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Startmenu replacements
When it's all about decoration, there's some alternatives to your startmenu that look really different:
Most known part of WinStep Full Pack is NextSTART, but WinStep is full a set of applications to enhance, change Windows (for the better and a "NextStep" look). It's not a real replacement of the startmenu; it displays the contents of your programs folder, or any other folder(s), like the startmenu, but it's highly configurable. You can set gradients, use icons or not, change height, 3d-effects, font(color) etc. You gotta play with the options, there's a lot! Which also goes for WorkShelf, the other major part of the pack (besides this, there's a font browser). This launcher with tabbed interface, lots of modules, much more, is another replacement of startmenu/taskbar in itself, combined they take care of anything. It's shareware, for all Windows versions.

[*toptool:] Basically Panekiller is the startmenu like it should be. Look and feel don't differ too much at first, until you find out everything can be customized. Major eyecathers may be the transparancy options (smooth in áll Windows versions) and animated menu appearances (about 30 different effects!). But how about total control over what's in the menu's, cascading folders, ripping off partial menu's etc. And for visuals, startbutton can look like anything you want (animation, mouse-over effects), as is the arrow. There's more, great app, it's a real difference! It's shareware, for all versions, but registration is only $10.
WinMac (free, all versions) recreates the MacIntosh menu bar within Windows (option to turn taskbar off). What's more, you can make it look like in system 7, 8, 9 or even OS X! Some good to read background info here.

HoverDesk ($19.95, all versions), formerly NextView, is a NextStep inspired replacement of the startmenu and taskbar. Highly configurable/skinnable and with optional clock, recycle bin, cpu/mem/swapfile monitoring modules. It even has a VWM (virtual window manager) and eyedropper application inside. Optional modules for WinAmp and Hovernews, notes module, list goes on... With a smooth working taskswitch area it's a complete replacement/entrance to anything on the computer. A fully customizable startmenu, hovering effects and much more gui options, this one has grown to be a very adult option for your desktop.

MarbleMad's MMdesk
MarbleMad's MMdesk (free, Win 9x/?) is just in it's early beta stage, but looks great! Fully skinnable, lots of optional components. For now, a bit demanding on resources, and not getting past beta stage... with a final conclusion, discontinued.

Stardock's ObjectBar: "As a true super-set of the Windows Start bar, ObjectBar includes a fully skinnable system tray, configurable (and filterable) taskbar, Start bar menuing, and custom menus. The menus can be configured to be tear off or just standard menus." Calling it "the world's first fully featured Windows Startbar replacement" we will consider a fun marketing trick, but it's fullfeatured indeed. Configurability shows in ability to really emulate the type of "bar" available in MacOS, QNX, other platforms.


Notable, and also by SD DesktopX, a tool to create anything you'd like on the desktop. Though not really meant for it, format of skinning/scripting is very flexible, replacement 'startbars' have been created for it. Both could be set up to complement eachother; both shareware too, all Windows versions.
Mac OS X alike "docks"
MacOS X introduced the dock. A bar on a side of the screen, big icons in, huge when hovered, smooth transition effects, translucency all around (mostly done with .png), more animation effects. Popup menu's with more options, making it a fullfeatured 'startbar'. In a short time, a lot of "ports" to Windows saw the light. Here they are (and for a nice review of them, read here):

  • Reported to run smooth, easy to configure: Y'z dock (free, XP only) - one of public favorites.
  • This is not an application. LSDock is kind of a distribution of Litestep, all necessary modules included, configuration all made up, a massive job (2k/XP). Not reported to run extremely smooth, but at least a immense job of craftmanship from Moshi!
  • Stardocks testtool for ObjectBar, now released (free, XP): ObjectDock. Very good reviews from day one.
  • The first released dock, MobyDock (free, 2k/XP); development was slow for a while, but catching up with the rest.

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