Windows 8 – ‘Boot’ to basics

Posted on September 20, 2012


As promised in my last blog ‘A Desktop Demotion‘ a note to cover a much demanded subject to address questions I have been getting from all quarters such as:

  • How can I boot to a desktop in Windows 8?
  • Can I get the Start button back?
  • Do I have to use the ‘metro’ interface?

The good news is life can return to normal for multitasks with tried and tested efficiencies built around a desktop existence. AND you can get the recreational side of life when you have time for it!

The answer is to hail over to one of a number of third party utility sites and download (often for free) a tool to do the following:

  1. Allow you to boot straight to desktop.
  2. Activate a Start Button and familiar cascading menu’s
  3. Maintain the Windows Modern UI unaffected but as the option rather than the prime.
  4. Do the above and maintain it in theme with Windows 8

Having reviewed a number of utilities I have found that there is one that sits heads and shoulders above the rest for its conformity to the original Start button and menu format and its simplicity of management – Classic Shell

I attach a file with a .DOC extension (NRG Menu Settings.xml.DOC) that is in fact an XML file with XML script of the configuration I use in the Classic Shell that will help you get going. Right click on the link and save the file to your hard drive then remove the .DOC file extension to leave a native XML file you can then import it into Classic Shell from the Backup option in the settings menu. The ability to export the settings is a nice touch as it makes it easy to carry across devices and saves setting it up each time.

This is the best I have tested so far in terms of fidelity with the Windows 7 Program Menu, and has a ‘Metro’ style skin that makes it feel like a natural part of Windows 8 than regressive Windows 7.

For completeness other options I tested (comments current as of the time of writing) include:

  1. StartMenu7 – Very customisable but cuts you off from easy access back to the Windows 8 Start screen. After installing the utility you can no longer trigger the Start screen thumbnail in the lower right corner.
  2. Vistart – Similar to 1 above but does not have right click customisation or flexibility to change look and feel to fit with Windows 8.
  3. RetroUI – Whilst this allows users to whilst it allows users to remove the booting to the Metro screen, it does not do a great job of addressing the absence of a Program Menu on the desktop.

For you developers out there I would highly recommend a business case for adding one of these utilities to the App Store (assuming Microsoft permits it) I think it will sell or be downloaded for free like gangbusters.

If you are a proud owner of a Microsoft Surface though you will not be able to use these utilities as the Surface runs the RT version of Windows 8 and does not support x86 code applications. Applications must be written to support the underlying ARM processor chipset. There are a few hacks that you can use to get the semblance of a start menu back but options are limited, the main one is putting a shortcut to the c:\Program Data\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\ on your task bar. If I find any more I will update this post.