Living with Windows 8
Ok, I’ll be right upfront with you: I *hate* Windows 8. Wow, that even rhymes…
So why did I install it, you may ask. Well, I figured that Windows 9 will be better and it would be easier to upgrade from 8, rather than from 7. So I installed it…actually 8.1 and after some tweaking, I’m reasonably ok with it.
The Start Page. Fail.
I’m not going to do a full review of Windows 8, but just want to give you the gist of the problem. So yeah, the new tiled interface sucks. Basically, the initial Start page is a bunch of tiles that are supposed to be the ones you might use the most. There’s apps mixed in with stock information, weather, news, etc.
You click an arrow at the bottom and the Apps page slides up. This is what used to be on the Start menu, but everything is laid out, uncollapsed, on a horizontally scrolling page …every …single …file… It’s insane really, particularly if you have a lot of applications installed.
Microsoft’s attempt to design a one-size fits all touch/mouse user interface (UI) for small-screen mobile all the way up to giant-size flat screen tabletops is a total and utter failure. It doesn’t work.
People like hierarchy organization. Apple already tried not having this with the original iPhone UI. Initially there were just screens full of icons. What did people demand and eventually get? Folders! Were you even paying attention Microsoft! Geezus!
Back to the Future
In any event, I’ve come up with a couple things you can do that make it almost seem like you’re using Windows 7:
- Set Windows 8 to boot straight to the Desktop
- Learn the screen “corners”
- Install Start8 and menuApp
Set Windows 8 to boot straight to the Desktop
- Click the Desktop tile on the Start page to go to the Desktop.
- Right-click an open area on the taskbar and click Properties.
- Click the Navigation tab, then enable the option “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start”. LOL! Yup, that is how it is described in 8.1!
- Click OK and reboot. Windows should now boot to the Desktop.
After doing this you’ll see a Start button, but don’t get too excited yet, it merely brings you back to the new Start page. Ugh!
Go to Your Corners!
In Windows 8, when you place your mouse cursor in one of the corners, clicking your mouse buttons does something special. (If you ever get “lost,” just remember the corners!) The one you should remember is right-clicking the top-left corner brings you back. So if you’re on the Desktop and go to the Start page, clicking the corner will bring you back to the Desktop. Whew!
Now, right-clicking in the top or bottom left corners brings up a really helpful menu. Here you can quickly get to things like the Device Manager, Network Connections, DOS Prompt, and Control Panel. You can also shutdown, sign off, restart, etc. here. Very nice actually, but more so since the Start menu is gone…or is it?
Start8 is a small app from the Stardock folks who have been making Windows desktop customization apps for years. It’s ironic that many of their products would give older versions of Windows the look and feel of the new versions, but in this case, its the opposite. (They even have a nice app that mimics the Mac object dock.) Start8 is an absolute steal at only 5 bucks and does a great job of bringing back a Windows 7-like Start menu.
I always liked to use the Quick Launch in Windows prior to 7. Yeah, I know you can kinda get it back, but it doesn’t really work the same. It’s a kludge.
appMenu is a tiny free app that uses folder/tree navigation just like the old Quick Launch did. It doesn’t come with an installer so you just create a folder somewhere and copy the files into it. It comes in 32-bit and 64-bit versions.
There are a couple ways to run appMenu, but here’s how I set it up:
- Unzip the 32-bit or 64-bit appMenu files, depending on your version of Windows, into a folder, say, C:\appMenu
- Create a sub-folder called shortcuts (i.e., C:\appMenu\shortcuts)
- Right-click the MenuApp.exe file and choose Create shortcut from the pop-up menu.
- Right-click the shortcut file you just created
- In the Start in field, enter your shortcuts folder path: C:\appMenu\shortcuts
- Click OK.
- Right-click the icon and choose Pin to Taskbar.
- Eventually you’ll want to place this in the Startup folder so it runs when Windows runs. (It easy to drag it there once Start8 is installed.)
Now, you just need to add some program shortcuts to the appMenu shortcuts folder. You can even put folders in there. I created another shortcut of the shortcuts folder and put it on my Desktop. Then, I can easily open the folder and drag shortcuts into it.
I suppose that alternatively you could point appMenu at the actual Quick Launch folder. There are a lot of programs that still copy shortcuts there.
No Glass Allowed
When I first started using Windows 8.1, the Desktop just looked odd and more cluttered. Then it dawned on me: There is no transparency on title bars, the nice drop-shadows are gone, and the corners aren’t as rounded…yep no more Aeroglass. It’s funny how much I miss it. Windows just seem to take up more screen real estate than they used to. There’s a utility out there supposedly lets you add back Aeroglass to 8.1, but it seems like too much of a hack. I’ll probably get used to it, but I’m hoping Aeroglass makes a comeback in Windows 8.2 or 9 ;-)
Microsoft Account vs Local Account
Windows 8 will push you down the path of using a “Microsoft Account” on your PC. This is the same as what was called a “Live” account and I think “Passport” before. Anyways, I’ve had one for years. By doing this, it integrates Microsoft on-line/cloud services like Skydrive, Messenger, Hotmail, etc. into your system. It also allows you to sync settings between systems.
Personally, I find this a little heavy handed. I also don’t use any of these services, so I’d prefer to avoid using a Microsoft Account. Unfortunately, I converted to one, not really knowing what the implications were. I found this out when I couldn’t log into my machine. I eventually discovered that the username is the same, but you enter your Windows Account password instead.
Luckily, it is easy to switch back without losing your settings. Go to the Start screen and just type “your”. The search feature will automatically appear and you can choose Your account settings. Your account name and email will appear in the upper-right and there should be a Disconnect link just below that. Click it. You’ll need to re-enter your Microsoft Account password and then enter a new local account password. Note that all of your settings will still be there after you make the switch. Whew!
Well, that’s about it. Life with Windows 8 is very livable with just a few easy tweaks. You’ll almost feel like your still using Windows 7…well until something with the new UI pops up! But you now know about the corners, right? You can still go to the new Start page by right-clicking the bottom-left corner if you feel the urge to torture yourself.
2014-03-14: Here’s a nice intro to Windows 8 document by Microsoft.