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I have recently started using Linux on my laptop and I really like it. Especially I am overwhelmed by the ability to customize the desktop environment in Linux. I start reading about it and I learned that you can replace the Windows shell in Windows 7 which I use on my desktop computer. However I was wondering would it affect my ability to run windows programs in any way? At the moment I use some Windows only programs that I need to run. Are there any downfalls of using custom shell on Windows?

  • Of course it will, any programs that specifically implement Windows shell functions, will cease to work. – Ramhound Apr 19 '16 at 21:44
  • @Ramhound , please see my comment to Gerard Kean's answer. – Jamie Hanrahan Apr 20 '16 at 4:56
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Nope it won't because when you replace the "shell" in windows you're actually only replacing the UI and the user interface has nothing to do with the programmes you run.
I haven't done it since XP but the principle is the same, it's just a visual tweak.

It's not like Linux where the shell is like Windows over DOS and much more involved.

  • Exactly. Yes, there are underlying DLLs that Explorer depends on, and yes, some of those (like shell32.dll) do provide functions that are called by application programs - such as in the file open and save dialogs. But that doesn't matter, because "replacing the shell" doesn't remove those DLLs. It doesn't even remove explorer.exe! It just changes what program happens to be launched by userinit.exe when someone logs in. Programs that call on "shell functions" will still find those functions just as always. – Jamie Hanrahan Apr 20 '16 at 4:54
  • I see, Thank you for extensive response. I will keep the question open for another day, in case somebody would like to add something to the topic. Also I was wondering would you recommend trying the Windows shell in Virtual Machine first before applying it to live system, in case something go wrong? – Pawel Apr 20 '16 at 12:52
  • You can use a virtual machine and it's usually a wise move when testing any software. When you do decide to jump in and give it a try never install the shell replacement itself without making sure to also install a shell switcher or know the location in the registry HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\ (where it used to be) so you have a manual way to change your mind and take it from me, once you get started with this you will change your mind often. Many years ago I used to spend a hell of a lot of time here shellcity.net – Gerard Kean Apr 22 '16 at 10:45
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I expect that a replacement shell could cause problems, although most likely it will not cause many problems (and might not cause any noticeable problems). As an example, 4DOS was a new shell for the MS-DOS platform that pre-dated Windows 95. Compatibility was very high, but not absolute. For anything important, be sure to back up important data first and perform careful tests until you are satisfied that things keep working as expected.

Note that the "shell" in Windows refers to the user interface that interacts with the user, and so involves graphics. If you simply want an alternate command line prompt, you can install it and make an icon for it, and that is unlikely to affect many programs that are heavily graphical in nature.

Years ago, one reason to use an alternate shell was that an alternate shell may have fewer requirements of system resources. Since then, computers have become more powerful, enough that the system requirements of Microsoft's shell are typically met easily.

You may wish to consider whether shell replacement is needed. Back in the DOS days, it was a good idea because the default COMMAND.COM shell was pretty limited. With a new Windows shell, many of the changes can be done using add-ons rather than replacing Microsoft's shell. Such an approach may be less likely to break as Microsoft changes how Windows works (with newer releases of Windows). Even if you do decide to use a third party program which could be used as a shell, you may wish to check whether much of its functionality can be achieved by running the software from within the Windows shell, rather than replacing the Windows shell.

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