The shell of an operating system is another name for its user interface (whether graphical or textual) – Microsoft Windows being one such shell, provides common UI elements like the taskbar, window controls etc (and a longish list of dead or obsolete elements, like charms).
Most Windows users will stick with the default shell, but alternatives do exist if you want to be individual and create more work for yourself. Desktop Linux users have a cornucopia of GUI and CLI shells to choose from, with names like Gnome, KDE, bash, tcsh, sh, tosh and bosh. Actually, the last two aren’t real. Probably.
Hardcore power users tend to eschew the namby-pamby niceties of a gooey WIMP system and prefer keyboard shortcuts to everything, but for normal people, there are some quick ways of jumping into parts of the UI using the shell, so you can shave a few tenths off common activities and yet still relax in the modern, graphical world.
It’s been possible for years to short-circuit sections of the Windows UI to make troubleshooting quicker – all of these would run from Start -> Run in previous versions, or just press WindowsKey+R in Windows 10. You can get to the old-fashioned Control Panel applets, for example, if you know the .cpl extension to activate them. If you don’t, you could try running %systemroot%\system32 to take you to the Windows System folder, then filter by type to show only the Control panel items. Perhaps the most useful for troubleshooters is ncpa.cpl (which you can just run directly from WinKey+R), to take you to the Network Settings, without lots of right-clicking and faffing about.
There are a host of other handy shortcuts, from system environment variables (you can see the full list from a cmd prompt by just typing set, and use/reference them by strapping %’s to either end), to lots of relatively obscure shell commands which jump straight to otherwise hidden or deeply-nested bits of the OS. You can just run these commands as above, or if you want to create a shortcut, set it to explorer shell:command
Here are a few to try:
- shell:accountpictures – could be useful if you’re putting your existing profile picture into a website or some such, though the pictures don’t get exposed here as PNG or JPG so YMMV.
- shell:desktop – jumps straight to your desktop; handy if you use that as a dumping zone for docs etc
- shell:downloads – jumps straight to your downloads folder
- shell:onedrivecameraroll – especially useful when fishing out pics from your phone
- shell:my pictures or shell:pictureslibrary – takes you to different places you might have photos stashed
Most of these have been around for a while, but may be comparatively unknown. For a supposedly-fulsome list, check here.