Customize Windows 8.1

Head to www.classicshell.net for a new custom Start menu.

STARTISBACK+

Does what you’d expect. Get it from http://bit.ly/1eDnJ2h. To run it, you’ll need Chocolatey.
Findit at http://bit.ly/qbvEmi.
POKKI Also restores the Start menu (http://bit.ly/1f9GKIO).

The Windows 8.1 interface is the latest iteration of the Windows desktop, but you don’t have to stick with the default look. The Modern UI was a radical change, and many people still expect the Windows Start button to bring up a classic Start menu rather than the new Start Screen (and get frustrated when it doesn’t). But with a few tweaks, that core interface element can be returned.

We’ll look at three different versions you can install for free. Plus, there are more ways to improve the OS.

STARTISBACK+

For example, the slimmed-down desktop means it isn’t always obvious where to go for the options to change the interface, but main ones can be found by right-clicking the Taskbar and clicking Properties. Another thing that might annoy you is Microsoft’s decision to disable the Libraries feature by default, but this can be reinstated by opening “Windows Explorer > View > Options” and ticking “Show libraries.” Read on for more handy tips.

1 GET THE START MENU BACK AND CUSTOMIZE IT WITH STARTISBACK+

Various third-party programs will bring back the classic Windows Start menu in Windows 8. One of the most popular is Classic Shell (free at www.classicshell.net). This gives you three different styles for the Start menu (Image A), options for the Start button, and skin choices to make it fit naturally into Win8 (such as reducing transparency and changing icon size).

» You can right-click on the Start button and select “Settings” to bring up the Classic Shell options at any point (Image B). You’ve already chosen a style for your new Start menu, so click “Customize Start Menu” to choose which menu items you want included. Beside each program in the list, choose either “Don’t display,” “Display as a link,” or “Display as a menu” to suit the way you work.

» Another option is StartIsBack+ (Image C). Before you can begin, install the PowerShell execution engine, Chocolatey, from http://bit.ly/qbvEmi.

Once that’s done, download the StartIsBack+ installer package from http://bit.ly/1eDnJ2h. You can’t execute this file—instead, you must go into the Command Prompt and type “cinst startisbackplus,” then hit Enter.

2 SWITCHING OPTIONS

Now restart Windows.
Under the “Switching” tab you can specify what your PC should do when you boot into Windows 8 (Image D), and configure the Windows key to perform a certain action in the interface. You can also configure hot corners from this menu—a feature missing from Windows 8.1 as standard. All of this means you can change the default interface settings to better suit your needs.

3 CHANGE THE START BUTTON

You can also make some visual alterations with StartIsBack+ under the “Appearance” tab (Image E). For instance, you can get the old Windows 7 Start orb back, instead of the new white Windows logo. There’s also a link here to DeviantART, where you’ll find custom Start buttons that you can download and install. You can select new visual styles for the whole Start menu, too.
» Windows 8 Start Menu by Pokki (download it free from www.pokki.com/windows-8-start-menu) is another great tool, but it doesn’t actually replace the Start button. With Pokki, you can search and organize your favorite apps and websites on your desktop, just like you would on a smartphone.

4 ESCAPE THE MODERN INTERFACE

Music, videos, pictures, and PDFs are automatically opened using Modern UI apps by default, but you can change this behavior so they open within the desktop instead.
From the Start screen, type default programs and click on the “Default programs” icon under the results. Click “Set your default programs” and choose the app you want to set as your default for each file type (Image F).
» While you’re at it, disable the Charms as well. Charms in Windows 8.1 are designed to speed up access to menus, but they’re activated by the hot corners, which can be a nuisance.
If you find yourself inadvertently activating the menu with your mouse whenever you move the pointer to the top-right, it’s possible to disable it. Go to “Taskbar > Properties > Navigation” and untick “When I point to the top-right corner, show the Charms” (Image G).

5 SHOW ALL APPS

If you want to retain the Modern Start Screen but are keen to change the layout, it’s possible to display all of your installed apps at once.
Right-click on the Taskbar and choose “Properties > Navigation.” Tick the last four boxes in the Taskbar and Navigation Properties dialog box (Image H).
When you click on the Start button, you’ll see all of your desktop applications first on the list.

6 REPLACE THE COMMAND PROMPT

Right-clicking on the Windows button brings up a list of power user commands. If you want to perform complex tasks that use DOS-style commands, you can replace Command Prompt with Windows PowerShell.
To give this a try, again, right-click on the Taskbar and choose “Properties > Navigation” and tick “Replace Command Prompt with Windows PowerShell” (Image I).

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