Cairo is a free desktop shell for Windows
Windows Blinds is perhaps the most popular desktop customization tool. It's a premium software that changes how your desktop looks and functions.
If you're looking for a free shell environment, you should try Cairo Desktop.
Install it and you'll notice the change immediately. Cairo moves the system tray to the top of the screen, you will find the clock and icons in the top right corner. There is a search box at the end of the notification area, which you can use to find stuff, and it returns results instantly like the Everything desktop search engine.
The left side of the bar is the Cairo Menu, which is home to some shortcuts that you may use to access your Documents, Downloads and other folders. The Programs menu is similar to Windows' Start Menu, and is handy for accessing installed applications. The default list is quite minimal, but you can customize it from the App Grabber that's available, when you click the button in the top left corner of the screen. It also supports categories, so you can organize the contents.
Click on a folder from the menu, it will be opened in Cairo's built-in file manager, which is called Stacks. This isn't like your average file manager, it doesn't open in an interface. Instead, the folder and files are displayed on the desktop.
You can use Stacks to select files, open them , copy, move, delete them by selecting the contents, etc. The right-click menu is fairly basic. Drag and drop a folder from Stacks on to the menu, to create a new shortcut.
Cairo Desktop has a really cool taskbar, which retains your shortcuts, though it does rearrange them alphabetically.
The taskbar is dynamic, and changes in size (width) as you open and close programs. If you don't have any open windows, the taskbar looks like a dock, but as you open applications, it becomes wider and reaches the edges of the screen. Click the button on the left edge of the taskbar to view the overlay (Stacks). The menu button on the opposite edge lists all open windows.
Cairo Desktop places a floating widget that you can drag around the screen. It has some useful shortcuts such as show desktop, switching between workspaces, and also allows you to select the home folder.
To close Cairo Desktop, click on its button on the top bar and select exit. You can access the application's settings from this menu. Set the program to automatically start with Windows from the General tab. The shell environment supports 2 themes, Flat (Dark) and White. The menu bar has a handful of options for customizing the aesthetics, you can toggle the blur effect, shadow, clock, notification area, and action center. The Taskbar size, position and display type (auto-sizing) can be modified per your requirements.
The program does not mess up your desktop icons, the shell's settings are saved independently. You can customize the hotkeys for the menu, desktop overlay.
Cairo Desktop is a freeware program, it requires .NET Framework 4.7 or above to run. I went in with low expectations, but found the application to be quite amazing.