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Use Classic Shell to Get a Classic Start Menu & Explorer Toolbar in Windows 8

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Classic Shell is an open-source utility that brings classic Windows features to newer versions of Windows. It offers the most classic Start menu for Windows 8 yet, and it lets you avoid the ribbon with a Windows Explorer toolbar.

We’ve also written about getting a Windows 7-style Start button with ViStart and a Metro-style Start menu with Start 8. Or, if you’re brave, dive into the deep end and try living without the Start button for a while.

Installation

Classic Shell is available as a free download from SourceForge. It also supports Windows 7 and Windows Vista, so you don’t have to use Windows 8 to take advantage of these features.

As part of the installation process, you’ll be asked to select the features you want to install. There are four:

  • Classic Explorer – Adds a Windows XP-style toolbar and other tweaks to Windows Explorer.
  • Classic Start Menu – Adds a Windows XP-style Start menu and Start button. The Start menu is fully skinnable and configurable.
  • Classic IE9 – Adds a caption displaying the title of the current page to Internet Explorer’s title bar and displays page loading progress and the current security zone in the status bar.
  • Classic Shell Update – Automatically checks for new versions of Classic Shell.

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Classic Start Menu

By default, Classic Shell uses a Metro-style theme that blends into Windows 8.

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It looks like the Windows Start menu used to before Windows XP. It does have one modern feature, though — a search box. The search box only searches your installed applications, but that makes the search process practically instant.

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Right-click the Start button and select Settings to view its options.

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On the Basic Settings tab, you can adjust a variety of common options, including your keyboard shortcuts. If you don’t like the new search box, you can even disable it from here.

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Select the All Settings option and you’ll see even more options. For example, the Customize Start Menu tab lets you customize exactly which options appear in the Classic Start menu.

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From the Skins tab, you can select a variety of different looks for the Start menu. For example, select the Classic Skin for a really classic-looking Start menu. You’ll also find a transparent, glass-style skin.

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Classic Explorer

If you installed Classic Explorer, you’ll find a new toolbar in Windows Explorer.

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Click the shell-shaped icon at the right side of the toolbar to adjust its settings. If you want to add more buttons to the toolbar, click the All Settings option and use the options on the Toolbar Buttons tab.

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Classic IE9

If you’ve been craving some of the features left behind in newer versions of Internet Explorer, Classic IE9 adds them.

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These features are implemented as browser add-ons, so ensure the add-ons are enabled in the Manage Add-ons window (click the gear menu and select Manage Add-ons) if you don’t see them.

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Do you prefer Classic Shell, Start8, or ViStart? Or do you love the new Metro Start screen? Leave a comment and let us know.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 04/12/12

Comments (19)

  1. PhilBro

    It’s easier just to stick with Win7. I will probably upgrade when Win9 comes around, but I don’t see any need for Win8 just yet.

  2. Look at me if

    So wasteful. What is actually wrong with using start screen rather than start button.

    I made lots of groups and It works the way I want. OS is not created for you to edit. It’s perfect itself

  3. Citrus Rain

    @Look at me if

    You cannot possibly be serious.
    So if they decided that windows GUI should be no icons, no menus, (and knowing windows would go the whole way – no context menus) and type everything (down to typing the words “copy” and “paste” in order to copy or paste) you would go with it? And you would defend it as the setting that should be used just because it was the gui installed by default?

  4. Stan Duncan

    I have missed the old classic model and I will try this. I still have a perfectly fine old XP that I drag out now and then for its durability and comfortable feel and miss the clarity it brought to each task.

  5. r

    This is all very nice if you are an individual user who has the time to fiddle-around with a new OS layout. However, from a business perspective installing Win 8 makes absolutely no sense.
    I have manage more than sixty workstations, servers, sans, tape-backups, switches, domain & network hardware/connections & user software (so that all employees can get their work done)
    …Win 8 might be Microsoft’s educated view of the way an OS & GUI is headed,…but no thanks.

  6. xpclient

    In case you want to add the original Windows orb back instead of the Classic Shell orb, use this image: i.imgur.com/9tAAy.png in the Start Menu settings -> Start button tab. :)

  7. Fantasm

    What I notice is that all the most popular addons/tweaks/ideas coming out for Windows 8 essentially fix what Microsoft thinks we should have…
    It’s easier to not bother and just stick with Windows 7

    @Look at me if – What is wrong with the Start Screen? It’s ugly, it gets cluttered with programs everytime you install new software… I had seven tiles all labelled “Uninstall” with no idea of what they would uninstall. I have a 40inch monitor, dragging my mouse far enough to scroll the height and repeatedly the width of the monitor gets tired real quick… and with multiple monitors, the stupid little corner and other hotspots don’t work…

  8. john3347

    I have been using Classic Shell since it first became available for Windows 7 (I believe it was still during beta). That made the difference in me adopting Windows 7 and not. I am excited to hear that there is now a version that works with Windows 8. Maybe I will try Windows 8 now that the “improvements” have been repaired.

  9. beergas

    Still with wait for final release of Win 8 since as john3347 points out Win 7 Classic Shell is just fine.
    Will d/l this little toy in case the option isn’t there in Win 8. Might be, never know. But certainly have too much set up to tear a new one yet. Want to see LassPass program stable w/ Win 8 for example.
    Can’t work without that and it was awhile before it got tight under Win 7. Prob throw on next IE over current IE9 if goes on Win 7. Don’t want to switch browsers so would be a tick off if can’t do that.
    Thanks for the tips.

  10. Mike

    Metro sucks… I like classic shell. But, I don’t have an issue with Microsuck, I am shifting to Linux. I like Mint the best right now. As an aside most people use computers because they have to in their jobs. Every time one of these bonehead human factors guys moves all the furniture it does nothing but piss off the end users.

  11. loweg

    I think Windows 8 CP is great. You have to be open minded and see were MS is going with this. Windows 8 CP is a controlled beta In my opinion Microsoft wants the testers to work with the new Metro UI and apps and give feed back so when the retail comes out it will work with Mouse and Keyboard as well as Touch Screens and Tablets. Look at the innovation of live tiles. You don’t have to open a full blown application to see if you really need to open it. When Windows 8 Retail emerges the classics will all be back as options as they were when XP came out. When the majority of user have switched in the future to tablets and touch screens, the classic will go away permanently in Windows. Look at Xbox MS got rid of the controllers. You are the controller now. Think of it like Star Trek. No one uses keyboards. It’s touch pads and touch screens. You were brought up with the keyboard and mouse, it will be hard for you to give it up. Kids will adjust to the touch screen because it’s natural. Look at your cell phones. They all use to have buttons, now 90% of Smartphones have touch screens. It’s the future.

  12. ted46

    @loweg

    It’s only the future if enough people create a supply for the demand. So far, it’s just Microsoft’s interpretation of what the future OS should be. The vast majority of innovations have a very short
    shelf life & are quickly replaced. Win8 may be the future, but we live & work with computers, software
    & hardware of the present time.

  13. Matjaž

    with classic shell windows 8 became my primary os ;-)

  14. zapper067

    These wont work with my x64 VM…

  15. Sonic 1992

    I Reeeeallllllly hope Microsoft reconsiders this.

    Please make the start button and task bar an OPTION, PLEASE!

    We will all want to kill ourselves after trying to show our parents AGAIN how to use Windows, or make them keep old versions of Windows, which is also trouble.

  16. Kevalin

    @Sonic 1992: Amen to that!

  17. Lance Wilson

    Thank you for showing me this howtogeek! This is absolutely perfect. I am running Windows 8 as my primary OS now. This tool allows me to learn the new OS slowly. It’s sort of like a fallback in case I get lost in the Metro UI. I still hate how I can’t close programs in the Metro UI. I can close anything I want in classic shell just like in Windows 7.

    One thing I noticed though. Metro apps aren’t in the menus in the classic shell. For example: The mail app in the Metro UI looks really nice and functions well, but under classic shell I have to use an email client. Not a big deal, but the program once opened in Metro requires opening the task manager to kill it.

    Hell, I’m probably doing something wrong…took me a 10 minutes to learn how to shut down in Metro. Ugh!

    Thank you Classic Shell!

  18. lilsting10

    Why do all these Start Menu replacement programs look to replicate the Classic Start Menu visual only? I’m playing around with this trying to get it to look and act like Windows 7′s Start Menu. And I don’t want 95-XP style pictures next to each ‘special item’ like Documents and Videos which are on the right column of the Start Menu when you tick the ‘two columns’ option which makes it look more like Win7. Nor do I want the Search box to be situated where the Shutdown button is for Win7′s Start Menu.

    Not only that, but why do they not seem to be able to correctly show recently used programs, or not able to pin programs to the Start Menu the same way Windows 7 does? I really hope someone can replicate the WINDOWS 7 Start Menu, with the ‘recently used/pinned-to-start-menu programs’ showing. I suppose I’m OK to use the Start Screen, but it will probably be a larger adjustment for my family.

  19. C Smythe

    I really like StartMenu7 but this is going to get a real try out!
    Thanks for the heads up. Win8 is going to be a good and solid OS with many positive features. HOWEVER it will be entirely useless on laptops and desktops or anywhere one has to do WORK!!!

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