Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How to Live with Windows 8

This article is a recipe for how to make the new "Metro" interface disappear to the greatest extent possible.
At the end you will still be able to run "Metro" apps if you want, but most of the time you'll be using the desktop. In other words, things will work much as they did under Windows 7.

Windows 8 has many new features that enhance greatly the "legacy" side of things. The most important to me is the fast boot time. Ultrabooks do not have good sleep-time battery usage like the Macbook Air does, so to preserve battery, I shutdown rather than sleep whenever practical. Under Windows 7 my boot time was about 30 seconds, which is annoying. Under Windows 8, boot time is 6 seconds! Only the fastest of my Chromebooks boots that fast. (In defense of Chromebooks, my Ultrabook has much faster hardware in it, still Microsoft should be praised for getting Windows 8 to boot that fast.)

However, life using Windows 8 was not all roses, the other day I was doing the relatively simple task of importing pictures from my camera. Under Windows 7 and MacOS, I would import the pictures, use the standard folder viewer to sort through the pictures, rename the files to reflect what was in the picture, then create an "Event" directory with the pictures I wanted, then move the directory to Google Drive for archiving.  Windows 8 made a mess of this, every time I wanted to view more than a thumbnail, I was forced into "Metro" mode to use the ridiculously underpowered and inefficient Photo app. Worse, when I finished, I could not just hit the back button. That would then return me to the "Metro" Start program, where I would need to click Desktop, then I would need to reselect the file I was dealing with. Because of the quick switch in environments, it was easy to forget which photo one was dealing with, or whether or not you wanted to keep it. It took like 5 times longer to do the task under Windows 8 than under Windows 7. This is not a new finding, for an expert's look at Windows 8's user interface problems see this article.

Frustrated, I tried various Linux versions on the notebook, but they boot slower and all had various hardware incompatibilities.  Getting no joy there, I decided that I had to figure out how to rid myself of the "Metro" interface as much as possible. I have largely been successful, fixing the photo sorting problem for example.

Here is my solution so far:

Install Classic Shell

This gives you back your Start button, also making it easy for you to shutdown, reboot, etc. You can download it from here. I only install the "Classic Start Menu". There are many other alternative start button replacements available, this article covers the more popular ones, but there are over a dozen available.

Configure Classic Shell to Turn Off the "Hot Corners"

This keeps the "Metro" pop outs  (such as the Charms bar) from interfering with your work.
  1. Right click on the Classic Shell start button
  2. Choose settings
  3. Click All Settings at the bottom of the screen
  4. Choose the Windows 8 Settings tab
  5. Set Disable Active Corners to All
The Charms Bar and other pop outs can also be activated by some trackpads. If your trackpad does this, then swiping in from the left or right edge of the trackpad will activate a pop up. You should be able to disable this from the Mouse Control Panel. Unfortunately, exactly how you do this varies between trackpads. Look in the tabs of the Mouse Control Panel that are trackpad related and look for "edge swipe" or "edge action". If you find yet another name for the setting, please tell us in the comments below.

     Remove "Metro" Apps

    Switch back to "Metro" (shift click the Classic Shell start button).
    1. Right click in a background area
    2. Click "All Apps"
    3. Select a "Metro" app (such as Photo and Video) by right clicking on the App
    4. Then click Uninstall.
    BE CAREFUL, some "legacy" apps such as Internet Explorer are on that screen twice. The one with the grey background is the "legacy" version, THIS IS THE ONE YOU WANT TO KEEP. If in doubt, launch the app to make sure you have the one you think you have. Think twice about deleting the "Metro" Internet Explorer as there seems to be no way to get it back. Likewise, don't delete the Store app as it is how you can get apps back should you need to do so. Definitely do not uninstall "Desktop" as it is a way back if Windows 8 mysteriously puts you back in "Metro". (Though hitting the Windows-D key cord will also work). Deleting Photo and Video causes Windows 8 to use a Windows 7 style app to let you preview and delete photos, and view videos.

    As if to prove just how inefficient the "Metro" interface is, you will need to repeat the four steps above for every app you want to uninstall.

    Switch to a Local Account (optional)

    If you did not choose a "local" account when you first setup Windows 8, you may want to do so now. If you are not using "Metro" apps, there seems to me to be little point in being attached to your Microsoft Live account. (You can switch back later if you need to do so.)
    1. Switch back to "Metro" mode (shift-click the Classic Shell button),
    2. Move your mouse to the bottom right and wait
    3. When the "Charms" bar pops out, click the Settings gear
    4. Click Change PC Settings
    5. Click Users
    6. Click "Switch to a Local Account" and follow the directions.
    It will allow you to change your account name and password as part of the process.


    In day to day usage this setup seems to make "Metro" disappear. The only place I know of exceptions is in some Settings (see for example, Switch to a Local Account above). Fortunately, none of these have to be done very often.

    So far this is working well for me. If you stumble across another place Windows 8 sends you back to "Metro", leave a comment below!


    1. Great way to screw up Windows 8

      1. "Great way to screw up Windows 8"

        Only if by "screw up" you really mean "fix up"


      2. LOL, more like fixing Microsoft's mess.

    2. You realize you can just set the default handlers to the apps you want (in this case, Windows Media Player / Windows Photo Viewer / whatever instead of Windows Music / Photos / whatever) without having to uninstall anything. In fact, the first time you open a file and it opens in Photos / etc. it actually prompts you to change the default viewer with a "You have new apps that can open this type of file" notification.

      Additionally you can just go back to the previous via the top left corner in the scenario you outlined, no need to go back to start -> desktop ...

      1. You can do as you say and set the default handlers, but you would have to do it for every file type.
        Certainly, I never saw a notification that asked me which to use.

        As to the desktop... yes, if you want to wait 500 milliseconds, you can put the mouse in the corner to get back to the desktop via the task list... but it is actually faster to do the double chaining I described.

        I think you miss the point:

        1) The Photos app is useless, why would I want to keep it on my system?

        2) Microsoft should not have been switching me from the Desktop to a Metro app in the first place.

        3) Realistically, every single "Metro" app is substandard. Why not just uninstall them so they cannot interfere, won't be updated, etc.

      2. Because Microsoft realizes that if they don't make Windows suitable for the dominant form factors of tomorrow, such as tablets, they are doomed to irrelevance and eventual death.

        Legacy is the biggest problem with Windows and Microsoft. Legacy is responsible for the horrendous bloat in Windows. Legacy is responsible for the slowing down of Windows over time. The world is moving to touch and you want to leave Microsoft with an OS that has no touch and is not fit for tablets or smartphones. What you're really saying is you want Microsoft to die.

      3. I've answered this in conjunction with your other comment below.

        Microsoft had many other ways they could have added touch to Windows. Forcing users' of 20-inch+ monitors to use apps full-screen is simply crazy. If Microsoft should die from this, it is their bad decisions in Windows 8's design that caused it. I only wrote this article to help people make the best of a bad situation.

      4. I think this shouldve just been entirely meant for tablets and smart phones and stay the heck away from laptops/desktops w/o touch screen. Shouldve been called windows touch or something and not windows 8

      5. I Agree, I do not currently run Windows 8, but I was part of the beta and my experience was horrible. When you first install the OS, why not give users the OPTION to select whether they are using a traditional desktop system or a tablet.

      6. microsoft allways had this problem: they never give the choice to the user.
        they could let the w8 users choose a metro UI or a clasic UI. how many PCs have touch screen??? i'm not talking about 14" ultrabooks, i'm talking about 23" desktop PCs... microsoft never took into account that the 95% of the pc market has normal monitors, and will still have normal monitors for the next couple years. why any user with a 23" 1080p have to deal with a 640*480 icon made for 7" tablets??? all PC have mouse.
        they wanted to make one OS for all the platforms, that's cool. forcing the pc user to deal with a tablet interface is like forcing a tablet user to carry a mouse

    3. I followed your download and instructions to disable the hot corners, but they still keep popping up...can anyone help? I find Window 8 on my PC to be a major pain because of these hot corners.

      1. I went checking and there doesn't seem to be a problem with Classic Shell and Hot Corners (no bug reports or other people complaining about a problem).

        However, one thing did crop up, that might provide an explanation. If your trackpad is able to do "edge swipes" (a swipe that starts a the right or left edge of the trackpad), then you will get Charms Bar or other popups when you trigger them. You should be able to disable "edge swipes" in your trackpad settings. Go into your trackpad control panel and look for "edge swipes" or "edge actions". How precisely you disable this unfortunately varies between trackpads. If you cannot figure it out, post back what kind of trackpad you have and maybe somebody will have the same one and can help.

      2. I just want to have a classic start screen and be able to open pictures, videos without going to the metro screen (with cuts off the tool bar) and I want to be able to drag and drop multiple pics and video file by highlighting them all a once and pasting into the converter. Instead of one at a time, which takes forever. How do I do this with the new shell program??? Please contact me at if you would to tell me how. Thanks

    4. Thanks. This improved my win8 experience lol. Why on earth they(MS) don't provide something like classic shell on first boot from their own dev team i don't understand. IMHO metro is a failed experiment, it might work on tablets and smartphones somewhat(see usage statistics) but on desktops/laptops/netbooks/nettops is a pain. I guess Apple and Co. still don't have enough market share to scare the MS apparatchiks into releasing some practical/well thought out interface and relative OS rather than bling-bling for the tech ignorant. And here I had such high hopes after win7. sigh...
      Kudos for the guide btw.

    5. "Simply put, I want to use only "legacy" Windows. This article is a recipe for how to make the new "Metro" interface disappear to the greatest extent possible."

      You want to kill Microsoft's ability to compete in the tablet and touch devices space by relegating them to a bloated, antiquated, non-touch OS that is only competitive in a declining market? Of course, that's what Microsoft is about to do, kill any chances they have of competing in a market that is about to be the dominant form factor for the future. You might as well cancel those upcoming Surface tablets, because they have no hope of being competitive without an app ecosystem, and they certainly have no hopes of competing if they aren't built for touch.

      Yeah, you've really solved all of Microsoft's problems. You've only just sent them on a long road towards complete irrelevance.

      1. I wrote this article to help people make the best of a bad, Microsoft-created situation. Microsoft left users that normally run desktop apps in a significantly less productive environment than they had under Windows 7. Most consumers and smaller businesses are forced to buy machines with Windows 8. I am simply showing the way for them to get back their productivity without having to downgrade to Windows 7.

        As to "Microsoft's ability to compete... relegating them...", Apple manages to use touch on tablet, phone and desktop without problems. Apple's solution of using the trackpad for touch on the desktop is elegant and does not require expensive and awkward to use [on laptop and desktop] touch screens. You can run apps full screen [useful on smaller laptops], but they do not FORCE you to do so. Microsoft just made bad design choices... if they die, that's their fault.

        Why didn't they make a single phone/tablet UI similar to Metro, then give everyone a virtual tablet that runs in a window on a more normal Windows 8? Really, Microsoft did not have to do things the way they did, there were many other options.

      2. @joe_h

        Then why doesn't Microsoft release two separate Operating Systems like Apple did? One for desktops and one for tablets? Microsoft should've kept Windows like it is in version 7 and release a new branch, called "Microsoft RT," with no desktop and only Metro. It should have the ability to sideload apps that are not from the Store without hacking, like Android can.

        Most PCs are non-touch, and touchscreens and productivity DO NOT MIX. If tablets are the future I will simply connect an external monitor, mouse, keyboard, speaker system, webcam, etc. and put the tablet in the corner and use it like I would a PC. There's no difference. The mouse and keyboard aren't going anywhere, at least not with touchscreens being the replacement.

        I don't get why people would want a touch Operating System on a desktop PC. Touch input and tablets are both failures. As a Microsoft fanboi, I doubt you can see, but if you actually tried to do real work with Win8, you'll agree with me and Brian soon enough.

      3. I know I'm very, very late to this discussion - but I hadn't needed new PCs and therefore Windows 8 before!

        Joe_H - "Yeah, you've really solved all of Microsoft's problems. You've only just sent them on a long road towards complete irrelevance." If one guy posting a link to existing software can play even a tiny percentage of the role of doing what they say, then Microsoft wouldn't deserve to exist.

        I'm responsible for IT for a small organisation and, due to flooding and loosing a lot of old PCs simultaneously, I've had to do things faster than I would have liked. If it wasn't for articles like this helping me to get things running faster and more smoothly, I wouldn't have chosen Windows next time. So... in this instance he's helped keep Microsoft running.

        But more to the point - you speak of "relegating (people) to a bloated, antiquated, non-touch OS that is only competitive in a declining market?". We work at desks in an office - Keyboards, mice and screens that display, rather than touch particularly often, are the order of the day. I realise that we (also still known as the majority) are inconvenient when it comes to your way of thinking but we'd kind of like further explanation of some things - like why Windows no longer works in a window for so many things.

        Yes, for a tablet it is a decent system. Just not for a desktop PC.

        Brian - thanks. Lovely article.

    6. thanks for all your efforts. I pretty much did what you wrote in this article and now don't have to worry about pop ups and metro apps and all that garbage. I pretty much have a windows 7 OS now.

    7. joe_hApril 16, 2013 at 4:35 PM

      Do you live/work in the real world? I have never come across a Company Secretary or business PC user that sits at their desk and "touch Screens" using a PC............ Accusing Brian of helping to "kill off Microsoft" is ridiculous........ fair enough using touch screen and apps for tablets, phones etc .. way to go.. but for day to day business, keyboard, mouse and monitor. The day of touch PC will come im sure but not know. Most of my clients can just about turn on a pc to use word. Win 7 yes please, win 8 without app functions yes please to... two versions should of been made.

    8. I have to say - Metro is the worst possible UI experience ever in my life. Not even Vista was this bad! I love Windows 7. MS has not put any thought into the UI experience on Metro. They have released a useless, hard to work with and a time wasting UI.

      Try the Modern Mix app with Classic Shell. You will get complete control over how you move between the legacy desktop and the Metro UI. It's $5, but has saved me a lot of agony. I was literally going to return my new Yoga Pad before this!

    9. I would definitely prefer mouse rather than moving hand and pointing fingers on the screen when working on my desktop or laptop.

      a. It would be tiring to that for extended period. Let alone during most of working hours. I can't imagine to see so many people in an office waving hands and pointing fingers to a screen in front of them.
      b. After so many touches, it can make the screen filthy or even scratched.

      Microsoft should know better that it is different to a tablet, and should be treated differently, or at the very least the customers should be given OPTIONS.

      Customer should have been able to select whether the OS to perform exactly the same as what was before (Windows 7, not just "similar" to Windows 7) or apply the new interface.

      For example, They could provide options to have "Windows" Interface or "Metro" Interface, when boot, or when first intallation. Users then can choose which one they like.

      Like all other company, Microsoft cannot die when they serve what their customers want (especially when the customer have already said very clearly what they want).
      After all, it is the customers who judge the product they offer.

      Like all other products, When customer don't like it they DO NOT BUY. It is a very simple.

      IF the available alternatives are not better, Non-urgent customers would simply WAIT with hope that sooner or later a better alternative would emerge. Because most customers know that when there are demands then sooner or later, Microsoft or other companies will provide what they want.

      For example, third parties have provided the "Start Button Replacement". Why?? Because there are demands. Microsoft has ignored the demands, and customers DO NOT LIKE to be ignored.

    10. lenovo customer care numberJuly 4, 2013 at 11:24 PM

      very Beautiful information Thank you .......

    11. I prefer Mac OSX 10.9


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