Shells are replacement software packages that add new graphical user interface designs to Windows. There are precious few actively supported shell replacements currently available for Windows. Classic Shell is a popular shell that remained actively supported until about 2017.

However, Cairo Desktop is an Active Shell replacement with which you can add a new desktop environment to Windows 11. That software adds a new menu bar, taskbar and browsable desktop to Microsoft’s latest desktop platform. This is how you can replace Windows 11 with the Cairo desktop.

How to download and install Cairo

Setting up Cairo is quick and straightforward. Note that Cairo has a .NET Framework 4.7.1 or higher system requirement. This software is also compatible with Windows 7, 8 and 10 platforms. These are the steps to download and install Cairo.

When you launch the software for the first time a “Welcome to Cairo” message will appear. You’ll also see a new menu bar at the top of the desktop and a taskbar dock at the bottom. Select your language on the drop-down menu, and click the Start Tour button. That trip will tell you a little about Cairo before you even enter its new desktop environment.

How to organize apps into categories on Cairo’s Programs menu

Cairo’s menu bar at the top of the desktop is similar to the menu bar on Mac computers. It is a pretty revolutionary change to see a feature like this on the Windows 11 desktop. Programs is the most important menu in the bar that contains shortcuts to open any software added to it. So, it’s like an alternative to Cairo’s start menu.

You can add programs to that menu and organize them with Cairo’s App Grabber tool. Click on the Programs menu and select App Grabber. You can then add the software to the menu by clicking Browse, choosing a program EXE file, and selecting the Open option.

To finish arranging apps on that menu, press the Continue button. You can add new program categories by clicking the plus button and right-clicking on them to input titles. Left-click on programs and hold down the mouse button to drag them between categories. Then click Finish to update the menu. You will see the new categories added on the right side of the Programs menu.

How to make folder stack on cairo menu bar

When you add some folder stacks to Cairo’s top menu bar, you’ll find it even more useful. You’ll then be able to access files directly from their folder stack on the menu bar. Cairo’s menu bar already includes Documents and Downloads stacks, from which files can be accessed.

To add a folder stack to the menu bar, click the Choose Folder button on Cairo’s navigation bar. Select a folder to view in Cairo, and click on the OK option. Right-click anywhere on the desktop area and choose Add to Stack. You will then see a stack for folders on the menu bar.

Clicking on a folder stack on the menu bar displays its contents on the desktop, as in the screenshot below. You can click the left/right arrows to scroll through the files. Press the Open Desktop button to view the contents of the folder on the desktop.

How To Browse Through Folders With Cairo’s Desktop Navigation Bar

Cairo displays the contents of folders on its desktop area, which makes File Explorer a bit redundant. You can see folders on the desktop and browse them with the navigation bar. Clicking the Choose Folder button opens a directory selection window from which you can choose a folder to display on the desktop. You can then click the Back and Forward buttons to flick through the open folders.

How to add a shortcut to Cairo’s taskbar

Cairo features a taskbar that includes software windows, just like Windows 11. However, Cairo’s taskbar looks more like a macOS dock (users can also add a Mac-style dock to Windows with the WinStep Nexus). You can pin a shortcut to that taskbar by right-clicking a software window and selecting Add to Quick Launch.

The task list on that taskbar is another cool Cairo feature. That feature includes a menu of all open software windows on the taskbar. You can switch between windows by selecting them on the Task List menu.

How to further customize Cairo Desktop

You can customize Cairo Desktop’s features from its Settings window. To see that window, click the small circle at the far left of the menu bar. Then choose Cairo Settings on the menu.

The Menu Bar tab contains customization settings for Cairo’s menu bar. You can deselect the Clock, Action Center, or Search checkboxes to remove those items from the menu bar. Or select a different category for the Program menu on the Default program category drop-down menu.

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