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Five cool alternatives to the Windows 7 desktop shell

Whether you crave a highly customized desktop or just want a different look and feel, one of these shells might be just what you're looking for.
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Some users think that the Windows Explorer shell is a fine desktop. But if you've played around in the land of Linux for a while, that less-than-flexible Explorer interface may not work for you. One solution is to install a replacement Explorer shell. There are plenty of shells to choose from, some open source, some proprietary. Here's a rundown of five of the most appealing choices.

Note: If you'd prefer to view this information as a blog post, check out this entry in our Five Apps blog.

Photo: iStockphoto.com/TopStep2005TopStep2005

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Aston Shell is one of the most feature-rich of all the replacements. With plenty of add-ins, plug-ins, themes, and widgets to play with, the Aston desktop can become pretty much anything you like.

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Aston Share also offers animated skins and themes, live wallpaper, effects, and much more. It's shareware and will run you $29.95.

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SharpEnviro may remind you of Classic GNOME. It's designed to provide a flexible, user-friendly desktop shell that pleases both new and advanced users.

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ShareEnviro will especially appeal to users who want to be able to customize every aspect of their desktop. This shell is open source, so it's free of charge.

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WindowBlinds, by Stardock, used to be a full-blown desktop shell replacement, but now it's a tool for improving the look and feel of the Windows 7 shell.

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You won't be adding widgets and new and improved menus with WindowBlinds. But the enhanced appearance of the Windows 7 interface can be fairly dramatic. This shell costs $19.95

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bbLean is one of two BlackBox clones we'll look at here. BlackBox was always considered one of the lightest, fastest window managers in the Linux environment. So if you want a desktop shell for Windows that is incredibly fast and minimal, bbLean is a great choice.

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bbLean also offers hotkeys, window skinning, the slit, the taskbar, the icon box, and the mouse menu. Lean and fast. It's open source, so it's free of charge.

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Xoblite is also a BlackBox clone for Windows. It offers a few more advanced features than bbLean, such as plugins, some extra tools, and a font pack. The default Xoblite desktop is similar to that of bbLean, but out of the box it looks more polished and advanced.

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Xoblite isn't quite as lightning fast as bbLean, but it offers more features and power. Like bbLean, Xoblite is open source, so it's free of charge.

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