You are about to install a replacement shell for Windows.  A shell is not a normal application; it runs as a special system process.  Replacing the shell is not a supported procedure by Microsoft®, and as such, it is possible that if you do something wrong, you may end up with a non functional desktop and/ or your system may display an erroneous error message asking you to re-install Windows.  Do NOT panic, a very simple solution will put you back to where you need to be, so that you can fix whatever mistake you made, and try again.
Please read the documentation on this topic that came with your LiteStep distribution, or review the „Manual Install“ steps below. Now that you are ready to get going, there are a couple of methods to start  using LiteStep. You MUST have administrative access to install LiteStep.

A) LiteStep Distributions (Recommended and automated)

The recommended way to start with LiteStep is to install one of the community driven LiteStep distributions.  Typically these distributions come with a friendly step by step installation wizard that will set your system up using a default desktop environment and theme.  Currently we recommend using LOSI –  „LiteStep Open Source Installer“ implementing the Open Theme Standard 2 (OTS2) by Tobbe.

LOSI may be downloaded from at

Regardless of which distribution you use, you will find plenty of help on the LiteStep Mailing List (LSML) and user forums on one of the community websites. Please join us in our IRC channel #litestep on Freenode ( if you have any immediate support need see also Supporttools. However, be patient when asking a question as IRC is renown for being full of idlers.

B) LiteStep From Scratch (Manual install and configuration)

STOP: If you are NOT highly familiar with editing the registry or reading lots of documentation and editing text configuration files, then this procedure is NOT for you! Please use a LiteStep Distribution. Thank you.

For the do-it-yourself type, please thoroughly read the following before proceeding. It will save you a lot of headache. I promise.

Create a folder for LiteStep. Generally this is done at „C:\LiteStep“.

Extract the contents of „“ to this folder. Once the contents are extracted, there should be a file located at „C:\LiteStep\litestep.exe“.

Create a text file named „step.rc“ and place it in the same folder as „litestep.exe“.  Using the previous example location, this empty text file should now be at „C:\LiteStep\step.rc“.

Next, consult the section „USAGE (HELP)“ to configure LiteStep via the step.rc text file (A sample step.rc is provided in that section).  Do NOT set LiteStep as your shell until you have configured it, otherwise you will be left with a dysfunctional (yet recoverable) system.

To set LiteStep as your shell, follow these instructions:

1. Win9x/ME

  • Using a text editor (e.g. Notepad) open the Windows System file named „system.ini“.   This file’s location is normally „C:\Windows\system.ini“
  • Locate the line that begins with „shell=“.  This line is located in the „[boot]“ section.  Typically the full line looks like „shell=explorer.exe“ (without quotation marks).  Comment out this line (which disables it) by placing a semi-colon at the beginning of the line.  The line should now look like „;shell=explorer.exe“ (without the quotation marks).
  • Create a new „shell=“ line in the same location as the one removed.  This new line should contain the location of „litestep.exe“.  For example it might look like „shell=C:\LiteStep\litestep.exe“ (without the quotation marks).
  • Reboot your system.
  • README! When you reboot, if you get the error:  „CANNOT FIND <shell file name> PLEASE REINSTALL WINDOWS“ Do NOT reinstall windows!  Just simply follow the instructions below to put your shell back to the default: Boot into DOS (press F8 before Windows starts, or use a DOS boot disk). Issue the command „edit C:\Windows\system.ini“ adjusting for the location of your system.ini file.  Delete the new line you created in the previous steps, and uncomment the line you previously disabled.  Do this by deleting the semicolon at the start of the line.  You should now have one line that starts with „shell=“ in the „[boot]“ section of the „system.ini“  file, „shell=explorer.exe“. Save the file and reboot your system.


2. Win2K/XP

  • Note: If you are NOT an administrator, you will most likely NOT be able to set LiteStep as your shell.  The only exception to this is if your System Administrator has enabled „per user“ shells.  This is highly unlikely. While it is „possible“ to run LiteStep at the same time as the default Explorer shell, it is discouraged and completely unsupported.  Good luck!
  • Open „regedit“ or a similar utility.
  • To ENABLE „per user“ shells:  Locate the following key:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\IniFileMapping\system.ini\boot
  • Change the string value named „Shell“ to: USR:Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon
  • To DISABLE „per user“ shells: Locate the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\IniFileMapping\system.ini\boot
  • Change the string value named „Shell“ to: SYS:Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon
  • To set the system’s DEFAULT shell (The shell all users use if „per user“ shells are disabled, or if a user does not have a custom shell specified). Locate the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon
  • Change the string value named „Shell“ to the location of the file you want to use as your default system shell.

For LiteStep use (adjust path as necessary):


For Explorer use (do not specify a path):


  • To set the shell for the currently logged in user:  Locate the following key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon
  • Change (create) the string value named „Shell“ to the location of the file you want to use as your current user shell.

For LiteStep use (adjust path as necessary):


For Explorer use (do not specify a path):


  • To use any shell besides Explorer, the following key MUST be changed. If you do not configure this key, you will not be able to use the Explorer File Manager.
  • Locate the following key: HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer
  • Change (create) the DWORD value named „DesktopProcess“ to a value of 1.
  • If you changed the „per user“ shell setting, you MUST reboot. Otherwise simply log off. When you return to the desktop, LiteStep will be runnin as your shell if you managed to configure everything correctly.
  • If you end up with a blank or otherwise non-functional desktop. Press CTRL+SHIFT+ESC key combination. The Windows Task Manager will open. Use the File menu to Run a New Task. Launch your registry editor and use the previous instructions to set your system shell back to the default Explorer shell.