How to restore Windows 11 taskbar labels using freeware

When Windows 11 was released, many criticized the lack of taskbar tab capability. Although the operating system has improved significantly over the years, it still lacks that key feature.

At the time of writing, Windows 11 does not allow you to have tabs on the taskbar. Fortunately, there is a free solution for this: Shell Frosting. This third-party app allows you to bring back the famous taskbar capability in Windows 11.

Therefore, we will walk you through installing Shell Frosting on your Windows 11 computer and enabling taskbar labels.

What are taskbar labels? Why should you care?

Screenshot showing Never combine taskbar icons

When you enable taskbar labels, Windows makes it clear which apps you have minimized. The taskbar labels functionality relates to the ability to ungroup the taskbar icons. When you ungroup (or as Microsoft calls “Never Combine”) your taskbar icons, Windows displays each application window separately on the taskbar for easy detection and switching between them.

What is Shell Frosting Application? How to install it on Windows 11

Shell Frosting is a free third-party application developed by Twitter user and Microsoft watcher Albacore (@the book is closed). The app does nothing more than allow users to manage taskbar labels in Windows 11. You can customize the taskbar buttons by choosing from the three options provided: “Merge always, hide labels”, “Merge when the taskbar is full” and “Never merge”.

When you choose the “Never merge” option, the taskbar will ungroup all app windows you minimized. If you have multiple Chrome windows open, it will display them separately on the taskbar, making it easy to find the exact window and switch between them quickly.

Screenshot showing the Install button in the Shell Frosting app

The Shell Frosting app is not available in the Microsoft Store; you can only download it via GitHub. Here are the steps to download and install the app:

  1. Open the GitHub website and click the download link for the Shell Frosting zip file.
  2. Right click on the zip folder and select the Remove all button.
  3. Click on the Extract button.
    Screenshot showing Shell Frosting zip file extraction
  4. Double click on FrostingCfg.exe to start the installation process.
  5. Click Install.
  6. Select Yeah to restart File Explorer.

If you use Microsoft Edge to download Shell Frosting, the browser may prevent you from downloading it. In that case, you will have to force the download. When you install the app, Microsoft Defender SmartScreen will prevent the app from running. And to skip it, you need to click on the run to nowhere option.

Now that File Explorer has successfully restarted, you can use the app to customize your taskbar buttons and choose whether the taskbar should display labels for currently open apps. You can also easily fix Windows 11 taskbar if it stops working after installing the app.

How to restore taskbar labels in Windows 11 using Shell Frosting

Screenshot showing Shell Frosting settings

Windows 11 merges all app windows together and doesn’t show labels by default. But to change this behavior, you need to modify some settings in the Shell Frosting app. Below are the steps to restore taskbar labels in Windows 11.

  1. Click on the Taskbar buttons: Dropdown menu.
  2. Select never combine.
  3. Click Apply.

You will now see the taskbar labels if you have multiple application windows open. It’s also worth noting that you can manage taskbar labels for multi-monitor setups. All you have to do is adjust the Buttons on other taskbars: Dropdown menu.

Alternatives to Shell Frosting App

The Combine Taskbar Buttons dropdown in StartAllBack

Shell Frosting is not the only app that helps you manage the tabs on the Windows 11 taskbar in a better way. You can also use the StartAllBack software to achieve the same results. In addition to taskbar labels, you can also customize the Windows 11 Start menu with the StartBackAll app.

However, one major disadvantage of using this app is that you need to purchase a license after the 30-day trial period ends. The license starts at $4.99 and can go as high as $11.99, so you can install the software on three PCs.

Taskbar Labels Restored, But Be Prepared To Face Errors

Shell Frosting restores labels and the ability to merge and never merge icons on the Windows 11 taskbar. However, you may face some errors while using it. And sometimes those errors can show up more often than you’d like. With that being said, the app will improve with future updates and you should see fewer bugs and better performance.