Two must-have downloads that make Windows 8 more bearable

Two must-have downloads that make Windows 8 more bearable

Summary: Rather than moaning about Windows 8, here are two downloads that make the user interface a lot more usable and bring back features that Microsoft decided to remove.


This post was inspired by the following email that appeared in my inbox a few days ago.

Rather than whine about Windows 8, do you have any suggestions for making it more bearable?

I've been using Windows 8 for a long time, over 19 months in fact, ever since the first leaked builds appeared on the Web. Yet, despite this long hands-on period, Windows 8 and I still aren't friends. I find that the new Modern user interface gets in the way of productivity, and the way that Microsoft forces me away from the familiar Windows desktop and into the Start Screen both distracting and jarring.

I've experimented with a number of tools that attempt to make the transition from Windows 7 to Windows 8 a little smoother, and without a doubt, the best utility for doing this is RetroUI.

RetroUI is not free -- pricing starts are a very reasonable $4.95 -- but it comes packed with features, including putting the Start Menu back in its rightful place, and allowing me to bypass the Start Screen. It also gives me the option to run Windows 8 apps in a windows rather than in full-screen mode, and disable those hot-corners that trigger the charms bar and app switcher, and which continue to catch me out.

If you feel that $5 is too steep a price tag, a free alternative is Classic Shell. It doesn't offer all the features of RetroUI, but it will allow you to bring back the Start Menu and remove the 'hot corner' functionality.

Another thing that annoys me to the core about Windows 8 is the way that it has removed my ability to play DVDs without having to pay Microsoft for the privilege. The best way to add DVD support to Windows 8 -- for free -- is to download and install VLC Player. It's a small download, and once installed will handle pretty much any media file you care to throw at it.

These two simple downloads have made my transition to Windows 8 a lot smoother, allowing me to carry forward the same level of productivity while still getting access to new features such as Windows 8 apps.

Image source: RetroUI.

Topics: Windows 8, Microsoft, Windows

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  • But if Apple...

    ... killed support for DVD, pudits would be screaming for joy over the death of the DVD, and we'd hear ten billion reasons why digital is the future.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • I know - what's next?

      Having to pay an adittional fee to have wireless N unlocked?
      William Farrel
      • Oh that was good

        Nicely done William.
    • Okay ...

      Some pundits would be screaming for joy and others would be screaming about the stupidity of it.

      I guess what you are saying is the world would be a better place without pundits. Or do you mean the world would be a better place if all the pundits agreed with Microsoft's philosophy on UI design?
      • Oh so close...

        You were so close to having a good post....then you blew it.
    • Legitimate reason for no built-in DVD support

      MS has a very legit reason for no built-in DVD-player support. If it simply includes the code it has to pay a $3 licensing fee--even if unlocking the code requires some sort of separate activation.

      The new ultrabooks and similar computers have no DVD, so they couldn't use native DVD support. Also, many business computers don't include DVD's because the $10-15 per unit cost starts adding up when you buy 1,000 PC's. MS estimates that approximately 200+ MILLION Win 8 PC's will NEVER actually use DVD code. That comes out to $600+ million in licensing fees for an unused feature.

      They also point out that virtually all OEM's and DVD drive providers include third-party software that contains the necessary codecs. So the only people who really get stuck are DIY'ers--a pretty small group compared to businesses and people who get the OS when they buy a new computer.
      • Please explain

        All these "new" Ultrabooks are cheap clones of Apple's MacBook Air, that has never, ever had optical drive. New MacBooks Pro and iMacs don't have DVD drives either. Yet, Apple includes all the DVD codecs, in case you need to play DVD content.

        Please explain why is this. Is $3 too much for Microsoft?
        • Please explained

          When Microsoft start charging £500 for increasing an SSD from 256 to 512GB then I’m sure they'll be happy to incur this $3 codec price without passing it on to customers.
        • Believe me Apple builds the price in

          Have you ever wondered why apple is so much more expensive then comparable products?
    • Indeed

      Most current Apple computers ship without an DVD drive, yet all of them play DVDs just fine.

      It's the money, stupid. Microsoft is cheap and does not want to pay DVD codec licenses, while selling Windows licenses to you at the same, or higher price. Apple is not.

      You either care about your customers or you don't. At the end, it all pays -- every decision has it's price. That simple.
      • Microsoft has been

        selling Windows 8 cheaper than they've ever sold windows before, so they needed to cut costs. They're a software company first (for now) while Apple is mostly a hardware company, they don't need to make money on the os. Microsoft does, its that simple.
        Sam Wagner
      • Windows 8 plays DVDs just fine as well

        There are indeed several options, one is VLC (which is free), another one is the media center pack (which is free until at least the end of january next year).

        Microsoft has made a perfectly justifiable decision. Many many people do not use DVD playback, yet all Windows Vista and Windows 7 users paid for the codecs (XP did never include them, just as previous Windows versions).

        How you can claim Windows 8 is the same price or higher than Windows 7 is beyond me, but one must not let easily verifiable facts stand in the way of a good bashing !
      • Yeah, Apple really cares about its customers

        danbi, you crack me up. I just sold my Macbook Pro (it was top of the line) and am buying a windows 8 laptop with touchscreen and screaming stats for $800 less than I paid for my Macbook which didn't have usb 3! So, yeah, I'll pay if I ever need to run a dVD.
      • How do you play DVDs?

        Without a DVD drive. I want to know how this can be done.
        Kunal Nanda
        • Play DVD

          I haven't tried it but my new HP Envy dv6 has a DVD optical drive.
          However, the Windows 8 operating system is unusable. It is inconsistent and clumsy. I think it would help if I had a mouse but even then that app page (what do they call it UI?) makes your head hurt. Often you cannot even find a place to type in a URL or a place to search. I filed out an income tax form this morning and tried to save it. There is no menu I could find to save a file. While looking for "help" which is no help I lost the document I wanted to save and have never fount it. This system has to be the worst system ever. MS DOS sure had it beat by a mile.
          Jerry Hickman
          • Windows 8 is only unusable for those that make no effort to learn

            Windows 8 provides a common place to search for all of its apps. It's called the charms bar, and it's that thing that appears when you swipe inwards from the right edge of your touchpad, or move your mouse cursor to the top-right corner of your screen. There is a "search" icon that is ALWAYS there. If you're in an app when you do a search, it will, by default, search within the context of that app. If you're not in an app when you search, it will, by default, search the start menu and your computer, but also provide a list of all of the apps you have installed that you can also search within.

            If you want to type in a URL, try right-clicking. If you're in a "modern UI" app (what was formerly called "metro"), then all of the extra functionality is exposed by right-clicking, or by swiping up from the bottom edge of your touchpad.

            As for your income tax form, that depends on what software you were using to fill it out. If it's a "modern UI" app, I bet that if you right-clicked there would be an option to save. If it's not a modern UI app, then I fail to see how it's microsoft's fault.

            Here. Read this. Maybe it will help.
    • MS is not the one charging here . . .

      It is the patents that MS licenses that cause the problem and anyone that has Win8 Pro can get it free.

      I guess if AKH wasn't so blinded by his dislike of Win8 he might have thought about including that information in his blog . . . but not likely!
      • Agreed

        All versions of Windows from XP to 7 are eligible for a $40 upgrade to Windows 8 Pro. For now, Win 8 Pro users can add Windows Media Center for free. Media Center includes Media Player, which can play DVDs.

        Another point is that OEMs...HP, Sony, etc include video software that can play DVDs. I expect they will continue to do so.

        Still, I'm sad to see that Media Player is no longer included in a base install of Windows.
        • Never upgrade.

          Instead of upgrading an old computer to Windows 8 just throw your old computer in the dumpster and get a pencil and paper. At least you can do something with that.

          Microsoft needs to recall these monsters and give us something usable like windows 95
          Jerry Hickman
          • Ok, now you're just trolling

            Windows 95 usable? I'm sorry, are we talking about the same thing? Windows 95 was an unstable nightmare.