I am using Classic Shell and I can set the taskbar color to whatever I like and also select the level of transparency I like. I can also set the color of the start menu independently to whatever else I want. The search function is similar to searching with the search icon of the taskbar, I didn't notice any problem when using it. Just click on the start button and type what you want to find in the search box. It is the same as clicking on the search icon, which you can use if you prefer.
In my experience the search function is nothing worse than in Windows 8.1.
Adverts in the start menu can be disabled through Settings > System > Notifications & Actions > disable Show tipps for Windows.
As for the start menu and the task bar, you can use Classic Shell to easily customize both. In fact, if you ask me, using Classic Shell in fact is a necessity, but not because of the color (or do you mean the transparency?) of the task bar, but because of the badness of the start menu of Windows 8. I now got used to the Classic Shell one, it is really good and I don't want to exchange it against this stupid Windows 10 one.
No thanks, no interest at all in doing that. I don't like dark themes and most of the Deviant Art ones I've seen are dark or flashy. I do almost no visual tweaking. Just not my style but now I understand where you're coming from, thanks for the response.
backup. It creates a copy of what you backed up in a virtual drive. From that VD, you can save what you want to a hard drive. I have no Idea if this will work with the free version. I know it does with the paid as I did it. May be worth a try.
Most games can work from a backup without reinstalling them. Copy the game's folder and then put it back in Program Files or Program Files (x86) (depending on where you took it from). When you run the executable it will probably ask for the game DVD-ROM to check it is genuine, then run without any problem. No need to reinstall. This is true for games that are fully installed (not typical or whatever limited installation, only full). So at least you can save the trouble of reinstalling most games. Copy them back and if one or two do not run directly, you can reinstall them on top.
Laplink has updated their PC Mover suite to NOW allow you to mount an image of your prior OS and reinstall the applications from that Image! Really! Of course, they SELL a utility that will create an image for you -- but you can accomplish the same using the free version of Macrium Reflect. Simply install that, create an image backup to an external drive or a large capacity USB stick.
After you do a clean install to get your previous OS back, then install PC Mover Pro, attach the external drive/USB stick containing the image backup, point PC Mover Pro to that backup, and you should now be able to reinstall those applications.
Please note that I have NOT tried this, as I bought the software to experiment with upgrading my favorite laptop to Win10, but have not had to time to test this out.