Windows 10 is great out the box, but there’s so much customization you can do to make it even better.
We’re going to show you how to use Classic Shell, a third-party program that focuses on tweaking the Start Menu, Taskbar, and File Explorer. From changing the Start icon, making the Taskbar fully transparent, to checking for Windows updates on shutdown, there’s so much that Classic Shell can do.
If you have your own Classic Shell tips and tricks to share, let us know in the comments below.
Download Classic Shell
First things first: head over to the Classic Shell website and download the program. Launch the installer and progress through the wizard. You’ll be asked which elements of Classic Shell you want to install. For the purpose of this guide, select everything except Classic IE.
This will install Classic Start Menu Settings and Classic Explorer Settings, both of which you’ll find doing a system search. We’ll refer to them as Start Menu Settings and Explorer Settings.
By default, on both settings windows, you’ll only see a small number of tabs and customization options. Tick Show all settings so that you can see all of the tabs because we’ll need them for the upcoming tweaks.
1. Start Menu Skins
If you miss the Start Menus from Windows past, Classic Shell makes it very easy to turn back the clock. Launch Start Menu Settings and go to the Start Menu Style tab. Here you can choose between Classic style, Classic with two columns and Windows 7 style.
Once selected, click Select skin… beneath and use the Skin drop-down to change between the different styles. For example, you could opt for the classic Start Menu using the XP colors.
Each skin also has its own options, customizable using the radio buttons and checkboxes below the drop-down. For example, some let you set the size of the icons, fonts, and whether to show your user picture.
2. Start Menu Shortcuts
There are lots of different ways to open the Start Menu. With Classic Shell, you can customize each to set whether it does nothing, opens the classic Start Menu, or opens the default Start Menu.
Launch the Start Menu Settings and go to the Controls tab. Here all the shortcuts are listed out, like Left Click, Shift + Click, and Windows key. Use the radio buttons to adjust each setting.
For example, you could have left clicking the Start icon open the classic style, but hovering open the default Windows style.
3. Start Menu Button
The default Start button with the four window panes is serviceable, but it’s not particularly exciting. Let’s change that.
First, it’s time to choose the image you want. Technically you could use any image, but the best are those which have been specifically designed to show different image states in normal, hovered and pressed modes.
The Classic Shell forum has lots of different buttons to choose, ranging from Angry Birds, the Superman logo, or a retro XP look. Browse through the threads and once you find what you want, right-click the image and save it somewhere on your computer.
Launch Start Menu Settings, go to the Start Menu Style tab and tick Replace Start button. Click Custom > Pick image…, navigate to where you saved the image and double-click it.
If the image is too big, click Advanced button options… and click Button size. Here you can input the pixel width for the button. 0 is the default, but 48 or 60 will often work best. Feel free to experiment with different values.
You’ll need to click OK each time to save the change.
4. Musical Start Menu
If you search Windows for change system sounds and select the relevant result, you can change what sound is played for various actions, like a low battery, message notification, or error. All well and good, but what if you want to add some sound to your Start Menu?
Open Start Menu Settings and go to the Sounds tab. Here you can set a different sound for when you open Start, when you close it, when an item is executed, when something is dropped, or when you hover your mouse over the icon.
Select what you want to set a sound for and click … to browse to the audio file on your computer. It has to be in WAV format, so check out a site like WavSource for some to download.
5. Enhanced Start Menu Search
The search on the Start Menu is good, especially with the addition of Cortana, but you can make it even better. Open Start Menu Settings and go to the Search Box tab. There’s a bunch of useful settings that are worth enabling here.
Track frequency of use will see how often you open programs and place them higher in search results. Enable Auto-Complete will automatically detect full folder or file paths. Enabling both Search programs and settings and Search files is perhaps the most useful feature here and basically means that your Start Menu search becomes a one-stop-shop for finding absolutely anything on your system.
6. Windows Updates on Shutdown
With Classic Shell, you can choose whether Windows checks for any updates when you’re shutting down. To adjust this setting, open Start Menu Settings, go to the General Behavior tab and tick Check for Windows updates on shutdown.
It’ll also show you whether there are updates to install by displaying an icon next to the Shutdown button. If you always need to shut down as quickly as possible, this option might not be the best, but it helps overcome Windows’ forceful updates.
7. Fully Transparent Taskbar
Windows offers limited transparency options, enabled via Settings > Personalization > Colors > Transparency effects. But that’s no good if you want to have a fully transparent Taskbar.
In Start Menu Settings, go to the Taskbar tab and tick Customize taskbar. Select Transparent if you want the taskbar to be entirely clear or Glass if you want a blur effect. Then click Taskbar opacity and change the value to 0.
You can set this value anywhere on the scale of 0 to 100 if you don’t want the Taskbar to be entirely transparent.
8. Taskbar Colors
Windows lets you set a color for your Taskbar.
To do this, go to Settings > Personalization > Colors, select a color and then tick Start, taskbar and action center. However, as the label suggests, this color isn’t just for the Taskbar.
Classic Shell lets you independently change the color of the Taskbar itself and the font. To do this, open Start Menu Settings, go to the Taskbar tab and tick Customize taskbar. Select Taskbar color and/or Taskbar text color and click … to set a color. Click OK on the color window, then OK again to save your changes.
9. File Explorer Status Bar
The status bar on the standard File Explorer is more simple than it used to be on older versions of Windows.
To get more information at the bottom of the screen, open Explorer Settings and go to the Status Bar tab. Once here, tick Show status bar and use the options beneath to customize to your liking.
All of them are useful, but particularly Show detailed info for single selection. This will display metadata about a file once you click on it without having to go to the Properties section.
10. File Explorer Breadcrumbs
Near the top of the File Explorer window is the address bar, which shows you what folder you’re browsing. By default, this doesn’t show you the full file path unless you click into the address bar.
You can change this. Open Explorer Settings and go to the Title Bar tab. Tick Disable breadcrumbs to see the full folder path in the address bar.
For example, what would have previously said This PC will now display as C:\Users\Name. You can also adjust how it appears in the Address bar history, along with being able to Hide Search box at the same time.
Come Out of Your Shell
Classic Shell has existed in various forms since 2008, but hopefully, you’ve learned something new from this guide that you didn’t know was possible to customize on Windows. Whether it’s switching the Start Menu icon, adding sounds, or spicing up your Taskbar, Classic Shell offers great customizability.
What is your favorite feature of Classic Shell? Is there a particular tip that we’ve missed out?