Windows 8.1 is Microsoft’s latest operating system, but it’s hardly the greatest. It has little business adoption, switching between apps and real programs is frustrating and disruptive, and it made all the visuals flat and boring so that they could maintain a consistent look between their laptops, desktops and the partial OS they run on the Surface.
But all is not completely lost. You can make Windows 8.1 into a system you’ll love, or at least won’t hate quite as much. And hey Microsoft’s gonna support you for another 9 years so if you can get used to it, you might learn to love it.
Get Office all the time, not 365 days a year
For starters buy yourself a copy of Office 2010 or 2013. It’ll cost between $85 to $139 for Home and Student, and into the $200s for anything pro or multi-user. But trust me, if you need Office, and unfortunately for a lot of you OpenOffice doesn’t quite cut it, this is a far better solution than Office 365. Don’t be seduced by fancy words like “Cloud” and”Your documents on all your devices” or “always up to date”. Since when has Word really gotten all that better? I like the equation editor they added in 2007 (used it extensively for my fractal book), but other than that and maybe native save as PDF support, I’m unimpressed. Unless you’re a student Office 365 is going to cost you $99 A YEAR! Where does Microsoft get off charging something like that?
Have you met Windows 7?
You could downgrade to Windows 7, if you owned Windows 8.1 Pro, which if you don’t know, you probably don’t. There are ways to try to do it yourself. This guide from PC Magazine might help.
Hate booting to the Metro Screen? Here’s a few things you can do:
- Right Click on the taskbar and click “Properties”.
- On the box that pops up, click on the tab that says “Navigation”.
- There’s two cool things you can do from here:
- In the “Start Screen” section there are two boxes you should check. The first is “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, got to the desktp instead of Start”. Otherwise known as “Boot to Desktop”. If you want Windows 8 to work like every other computer you’ve ever owned. Do this step.
- The second is “Show the Apps view automatically when I got Start”. This is as close to the traditional start button as you’ll get without third party add-ons. Make sure the second box underneath is checked as well (as shown). You can click the up arrow on this screen to get to the Metro view if you ever want to.
Shut it down
You know what else the start menu had that this one doesn’t? A proper shut down button. Now you could go into the power settings and tell the computer to shut down when you close the lid. But if you want to watch what it’s doing, and bypass updates you weren’t planning on waiting for, do this instead:
- Right-click anywhere on the desktop and select New–>Shortcut.
- Type “shutdown /s /t 0” into the “location” line. This is an old DOS command Windows still recognizes. A full reference can be found here, but this line basically means shutdown this computer “/s” in 0 seconds “/t 0”.
This won’t have fancy icon, but you can pick one by right clicking on the shortcut, selecting “properties” and clicking “change icon”.
Command your computer
There’s a surprising amount you can still do with old DOS commands and I highly recommend you learn some. But one thing’s clear, you need a command prompt (or terminal as the Linux people like to say). The Apps view you brought up has this under the Windows System line:
Right click on the icon and click “Pin to taskbar” to send this to your desktop taskbar. While you’re there you can also get the task manager if you want it or the run command.
But command prompt does it all. Type the following for a few useful commands and programs:
- msconfig – Brings up your system configuration and allows you to change what programs are running at startup.
- taskmgr – Brings up the task manager. Which also changes startup configuration apparently.
- regedit – Brings up the registry editor.
- dir /s /b > output.txt – Takes the current folder and creates a human readable text file with basic information about every file and subfolder in that directory.
- calc – The old school desktop calculator, not the app.
Send it in a letter
Your best friend is the send to desktop icon. If your program is not listed in the Apps view (and it won’t catch them all), go the the program’s location on your computer and right click, hover over “send” and select “to desktop”. Between the taskbar and the desktop you should be able to put most of the programs you use on a daily basis without even having to bother with the start button. I use the left side for applications and the right side for games, and the task bar for stuff I get into all the time. If you’re a gamer, this is Steam and Desura’s time to shine, as one icon can get you access to a whole library of games.
&*%$! Homegroup Icon!
Noticed that, eh? Microsoft has a bug on some computers which causes the Homegroup icon to mysteriously appear on your desktop. You can’t delete it, can’t even move it. And you probably would never use it.
- Right click on the desktop and select “personalize”.
- Click “Change Desktop Icons” on the left.
- Check the box that says “Network” and hit apply.
- Uncheck the box that says “Network and hit apply.
The icon should now be gone, but probably not forever. Hopefully a more permanent solution will be released soon.
I want my Start Menu!!!
Don’t we all. Two programs to try are Classic Shell and Start8. Start 8 is $4.99 and Classic Shell is better. From what I’ve read Start8 is closer to the real experience, and works better with 8 so it may be worth the money. For the moment I’m toughing it out to see if I can get used to the current configuration, but if not I’ll probably try Classic Shell. I personally don’t like to try a lot of third party programs I don’t know until I get to know an OS a little better.
Microsoft did recently announce it was bringing back the start menu, but with no clear roadmap as to when the update will be rolled out. Also the ability to use apps in the desktop environment. Probably by the time we’re ready for Windows 9, Windows 8 will be all it can be.
I have a feeling I could write another one of these guides in another six months with a whole bunch more useful information, but hopefully this will be enough to get you started. Please post any questions you have in the comments. I’ll play around and try to solve any new problems you might pose.
Tomorrow we’ll cover Zorin-Lite for the Windows crowd that doesn’t want to spend any money, and is really new to linux.
Disclaimer: Any advice or tips given here will not be valid for all users in all circumstances. Do what makes sense to you and don’t do what doesn’t make sense. These posts are for educational, informative purposes only. Show these posts to your computer friends and have them tell you if I’m right on the money or out to lunch. In any case, please realize that anything you do to your computer is your responsibility. If you have a specific problem and need help, shoot me a comment, but if your computer bricks you were warned.