How to make Windows 8 look like Windows 7

In this how-to guide, I'll reveal how to water down or ignore some of Windows 8's more controversial features and restore functionality you thought had gone forever. While these tips aren't strictly about making Windows 8 like Windows 7, they address a few annoying niggles.

 

Bypass the Start screen and disable hotspots

When Windows 8 first loads, you'll notice how it defaults to the new Start screen. If you'd rather go straight to the traditional desktop we all know and love, download a free tool called Skip Metro Suite. Once installed, launch the program and verify 'Skip Start Screen' is ticked.

While you're here, you'll notice that you can also disable some or all of Windows 8's hotspots, allowing you to safely roll your mouse into the corners of the screen, without worrying about triggering the charms bar, apps switcher or Start button. They're all enabled by default, so simply untick those features you wish to keep before clicking Save Settings.

 

Restore the classic Start menu

The lack of a Start button (never mind Start menu) on the Windows 8 desktop is annoying, but there are plenty of options for getting it back. Stardock's Start8 costs $4.99 (about £3) for a Windows 8-friendly design. But if you want something more traditional (and free), install the Classic Start Menu portion of Classic Shell instead.

Once installed, you'll see the Start button appear -- click this to open the Settings menu and pick your Start menu design ('classic', XP and Vista/7 are all supported). Click OK and your new Start menu is ready to go.

 

Access Metro apps from the classic desktop

It's possible, by installing Classic Start Menu and Skip Metro Suite, to avoid the Start screen entirely, but how do you access modern apps without it? Simple, add a new shortcut folder on your classic desktop. Right-click a blank area of the desktop and choose New > Shortcut. Now carefully type the following (or copy and paste it) into the location box:

  • %windir%\explorer.exe shell:::{4234d49b-0245-4df3-b780-3893943456e1}

Click Next, give your shortcut a suitably descriptive name -- like Modern Apps -- and click Finish.

 

Customise the Win+X menu

In lieu of the missing Start menu, Windows 8 provides a handy selection of shortcuts when you press Win+X. Customising this list can be done by hand by browsing to a hidden folder -- press Win+R, type 'appdata' and press Enter. Now browse to Local\Microsoft\Windows\WinX, where you'll find three sub-folders -- Group1, Group2 and Group3. Inside these are your various shortcuts.

You can add, move and delete shortcuts from these folders, plus add more groups. If all of this sounds like hard work, try WinAero's free Win+X Menu Editor instead.

Dump the File Explorer ribbon

I quite like the new ribbon-like user interface added to the File Explorer in Windows 8, but if you prefer how things were in Windows 7, you can disable the ribbon quickly and easily using WinAero's Ribbon Disabler tool.

Just launch the tool after unzipping it (choose the x64 version if you're running Windows 8 64-bit), and click Disable Ribbon Explorer, logging off and back on again when prompted to effect the change.

 

Stop opening files in modern apps

Double-click a media file in the classic desktop and it'll open it in the corresponding modern user interface app. To revert to traditional desktop apps for your music, photos and videos, open the Control Panel and choose Programs, followed by Default Programs. Select Set Default Programs, pick your chosen app -- such as Windows Picture Viewer for photos, or Windows Media Player for music and video -- and click 'Set this program as default'.

Restore the Windows briefcase

Microsoft thinks everyone wants to use cloud services like SkyDrive to keep their files synced across multiple computers. If you're a fan of the old Windows briefcase, however, you'll be glad to learn it's possible to get it back in Windows 8 with a rather convoluted Registry tweak. Click here to download a pair of Registry files that simplify the process of switching the briefcase feature on and off again.

Access POP email in Mail

The Mail app doesn't like POP email accounts, but you can gain access to them. The secret is to configure your web mail account to access your POP mail, which in turn can be read in Mail. Why not use your Hotmail account -- log on at mail.live.com and head over to Settings > 'More mail settings' to add accounts by choosing 'Sending/receiving email from other accounts'.

Restore gadgets

 

If you're unhappy that the traditional desktop no longer supports desktop gadgets in Windows 8 (Microsoft would prefer it if you used Modern apps instead), you'll be pleased to learn you can restore the functionality with the help of a free tool called 8GadgetPack.

Just download and install the tool -- when the SmartScreen Filter appears, click Details followed by Run Anyway to ignore it. Once installed -- it's quite a slow process -- your new sidebar will appear, which works in exactly the same way as it does in previous versions of Windows. If you'd rather your gadgets were individually floating on your desktop rather than pinned to the sidebar, just right-click the sidebar and choose Close Sidebar.

Pin any file or folder to the Start screen

The Windows 8 Start Screen lets you pin programs and apps with no problems, but if you want to go further and pin shortcuts to files, folders or certain special shortcuts like the Control Panel, you'll need help in the form of Start Screen Pinner. Download, extract and launch this portable app, then simply add whichever shortcuts you need, which will subsequently appear on the Start screen for easy access.

And another thing...

If you're the only user of your PC, then having to swipe the lock screen and then enter your password might seem like a waste of time each morning. Removing these annoyances is a two-part process. Dumping the lock screen requires a trip to the Registry Editor -- press Win+R, type 'regedit' and press Enter. Now browse to the following Registry key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\

Microsoft\Windows

Look for a Personalization key -- if it's not present, right-click the Windows key in the left-hand pane and choose New > Key and call it Personalization. With Personalization selected, choose Edit > New > DWORD (32-bit) Value. Change its name to NoLockScreen, double-click it and set its value to 1. Click OK, close Registry Editor and reboot to effect the change.

Logging in automatically from here is mercifully much simpler. Press Win+R again, but this time type 'netplwiz' and press Enter. Select your username, then untick 'Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer'. Click OK, enter your user password twice and click OK again. Job done.

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