How To: Make Windows 8 Feel Like Windows 7

Windows 8: Taking the Good with the Bad

Every time Microsoft releases a new version of Windows, it’s met with mixed emotions. Windows XP had some initial growing pains due to its largely re-written core, but changes to its interface were primarily only skin deep, allowing users to adapt quickly. Vista, while not entirely different from its predecessor, did change quite a bit on the UI front; however, its perceived failure was brought on by the marketing nightmare of being caught in Apple’s crosshairs. The quick adoption of Windows 7 – which is essentially Vista minus the stigma – is proof that the minor interface tweaks were still perfectly adaptable.

Windows 8 could very well be taking things too far. Microsoft has replaced the traditional desktop with what it has named its Metro UI. Popularized on Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform, Metro UI is a touch-centric interface which will have a lot of trouble making itself comfortable in the PC marketplace, where the mouse, keyboard, and large non-touch displays still reign supreme.

The new Metro UI does stand some chance of gaining ground with general consumers, but power users will be appalled. Take, for example, shutting down your computer. In Windows 7, this could be achieved in two clicks of the mouse. In Windows 8, you have to hold your mouse to the side of the screen for a moment to pull up the “Charms Bar,” click the Settings option, click the Power icon, and then click Shutdown. It’s a complete mess from the power user’s perspective.

Of course, that’s not to say Windows 8 doesn’t have any features that would appeal to the power user. Features like native USB 3.0 support and lightning fast boot times top the list. An (arguably) improved task manager and enhanced software RAID support sweeten the waters a bit as well.

The big question is whether or not the benefits of Windows 8 can make up for the loss of the traditional desktop workspace. Just about any Windows power user would answer that question with a big, fat “No;” however, it’s possible to tweak Windows 8 to get the best of both worlds, and we’ll show you how.

Bringing Back the Desktop and Giving Metro the Boot

The biggest fear with Windows 8 is that Microsoft is doing away with the desktop in favor of its new Metro UI, and while the desktop isn’t entirely gone, these fears certainly aren’t without merit. Throughout Windows 8’s release cycle – particularly the Developer and Consumer Previews – users have been finding tweaks to disable the Metro UI, Microsoft went well out of its way with each major revision to patch those tweaks and prevent them from working. Considering that we’re only working with the Release Preview today, there’s no guarantee our current tweaks will work in the final version, though we’re hopeful that they will.

Fortunately, the desktop isn’t entirely gone – just less prevalent. Without any tweaking at all, it’s possible to pull up the desktop simply by clicking on the Desktop Tile. Windows 8’s desktop may seem a bit foreign, considering the lack of a Start button (more on that later), but at least it’s not gone completely; however, having to manually pull it up every time you turn on your computer might be a bit bothersome.

It’s also possible to skip this step entirely and configure Windows 8 to log in directly to the desktop. This is especially useful once you’ve restored the Start Button (explained later).

Start by opening Notepad. You can find it by typing “Notepad” while on the Metro Start screen.  Input the following into the new Notepad file:






Click File and Save As, saving it with a “.scf” extension. For example, “ShowDesktop.scf”

Next, you’ll need to open the Task Scheduler. This can be done by typing “Scheduler” while on the Metro Start screen, though you may need to enable “Show administrative tools” first (found by pulling up the Charm Bar, clicking Settings, then Tiles).

In the Task Scheduler, click “Task Scheduler Library” and then right click on the center pane and select “Create New Task.”

Under the General tab, give the new task a name, “Show Desktop” for example. Under the Triggers tab, click New button, set the task to begin “At log on” and click OK.

Under the Actions tab, create a new action and instruct it to “Start a program” and use the Browse button to find the .scf file you created. Click OK.

Under the Conditions tab, uncheck the “Start the task only if the computer is on AC power” and click OK. You’ll now be greeted with your desktop instead of the Metro Start screen every time you log in. Next step: bringing back the Start button.

Bring Back the Start Button without Third Party Programs

Booting directly to the desktop is only a small victory. Without the return of the Start button, Windows 8’s desktop offers very little of the functionality found in its predecessors. Unfortunately, Microsoft seems hell-bent on doing away with the Start button permanently, regardless of how iconic it is to the Windows platform. Without the use of third party applications, the best we can do for now is offer a few workarounds that let you avoid the Metro Start screen as much as possible.

One option is to pin all of your most used programs to the taskbar. Interestingly, this was a very common practice in Windows 7, and, according to Microsoft, the reason it chose to get rid of the Start button in favor of Metro in the first place.

You can pin any open application to the taskbar by right clicking its taskbar icon and selecting “Pin this program to taskbar.” Alternatively, you can right click on items in the Metro Start menu to pin them as well.

While pinning a bunch of programs to your taskbar may be convenient, it’s not particularly elegant. Instead, you can create a custom toolbar to act as a no-frills Start button, similar in function to Windows 98’s Start button.

To do this, start by right clicking on the taskbar, go to Toolbars, and select New toolbar.

A browser dialogue will pop up. Use it to navigate to your Start Menu folder, generally located at C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu. That’s the folder you want to select.

You can add shortcuts to common applications, such as Calculator, Run, and Command Prompt to the Start Menu folder for quick access. It’s not perfect, but it’s as close as you can get without the help of third party software.

The Start Button Returns via Third Party Software

If you’re not adverse to installing some third party software, it’s possibly to restore the look and even function of the Windows Start button almost completely. There are two popular programs for this very purpose: Stardock’s Start8 and Lee-Soft’s ViStart. Surprisingly, they provide two very different solutions.

Start8 (available for free here) brings the Start button back, but merges it with the features of the Metro Start screen. Clicking the Start button brings up a miniaturized version of the Metro UI in a sort of windowed mode. The end result is actually very agreeable, allowing you to quickly search for applications and utilities, just as you would in Windows 7, but it also allows you to adjust to the Metro UI.

Installing Start8 is very straightforward. Simply run the executable and follow the prompts. As an added bonus, it will even give you the option to skip to the desktop when you log on. That, as well as other settings, can be changed by right clicking on the new Start button.

In contrast to Start8, ViStart (available here) is much more true to the Start button found on Windows 7. It emulates the look and function of the Windows 7 Start Menu as accurately as possible.

ViStart is unfortunately a little deceptive when installing. Even though ViStart is free, the developer has to make a living somehow and has bundled some shareware with it. Pay careful attention to the license agreements. You only have to agree to the Lee-Soft license to get it to install. The rest, you can decline if you so desire.

ViStart doesn’t get everything perfect (you might notice that the color can sometimes be off, especially if you have active backgrounds), but it does get pretty damn close to the original Windows 7 experience. It’s definitely the go to option if you want the Windows 7 Start Menu back.

Even with these programs installed, the Metro UI is not disabled, so sliding the mouse to the bottom corner, for example, can still bring up the Metro Start Menu. Still, when booting directly to the desktop, and with ViStart or Start8 enabled, it’s hard to tell you’re not using Windows 7.

Tricks to Make You Feel More at Home With Windows 8

We’re not quite done yet. We’ve shown you how to get Windows 8 to look and act a lot more like Windows 7, but we have a few more tricks to help you customize your experience a bit further and bring back other features of Windows versions past.

Bringing Back Quick Launch

When Windows 7 brought the ability to pin items to the taskbar, the Quick Launch Toolbar lost a lot of its usefulness; however, those who like to open multiple instances of applications know that pinning isn’t always ideal. To enable the Quick Launch Toolbar, right click the taskbar, go to Toolbars, select New Toolbar, and enter the following:

%userprofile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch

Bringing Back Taskbar Button Names

With Windows Vista came a space saving feature that displayed taskbar items as icons only. It was wildly inconvenient when dealing with multiple windows of the same applications (web browsing for example). The Aero Peek feature did alleviate some of the frustration, but it still wasn’t quite as quick as reading a bit of text. If you want the text back on your taskbar buttons, simply right click on the taskbar, select Properties, and set the Taskbar buttons to “Combine when taskbar is full.”

Activating the “Power User” Menu

While this feature does not exist in previous versions of Windows, it does give you quick access to some of the tools you likely used on a daily basis that are now a bit more hidden on Windows 8. Simply move the cursor to the bottom left corner and right click to bring up a list of shortcuts to things like Run, Command Prompt, Device manager, and Control Panel.

Windows 8 Keyboard Shortcuts

Not all of the Windows actions you may be used to are readily clickable in Windows 8, so it can be helpful to memorize some of the more useful keyboard shortcuts.

·         Windows-C: Displays the charms bar.

·         Windows-D: Launches the Windows 7 Desktop.

·         Windows-E: Launches the Windows 7 Explorer.

·         Windows-F: Opens the File Search pane.

·         Windows-H: Opens the Share pane.

·         Windows-I: Opens the Settings pane.

·         Windows-K: Opens the Devices pane.

·         Windows-L: Locks the PC.

·         Windows-Q: Opens the global search utility.

·         Windows-1, Windows-2, and Windows-3: Open the first, second, and third open apps on the Windows 7 taskbar, respectively

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  • While not confirmed, you might well be late with this article... "Microsoft said to block ability to boot straight to desktop in Windows 8":
  • It is confirmed and the author of this article is about 2 days behind. A number of other "hacks" have also been killed off.
  • No, it's not fully confirmed yet because the final version of Windows 8 has not been released. Changes are still being made. Once the final version is released then we'll see...
  • The software referred to in my comment above is ClassicShell
  • is better than any of the third party apps listed in this article and it allows you to boot directly to the desktop. Not sure why it's not mentioned
  • Has Paul not read the memo? You shouldn't be calling it "Metro" and it is mentioned 4 times on the first page alone.
  • Seriously.. wtf?

    "Take, for example, shutting down your computer. In Windows 7, this could be achieved in two clicks of the mouse."

    You're already doing it wrong. Just push the power button and it will shutdown (if all goes well). Otherwise mousing to shutdown is silly, tap start menu button and quickly navigate to shutdown/sleep/restart etc with u/u or u/s u/r or the arrow keys (for Windows 7) and the preferred selection which takes less than a second. Wondering if there's more stuff like this in the rest of this article.
  • If you've got a desktop computer, pushing the power button might be a bit more difficult than "just pressing it". Mine for instance is hidden away, so I don't have easy access to the power button...
  • Indeed. I hate trying to locate mine because I feel like Alice in front of the rabbit hole (it is under a 'table' and I have to lean over dangerously to press it). But I meant for things like laptops and all-in-ones.

    Which is why tapping start and arrow keys (for desktops) is much faster than trying to mouse for the start button and shutdown options on a high resolution desktop.
  • How about just sticking with Win7/Vista/XP and avoid Win8?

    Win8 will be a spectacular flop. Trust me.

    Only this time, Windows is flopping simultaneously on many fronts: enterprise, home users, phones, tablets, app store.

    The upcoming months will be disastrous time for Microsoft shareholders.
  • Windows 8 isn't even released yet and there's already an article all about how to make it "feel like windows 7"??? I could sum up the best plan in a few words. Stick with Windows 7. Done!
  • All this talk about windows 8 is just crazy and I honestly think so many people that call themselves power users need to rethink that. Are we really judging an OS because of the shutdown process? Really come on. For one thing to shutdown win8 just press the windows key +i and then power, we are talking about 2 seconds.
    And the so called “Metro Interface” windows 8 style user interface is the thing that most people I show windows 8 to is in love with. I have installed windows 8 on three computers in the Philippines and just watch how people used it. And not one person said they want windows 7 back. So if what I am reading here and on other sites is true and people can’t learn windows 8 that is just so sad that these people call themselves power users.
    P.S. I have shown well over 50 people how to use windows 8 here and overseas .
  • i guess i'll use win8 just purely for content consumption like how i use Vista now, and stick to my win7 for more productive work related stuffs.
  • Looking at the Long Term...

    I hope Windows 8 fails big time and I'm a Windows user. Why would I want to see it fail? Because I'm tired of being "nudged" like sheep being herded to go where I don't want to go. Furthermore, I see this as merely a transitioning point in Microsoft's longer term agenda and/or plan to tighten down the computer for eventual Windows use only. Oh yes in Windows 8 there will be a work around for people who want to install another OS like Linux, but eventually that will phased out in later versions of Windows that come installed on PC's. Microsoft is moving in the direction of a "closed garden" app store. Oh in this version of Windows 8 you'll be able to install programs that do not come via the Microsoft store, but in time that too will be phased out in later versions as Windows. Microsoft know they can't throw the "frog" into boiling water for the "frog" will jump out, but they can put the "frog" in cool water and turn the temperature up slowly eventually cooking the frog. In time Microsoft will nudge us to the point that only Windows can be installed on a Windows PC and if you want software you'll have to go through them and their Microsoft app store. They can't get a cut of software revenue for an app or program sold independently of their app store and they are planning to change that in time. That will only drive me to fully embrace Linux or BSD. It's my PC machine and the software I want to put on my PC comes from where I want to buy it and not from where Microsoft tells me I must buy it as they take their cut. I also note that cut will just increase my overall software costs, because it will be passed on to the consumer like taxes are passed onto the consumer as a cost of doing business. Step back and look longterm. The direction I believe Microsoft is heading is not the direction or destination in which I want to go. My opinion...

    I'm sticking with my Microsoft Vista and when I upgrade it will be to Windows 7. If Windows 9 is a further move towards a closed system, i.e. closed garden, where all your software must come through Microsoft, then I'm moving to Linux. Microsoft wants to nudge us all towards using our computers as a Windows closed box and Xbox for our games. Valve has a legitimate concern as do all game "manufacturers"/programmers with Microsoft's future transitioning anti-competitive agenda.
  • super d spamalot
    I love all this sky is falling, I'm gonna run to an OS that is so difficult to use and has such little support that they can't even capture marketshare by giving it away for free, stuff.

    The Windows Store is for Metro apps, guys. It's for mobile devices. The reason it's on the desktop version is because they're consolidating the OS making it the same on all devices. Nobody is forcing anyone to buy metro apps, noone is forcing developers to create metro apps. Normal Windows software will still exist, normal games will still exist. Just because they've chosen to compete with Apple in the mobile OS sphere doesn't mean they're going to start doing the same in the desktop sphere. They don't NEED to compete with Apple in the desktop sphere. Apple lost that battle many, many, many moons ago.

    If you even for one second that Microsoft is going to abandon it's enterprise OS market just so they can sell a few craptastic mobile phone apps in their store, you're either slow or not paying attention.
  • @super, you may be ignoring hardware partners who have already been jumping ship (if the biggest isn't HP). And others that have just short of called out Microsoft on their current train wreck (lack of vision).

    The more MS pushes a UI that is difficult for users to adapt to and software developers (games and productivity) to support, they too will jump ship by favoring general purpose Linux flavors or proprietary operating systems.
  • super d spamalot
    alxianthelast@super, you may be ignoring hardware partners who have already been jumping ship (if the biggest isn't HP). And others that have just short of called out Microsoft on their current train wreck (lack of vision). The more MS pushes a UI that is difficult for users to adapt to and software developers (games and productivity) to support, they too will jump ship by favoring general purpose Linux flavors or proprietary operating systems.

    Hogwash. All of it.

    OEMs have not jumped ship on Windows 8 for PCs. A couple of TABLET OEMs have expressed displeasure at the Surface, but that has nothing to do with Windows 8, that is only because they know that MS will be able to undercut them on price because they don't have to shell out $100 per tablet to pre-install it. HP has definitely not done anything of the sort. They are planning a Windows 8 tablet as well as a full line of PCs. You require sources for your "information".

    Metro is not difficult to adapt to. If you find it so, that's a personal problem, not a usability problem. Developers will not have to support Metro if they don't want to, so there nothing for them to adapt to. Also, where do you get your information that Metro is difficult to develop for? I've seen nothing to support that claim anywhere. Again, sources.

    Lastly, if you think people are going to be upset because of the non-existent usability issues with Windows 8, why on God's green Earth do you think they would move over to Linux of all things? That's not a lateral shift, my friend. That's going from using Windows 7 to trying to surf the internet on a rabid bear while trying to ride a unicycle over the grand canyon. Linux is about as mainstream user friendly as a nuclear reactor. The thought that Grandpa is going to throw up his hands because he can't master the windows key, or the scroll wheel on his mouse and install Ubuntu is ludicrous at best.

    The only people I have seen complain about Metro are pseudo "power users" who can't even navigate Windows 7 without a mouse, and since those people are the same people who had a third grade tantrum about Windows XP when it was first released and 2 years afterwards were calling it the greatest thing since sliced bread, I don't think their opinions are worth too much.
  • In reply to:
    "Linux is about as mainstream user friendly as a nuclear reactor."

    I don't know where you've been in say, the last decade or so...
    But many modern linux distributions are MORE user-friendly than Windows ever could be. I'm comparing (for example) ubuntu to (for example) Windows 7.

    In most cases, installing and configuring linux is not only easier but MUCH, much faster than installing windows. And I'm talking about total installation, including all appropriate drivers and applications.

    If Microsoft wants to retain market share dominance, Microsoft should take notes from some of the linux distros in how to make an operating system user friendly.

    I will give you this much though...your ignorance of linux is typical and FOR THAT SPECIFIC REASON linux is not likely to put a dent in Microsoft's OS market share anytime soon. It is the unfortunate (and WRONG, thoroughly OUTDATED) *perception* that linux is hard to use that is holding linux back.

    Full disclosure...I'm currently using windows 7 exclusively. Nothing wrong with linux, I just happen to *like* windows 7. And for all of linux's merits, there is still no Microsoft Word port to linux. And no, the various office suite copycats just don't cut it...
  • super d spamalot
    davec80In reply to:"Linux is about as mainstream user friendly as a nuclear reactor."I don't know where you've been in say, the last decade or so...But many modern linux distributions are MORE user-friendly than Windows ever could be.

    I will be the first to admit that I haven't used Linux at all since I had to occationally roughly 5-6 years ago. If it's gotten easier to install that's fantastic. I'm glad to hear it. So it's got a completely 100% windows compatible software library now? Can you install 100% of that software without using the command line at all? Do drivers for every current device exist? Are they easy to install if they do? Can you update the kernel without a) knowing what the kernel even is and/or b) 5 pages of command line instructions?

    If you can answer yes to those five simple questions, then I consider myself corrected. If you can't, then it's not mainstream user friendly.

    That does give me an interesting experiment to try though. I was going to update my laptop from Windows 8 CP to Windows 8 RP this weekend. I'm going to ask my wife (Who is computer illiterate, but can use Windows 8 just fine. She's the primary user of said laptop when I'm not tinkering with it) to install Ubuntu on it for me and see how she does. If I remember I'll come back and report.