Top 5 tweaks to make Windows 8.1 feel more familiar

Top 5 tweaks to make Windows 8.1 feel more familiar

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Let’s face it: Windows 8.1 looks a whole lot different than Windows 7 or Windows XP. I mean, the desktop we all know and love is still there (awesome!) but the Start screen can take some time to get used to. And I thought charms were something that Lucky the Leprechaun served me in a bowl back when I was in elementary school (and occasionally now). If you’re new to Windows 8.1 and look back with fond memories of older versions of Windows, here are five things you can do to make it feel more familiar, or just more like yours.

Tweak 1: Boot to desktop

When you turn on a Windows 8.1 PC, you’ll go to your Start screen. If you find yourself always heading straight over to the desktop, you can set up your PC to bypass Start and go to the desktop every time you turn it on.

Go to the Start screen, type taskbar, and then choose Taskbar and Navigation from the search results list.

Then in the dialog box that appears, choose the Navigation tab, and then check the box for When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start. Click OK to save your settings.

Taskbar and Nativation properties

Tweak 2: Pin desktop apps to the taskbar

If you use Word a lot (like me), can’t get enough of PowerPoint, or maybe you love doodling in Paint, you can pin your favorite programs to the taskbar on your desktop so you can get to them in one click. It’s easy access to the apps you use most often, and it’ll keep you in the desktop, rather than going to Start or All apps view to open apps.

When you’re using an app while in the desktop, simply right-click (or press and hold) the app’s icon in the taskbar. Select Pin this program to taskbar and you’re done – it’s pinned.

Pin to taskbar

Tweak 3: Use the same background on your desktop as on Start

Some people like having different backgrounds for desktop and Start, and that’s cool, but personally, I like using the same background on both. It makes for a smoother transition when I switch between the two.

The fastest way to change this setting is to go to the Start screen, move your mouse pointer into the lower right corner, and click Settings. Then click Personalize. In the grid at the top you’ll see that one of the choices is your desktop background image. Click it to use the same image on your Start screen.

Set desktop background on Start

Tweak 4: Sign in faster with a picture password or a PIN

There are two ways to make signing in to your PC faster.

Picture password

Not only does using a picture password make signing in faster, it also makes your PC feel more “yours” because you get to use whatever photo you want. And, a picture password can actually be more secure than a regular password because there are an almost infinite number of combinations of things you could tap, circle, or draw a line across in any given photo.

There’s a great video of how to do this with a touchscreen on this page. Basically, if you’re using a mouse, move it to the lower right corner of your screen, and click Settings. Click Change PC settings, then Accounts, then Sign-in options. Then click the Add button under Picture password and follow the instructions.

Creating a picture password

PIN

Another option is to create a PIN – a four-digit code, like on your phone or at the ATM machine. To create a PIN, go to the same Sign-in options page as you would for picture password, click Add under PIN, and just follow the instructions.

Sign-in options

Tweak 5: Internet Explorer always opens on the desktop

The default setting for Internet Explorer 11 is to open up full-screen, with the controls tucked away until you need them. It’s designed this way so you can see more of the web content you’re browsing. You can learn more about how to use Internet Explorer full screen in this tutorial.

But if you prefer to keep the address bar and other controls visible and to have Internet Explorer open on your desktop every time you click a link, you can change the default setting:

  1. Go to the desktop if you’re not already there.
  2. Open Internet Explorer. (Click the Internet Explorer icon on your taskbar.)
  3. Click the Tools icon, and then click Internet options. Go to the Programs tab, and under Choose how you open links, select Always in Internet Explorer on the desktop.

Tip: If you want to open IE on the desktop even when you tap the IE tile on the Start screen, select the check box for Open Internet Explorer tiles on the desktop. If you have any websites pinned to your Start screen, they’ll open in your desktop.

Open Internet Explorer on the desktop

Bonus tweak! Organize your Start screen

I don’t want you to think I’m dissing the Start screen with what I said in Tweak 1. Once you take a little time to move some tiles around and organize your Start screen the way you want it, you might just grow to love it. If you’re skeptical about this, try thinking of the Start screen as one big menu with a bunch of buttons (called tiles) that you can click to open your favorite apps, folders, and files.

I was a bit skeptical about Start at first, but it was pretty fun to pin all of my fave apps and sites on it, organize them into groups, and come up with fun names for my groups. Now, because it’s personalized for me, I use Start a whole bunch.

My Start screen

For steps on how to customize your Start screen, see this Start screen tutorial.

If you try out any of these tweaks, I’d love to hear what you think. Or, if you have more ideas on how to make your Windows 8.1 PC less of a stranger and more like an old friend, please share them with the rest of us. Happy tweaking!

8 Comments
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  • @Crème Brulee: Thanks for your comments, and I'm glad to hear you're liking the Start menu. Great idea on jump lists for tiles too. I'll pass this along to the right folks.

  • I was prepared to dislike the Windows 8 "Metro" (sorry, but I prefer that term) UI after reading so many anti-Metro-for-desktop comments, some from industry pros I follow a lot.

    After all, why would an IT profesisonal like a "phone interface" grafted onto a desktop and a start menu that was a tiled screen?

    Imagine my surpise when I found that I actually liked the clean, colorful Start Menu. I found myself actually mildly annoyed when an app bounced me back to hte desktop after closing. I want to work from hte Metro interface, it turns out.

    I favor giving users a choice, but a lot of the negative comments seem to come either from people resistant to change (the same type who "hated" changes brought by Windows 3.1, XP, and Windows 7) or ones who are really anti-Microsoft trolls.

    Keep up the good work. I don't expect version "x.0" of any OS or app to be perfect, but I expect enhancements as it matures. Windows 8 is well underway. My real fear is that in trying to please everyone ,the OS becomes muddied and the UI advancement begun with 8.0 falters.

    One wish -- something like "Jump lists" for Start Menu tiles. If the Start Menu is the Win8 equivalent of the Win7 Start Menu, those include app jump lists from hte Start Menu, not just from the desktop taskbar.

  • There is so little validity to an article like this, When it doesn't even mention Classic Shell. This small free utility torns an otherwise unusable OS into something  functionable for many users.  Classic Shell is the  Microsoft left out.  when they released 8.0

  • pmbAustin's idea of a Desktop or Touch profile that you can easily switch between is great. I love the form factor of my Lenovo Helix and would really like that ability.  I far prefer metro IE when using the Helix as a tablet, but desktop IE is much better when in desktop mode.  I also prefer using the metro Reader app vs. Adobe Reader when in "tablet mode".

  • Thanks for the feedback!

    @dbiz2 and @pmbAustin I'm passing these ideas along to the appropriate teams.

    @ Jerry Stevens Glad you like Windows 8.1. Change can be hard for people for sure. Hopefully this blog post will help.

  • I just didn't find it all that difficult to adapt to Windows 8 or 8.1. I'm not surprised at the uproar though. Every minor tweak to Facebook or anything else drives people mad. People just don't like change.

  • One thing that's missing is to go to Control Panel->Program Defaults, and set the default programs for things like videos, mp3 files, and jpg files to be desktop apps.  That way you aren't unexpectedly thrown into the Modern UI when you double-click on a file in File Explorer.

    Which brings me to a feature I really wish Windows 8.x/9.x would have that would make ALL the difference:  A "Configuration Manager" similar to the Power Plans that already exist.  Windows should come with at least two: Optimized for Desktop, and Optimized for Touch.  You could then select a Configuration from this list, and all these various settings would be made in one click.  Further, Windows could either ask, or intelligently default on install/upgrade so that users are more familiar.  And for those with "convertible" systems, they could specify one config when used as a tablet, and another when docked on a desktop.

    It would be very flexible, VERY user friendly, and would address most of the issues people have had with Windows 8... and also make "convertible" devices that must easier to use with Windows.

  • dbiz2
    0 Posts

    I've been saying this since day one.  Why doesn't Microsoft release a modern app through the Windows Store that restores the desktop to full usage.  Obviously it can be done, if other companies are doing it.  Then Microsoft can kill or update that program as needed.  Businesses will be more willing to update since they are not dependent on some third party tool.