I do know about the existence of alternative shells such as SharpE, Emerge Desktop, Ashton Shell, BB4Win, etc... I've looked into a few of those popular/famous ones, but they all seem to be very desktop-centric. That is, they transform how your desktop, task bar and start menu looks. But what I am really interested in is changing the actual "explorer" part of Explorer in Windows 7. That is, this:

screen shot of example

Those shells I named don't seem to do anything about that. (Or did I miss something??) Once I start opening folders, I'll still have to deal with the above-pictured Windows Explorer. Classic Shell is along the lines of what I'm looking for: it adds useful copy/paste, etc. icons, can remove the breadcrumbs, and even changes dialog boxes when overwriting files. That's good but not enough. Does anyone know of more powerful alternatives?

I've been suggested to try things like Total Commander. From what I understand, though, the problem with that is that I would specifically have to open that program in order to use it. That's not the same as shell replacement because if I were to open a folder on my desktop, I would still bring up Windows Explorer. Right? Ideally, I wish to be able to use my computer in the same way as the default way, but so that every time I browse folders and files, some alternative interface is what I deal with. Does anyone know of an alternative shell that provides that, better than Classic Shell does?

EDIT: I forgot to mention, I also get bugged by some small details of dialog box behavior in Windows 7. For example, if I am opening a file, I have to first click inside the file selection window before I can start scrolling using the mouse scroll wheel. It's one extra click but it's annoying. It doesn't make sense! And Windows XP didn't have this issue. Would any alternative shell also "fix" that??

  • 1
    XP has the same mouse wheel problem unless you have a third party program that modifies the behavior or the mouse's drivers do it for you. Look for programs like KatMouse to fix that.
    – afrazier
    Apr 10, 2011 at 0:01
  • I should add: What sort of functionality are you looking for? The sad fact is that almost every Explorer replacement I've tried has some kind of deficiencies that leave them non-ideal.
    – afrazier
    Apr 11, 2011 at 20:31
  • I finally got around to trying out that KatMouse program. Awesome! Thanks for that, too! As for what functionality I'm looking for... probably not too much, actually. I was more or less satisfied with WinXP's file management. I just deleted the stupid buttons and added copy/paste/cut/delete, up directory... Basically, I was just annoyed that the new Vista/7 Explorer allows for zero customization of buttons. That and the mouse wheel issue (which I never experienced on XP but maybe for other reasons, such as the icons being really small in open/save dialog boxes).
    – StormRyder
    Apr 16, 2011 at 1:45

3 Answers 3


You want an alternative file manager, also known as an Explorer replacement. Some of them will take over folder open operations, so that double clicking folders opens the file manager. e.g. Directory Opus and xplorer2 are two I know of that do this, there are probably others.

However, shell dialogs in programs (Open/Save) will still be driven by Explorer. It's really more accurate to say that Explorer is a relatively thin veneer over the shell's file management abilities. It also provides the Desktop and Taskbar, but the file management abilities mostly come from other components in the system. Explorer doesn't provide them to the rest of the system.

That's why they're so difficult to override; to heavily modify those components requires messing about very deep in Windows with ramifications for every non-trivial application. Especially since those DLLs get loaded into the memory space of those processes, screwing up a mod potentially destabilizes almost every user-facing application.

  • Awesome, thanks for explaining that! What about the answer provided here, to a very similar issue/question as my own: link In principle, does it mean that I could use any alternative file manager, even one that doesn't by itself "take over folder open operations", if I just muck about with the registry as described?
    – StormRyder
    Apr 11, 2011 at 5:10
  • The only time I've heard of anything modifying the Winlogon\shell value is to actually change the desktop shell to an alternative shell (e.g. LiteStep, GeoShell, bb4win, etc.). I've never heard of it being used to allow a file manager to override Explorer's operations. I think it's more common to modify entries under HKCR\Folder\Shell to accomplish that. However, to really do it properly requires more than that and isn't straightforward for a developer.
    – afrazier
    Apr 11, 2011 at 20:28
  • Even running Litestep, though, you're still generally dependent on explorer.exe for file management. Most Litestep themes don't replace explorer.exe. Apr 11, 2011 at 20:35
  • @music2myear: This is true -- I was talking specifically about replacing Explorer as a file manager, and that modifying Winlogon\shell doesn't make sense to me in that context. Explorer's dual-role as both file manager and desktop shell causes this kind of confusion when talking about replacing portions of its functionality, especially when the "streams get crossed" by people talking about using a file manager as the shell application. :-) That said, @webwesen indicated that it worked, so who knows!
    – afrazier
    Apr 11, 2011 at 20:58


Try Explorer++, light and fast, does not install anything unless you configure it to.

  • Thanks for that recommendation. It's actually pretty nice. I also want to check out Directory Opus, which was recommended by someone on this superuser question, even if it's not free.
    – StormRyder
    Apr 13, 2011 at 19:19
  • Also look at Q-Dir, it has multiple panes and tabs, very configurable to your needs, they have it for 64bit and a portable (no install) version also....softwareok.com/?seite=Freeware/Q-Dir
    – Moab
    Apr 13, 2011 at 19:42

you can install TeraCopy to replace the file copy/move functions.

  • That's a cool-looking program. I didn't get a chance to install and try it out yet, but seems interesting. I'll be sure to check it out soon! Thanks! Lol I might end up with SharpEnviro, an alternative file manager like Explorer++, and this TeraCopy thing running all together... hopefully they can all live with each other without problems!
    – StormRyder
    May 2, 2011 at 6:11

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