There’s a lot to like about Windows 8 and 8.1 (see our Explained Guide if you need persuading), but it’s not all good news. Several popular features from earlier versions of Windows have been dropped in the latest release. But don’t fret – if you’re pining for a particular feature, read on to discover how to get it back again.
1. Restore the Start menu
The biggest loss in Windows 8 is the traditional Windows Start menu. You can get this back again by downloading and installing the free Classic Shell tool. Make sure you don’t install the Classic Explorer or Classic IE components, and once complete, simply click the Start button to get started. It’s simple to configure. Choose your type of menu based on the version of Windows you’re used to, and you’re good to go.
Classic Start puts the Start menu back on the desktop.
2. Bypass the Start screen
Want to boot straight to the classic desktop? With Classic Shell installed, simply right-click the Start button and choose Settings > Basic Settings tab. Scroll down and make sure the Skip Metro screen is ticked before clicking OK.
3. Play DVD movies in Windows 8
Thanks to licensing issues, Windows no longer plays DVD movies by default, but you don’t need to shell out money for a third-party tool. If you simply want to play DVDs, install VLC Media Player, which also works with a limited number of Blu-ray discs. If you’d prefer a complete replacement for Windows Media Center, download and install XBMC instead. We’ll be covering this in more detail in a future update. Keep your eyes peeled!
4. Run Modern apps from the desktop
Windows 8 offers some great apps from the Start screen, but running them full-screen to the detriment of everything else can be annoying. You can integrate your apps into the classic desktop with an inexpensive app called ModernMix. Download and install the free 30-day trial, avoiding the prompt to install Start8, and follow the prompts to receive an activation code. Once the tour completes, you can switch apps from a desktop window to full-screen using the [F10] key, plus configure their default behaviour by right-clicking the app name in the ModernMix configuration screen. The full version costs $4.99 should you decide you like it.
Run Modern apps from within the desktop using ModernMix.
5. Customise the Quick Access menu
Press [Win] + [X] and the useful Quick Access menu appears, with shortcuts not easily found elsewhere. You can customise what’s shown – including adding your own shortcuts – with the handy Win+X Menu Editor. Just unzip its contents and run it as a portable application via the x64 folder. From here you can reorder existing items, create and edit groups, and create your own custom shortcuts.
Want a personalised Quick Access menu? Use the Win+X Menu Editor.
6. Dump the Lock screen
Frustrated at having to click or swipe to remove the lock screen before you can even log into Windows? Experienced users can bypass this step by editing the Registry . Press [Win] + [R], type regedit and click OK followed by Yes when prompted.
Now navigate to the following Registry key:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows. Choose Edit > New > Key, and name this Personalization. With Personalization selected in the left-hand pane, choose Edit > New > DWORD (32-bit) Value. Name this value NoLockScreen, then double-click it and type 1 into the Value data: box. Click OK, close Regedit and reboot your PC, which should now boot straight to the login screen.
7. Restore desktop gadgets
Want to restore gadgets back to your desktop? Download 8GadgetPack and you can bring them back again, with no less than 50 gadgets included with the pack itself. Better still, the gadgets look and behave exactly as they did in previous versions of Windows.
If you’re missing Windows’ old desktop gadgets, discover how to get them back.
8. Bring back the Briefcase
It may have been superseded by cloud backup and sync services, but the Windows Briefcase still remains a clever way to keep files in sync between multiple computers using an intermediary disk drive. The Briefcase is still present in Windows 8, but has been disabled in the Registry . Get it back again by downloading a zip file that contains a pair of Registry files from winaero.com. Extract the two files, then open Registry Editor (see tip 6) and choose File > Import before selecting Windows 8-Enable Briefcase.reg and clicking Open followed by OK. Once done, the Briefcase option will be restored.
9. Lose the File Explorer ribbon
We love the new File Explorer utility, but if you hanker for the old Windows 7 Explorer tool, you can switch off the ribbon and restore the old Windows look. Again we’re indebted to the folks at winaero.com for providing the required tool: just download Ribbon Disabler as a zip file, extract its contents and then launch it from the x64 folder to disable (and later re-enable if you change your mind) the ribbon.
10. Restore translucent desktop
The translucent Aero theme has been removed in Windows 8. If you’re desperate to get it back, take a look at Aero Glass for Windows 8. It’s relatively simple to install in Windows 8, but we don’t recommend you try it unless you’re an experienced user. That’s doubly the case with the Windows 8.1 version, which is still in pre-release stage and requires technical knowledge to implement.
Experienced users who aren’t afraid to experiment can bring the Aero Glass effect back.