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I'm using Windows 7, with the default Windows Shell (Aero). What's the benefit on switching to another Shell (such as, say, KDE4) ?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Most people will leave it as it is. The majority of the ones that's gonna go changing it will do so because of the "desktop screenshot" mania. Personally, I've played with decorating desktops a while back, but never found any of that stuff productive, just the opposite, it usually just distracts you more.

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Not to mention that if you change basic behaviours, when you go to a non-modded Windows installation, you're lost. I work on too many different machines to have any one customized differently than the others. – EmmEff Sep 25 '09 at 2:30
@EmmEff - good point. – Rook Sep 25 '09 at 6:05
@EmmEff: Seconding that from the other side: having worked in customer support, trying to find my way around a different Windows UI (the worst was the bastard child of Windows and OSX interfaces, with half of it in a language I don't speak) is exceedingly tedious. If anyone else is ever likely to use the computer, just stay away from custom shells. – me_and Feb 17 '12 at 11:20

Don't quote me too much on it, but maybe Linux users who are working in Windows would want to have a more familiar feel to things -- such as virtual desktops in Litestep.

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Definitely a huge reason. And +1 for introducing me to Litestep. :-). – briealeida Nov 3 '09 at 3:27
Lol. You're welcome, even though I've never used Litestep myself (but Linux and virtual desktops on Windows, yes). – Nathaniel Nov 4 '09 at 1:30

Remember its not called a PC (Personal Computer) for nothing. Some people spend more time on a computer than others. Part of the whole lure of computers is the ability to explore.

Mostly the average non geek user accepts the Windows interface as is, but geeks have been skinning since dos days (Ansi.sys). Windows XP is perhaps the easiest version of Windows to skin (check out Deviant Art). There is also a paid App called Window blinds.

I know I'm discussing Skinning here - NOT shell replacement, but this is really the easiest way to change the look of your Windows installation.

Stepping back in history to the days of Litestep, explorer used to be a beast of a process. Back then replacing the shell meant saving ram. Explorer was pretty top heavy until Windows 7, since then its been nicely redesigned.

Along comes Windows 7 and every desktop on the planet looks the same. Sure there are themes, but these are just color variations on the same look.

Windows 7 by default does not skin very well, sure you can hack some sys file to get it to skin, but there are a lot less usable skins for Win 7, than for XP.

Some geeks are turning to Shell replacement just because they want diversity and more control. Microsoft don't provide this.

Having said this, I will say that after trying a few shell replacements you get an appreciation for how well designed Windows 7 really is. I must say its a very good general purpose interface. I only wish it was easier to skin and more skins were available.

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All the hubbub about "saving RAM" by using a non-default shell was misguided at best. The moment you hit pretty much any standard dialog in Windows, particularly File Open/Save or folder choosing dialogs, you'd be loading up a significant portion of the Windows Shell (pretty much everything, really, including shell extensions). Those components were already code-shared and cached across most processes anyway, making the whole concept even more silly. Explorer, as a shell, was always very lightweight, assuming one doesn't have too many 3rd party extensions installed. – afrazier Dec 8 '10 at 19:34
Now this isn't to say that shell replacement was a bad thing to do, per se. There were good ideas floating about, and some very interesting projects available. I'm just saying that anyone who thought they were saving RAM or making their PC faster by replacing Explorer didn't really know what they were doing to their system. – afrazier Dec 8 '10 at 19:37
@alfazier very true. I find that anyone "really" wanting to save ram that badly should just have no shell. Use task manager. – JL. Dec 8 '10 at 19:40
This is the best I've seen, but after using it for a few hours I went back to the Win7 default. I really hope Windows 8 gives us some freedom on look. – JL. Dec 8 '10 at 19:42

Just to name a few....

  1. Maybe they like the interface better
  2. Has more productivity features
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Typically, easier usability/prettier look compel people to alter default shells. There are some lovely shells in Linux.

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Just to see how it works.

This was the reason I used to try out every Finder replacement that came down the pipe on Mac OS Systems 6 and 7. That and trying to squeeze out a few more kb for my programs, but somehow I doubt that applies so often these days.

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Personally, the reason for why I replaced the Win 7 shell is that I became pretty annoyed with it. I was never bothered by the shell in Win98 and later WinXP and therefore did not even know that such a thing as shell replacement was possible -- the lack of incentive to change things prevented the idea from ever entering my head. With Win7 I got annoyed pretty quickly. Very little is customizable. So if you don't like the way it's designed, you're stuck. One has to find third party programs just to accomplish trivial changes like turning off the preview thumbnails for taskbar items.

Shell replacement not only solved the things that bugged me but also improved my computer usage in ways that I did not even expect. When I started searching for ways to change all the things I didn't like, I discovered how much can be accomplished with a good shell replacement. The one I am using now (SharpEnviro) substantially remodeled the way I interact with my programs and my files. For instance, I can launch programs just by right clicking on the desktop. I can hide all the files and shortcuts sitting on my desktop with a click so that all I see is the background wallpaper -- totally clean. I have more than 1 desktop, and I put different windows on each, like different open browser windows. I think it has increased my productivity. It also looks beautiful.

Some people (like me) have particular tastes that might be difficult to satisfy, but we rely on computers every single day. And one of the most defining factors that shape the computer usage experience is the shell: it's the interface between you and everything the computer can do for you.

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