The controversy surrounding Windows 8 is almost entirely focused on the user interface. Its touch-based design risks alienating desktop users, many of whom were extremely happy with Windows 7. In fact, some users are so disgusted by the new UI that they’re flat-out refusing to upgrade.
However, not upgrading also has its disadvantages. Windows 8 offers a number of major and minor adjustments that can be of use to both casual and enthusiast users. To help users who want to remain focused on the desktop, but also want the features of Windows 8, we’ve compiled a few ways to tweak Windows 8 that can make the new operating system more desktop-oriented.
Use The Taskbar
One of the best interface features new to Windows 7 was the ability to pin icons to the taskbar and open Jump Lists. Together, these two features made the Start menu more or less superflous. Users could pin popular folders and apps to the taskbar and navigate many of their functions directly without having to go into the Start menu at all. This is still possible with Windows 8. Users can create a faux Start menu by creating a shortcuts folder, pinning it to the taskbar, and then adding the desired shortcuts. This can take a few minutes, but it creates a simple, paired-down option that only lists the software the user wants to include.
Additionally, users who want a very close approximation to a Start menu – unused apps and all – can create it. Right-click on the taskbar, go to Taskbars in the context menu, then click New Taskbar. When an open folder window pops up, type the following:
Ta-da! Now, right-click the taskbar again and uncheck “Lock the taskbar.” This makes it possible to drag the Programs button over to the left side so that it sits where the Windows 7 Start button sits.
Created by Stardock, a company that’s been making Windows user interface modifications for years, Start8 comes as a free 30-day-trial. After that, users can “unlock” the third-party software for just $4.99.
Start8 does not re-enable the Windows Start menu. Instead, it creates a new menu that looks similar to it. Because of this, Stardock provides a great deal of customization options. Users can make the menu appear Metro-like by giving it square edges, or can stick with the Windows 7 look by giving it rounded edges. It’s also possible to change color, add or remove translucency, and give the Start menu button a custom icon. And that’s just the beginning. There’s a plethora of fine-grain options available in the app’s Configuration and Control menus for users to explore and customize.
Considering its low price and the large number of options it provides, we think this software is a good deal. We even like the optional faux-Metro style. However, Start8 doesn’t add any important new functionality, so users are essentially paying $5 to have what was bundled with Windows 7.
Some users don’t like change and believe that if it’s not broken, it shouldn’t be fixed. These are the users who held on to Windows XP for as long as they could, and they’re the users least likely to be amused by Microsoft’s UI shake-up. For these users, we present Classic Shell as the solution.
This freeware program can enable a legacy-style Start menu and Windows Explorer interface. Users can even have the Windows 7 menu back! But why stop there? Windows XP and Windows Classic menus are available as well. The Classic style will be a comfort to anyone upgrading from Windows 98. The classic Explorer settings can also transport users into the way-back machine, and users can now have the simple Windows XP style back that they know and love.
Users can also apply one of several different skins to the Start menu, and can change some of the options that impact either Start or Explorer. Most of these are small, fidgety choices that the average user won’t care about, like the ability to change what the Windows key does — but enthusiasts will appreciate the detail.
Be careful with Start menu downloads
We tested a number of different Start menu options while working on this article, and we can safely say that the three listed are the only ones we recommend at this time. It turns out that some of the free Start menu options simply do not work, perhaps because they haven’t been updated for the full release version. There are also some registry tweaks that are no longer valid.