View Full Version : Run Windows XP without Windows Explorer

07-11-2009, 01:23 PM
This is a trick I figured out myself on how to run Windows XP without starting up or using the actual Windows Explorer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_explorer). Windows Explorer is more than just a file browser it is actually the Windows Shell (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Shell) which provides the taskbar, start menu, system tray, and desktop icons along with other functions. In this tutorial I will demonstrate how start your computer without running Explorer. It may be possible to do something similar on different versions of windows however this tutorial's applies specifically to XP.

There are a few reasons why someone may want to forgo starting Explorer when windows starts. In order to do this you have to tell windows to open up a program other than Explorer. This program can be almost anything you want. There are alternate shells that offer customization, low resource usage, and other features. A popular example is Litestep (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Litestep), which allows for free form skins and plugin modules for customizable functionality, resources and information can be found at litestep.net (http://www.litestep.net/).

Another great option is to boot a program that is not a shell which limits the use of the computer mostly to that program which provides both security and conserves system resources such as RAM. The option I will be following in this tutorial is booting to Firefox. This allow access to only the internet browser and makes it harder to access the sytem files. This would be a great option for a kids computer or a public terminal/kiosk set at your companies website for example. I haven't tried it but I imagine booting to a high resource game or program such as photoshop would also work.

Disclaimer: I am providing this tutorial as a reference. Anyone attempting to follow or use the tutorial does so of their own free will at their own risk. This involves editing your system registry and can harm your computer/data. If you screw up or do something wrong it is your own fault. I am not liable for your actions. I am not offering any service or help if you screw up nor am I obligated to fix your computer.

To begin with I recommend having at least two accounts on the computer:
-The first being an admin account that boots to Explorer without any changes and secured by a password that can still be accessed for administrating the computer should something go wrong with this tutorial.
-The second account is the actual account in which the Windows Shell gets replaced. This must be an Admin account to make the changes. All changes done in this tutorial will take place in the second account.

After creating your user accounts log into the account you wish to change. I highly recommend making any changes you want before changing the shell. Stuff like window appearance, background, screensaver, etc. Depending on your setup it may be possible to change these later although it will be much easier if you do so beforehand.

Make sure the software you wish to start instead of Explorer (ex: Firefox) is installed and configured before continuing.

Open the registry by going to START -> Run and then typing "regedit" and clicking "OK".

Navigate to "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\IniFileMapping\system.ini\boot". Find the String named Shell and change its value from "SYS:Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon" to "USR:Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon". This tells Windows to look in the User key for the shell rather than the Machine key. If you don't set this Windows becomes confused and Windows will see both Firefox and Explorer as your shell.

Next, go to "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon". Either find or create a string named "Shell" with a value containing your program or alternate shell (for example, "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\Firefox.exe"). This sets your username's shell to the alternate.

At this point Firefox is set up as your shell. In order to continue using Explorer as your file manager you must complete these steps:
- Navigate to "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Curre ntVersion\Explorer" and create a DWORD with the name DesktopProcess and a value of 1.
- Next, navigate to "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\Curre ntVersion\Explorer\Advanced" and, again, create a DWORD with the name DesktopProcess and a value of 1.

You will need to log off and reboot in order for your changes to work.

Once setup it is easy to use. Just boot the computer and log onto the user setup to run the alternate to Explorer. Windows is actually setup with basic functionality if Explorer is not launched. All windows open and behave the same as normal, the only change is there is no taskbar so when minimizing a short titlebar will sit on the bottom edge of your monitor. To switch between open windows just use the Alt-Tab function as normal.

It is actually possible to access the Windows Explorer file manager if booting to a program that does not act as a shell, although depending on the program it may be difficult. When I boot with Firefox I open the download window and right click on a download click on "Open Containing Folder" and from there I can browse as normal and even access the control panel if desired (although I suggest adjusting settings and appearances as you would like them before starting this tutorial).

Now there will come a time when you want to shut down or log off. To do this just use the command Ctr-Alt-Del to open the taskmanger. From there the "Shut Down" menu on the top provides access to the standard shut down, restart, log out, etc commands.


I want to give proper credit as portions of this tutorial are modified excerpts from the Litestep Wiki. http://wiki.litestep.com.ar/LiteStep:Installation

I hope someone finds this tutorial useful. If you do try this post a reply saying how you used this and if it worked out for you.

07-11-2009, 02:07 PM
bblean is also a nice.... clean... and low resource desktop manager...

07-12-2009, 12:30 AM
Nice tut. Giving ya a tutorial award.

07-12-2009, 12:53 AM
Thanks for the award. I've played around with alternate shells back in the day although I've never used bblean. The reason I used to use Litestep is the freeform skins. The reason I posted this was because the ability to start programs other than a shell on boot. I had a theory I might be able to do so and just decided to go ahead and try it one day. Figured someone out there might benefit from it.

07-12-2009, 01:07 AM
If I get another netbook and decide to use XP on it, I'll give this a shot. Cool tutorial, dude!

07-12-2009, 02:43 AM
Great tutorial! Have another green square. :D

07-12-2009, 07:40 AM
would be cool to setup an adobe flash interface or something using this technique. have it boot directly to the flash movie player, with a homemade media center swf file running. interesting idea. cool! +rep

07-22-2009, 11:07 PM
You my friend deserve a rep!

07-23-2009, 03:56 AM
Explorer's been ****ting out on me a LOT lately so I'll probably find an alternative to use. I open a folder of stuff I've downloaded and it crashes. I'd kind of like my $100+ OS to run well, lol.