Windows 8…

All desktop, all the time!

It is clear by now: Windows 8 raises mixed emotions all around. Some like the new tiled interface (I suggest let’s just keep calling it “Metro“), others deplore it. I do understand Microsoft’s rationale behind Metro: a uniform interface regardless of PC, tablet or phone. This uniformity is key in Microsoft’s aim to conquer the mobile phone market, with people more likely to choose a Windows phone when it looks the same as their desktop or laptop PC they use daily.

Microsoft claims that with Windows 8 productivity goes up, but business- and power-users know otherwise. The tiles might be great for the average user who just wants to read his e-mail, keep in touch on Facebook and surf a bit, but if you want to do more than that…well…it’s just isn’t much good.

Already expecting this from the start, I was reluctant to switch over from Windows 7 to 8, until I found ways overcome all shortcomings and be able to actually enjoy Windows 8. And now that I have I’m not looking back, I’m loving it! Windows 8 is really powerful, you only need to harness it first.

Take a look at this screenshot, this is my default desktop. No, it’s not my desktop after switching from tiles to desktop mode, but my desktop after login without any further intervention:

Return of the menu button

One of the biggest gripes with Windows 8 is the absence of the trusted menu button (or often referred to as the start button). Luckily there are several third-party products that reintroduce the menu button. I tried quite a few of these, but found only one that really does a perfect job: Classic Start Menu by Classic Shell. With an additional downloadable skin and some more tweaking by myself I now have an almost perfect copy of the Windows 7 start menu…only better. And best of all: it’s absolutely 100% free!


No more tiles

By default Windows 8 loads the tiled Metro interface after startup and login. But as a desktop user we don’t want that of course, we only want the desktop. Look no further: again Classic Shell to the rescue. Not only can it completely skip the Metro interface (it’s still there, just not visible if you don’t want to), but also disable the charms and hot corners. All customizable, of course. In my setup shift-click on the menu button takes me to the Metro interface, but for the rest it’s not bothering me. How sweet!


If you’re into gadgets…

I have always liked the sidebar gadgets: introduced in Vista, deprecated in 7, and now completely removed in 8. I use them a lot to monitor my PC health, and recently also to display my upcoming calendar events since Microsoft in their wisdom have decided to remove this handy feature from Outlook 2013. Some say gadgets are bad because they eat a lot of resources, and they do. But nowadays PC’s are more than powerful enough to take the extra burden, so who cares anyway…

Developed for Windows 7 users who want to mimic the Vista sidebar, 8GadgetPack works equally well in Windows 8 and delivers the full sidebar experience. You can either use the pre-installed gadgets or use your own downloaded from the internet. Rarely giving any trouble, 8GadgetPack is a great add-on to the Windows 8 desktop given its price: it’s free.


Some more enhancements

Not really a necessity but more for fun or just that little bit extra, here are two more add-on’s that I find amusing: Fuzzy Clock replaces the tray clock with human-readable time (“Quarter past noon” instead of 12:16). If I want to know the exact time I can still look at the analogue clock on my desktop. TB Shadow adds a drop shadow to the taskbar, nothing more nothing less. It doesn’t enhance any productivity, it just looks nice (I think). Oh…again…both are absolutely free!


In conclusion

As a power user I like fiddling and tweaking Windows. Above enhancements have for me made Windows 8 from unbearable to perfect. I’ve been running this setup for over 3 months now, and can say it’s rock stable and a joy to work with. In the end (the year 2013 is crucial for Microsoft in this respect) Windows 8 could very well be labelled as a failure, but for me it works like a charm.

Naturally, I’m running all my Windows 8 (and Server 2012) instances on VHD disks. Why this is a good idea and how to achieve this I covered in a series of previous posts aimed at Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2. Not much has changed for Windows 8 fortunately, but some details have and I hope to get back on the subject shortly.

As mentioned before, I did some of my own customization, specially to have the Classic Start Menu look almost indistinguishable like the Windows 7 start menu, and to get the upcoming appointments gadget to work with Outlook 2013 and a transparent background. If there is interest in these customizations (why invent the wheel over and over again) just let me know and I’ll place them online.