Sunday, January 6, 2013

Minor Hacking: Turning Windows 8 back into Windows 7

My Mom's laptop died yesterday and she called me to let me know. When I finished my shift at work, I went with her to Best Buy to pick up a new desktop (since she never actually moves the computer anymore). We discussed that I was probably going to have to teach her about Windows 8 and she wasn't thrilled. I haven't really run into anyone so far that has been thrilled about Windows 8. Phone calls to my work phone from customers with new computers are doubling and tripling depending on the day because they can't figure out parts of Windows 8.


After setting up the new computer and installing a few programs and an anti-virus, I started to search for ways to make Windows 8 a little more familiar (or more like Windows 7). If you've read my review of Windows 8 (which is here in case you want to check it out), you may remember that Windows 8 does have a desktop that looks similar to Windows 7. It's missing a start button or it would be almost identical. The programming community has already gone out of their way to make several solutions for this. Here are my two favorite examples:

Classic Shell
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Classic Shell will add a start button for you that can look and feel a lot like the start button from Windows XP and Windows 7. It brings back a Shutdown / Restart button so you don't have to go searching for it. This is what I used when setting up my mom's new computer. If you right click on it, you can even adjust the theme to make it "Windows Aero" which was the Windows 7 theme. It's a free download if you want to try it out.

Download For Free

Pokki is another free option that incorporates installed programs as well as Windows 8 apps on the computer. It won't look all that familiar and it will take some figuring out, but it does have more overall options than Classic Shell. The search function and the apps feed are both really cool additions. I read an article earlier today that says that Pokki has already been downloaded over 500,000 times to date. Apparently, people don't like having a start button for decades and then seeing it disappear.

The other problem you'll run into is that the computer always boots into the home screen instead of the desktop. Once the start button is back, some people would prefer that the computer boots to the desktop when powered on to make it even more like Windows 7. Pokki, when installed, automatically forces the computer to boot to the desktop. Classic Shell doesn't. If you would rather use Classic Shell, there is a way to manually force the computer to boot to the desktop every time.

1. Once on the Windows Home Screen (the one with all the apps), type "Schedule" (without the "").
2. Click on Settings on the right side.
3. Click on Schedule Tasks and Task Scheduler Library appears on the left. Click on it.
4. Click Create Task.
5. Name it whatever you want. I called it Boot Into Desktop.
6. Click on the Triggers tab and click New.
7. Select "At Logon" from the drop-down menu and then click OK.
8. Click on the Actions tab and click New.
9. Type explorer into the text box and then click OK.
10. Click OK again.

Restart the computer and, once you log in, it should take you straight to the desktop. If that seems like too much for you, I recommend using Pokki instead of Classic Shell.

Shortcuts can still be added to the desktop. If you're on the home screen with apps, you can right click on a program you installed and click on "Open File Location." Once that opens on the desktop, you can right click on the program and mouse over "Send to" and then click on "Desktop (Create Shortcut)" and it should appear there.

I hope this was helpful and feel free to add any other Windows 8 tips in the comments below. Good luck with Windows 8.

For more explanations of technology and some general tech advice, check out my book Explanations and Advice for the Tech Illiterate.


  1. And Classic Shell has been downloaded more than 3 million times! Yes you read that right.

    1. Good to know. I'm guessing people are most familiar with the way Classic Shell does the start button and familiarity has turned into popularity. I'm hoping Microsoft realizes their mistake and adds a start button in a future update or service pack.