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3 Tweaks and Apps To Make Windows 8.1 Usable Until Microsoft Does

By William Peacock, Esq. on May 21, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Windows 8.1.

When it launched (without the ".1"), it was an abomination, at least for those of us without touchscreens. Since then, Microsoft has been slowly backtracking on their mistakes, with the latest rumors pointing to a restored classic-style start menu and full-screen Metro (now called "Modern") apps being crammed back into Windows, complete with the little "X" button that we all missed so much.

If you don't want to wait for the rumored fixes to arrive, however, there are a few add-ons that you can install to bring that functionality to your computer today. This is especially handy for those of you who need computers for your law office now, but are apprehensive about learning a new operating system (which is set to revert many of its new "features" over the next few months).

For those of you with keyboards and mice, this is your guide:

Boot to Desktop

Hate the new Modern tile screen? You're not alone -- it was the most criticized aspect of Windows 8. If you want to avoid it as much as possible, you can choose to boot directly to the classic desktop in Windows 8.1.

First, click the tile that brings up the desktop. Then, right click on the taskbar at the bottom of the screen and choose "Properties." Click the "Navigation" tab, then check the box for "When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start."

Future updates of Windows 8.1 are supposed to detect whether you have a touchscreen, and if not, will do this automatically, but until then, that little checkbox will save you a lot of aggravation.

Classic Start

Though Windows 8.1 brought back a "Start button," it's not the Start menu -- it brings up the tile screen, which is an adequate, if unfamiliar substitute. If you want your classic start menu back, there are two third-party apps to tide you over until, you guessed it, Microsoft backtracks and brings its new (old) Start menu sometime later this year:

Classic Shell: Free

It's free, it's been downloaded over fifteen million times, and it brings back your choice of menus: a Windows 7 style Start Menu, a two-column alternative, or if you're feeling really retro, the Classic menu that resembles 90s Windows variants.

Start8: $5

Same concept, but $5 more. This has a few more tweakable features, but if you're simply looking to bring back your Start menu for a few months until Microsoft does, it might be worth trying the free alternative first.

Modern Apps in Windows

Though last month's update brought an "X" to Windows 8.1's full-screen Modern apps, they're still full or half-screen, not windowed. If you want the ability to run these apps in windows, alongside other apps on your desktop, there is a third-party solution:

ModernMix: $5

From the makers of Start8, ModernMix puts Modern apps in familiar enclosed windows, making it easy to move them around, resize them, and just in general, more Desktop-friendly.

Or Just Wait a Few Months

The sad thing is, all of these tweaks will become unnecessary in a few more months. Microsoft announced last month that every single one of these features (classic Start, windowed Modern/Metro apps) will make their way into future updates -- it's just taking a lot longer than we'd hoped.

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