|Developer(s)||Ivo Beltchev and team |
|Initial release||November 2009|
|Stable release||4.1.0 / 20 April 2014|
|Operating system||Windows Vista and later, Windows Server 2008 and later|
(MIT License before v3.9.0, except for skins, logo and artwork)
Classic Shell is a freeware, formerly open-source software  for Microsoft Windows that restores several usability-oriented Windows user interface (Shell) features, File Explorer features and Internet Explorer features which have been removed by Microsoft. The project began in 2009; since then software has been downloaded 15 million times. The distinguishing feature of Classic Shell is that it is customizable and restores the familiarity of past Microsoft Windows versions. Classic Shell does not replace the Windows Shell, hosted by Explorer.exe, but complements it.
Classic Shell is a suite of interface enhancements that includes three components:
- A Start Menu for Windows Vista and later (combining search and browse programs). (Classic Shell versions 3.9.0 and later no longer support Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008.) A distinguishing feature of Classic Start Menu is that it separates desktop programs from Windows Store apps.
- Classic Explorer (addon for Windows Explorer that restores a customizable toolbar for 1-click access to commands, and also restores other removed features for folder pane, file pane, title bar and status bar features)
- Classic IE (addon for Internet Explorer 9 and later that restores the web page title, Protected Mode status, zone information, and page loading progress bar).
All Classic Shell components are optional and independent of each other.
Classic Shell is programmed in C++. Although it modifies Windows behaviors, it does not do so by modifying or tweaking Windows registry settings or replacing or patching system files. All of its modifications are done by its own code using Windows APIs without patching files.
Classic Shell was a fairly popular interface enhancement in the Windows 7 lifecycle but became more widely used after the release of Windows 8. The Start Menu component has gradually expanded from being a pure simple, classic menu to a unified Start Menu containing all the features of the classic, XP and Windows 7 styles.
The Classic Shell project saw its first public release in 2009  as Windows 7 removed the flyout cascading style Classic Start Menu and the Up button in Windows Explorer. The project began as a tool for personal use but grew popular as the community involvement increased. Over time, the Start Menu component evolved to be a customizable launcher that also integrates a search box and other features of the Windows 7 Start Menu. The Explorer and IE components also gained several features later over time that had been removed by Microsoft.
Classic Shell supports many features for its various components.
Classic Start Menu
Classic Start Menu is a full independent replacement of the Windows Start Menu that does not depend on Microsoft's shell code.
Classic Start Menu does not suppress the system menu or Start screen. Instead, it allows the user to configure which hotkeys and mouse clicks open what menu. The Start button image can be customized to whatever the user wants, as well its size and tooltip. The main menu items as well as submenu items are fully customizable including the icon, tooltip, target and sort order. The menu can show either the user's most recently used programs or the most frequently used ones. It also supports jumplists, pinning and sorting recently opened documents by extension, date or name. Newly installed programs are highlighted just like the original menu and full Windows Search integration is included. A number of settings can be fine-tuned on a granular level such as menu opening delay, tooltip timing, sub menu column style, menu width, size of icons, animation, scroll speed, font smoothing etc. The menu also supports skins  to completely change the look further, including colors, fonts, Aero Glass rendering, padding (spacing), transparency, captions and other graphical elements.
Besides the standard menu features, there are several improvements over the original Start menu such as showing next to the taskbar when it is vertical, multi-monitor support, launching multiple programs at once by holding down Shift, custom shutdown related actions, Modern app launching ability (on Windows 8 and above), expanding any file system or special folder as cascading menu and additional keyboard shortcuts for navigation. Besides Windows Search integration, the search box can search executable files from all folders in the system path, can search partial matches, and show all results inside the menu itself by expanding the top-level category.
Classic Start Menu can sort the menu contents alphabetically, keeping them always sorted, sort in ascending or descending order. Users can drag and drop shortcuts to position items in a custom order or never sort so programs always appear by installation date.
The Start Menu also features some enhancements to control Windows 8's Modern UI such as hot corners only on the desktop without disabling them inside Modern apps. Another notable feature of Classic Shell's Start Menu is its ability to scale to higher resolutions and PPIs by increasing the icon size and scaling the menu background.
Classic Explorer is not a full Explorer replacement but rather an addon to Windows File Explorer, implemented as various shell extensions. It allows customizing the folder (navigation) pane's behavior - whether folders expand with a single click or double click, and control over connecting lines, subfolder indicators, horizontal scrollbar, tree item spacing, keyboard behavior. The breadcrumbs in Windows Explorer can be disabled and the address bar dropdown can be modified to show the hierarchical path like Windows XP instead of recent folder history. The Explorer toolbar can include built-in commands, custom commands to operate on selected files or dropdown menu links to any folder or groups of commands. Classic Shell's Explorer addon also adds the ability to show sort headers in all views of Explorer and restores the overlay icon for network shares. The disk free space, total size of all files in the current folder and tooltip of selected item are also restored by Classic Shell's Explorer addon to the status bar of Windows Explorer.
On Windows 7 and Windows Vista, the Explorer addon restores the Up button and title bar caption and also replaces the copy conflict dialog with Windows XP's conflict dialog. The copy progress dialog can be automatically expanded to show more details by Classic Explorer on Windows 7/Vista.
There are hundreds of settings in Classic Shell, so it includes a Basic settings mode for novice users. Because there are so many settings, they can be backed up and easily restored. Help on what each setting does is included in its tooltip. The settings can also be searched by pressing F3 or Ctrl+F in the search box.
Classic Shell is localized into more than 30 languages, including right-to-left support for Arabic and Hebrew. Major items are localized in the Classic Start Menu and Explorer toolbar by default. To fully translate the whole UI, the user must install the MUI Language Pack from Windows Update in Windows 7 or from the Language Control Panel in Windows 8 and above. The translation DLL for a particular version of Classic Shell must also be installed.
Classic Shell has seen coverage in notable publications such as Forbes, The Register, Lifehacker, Neowin, Ghacks, ZDNet, PC World, TechRepublic, MakeUseOf, Betanews.
- "Friends of Classic Shell". Retrieved 2014-01-19.
- classicshell.net Retrieved on 2014-04-28.
- Classic Shell CodeProject article with code snippets
- Full Source Code of the last open source release of Classic Shell
- Classic Shell FAQ, Is Classic Shell open-source?
- Classic Shell SourceForge Project
- Want a Windows 8 Start Button? Open source to the rescue!
- Official Download stats maintained by Sourceforge.net
- Classic Shell brings Classic Start Menu to Windows 8
- Classic Shell: History
- Classic Shell sees 4.3 million downloads since Windows 8 launch
- Classic Shell FAQ
- Restore Windows' One-Folder-Up Arrow with Classic Shell
- Interview: We chat with the creator of Classic Shell
- Classic Shell Start Menu Skin Tutorial
- Classic Shell: Translations
- Don't Wait For Windows 8.1 -- Get Its Two Best 'Features' Right Now
- Classic Shell can banish Interface Formerly Known As Metro
- How to bring back the Start menu in Windows 8
- Classic Shell brings classic Start menu to Windows 8
- Classic Shell adds a Start menu to Windows 8
- Two must-have downloads that make Windows 8 more bearable
- Review: Classic Shell brings the Start menu to Windows 8 for free
- Put the classic Start menu in Windows 7 with Classic Shell
- Make Windows 8 suck less
- Give Windows 7 the XP makeover