For a person who's not good with computers, that's a godsent, as they're not the type to hunt though menus looking for lilkely options until they find what they want. So for them, the ribbon makes basic use much easier for them. Once you talk to a power user of course, it becomes a crap UI, because they already knew where stuff was - and now have to completely re-learn the UI, and would I'm sure prefer it to stay the same. That's when I've cursed it, the few times I've had to do the more complex stuff, and it's much harder to search for a function through the ribbon's messy mix of icons, than a nicely structured menu system. But I'd argue the ribbon serves a useful purpose, they should just have allowed you to fall back to a menu system if you wanted to - as I can't imagine that would have taken much extra coding. In contrast, the UI changes to 11 are just shit, with no redeeming features as far as I've seen so far.

        1. Wade Burchette

          Re: "If it ain't broke..."

          The changes to the start menu from Windows 95 to Windows 7 were all small and logical. In each case, it was not too difficult to learn because the change wasn't drastic and the way it was done made it easy to learn.

          Then along comes Windows 8. The change was drastic and illogical. Worse, it was a UI meant for small touch screens, not large non-touch screens. No wonder it was unpopular. All we wanted was the start menu from Windows 7 - which you could customize and make it look like the one from Windows 2000 if you wanted. What we got was a mini version of the Windows 8 start screen for Windows 10.

          And, not surprisingly, I find the Windows 11 start menu even worse. Stuff that was once a short distance away with large, easy-to-find words is now a long distance away with small, hard-to-understand icons. And what is there? Pinned apps, which default to apps that are good for Microsoft's wallet with a few useful ones thrown in. It is like Microsoft asks everyone about a start menu, except for their customers and people who understand smart UI.

      4. ChrisC Silver badge

        Re: "If it ain't broke..."

        Having now had about a weeks-worth of hands-on experience with W11 to compare against the several years-worth I've now had with W10, and the multi-decades-worth I've had with "classic" Windows UIs since the days of 95, my take on it is this:

        W10 compared to the classic UI is like getting into a new car and discovering that the pedals are slightly offset to one side compared to where they were in your old car, and are made of a material that feels somewhat different underfoot as you press down on them, but which, once you get used to these minor variations, ends up becoming something you don't really think about. The controls are mostly all still in the same places as before, and still behave the same when you come to use them, they just look/feel a bit different.

        W11 compared even to W10, let alone the classics, is like getting into a car where the pedals have been swapped around and, by default, installed in the passenger footwell. Having then sorted out their positioning and got to grips with them still being the wrong way around even once they're back in front of you where any sane designer would have put them from the outset anyway, you then try to move your seat into the optimum position for your body shape only to discover that almost all of the adjustment controls have been removed.

        Once you've managed to use the few remaining adjustments to get your seating position as close to where you'd prefer it to be as the car will actually allow you to get it, you then try to relax with a bit of your favourite radio station at which point you discover that the thing which still looks like the on button no longer turns on the radio and gives you access to all of your stations, but instead provides you with access only to a more sparsely populated and randomly changing list of stations, most of which you have the square root of fuck all interest in. You rapidly lose the will to try and figure out how to get to the stations you actually want to listen to via this new interface, and resort to downloading podcasts onto a USB stick which, fortunately, the car still oh so graciously lets you listen to without the need to guess as to which file will be played.

        Tomorrow when you get into the car, you'll find something else that leaves you wondering WTF the designers were smoking/injecting when they decided to change the way that thing works.

      5. Tams

        Re: "If it ain't broke..."

        Ah, the call people who disagree with you about technology 'Luddites' approach.

        Come on now, surely you are above that?

      6. Dave K

        Re: "If it ain't broke..."

        Plenty of times there are changes that are positively received, this isn't just about "resistance to change". It's about pointless change and missing functionality. Windows 7's task-bar was a big change from Vista/XP, yet was pretty well received. It offered functional benefits and was customisable enough that you could tweak it quite readily to suit your needs.

        Windows XP's new Start Menu had a bit of a Marmite reception initially, but you could easily customise it and drop it into Classic mode if you wished. Hence, everyone could be happy with it once they'd tweaked it to suit their needs.

        Windows 11's task-bar offers next-to-no new functionality, but instead removes a whole pile of options that have existed for years. If you like Windows 11 in default form - good for you! But for many people, the heavily reduced functionality is difficult to comprehend and deeply frustrating.

        There's a lot that I like about Windows 11. But the crippled toolbar and overly basic/restrictive Start Menu are major regressions IMO and spoil the OS quite significantly.

      7. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: "If it ain't broke..."

        >There are people [here] that have stated that they would still be using Win3.11's Program Manager if they could, for goodness sake.

        Given in all versions of Windows the main interaction with the desktop is to click on an icon to open Word, Excel, Chrome etc. don't really see much difference to the user between PM and the typical W10/11 desktop.

        In fact the only real difference is the windows/start button that gave a tree view of the installed applications.

  4. Tom7

    With WSLg now able to run Wayland sessions, how difficult would it be to replace the shell with GNOME? I'd seriously consider it. I've been running Ubuntu for my day to day work for so long now that going back to Windows is a pain, finding and relearning how to do everything. At the same time, there are a few apps (though maybe not many these days) that don't cope well running on Wine or similar. A Linux/GNOME session that can run Windows apps natively would be really attractive.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Out of the frying pan and into the fire… I'm not a fan of the Windows desktop but I've yet to come across a Gnome variant that wasn't awful.

  5. Chris G Silver badge

    Win d'ohs have always been unable to let well alone but with Vista completely lost the plot, since then it seems anything they have done right has been more by luck than judgement.

    It appears that with the decision that 10 was not going to be the OS that rules them all, they have picked up where they left off, releasing unfinished, chimerical creations that will be 'improved' with patches as the unfortunate users highlight the various problems they encounter.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Windows

      Have MS rehired Sinofsky? Maybe they're planning to go back to Windows 8...

    2. not yet

      This is what amazes me about Windows. You PAY for an operating system that is poorly designed, internally, never finished, and seems to constantly need to be rebooted so it can clean itself up and put itself back together.

  6. mark l 2 Silver badge

    When Android moved away from the navigation buttons to using gestures to bring up the home screen, apps etc I struggled to get used to using it that way and much prefer the 3 button navigation bar, and thankfully the Android UI still lets me go back to using it like that even if I have to go through some settings to activate it.

    Now why can't Windows 11 let their users go back to a Windows 10 or 7 start menu for those who prefer the way it used to work? If they wanted to change the UI after feedback from Windows users that they would prefer it laid out differently, then that is great. But give the option for those who prefer to use the old way the option to do so.

    1. davidp231

      "Now why can't Windows 11 let their users go back to a Windows 10 or 7 start menu for those who prefer the way it used to work? If they wanted to change the UI after feedback from Windows users that they would prefer it laid out differently, then that is great. But give the option for those who prefer to use the old way the option to do so."

      That'll be in Windows 11.1. Remember when they brought back the Start/Windows button and made it default to the desktop?

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        > Remember when they brought back the Start/Windows button and made it default to the desktop?

        Ah yes. As summed up at the time in this comic.

  7. ColonelClaw

    An anecdotal observation

    In my office when I build a new PC, or rebuild an old one, I always give my empoyees the option of the natve Start Menu or OpenShell. Every single person has chosen OpenShell.

  8. unimaginative
    WTF?

    What is wrong with KDE's vertical taskbar. I used to use it before I switched back to XFCE and it worked fine. I think you need to use a different widget though - I think its the icons onlt taskbar or something like that.

    1. Graham Dawson Silver badge
      Linux

      Icons-only task manager, which is the default task manager these days, unless I'm very mistaken. Certainly is in Neon. I just tried dragging my panel around to different sides of the screen and it works absolutely fine. It's worked fine for years.

      The regular task manager also reverts to an icon-only view if you move the panel to the side of the screen.

  9. anthonyhegedus

    I'm going to get a lot of downvotes for this, but reducing the number of stupid, daft and inconvenient options is actually a good thing. Remember how much ridiculousness was in XP? All those colours you could change to make it unusable - why? So many options and it wasn't at all obvious what changed what. The OS is better for these things being removed.

    So anything to make Windows 11 more consistent, less stupid-looking and more functional is a good thing.

    On to more important topics - Microsoft's decision to remove setting default apps is crass beyond redemption! They *are* putting the feature back, but why the hell it was missing I don't know. Well I do know. It means that millions of early adopters are now on Edge by default, and using Bing Search by default, and a large-ish percentage probably will never realise that it's changeable.

    1. ChrisC Silver badge

      Sorry, I had to downvote you because, whilst I agree with you insofar as it's useful to have an out of the box UI which is consistent and easy to use for beginners, it's essential that achieving this consistency/simplicity of use isn't at the expense of more advanced users who don't need their hand held every time they go to click on something, and who'd be quite happy to spend hours fine-tuning the UI colours/fonts/element sizes so that it all looks just right for them and becomes a comfortable place to work or play.

      That's the problem with W11, and to a lesser extent W10 before it - 10 took away some stuff (like the ability to customise the UI theme exactly how YOU wanted it to look) but at least left functionality in place, whereas 11 not only maintains its egotistical belief that it knows better than any of its users do as to how they'll perceive the UI through their own eyes via their own monitors, but also dumbs down the functional aspects of the UI to the point where I'm left constantly frustrated at how utterly tiresome it is to use for anyone who knows what they're doing, and how little effort MS have put into allowing these training wheels to be removed and the more advanced (or, at least, less dumbed-down) UI functionality restored.

      No user, no matter how experienced they are, should ever have to resort to registry hacking or installing third-party tools just to do simple changes like restoring the normal right-click context menu - that's the sort of basic UI customisation that should be a simple checkbox away in a natively provided preferences setting panel. There's always been an element of this throughout the history of Windows, but with each successive release, MS have continued to take away user choice either through no longer providing a native point-n-click way to make the change, or through removing the underlying support required to render the change even if you know which parameters to try setting in the registry. 10 was bad enough in this regard, and 11 has now crossed the line IMO.

      1. ITMA Bronze badge

        "whereas 11 not only maintains its egotistical belief that it knows better than any of its users do"

        That reminds me of the my automatic response everytime I see the Windows 10 "Welcome" shite wizard:

        "Leave everything to us...."

        NOT A F****** CHANCE MATEY!!!!

    2. Tams

      Because I need to sctually use my machine to do stuff. And I want to do it the way that makes sense to me, not some 'experience engineer' in Redmond.

      If I wanted to be told how to do things; I'd use iOS.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      >Remember how much ridiculousness was in XP? All those colours you could change to make it unusable - why?

      Out-of-the-box XP gave users the choice of themes, just select the one you like and XP does the rest, or you could play with colours, this enabled others (ie. intelligent and aware users) to develop other themes, like those that are really useful to those with dyslexia - where one-size-fits-all doesn't apply.

      I personally didn't like 95 and later because they took away the option to replace and move around the window furniture; my WfWg desktop used SunView graphics with the window furniture arranged to make things easier for left-handed use. In all versions of Windows since 95, the only concession to left-handed people has been the ability to swap the mouse buttons...

      Yes, you could install TweakXP and get easy access to even more settings MS chose to bury in the registery; it seems about the only way to make Windows 11 into something usable is to install Rectify11.

      I assume you also dislike all the options GPO gives for playing around with Windows and making it unusable.

  10. Scott 26

    This article has given me PTSD - I had a 'colleague' (more like a turnip in human form) who installed ClassicShell onto our Server 2012 fleet because he "didn't have time to learn a new UI"

    What a twat,

    1. ITMA Bronze badge
      Flame

      You may think him a twat - but he's no where near as big a twat as the one who decided:

      "I know! Let's put the Windows 8 Metro shite interface on Server 2012!"

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Like my wife

    Seems that the UI designers at Microsoft are like my wife. Once I finally get to know where everything is in the house, she moves it all around while I am out. Once I have worked out where everything is afterwards, it all gets moved again. Rinse and repeat ad infinitum.

    1. ITMA Bronze badge

      Re: Like my wife

      Just like supermarkets....

      And probably with the same motive.

      And while I'm here - which twat at Microsoft thought it a brilliant idea to rollout that predicitive text feature in Outlook and Word TURNED ON!!!!

      I fully appreciated some may find it very useful. But they are MY COMPUTERS and MY BLOODY PHONE so stop forcing crap on me. Tell me it is there and let ME decide if I want to use it.

      DO NOT turn it on and then leave me having to f**** about wasting time finding out how to turn the stupid thing off..

  12. Michael Hoffmann

    Stardock

    I'm such a reprobate that I effectively still, more or less, run any Windows I'm force to use into... XP!

    I reactivate the Quicklaunch bar, install Stardock's Start* and then configure it so my UI has barely changed since then. Start menu on the left with as Classic a look as possible. Quicklaunch (no matter where you try to hide it Microsoft, I will find it, because apparently even your own people don't dare remove it completely and it's always in some package or sub-directory!) for the one-click stuff.

    About the only thing I've happily accepted is Dark Mode.

    Having had problems replicating that with Windows 11 - Quicklaunch is gone, though you can grab and install it from somewhere and Start11 only does the already discussed "move the taskbar" but still only give me the horror that is the new Start look - I will remain a refusenik.

    This morning I spun up the machine and was greeted by a "would you like to upgrade to Win11" screen. With a huge, default Yes and a tucked away Fuck, No. Bastards. Had to warn my wife as she, like many, would do the click-through.

  13. Steve Jackson
    Pint

    StartAllBack

    Icon because, cost. You’re worth it. And, you’re welcome.

  14. Paul Uszak

    Yet what about Windows 12 & 13's breakages?

    I've read that the advanced dev /marketing teams are looking towards Windows 13 after just finalising the bulk of 12's appearance. Wired have MS poaching several of the Apple graphics artists. I guess MS have to do that to compete with iOS 16's release. What's all that going to break?

    Unless 13 is considered unlucky, and they go with Win'26.

    1. mjflory

      Re: Yet what about Windows 12 & 13's breakages?

      Or Windows 86. "86" used to be restaurant staff slang for a dish the customer didn't want after all.

  15. mjflory

    About Linux taskbars...

    I'm risking going a little off topic here, but I have quite a few Mate desktops on Mint and Ubuntu and I've had no trouble with left-side taskbars. I recall them working well in Cinnamon too, though I went with Mate for the greater choice of widgets (CPU load and temperature, etc.). I keep a much narrower taskbar on the bottom to show running processes.

    On my dual-boot-desperation Windows 10 partition I've somehow avoided the updates that broke Classic Shell. Let's hope my luck holds. (Win 11 isn't even on my radar.)

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