Thursday, October 16, 2014

Taming Windows 8 for Desktop use - Just do these two things

I have been using Windows 8 since it's release on my main workstation. It is actually a pretty good upgrade from Windows 7 especially now with 8.1 and other bug fixes that have been released since its launch. Out of the box however, Windows 8 can be a confusing and downright frustrating experience on a desktop PC. By default your Windows 8 PC boots up into the Windows 8 Menu, a bunch of unfamiliar tile icons in full screen. There are two types of apps for Windows 8. Modern Metro apps that open full screen that are really better suited for touch devices and the classic Windows desktop applications that open in a window from the desktop.

I would start by installing all available Windows updates. Windows 8.1 can be downloaded from the Windows Store (push the windows key on your keyboard and type "Store" and open the green shopping bag icon). Search for Windows 8.1 in the store search.

After that here are the two things you will need to do:

1) Install a proper start menu like the one in all previous versions of Windows.

There are several Start menu options out there. I'll link the two I have used. One is free and the other cost $5. Both will give you the classic start menu.

My first recommendation would be Stardock's Start8. There is a free 30 day trial then it will cost you $5 to purchase the license. I purchased it 2 years ago and I've been able to install all updates for free since then. Start8 feels more like what you would expect to already be built into Windows 8.

Start8 start menu for Windows 8

The free start menu program I have used and recommend is Classic shell. Choose this one if you really like many of the classic features from the start menu in previous versions of Windows.

Classic Shell Start Menu is free!

2) Change your default applications to use Windows desktop programs.

Music files, PDFs, web links, photos and videos are all set to Windows 8 Modern apps so that when you try to open one of these types of files, they will launch in a modern app, removing you from your desktop environment. To change these to open to desktop programs instead, you will need to open "Default Programs" from the Control Panel > Programs > Default Programs. From there you will need to click on "Set your default programs" then choose each desktop program from the list on the left and select " Set this program as default" (to quickly get to the control panel, push the Windows key on your keyboard then just start typing "Control Panel"). Note you will most likely need to install a desktop PDF reader (Adobe Acrobat - just be sure to uncheck the "optional offer" before you click install). Below is a list of common Windows desktop programs you should set as default:

  • Windows Media Player (for music and video files)
  • Windows Photo Viewer (for photos)
  • Adobe Reader (PDF files)
  • Firefox, Chrome, Internet Explorer (websites)
Select the Windows desktop applications as default.
Other desktop programs I would recommend:
Google Picasa OR Windows Live Photo Gallery (for photo management)
Chrome and/or Firefox (for web browsing)

Please make sure you backup your files before trying any of these tips. It is unlikely you would lose data but anytime you install major updates you should always backup first.

Thanks for reading!