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BryanC (RIP)

Windows 8: My experiences

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A while back there were a number of posts in the main forums about Windows 8. Or more correctly the posts were about an incompatibility between IE10 and vBulletin (The software base for this site). Nonetheless, many of the posters took the opportunity to voice their displeasure about Win8! The original problem has now been resolved. Let’s take closer look at Win8 and my personal experiences with it.

Windows 8 was introduced to the world several months ago and, as we all know, it didn’t get the reception Microsoft had been hoping for. Virtually every review panned it! Some did so unmercifully but I am inclined to think of these reviews as nothing more than Microsoft bashers. Their motto is “never miss an opportunity to bash Microsoft!” You know, much like the Bachmann bashers we have in the model railroading world!

Most, however, were a little more civilized about it. Yes, they (rightly) criticized the new Start Screen and the missing Start button but many also pointed out that once you got beyond this there was actually a lot to like about Win8. And that is the purpose of this blog entry. I will discuss how I moved from being a Windows XP lover to a Windows 8 lover, with a brief fling with Windows 7 along the way! We’ll also take a quick look at the upcoming Windows “Blue” (aka Windows 8.1)

Let’s start by reviewing what Microsoft was (is) probably trying to achieve with Win8. Right now Win8 is available on smartphones, tablets and desk/laptops. So, it would seem that with a common interface on all devices Microsoft may well have achieved what it desired. However, the big problem with this is that while all smartphones and tablets use touch screens, very few desk/laptops have that capability. While the number is increasing it will be a long, long time before even half of them have touch screens.

Microsoft decided to thrust Win8 onto the mouse driven world of desk/laptops thinking (hoping) that users would embrace and even enjoy the new interface; a major screw-up on their part. No wonder almost everyone objected when being faced with a lock screen, the new tiled Start screen, the lack of a Start button in desktop mode and those funny pop-ups when moving the mouse to the edge or corner of the screen. Who can blame them?

That, however, doesn’t mean that all is lost. Given a couple of tweaks Win8 comes into its own on a desktop (or laptop for that matter). The fastest version of Windows yet!

How did I end up with Win8? Read on! Last summer I had a pretty old (more than a few years) Dell PC running Windows XP which I really liked. But the machine was slowing down. Everything was quite slow in operation. I performed all the tricks to speed things up but to no avail. It was just getting old! Eventually I bit the bullet and started researching a new PC.

I settled on another Dell that came with Windows 7. Win8 had been announced but was not yet available. What it did come with was an upgrade offer from Microsoft once Win8 became available (Win8 Professional 64 bit). I could upgrade for $15! (This upgrade offer was available with all Windows 7 PCs being sold at that time).

After setting up the machine I duly registered for the upgrade. I was already familiar with Windows 7 since it was on my wife’s laptop – which I have been known to use from time to time so there was not much of a learning curve at all. But I still preferred XP!

Once Win8 became available I was slow to download a copy since I wanted to be sure I could just save it without having it install immediately. Something I really didn’t want to happen given everything I had read! Eventually, after a ridiculous amount of time, I found out that it would not automatically install when downloaded so I went ahead and downloaded it. A copy was saved on my hard drive and I burned a DVD as well. (Had to be a DVD, CDs wouldn’t work).

The download process went very smoothly and left an “Install Windows 8” icon on my desktop. After staring at this icon for a couple of days I said to myself, “What the hell, let’s do it” so one day after lunch I double clicked the icon!

After confirming the machine could handle the new OS it scanned the machine for software that would not work under Win8. It found a couple of items (my old Office XP was included) which it listed and then waited for me to uninstall them. Once they were uninstalled the installation of Win8 continued and went very smoothly as well as relatively fast. During this process I was given the option of setting up a Microsoft id but I already had one so I used that. It also guided me through setting up the user id and password for the login screen.

Once the installation was complete, Win8 was automatically launched and for the first time I was able to see what all fuss was about! I was faced with a full screen rendition of an artist’s depiction of the Seattle tower. I stared at this screen for a little while trying to figure out what it was and what I was supposed to do. In the end I just clicked the mouse and the picture was replaced by the login screen. It then dawned on me that the picture was a lock screen. Something that is totally appropriate for touch screen smartphones and tablets but which has absolutely no place on a mouse driven desk/laptop.

Once the password I had provided during the installation was entered and verified I found myself on the infamous Start screen! Tiles everywhere; I am sure you have seen pictures of it, probably many of them. After checking out the screen for a few minutes I pressed the lower left tile which was labeled ‘Desktop”. I immediately found myself in the very familiar desktop environment! Just like Win7 (or even XP) except for one thing. No Start button!

Using File Explorer (aka Windows Explorer) I copied all the appropriate files needed from an external drive (I had previously setup) and then set about re-installing all the third party software I needed. I did the obvious ones first and left the rest until I needed them. I now had a desktop I could work with, even without the Start button (which I missed).

Note: pressing the Win+X button will provide a very rudimentary start menu (See picture).

The big challenge came when it was time to turn the PC off! Without the Start button how do you turn the machine off? Well, I understand there are actually several ways but the way I used was via the Charms Bar. Move the mouse pointer to either upper or lower right corners (or press Win+C) and the Charms Bar will slide out from the right. Click the Settings icon and the settings menu will appear, now click Power and select the option you wish (Sleep, Restart or Shutdown).

That is how I operated for a number days! Click past the Lock Screen, click the Desktop tile on the Start Screen and use the Charm Bar for shutdown. Not the best way of doing things and certainly a good enough reason for users to complain long and hard. One positive I noticed was that Win8 is fast. Power up and login is much faster than any previous windows as is the Shutdown. Loading programs and web pages was also much faster. Maybe a glimmer of hope?

I had already read about methods to bypass the Start screen and go straight to the desktop and about third party replacements for the missing Start button. Some research was started to find further information. The first thing I did was find out how to dispense with the Lock Screen. It involved making some internal setting changes. The same when skipping the Start screen and going directly to the desktop. Next was finding a replacement Start button. It turns out there are quite a few out there and most are free. Of course, I had to choose the one that wasn’t free. After 30 days it started nagging me to send $4.99 so I uninstalled it!

The next one I selected (and still use) was the ClassicShell product. This one actually provides you with a choice of three styles: Classic, XP and Win7. I chose the latter. You may find ClassicShell here:

As an alternate to a third part Start button it is easy to create a Programs button item on the taskbar that shows a list programs (a la the Start button). You may find instructions for creating that here:

When I set up my boot to desktop it was necessary to change some internal settings which is something most people (including me) would prefer not to do. It may have even scared some people away from making this tweak! Changing these internal settings yourself is no longer necessary! There is now a small program available which you can download (free of charge) and which will do the job for you. It is called the “Skip Metro Suite” and you may find it here:

Important note: The site provides green download buttons for a Download Manager in a very prominent position on the screen. You do not need this so don’t download it! Scroll down to the gray download button and use it. It will take you a secondary screen on which you also need to find the gray download button as against the green one! If this seems like a questionable practice I would agree with you but most software download sites are doing this now. Even CNET does it! It is just another way to add to revenue. (Greed is a terrible thing!)

I have not used this program but it would seem like a nice little package. An optional extra is to remove all the hot corners (as it refers to them). The choice is yours but I would strongly suggest NOT doing this. They are all out of sight until you need them (and you probably will at some point) so they are doing no harm in their current form.

One further note about booting to the desktop. It would seem the way for these third party modifications to accomplish their task is to set the code up as a Windows task that runs at start-up. As a result, the timing of when it actually runs is crucial. What this all means is that on occasion you see a flash of the Start Screen before the desktop appears and on other occasions you end up on the Start Screen itself and have to click the desktop tile. However, the vast majority of times you go directly to the desktop.

I have been running with these tweaks for quite a while now and am enjoying the desktop and the much faster responses. I haven’t looked at the Start Screen for a long while now.

So far as Internet Explorer goes, Win8 comes with IE10 which, for a while, was not available elsewhere although I believe it is now available for Win7. To be honest, I have only used it twice! First time was to download the Chrome browser and once that was up and running IE went into the background. The second time was to back up an encryption key. Why this has to be done with IE is beyond me though.

Anyway, the bottom line to all this is that I am thoroughly enjoying Win8 and would not go back to any previous version, even XP!

Before discussing Windows Blue, here are a few links that Win8 users (or those about to embark on the Win8 experience) may find of interest.

Win8 Helpful Tips: (This comes from Dell but, of course, it applies to all Win8 PCs).
Windows Key Shortcuts:
Win8 Tutorials (a lot of them and most are quite short):

Let’s finish up with a few words about Windows Blue (or Windows 8.1). This upcoming update first came to light several months ago and, of course, everything written about it was strictly from the rumor mill. The first rumors were all about the Start Screen and other specific Win8 functions. More lately, the rumors have turned to the desktop with a very strong one saying a boot to desktop option will be included. (My question is will it remember your selection or will you have to select that option at every login?) More recently, the rumors have indicated a return of the Start Button on the desktop but no one can agree on how it will appear! Will it be the old, classic one, will it be newly designed for Win8 or will it bear no relationship to the old Start Button at all? I have also read that a new version of Internet Explorer will be included.

Microsoft has acknowledged the existence of Blue but will provide no further information except to say they have listened to all the complaints and have addressed them. Blue should be officially announced this summer and be available towards to the end of the year.

Disclaimer: All of the above is based on my experiences, what I have read and my personal opinions. As is always the case, YMMV. Further I can accept no responsibility for any malfunction of the software I have provided links to. While they should work just fine, use them at your own risk.

Updated 14th May 2013 at 06:04 PM by BryanC (RIP) (Clarifications)

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  1. Albey25's Avatar
    Thanks for the benefit of your experience Bryan. I am quite the opposite of you. If I had my choice, I'd still be running Widows 3.1. I liked the option of dropping down into DOS and cleaning up problems. Luckily, I have a friend who LOVES new technologies, and will doubtless be all over Win 8, if he isn't already. Nothing you said there makes me want to download it and start learning to compute all over.
  2. BryanC (RIP)'s Avatar
    Thank you Albey25 for your comments.

    Just to be clear, I am not trying to persuade you or anyone else to download Win8 and upgrade! It was more for those who have recently purchased a new PC with Win8 installed or are in the position of needing a new PC in the near future!

    Indeed, if you are presently using a PC with Win7 are perfectly happy then I say “Stay with it!”. (If you are still using XP then you may want to give a little thought to upgrading. Support for XP has either ended or is about to end!)

    If an upgrade to Win8 is in your future, however, you may want to hang on (if possible) until later in the year when Windows Blue (or 8.1) becomes available.

    If you are buying a new PC but really want nothing to do with Win8 then you should checkout Dell – they still have some Win7 PCs available!
  3. 69Z28's Avatar
    Thanks Bryan for the very informative WIN 8 post. When I first got my new Win 8-IE10 PC (about 5 or 6 months ago) I hated Win 8 and tried to have Win 7 reinstalled but could not do it at a reasonable price.

    I've learned to work with (not love it, never happen) Win8 and hope Win8.1 (blue) will restore some of the lost Win7 functionally,

    Your post provides terrific links and the data one would need to update Win8 now.

    Thanks for posting it.

    See ya