How to make Windows 8 seem normal

How to make Windows 8 seem normal

Summary: Windows 8 can run like real, honest-to-goodness Windows. Plain, simple, slightly upgraded, but what you'd expect with Windows, old-school Start menu and all.

TOPICS: Windows, Windows 8


Windows 8 – despite Microsoft’s dreadfully misguided marketing decisions – turns out to be a quite fine operating system. Oh, I’m not talking about the tiled Start screen and the so-called “Modern UI” apps. I’m talking about Windows, real honest-to-goodness Windows.

I’ve been using Windows 8 on my media center Mac mini for just over a month. Only one application has ever crashed on it: Firefox. Once. I’ve only switched to the Mac side to tweak a Bluetooth setting.

And I haven’t found a single Metro (or Modern UI) app that I need to run.

I’m running Windows 8 like Windows. I boot into a Windows desktop, I use a traditional Windows Start menu, and I do all the Windows stuff I’ve always done. Windows 8 is a little faster, has a few cool additional features, seems a bit more solid, and just runs like Windows.

So, despite my friend Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols’ claim that Windows 8 is a failure (he and I have been to this dance before, actually), Windows 8 can seem perfectly normal in daily use.

The trick is a $5 piece of software.

There are other, free Start menu substitute products out there, but I just went out and bought Start8 from Stardock. Stardock has been around, tweaking the Windows desktop experience, since the beginning of time. I figured if anyone’s going to keep software up-to-date, it will be them.

The process was simple. I set up Windows 8 initially, which meant I had to live in the tile interface for a few minutes. I quickly installed Chrome so I wouldn’t have to deal with IE. And then I bought and downloaded Start8.

Installation of Start8 is like any other install. Once installed, I got a nice little Start menu in the corner of my screen.


Start8 has a few additional settings that help make Windows 8 seem normal. The key is the Desktop tab. These are my settings:


The key to Windows 8 normalcy are the two items I have checked: "Automatically go to the Desktop when I sign in," and "Disable bottom left hot corner when the taskbar overlaps it."

That’s it. That’s all you have to do to get rid of the Windows 8 Start screen confusion. I actually left an icon for the Windows 8 Menu on my Start menu. That way, I can easily go into the tiled Start menu if I want to (I don’t, normally, but once in a while I check to see if anything has gotten interesting).


The acid test was introducing Windows 8 to my wife.

She’s very happy with Windows 7 and wasn’t really sure about Windows 8. I set up Windows 8 to run normally (using Start8), and set her loose.

Not one complaint. Not one question on how to do things. To her, it was all perfectly normal. It was just, simply, Windows.

And isn’t that all we’ve all ever wanted, really? Just, plain, Windows.


Topics: Windows, Windows 8


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Good luck making in headway in THAT direction.

    MS seems to have gone out of its way to prevent users from ignoring The-Interface-Formerly-Known-As-Metro, hence the need for this third-party software in the first place. It would have been *trivial* for MS to have a "Boot to Desktop?" option among Win8's user settings, as has been pointed out time and time again.
    • Or, better yet, take a cue from the GNU/Linux and BSD desktops

      These platforms have long supported multiple UIs. One simply selects what UI to use from a drop-down list, including one's default UI, upon login. There should be no need for users to muck around with Windows 8 settings once logged in to the system.

      As for the start menu, a simple right-click in the corner should provide an option to show the Start menu as was the default for prior Windows OSs.

      It's sad that Windows 8 users have to search for, install and configure 3rd party software to do these very simple things.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
      • "Or, better yet, take a cue from the GNU/Linux and BSD desktops"

        "Gnome cofounder: Desktop Linux is a CHERNOBYL of FAIL"

        "Gnome project cofounder and current Xamarin CTO Miguel de Icaza says he's done wrestling with Linux on the desktop, and that he now uses Apple kit exclusively for all of his workstation needs."

        "While I missed the comprehensive Linux toolchain and userland, I did not miss having to chase the proper package for my current version of Linux, or beg someone to package something."

        • IT_Fella: "LMAO"

          Your choice. Now you no longer have a face.

          The Linux and BSD desktops, even with the early KDE 4.x, Unity and Gnome 3 UI fiascoes, do allow the user to select the UI from a drop-down list upon login. That's what you missed.
          Rabid Howler Monkey
        • Windows 8 ont the job

          I am a fan of the Surface. Got it on day one and I like it a lot. But there is no chance that Windows 8 will end up on my production PC, not until a proper Start Menu is available, not until Windows booths directly on the desktop.

          The Modern UI makes sense on a tablet, a portable computer or a phone. MS as figured out how to use gestures in a very efficient way. It all makes sens... But not on a Windows/Mouse dual 24 inches computer. Sorry.

          If Blue brings back the Start Menu (sorry I don't want a 5$ software on top of my work computer), I'll be the first (amongst millions, I'm sure) to buy and Install Win 8. Until then, I'll stick to Win 7.
          • It's not coming back

            The Start menu is not coming back. I was like you and didn't want to drop 5 bucks for a Start menu, but it was worth my time of having to reinstall Windows 7.

            Just buy it, you won't regret it.
          • Or install the free Classic Shell..

            ... which works just as well without costing anything. I've tried both Start8 and Classic Shell, and apart from Start8 looking better, I see no reason why people are spending money on it and make it out to be the best option (not accusing anyone of doing the latter here, but I've seen some say it).
          • "looking better" is enough of a reason to spend $5

          • Unless you prefer the customization over looks..

            .. like me, but yeah, I can see the reason why people would go for Start8.
          • "looking better" is enough of a reason to spend $5

            Agreed. I tried out several free "start menu" buttons for Windows 8 but in the end I paid the $5 for Start8 and have been very happy. Start8's Start Button simply looks like it is an original part of Windows 8 where others looked like you'd thrown elements from Windows 7 (or from somewhere else) on top of Windows 8 so they kind of stuck out esthetically. To me it was worth it from an esthetic standpoint, particularly when I only paid $40 for Windows 8 Pro, and it gives a unified look to the new desktop.
          • Classic shell already corrects windows 8 for free

            or... use the free classic shell fully customizeable will let you boot to desktop with start menu try it if you don't like it ... remove it
          • Sorry, Dave.

            Sorry, Dave, you wasted $5.

            addicted is right. The free Classic Shell is much better than Start 8, and it fixes a lot of Windows Explorer issues.
          • Sorry, Dave, you wasted $5.

            You might add, "In my humble opinion" since that is all it is, your opinion. You found what was important to you with free software whereas persons like Dave and myself found what we wanted in the $5 software. I have no problem paying a small fee like this to a company who has already demonstrated their commitment to their software by providing updates. After all, they're a business and $5 is very reasonable, even compared to free. In the end, it's all about which software works for you individually.
          • ClassicShell

            I agree! ClassicShell is Open Source, and therefore, free, and it works great! I have it on my work PC (desktop) and my personal laptop, both running Windows 8, and with ClassicShell, I can do real work, and never have to see the Metro screen.
          • Agreed

            I have no idea why you would waste $5 when Classic Shell is free, looks good, gives you all you need in a start button, even has options to bypass Metro and disable side bar charms. Very nice open source free app. Even businesses and for profits can use it.
            Rann Xeroxx
          • Although

            it doesn't solve the problem of not having Aero.
          • aero

            "aero" is included in the final releases of Windows 8- last Oct 26th. I like it, I have it and I use it. It's there to be used if you look for it.
          • A feature, not a bug

            The first thing i've don on the three PCs i've installed W7 on was to shut off Aero.
          • Add on packages are risky...

            What happens when MS releases a patch that breaks the Stardock software? Sure, it's a nice little hack, but if you're going to switch to Windows 8 be prepared to live with the good and the bad because all those little tweaks can be rendered inoperable when MS Update runs...
            Ken Esq
          • I've actually experienced that

            I attempted to post a similar comment, but it was blocked due to profanity despite there being nothing anywhere near profane in it.

            Added layers can cause stability problems and can even make it look like a problem with Windows when in fact it is not.