Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Making Windows 8 a Desktop User's Dream

It has been 3 weeks since I first started using Windows 8. And to be fair I have not fully explored it, shying away from the Metro Screen after playing with it a bit. What little experience I had of it helped me figure out it is not for me. I am not saying it is a bad thing, some users may actually like it. I am saying I could not find anything that any of its apps could do that could not also be done on the Desktop, often times better. I have therefore spent almost all my time since those first few days on the Desktop. For a Desktop user Windows 8 is a fantastic system, but you have to work to make that so. What follows is how I made it so I almost never see the Metro screen on my laptop with Windows 8.1 installed unless I choose to see it.

Step 1: Go to Microsoft and upgrade to Windows 8.1. Windows 8.1 introduces some features that help make the OS more bearable to Desktop users like booting to the Desktop instead of the Metro Screen. The download and installation will take several hours (it took about three hours on my machine), so you need to set aside some time for it as you may be prompted to restart at a couple of points. My install went flawlessly. I have however heard of installs that have not gone well. At the same time I have heard that Microsoft Support is more than willing to help, and when they do they can usually manage to get Windows 8.1 installed on your machine. The tutorial on updating to Windows 8.1 from Windows 8 is at: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/update-from-windows-8-tutorial

Step 2: Once Windows 8.1 has installed you will want to make it so your machine boots to the Desktop. This ability was introduced with 8.1 and you cannot do it in Windows 8. Once you have Windows 8.1 installed, booted up your machine, and gone to the Metro screen click on the Desktop icon and go to the Desktop. Anywhere on the Taskbar in an open area right click. Then click on Properties when the little menu pops up. When the Properties window opens you will want to click on the Navigation  tab. You will then want to check the box next to  "Go to the desktop instead of Start when I sign in." While you are there you may also want to disable the hot corners, check off the first two boxes dealing with the corners. There are several other options, and I leave those choices up to you. When you reboot your PC though it should now automatically go to the Desktop.

Step 3: You will then want to download a Start Menu replacement to add a Start Button and Menu like those in Windows 7. There are several Start Menu replacements out there, each with its own merits. Personally, I use Classic Shell. Classic Shell gives you the options of the Classic Start Menu (like the one in XP), Classic with two columns (sort of a cross between the Windows XP and Windows 7 Menus), or the Windows 7 Menu. It is easy to configure and there are plenty of options to get your Start Menu just the way you want it. You can download Classic Shell at: http://www.classicshell.net/

Step 4: Change your file associations. Most all of the most common file extensions used by Windows are associated with Metro Apps. You may be perfectly content in your Desktop home, decide you want to see a jpeg listed in File Manager, click on it, and wham-o you are in the Photo App on the Metro Screen, and then have to navigate back to the Desktop. To avoid this you must set all the file associations to Desktop programs. This is a little time consuming, but well worth it. Assuming you downloaded Classic Shell or similar Start Menu software, in the Search Box on the Start Menu  type "file associations." You will be faced with a list of choices. You will want to click on "Change the file type associated with a file extension." A menu will then load listing all the file extensions on your computer and what program they are associated with. If you see simple names like "Music" or "Photo" you can bet the default is a Metro App. You can then highlight the file extension, click on the "Change Program" button in the upper right hand side. A list of available programs for that kind of file will come up and you can choose a Desktop program to open the file. Say you want to make it so Photo Gallery opens jpegs on your Desktop. Scroll down to the extension .jpg and click on it. You can then click "Change Program" and see the list of choices. If you scroll down you will see Photo Gallery. Click on Photo Gallery and your jpeg files are now opened with Photo Gallery when you click on them in File Manager. Like I said, this is time consuming, but well worth the effort if you do not want yourself thrown off the Desktop and into a Metro Screen App.

Step 5: Change Auto-Play options. Like file extensions Auto-Play options generally default to Metro Apps. I learned this the hard way when importing photos from my camera. I hooked up my camera expecting to be asked what to do, and immediately I was in the Metro Screen Photo App. It was not a bad experience, but I still had to navigate back to the Desktop which is time consuming and unnecessary.  Unfortunately in some cases with Auto-Play you may have to install third party software. If you import photos from a camera regularly and do not want to use the Photo App, you will have to install third party software like that which came with your camera. You are no longer given the option to use File Explorer or Photo Gallery. Once you have installed any third party software you use go to the Start Menu search box (assuming you downloaded and installed Classic Shell or similar Star Button software) and type "Autoplay." A list of choices will come up and you want to click on "Autoplay." The Autoplay menu will then come up, and you can choose how every sort of media is handled. You may want to have it ask you every time or have a specific program open whatever media you are dealing with, Note, with cameras and other equipment you will have to have had the camera or other equipment connected at some point to your PC to set the Auto-Play options for it. If you have more than one camera each will have to be handled separately.

Step 6: If you are on a laptop with hand gestures for the touch pad you may have to disable gestures. One problem I had was that making a straight line movement with my index finger right to left on the touch pad of my laptop would open the Charms Bar. Since I move rather rapidly on the touch pad it would never fail that I would scroll to the left hand side of the screen to click on something, the Charms Bar would come open, I would click, and next thing I know I would be on the Metro Screen or somewhere else I did not want to be. I went to my touch pad settings to see if I could disable that gesture, and there was no option to do so, so I disabled all gestures. I only used one or two gestures so this was no big deal to me. Hopefully, your machine is different and you can disable just that gesture.

I now have Windows 8.1 where I want it. I have not seen the Metro Screen in a while now without me having chosen to see it. For me it is a glorified Windows 7 and that to me is not a bad thing. I am a Desktop user and have no need for a tablet like experience on a PC. I do like the new File Explorer and Task Manager of Windows 8.1 a great deal and the fact 8.1 is much faster does not bother me either. Overall, once I got it where I wanted it, I am quite happy with Windows 8.1. However, it does take a bit of work to get it where you may want it as a Desktop user. Once you do however I think you will be pleased.