Everyone hates change, especially an UI change. But look at every Facebook UI change and after a few weeks of bitching people will have gotten used to it and accepted things. Well, I tried Windows 11 as default for a month hoping to get over it but damn, a lot of the UI changes are simply crippling to desktop users. I get it, I understand why these changes were made and mobile and touch devices greatly benefit from them. But seriously did Microsoft had to remove everything that makes Windows usable on desktops in the process?!
Start Bar and Menu
My biggest frustration comes from the changes made here. The start bar content is now centered by default, which throws off muscle memory and continuously shifts icons sideways with every additional program you open. The start menu itself is a crippled page-based app launcher. Pinned application icons are small requiring more precise clicking. There are no options for grouping applications together and having blank slots in between pinned icons isn’t even allowed. Seriously, this has been a standard on mobile devices for years! As someone who actively uses groups of applications (ie entertainment, gaming, Adobe, office etc) this is just unusable. The following tweaks removes all of these frustrations.
In taskbar settings:
- (declutter) Disable search icon: Just press the windows button or winkey and start typing.
- (feature) Enable Task View: virtual desktops are love, just ask any Linux user. I’ve got a few set up dedicated to general use, image editing, video editing and music production.
- (declutter) Disable widgets buttons: I don’t use widgets.
- (declutter) Disable chat: I don’t use use MsTeams.
- (declutter) Hide pen menu.
- (declutter) Disable touch keyboard.
- (declutter) Disable virtual touchpad.
- (declutter) Corner overflow: Allow spotify, Discord, Lightpack.
- (qol improvement) Taskbar alignment: Left. Keeps buttons at the same place even after opening a new program. Makes more sense for muscle memory. Windows button always accessible with a fast movement to the corner of the screen.
- (qol improvement) Disable autohide.
- (qol improvement) Show badges for unread. Doesn’t matter, currently only works with win11 style start menu which I’ve replaced.
- (qol improvement) Show taskbar on all displays.
- (qol improvement) Show program on taskbar where window is open. Makes more sense for multi-monitor multitasking.
- (qol improvement) Show desktop in far corner. Easily accessible even tho I tend to favour winkey+D.
Start bar changes: Explorer Patcher
Explorer Patcher is a tool that allows for easily making changes to Windows 11 appearance and re-enabling Windows 10 features/UI elements. It’s relatively stable, but make sure this tool has been updated before upgrading to new (major) win11 releases. Download and source code are available at https://github.com/valinet/ExplorerPatcher.
I’m using this tool to revert back to the Windows 10 style taskbar which allows for displaying window title text on the start bar, as well as having separate icons for each opened instance. No more unnecessary pop-up menus and hovers to switch windows for us!
- Taskbar Style: Windows 10.
- Combine Taskbar Icons when full.
- Large icons
- Hide Cortana/search button
- Hide search button
- Show task view button
- Hide People button
- Show show desktop button
- Disable separators between toolbars. I don’t use toolbars anyway.
- System Tray
- Hide seconds in clock
- Enable skin taskbar and pop-up menus
- Enable center Pop-up
- Enable flyout behaviour
- Disable hide control center. Control Center will display Windows 11 significantly improved activity menu for wifi, volume and media controls and more.
- Hide touch keyboard button
Start menu replacer: Start11
Windows 11’s new start menu is usable, but lacks polish. The biggest issue has to be the “app drawer” for pinned items. You can’t create folders/groups of pinned applications like on Android or iOS, blank spaces are not allowed so grouping per page is not possible, you can’t resize the menu to display more applications per page and finally, the icons are small requiring more precise mouse movement. There is hope Microsoft will introduce these features that have been the standard on mobile devices since forever, but until then I use Start11 (€7 lifetime license) as a start menu replacer.
- Start Menu: Windows 11 style
- Shortcuts: Settings, Windows Terminal, Explorer, Run.
- Visual appearance
- Black, 80% transparancy
- Rounded corners
- Animation enabled
- Offset: Never
- Show shutdown options from remote Desktop.
- Show more tiles on Start
- Show recently added apps
- Medium icon sizes
- No fullscreen menu (a la Win8.0)
- Show app list enabled
- Disable everything else.
- Start Button: custom win11ish, first from the gallery below. Third is an insider preview start button from the Start11 linked forums. ExplorerPatcher changes the start button to Windows 10, hence the need to replace it with Start11.
Windows 11 introduced a new context menu (aka right click menu). While I like the most used functions like cut, copy, paste and rename always being next to the cursor, the menu lacks a lot of the items I’ve grown used to. This comes from a change in how programs are allowed/able to be added to the new decluttered context menu. Programs will have to be updated to support these, which might take some time. 7zip and Notepad++, my two most used programs from the context menu, are currently not yet updated to support the new style menu. So until then, We’ll disable the new UI and have it open the old style instead, with some much needed decluttering.
There’s also some minor tweaking to the file explorer to be done as quality of life improvements.
Revert to Windows 10 Context menu
In Explorer Patcher:
- File Explorer
- Disable Windows 11 context menu
- Use immersive menus when displaying Windows 10 context menus
Declutter context menu
Use ShellMenuView and ShellExView to disable all items added by programs that you find to be unnecessary. Typically I’ll only allow 7zip, Notepad++, open in Windows Terminal, and the Windows Defender scan file option to remain in my file context menu.
Now, let’s declutter all the junk Windows itself adds. These include the modern share app, create video, edit with photos, rotate image and windows media player options. All of these items require registry tweaks which I’ve gathered from winaero.com, tenforums, elevenforums and majorgeeks and added to one zip file. You can find the sources to each registry tweak in the included source.txt file.
Only a few changes here. First, uninstall OneDrive. This should also remove OneDrive from the navigation panel in File Explorer. If it doesn’t, run the remove onedrive registry tweak from the zip file found above.
Next, open explorer and go to options.
- Set Open File Explorer to This PC
- Disable Show recently used files
- Disable Frequently used folders in quick access.
- Enable Decrease space between items. This reverts it back to the win10 spacing which is more desktop friendly.
- Enable Display file icon on thumbnails.
- Enable Display file size in folder tips.
- Disable Display full path in title bar. Works better with start bar text.
- Enable Show hidden files
- Enable Show drive letters
- Navigation pane
- Disable all except show this PC. I have my library folders already show up in This PC view, no need for showing them twice.
Windows 11 added new terminal application, with support for tabs and different terminals. CMD, PowerShell, Bash and azure, all in one convenient place! Make sure to set it to default in the windows settings application and heading to default applications.
Windows Subsystem for Linux
WSL in Windows 11 now allows for the use of graphical linux applications, further closing the gap between Linux and Windows. It can now also be more easily installed from the Microsoft Store. Any WSL installation will show up in the explorer pane as well under Linux, making it easier to navigate to your distro files.
Windows Subsystem for Android
Newly introduced in Windows 11 is WSA, which allows you to run Android applications on Windows. Microsoft teamed up with Amazon for this, but sideloading is possible and patched versions that include Google Play for compatibility already exist. as of writing, this feature is officially only available in the US but there’s nothing from preventing you to install it anyway. This involves some Powershell usage, but for the faint of heart https://github.com/voletro/wsa-toolbox has an easy to use GUI. Also visit https://www.reddit.com/r/Windows11/comments/qcqcyd/windows_subsystem_for_android_wsa_megathread/ for more information.
Head to Privacy & Security in the settings applications, followed by Diagnostics and Feedback. Disable everything. This will significantly reduce the amount of data send to Microsoft. To fully disable telemetry, you can launch services.msc, head to the Connected User Experiences and Telemetry service, and disable it.