Switching to an Alternative Windows Desktop

Using Explorer as the shell for Windows XP can be a bit of a drag. With the defaults, Explorer ties up a big chunk of memory and it has some issues as far as usability. If you’ve had any experience with X in the *nix world or the Mac’s OS X desktop, you know there are better solutions than the XP Desktop. Luckily, you don’t need to live with it. I’ve experimented with alternative desktops and utilities for Windows quite a bit over the years, and I think they have now matured to the point where they are usable. This piece describes what I’m using on my laptops and it is not intended to be some sort of general listing of utilities and shells.

Replacement Shell

Most folks don’t realize that you can replace the Windows default shell, Explorer. In early versions of Windows, it was easier, but it can be done in XP. There are lots of possibilites here, but I went with bblean, an offsheet of the X window manager Blackbox. Just download the zip archive, drop it on your C:\ drive and it runs. I chose it because it doesn’t use the XP registry, it has a relatively small memory footprint, has a lot of available styles, does a good job of grabbing existing desktop folders and such, is very configurable, and includes an utitlity to install it as the default shell, replacing Explorer as the Windows desktop.

Desktop Utilities

I added 2 utilities that provide a bit of advanced functionality to the desktop. YzDock is a neat little application launcher for Windows that behaves like the app launcher on the OS X desktop. You can add your favorite apps to it and let it rip.
Konfabulator is desktop widget maker/manager that was ported to Windows from the Mac world. It adds little utilities to your desktop including things like weather, a basic search box, to-do list, and more. Best part is that you can easily create your own Konfabulator widgets.

Elmer\'s new desktop.

Some Other Modder Resources

  1. Athene Operating System
    Athene is a high performance multimedia operating system for desktop computers.
  2. xtort.net – Dedicated to being massive directory of freeware
    Dedicated to being massive directory of freeware
    Lots of links to MSFT Windows shells and tweaks.
  3. :: Geoshell ::
  4. PowerPro
    PowerPro Features. PowerPro incorporates these features: Starting Programs. Any number of small-footprint button bars (e.g. fits over title bar of maximized window).
  5. ShellON Features
  6. Aston – Desktop manager and Shell replacement for Windows 9x/Me/NT/2000/XP
    A skinnable desktop and browser program. Offers skins, themes, plug-ins, for many programs. Alternate interfaces for Windows
  7. Talisman Desktop. Program for desktop management, shell replacement, 32bit XP icons, themes, skins, visual styles
    The creators of desktop manager and shell replacement software for the Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP system. IF you need fast, high-customized, skinable interface builder program(instead standard Windows Desktop) then you must try our software…