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Restore the Start button and Start menu to Windows 8 with Start8

The biggest complaint I have heard about Windows 8 is that the Start button and Start menu are gone. No doubt this was a radical change in the way users interact with Windows. Being a Windows logo key fanatic since its introduction in Windows 95, I found the new Start screen to be less of a headache than most. But I still missed the Start button. The folks over at Stardock have recently released a great program called Start8 that brings both of them back and more.

Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8
Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8

Start8 is, in my book, the ultimate Start button replacement for Windows 8. Now before I go on, let's see if we can make some sense about all of the Start items. The Start button is located by default on the left hand side of the Taskbar and has the Windows logo on it (Windows 95 - Windows 7). The Start menu appears when you left-click on the Start button (Windows 95 - Windows 7). The Start screen is the Windows RT (Metro) interface used in Tablets and Smartphones (Windows 8).

Windows 8 style start menu in Windows 8 using Start8
Windows 8 style start menu in Windows 8 using Start8

With Start8, you can get back the Start button and Start menu with a choice of what style you would like to use (Windows 7 or Windows 8). The Windows 7 style looks and feels just like the original. The Windows 8 style is kind of a hybrid, with the Start screen appearing in-place of the Start menu. Both are highly configurable and can use custom images for the Start button.

Here's a breakdown of the styles and included features:

Windows 7 style

  • Choice of themes (Windows 7 rounded edges, Windows 8 squared edges, black selection edges)
  • Use large icons
  • Show recently used apps
  • Open submenus when you pause over them with your cursor
  • Highlight new installed apps
  • Show user picture
  • Choice of which shortcuts to display on the right hand side of the menu
  • Add additional shortcuts to the right hand side of menu

Windows 8 style

  • Choice of four different sizes or full screen
  • Display Start menu full screen with the Taskbar still visible
  • Choice of what the Start button and Windows logo key do
  • Can default to the applications view

Start8 is produced by Stardock, makers of ModernMix and Decor8. Here's a quote from the Stardock website:

What is Start8?

Microsoft Windows® 8 is shipped without the "Start" menu. Stardock heard the cries from Windows 8 users. We put the "Start" menu back in Windows 8. We accurately recreated the most used desktop feature billions of users depend on every day and packed it with additional functionality.

    Innovation
  • Windows 7-style Start menu with Windows 8 enhancements
  • Search for Windows 8-style (Modern UI) apps
  • Pin desktop and Metro apps to the start menu
  • Jump List support
  • Unified Search for apps, settings and files
  • Boot directly to the Windows 8 desktop
  • One click access to shut down, devices, music, documents, and videos
    Control
  • Configurable Start menu size
  • Windows 8 Start screen accessible from the Start menu
  • Clean, streamlined UI enhances Start8's usability
    Customization
  • Optionally disable the desktop Windows 8 "hot spots"
  • Supports WindowFX 5.1 start menu animations
  • Includes .ADMX template (in Group Policy folder)

Start8 is only $4.99 and in my opinion, worth every penny. For more information on Start8 or Stardock, just follow the links below:

Stardock
Start8

How to enable the Advanced Boot Options menu at start up in Windows 8

When performing computer repair on a Windows based system, the one feature I really like is the Advanced Boot Options menu. By pressing the F8 key at start up, you would get the advanced boot option menu, where you could enable safe mode, boot logging, debugging, etc. With the fast start up options inside of Windows 8 and modern motherboards, getting to the boot options menu is really hard. Here's how to get the Advanced Boot Options menu back in Windows 8.

Warning! There is no default timer when the Advanced Boot Menu option is enabled in Windows 8 and the system will wait for user input every time it starts or restarts. This works great when trouble shooting Windows 8. You can also choose which Windows Boot Manager (WBM) you want to use, Standard (Windows 8) or Legacy (Windows 7, Vista). First thing we have to do is edit the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) store using an administrative command prompt and bcdedit.exe.

Bcdedit is a command-line tool that modifies the boot configuration data store. The boot configuration data store contains boot configuration parameters and controls how the operating system is booted. It needs be run at an administrative command prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8.

How to enable / disable the advanced boot options menu in Windows 8

The standard advanced boot options menu in Windows 8
The standard advanced boot options menu in Windows 8

The first thing we have to do is turn on the advanced boot options. Type or cut / paste the following code into an administrative command prompt:

bcdedit /set {globalsettings} advancedoptions true

To turn off the advanced boot options, type or cut / paste the following code into an administrative command prompt:

bcdedit /set {globalsettings} advancedoptions false

How to enable / disable the legacy advanced boot manager in Windows 8

The legacy advanced boot options menu in Windows 8
The legacy advanced boot options menu in Windows 8

This next step is will change which boot manager loads and is an option. If you want to boot using the older legacy boot manager used in Windows 7 and Vista, type or cut / paste the following code into an administrative command prompt:

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy

To restore the boot menu to the default, type or cut / paste the following code into an administrative command prompt.

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy standard

Customize the Start screen in Windows 8 with Decor8

I've been using Windows 8 for some time now and there has been one thing I really wanted to change, but couldn't. It's the limited choice of colors and images you could use on the Start screen. Come to find out the folks over at Stardock have a great product called Decor8 that does just that.

The background settings inside of Decor8
The background settings inside of Decor8

With Decor8, you can change everything on the Start screen. You can use your own images for the background and change all of the colors: background, accent, standard tile and text. You can even change the color of the Charms bar with Decor8.

The color settings inside of Decor8
The color settings inside of Decor8

Decor8 also has some really cool background effects too: fade, blur, color and contrast. You can change how the parallax scrolling (where background scrolls, but at slower speed than tiles) works. You can even create a custom color scheme from the background image. Here's a quote from Stardock's website.

What is Decor8?

Windows 8 limits your start screen customization options to only a few provided background images and a few pre-defined color schemes. Decor8 removes these limitations and provides the freedom to personalize your start screen with your own images and colors.

Background Images
  • Choose from more background images to personalize your start screen
  • Add your own photos and images
  • Select multiple images to create a custom slideshow
  • Randomize background images in timed intervals for a fresh look
  • Apply effects to scroll, fade, blur, recolor and add contrast to your background images
  • Choose your own image for your lock screen background
Color Schemes
  • Decor8 will automatically create a color scheme to match each of your background images
  • Or you can customize the color scheme, it's up to you. Custom color schemes can also be applied to your charms bar
  • Choose one of the standard Windows color schemes Create, save and apply your own color scheme
Customization
  • Control how many rows of tiles are available on your start screen

Decor8 comes from Stardock, makers of ModernMix and is only $4.99. I found it to be well worth it the $5 bucks. For more information on Decor8, just follow the link below.

Decor8 - Personalize the Windows 8 Start screen with Decor8

Run Windows RT apps on the Windows 8 desktop with ModernMix

As many of you know, I've been using two monitors on my personal workstation for over ten years. I like being able to view two or more programs all at the same time. So when Windows 8 came out, I was happy to see better multiple monitor support, but I didn't like running Windows RT / Metro apps, as they took up the full display area. They are nice, but with a screen size of 2560 x 1024, it was just too much for me. Then the folks at Stardock came out with a program to run Windows RT / Metro apps in a window on the desktop called ModernMix.

Two Windows RT apps running on a desktop with two monitors using ModernMix in Windows 8
Two Windows RT apps running on a desktop with two monitors using ModernMix in Windows 8

ModernMix allows almost any Windows RT / Metro app to run inside a window on the desktop in Windows 8. It remembers the settings of all of the Windows RT apps you have run and you can manually modify them if needed. I came across a couple of apps that would only run in full screen. It also has a screen overlay you can enable in the upper right-hand corner that allows you to switch between modes (full screen, maximized and windowed) and bring up the Settings charm for that app. You can even Pin a program to the Taskbar with ModernMix.

Application settings page inside of ModernMix
Application settings page inside of ModernMix

Here's a quote from the ModernMix website:

What is ModernMix?

ModernMix is a revolutionary new program that lets you run Windows 8 "Modern" apps in a window on the desktop. Windows 8 Modern apps, also known as Metro or RT apps, will use the full screen on your display regardless of how much of the screen they really need. As a result, that weather app, mail program or stock ticker is going to use the entirety of your computer display.

Features

    Run modern apps in windows
  • ModernMix enables you to run multiple Modern apps in individual separate windows on the desktop as well as launch them from the desktop.
    Apply custom settings
  • Modern app window sizes are remembered the next time you launch them.
    Pin modern apps to the taskbar
  • Active Modern apps will also appear on your taskbar where they can be pinned for quick access later. Also create desktop shortcuts for Modern apps.
    Bring back the familiar Windows look
  • Standard Windows 8 title bar is enabled for Modern apps.
  • Explicitly close Modern apps by clicking its close button.

The price of ModernMix is $4.99 (at the time this article was written). For more information on ModernMix and Stardock, just follow the links below:

ModernMix
Stardock

How to securely erase all of the data from your Windows based computer

Do you have an old Windows based computer you would like to get rid of but want to make sure that all of your data is securely erased? Or maybe you would like to wipe all of the data from your hard drive and perform a clean installation of Windows? Either way, you'll want to make the data is completely wiped out. Here's how to securely erase all of the data from your Windows based computer.

Back-up all folder(s) and/or file(s) you want to save

This is the time to double and triple-check for any folder(s) and/or file(s) you may want to keep. If you plan on reinstalling Windows, make sure that you have all of the installation media available. If you need to create the recovery media that is stored on your computer, this is the time to do it. Once the hard drive is wiped cleaned, the recovery media images will be gone too.

Download and create bootable media with disk wiping software

The best way to completely wipe clean a hard drive is by booting the computer up on a CD/DVD disk or USB drive. This way you can erase all of the space on the hard drive. There are several free utilities for doing this, including Darik's Boot And Nuke, CMRR - Secure Erase and PC Disk Eraser. I recommend the Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD), which has all of these and more already built-in. Just download the image file (.ISO) and use your favorite disk burning software or Windows built-in disk burning to create the bootable media. You can even create a UBCD bootable USB drive.

Encrypt the contents of your hard drive

This step may seem unnecessary, but it does make data recovery virtually impossible on the drive you are going to wipe. Windows has a feature called Encrypting File System (EFS) built-in, but it's disabled by default. It allows files to be encrypted transparently with a File Encryption Key (FEK). For more on EFS, check out this Wikipedia article. So even if someone was able to recover the data on the drive after the wiping, it would be in very poor condition. After that, the data would have to be unencrypted, and being in such bad condition, would be really hard, if not impossible.

  1. Open File Explorer / Windows Explorer (Windows logo key Windows logo key + E).
  2. Select the file(s) and/or folder(s) you want to encrypt.
  3. Right-click on the items selected and then left-click on Properties from the context menu that appears.
  4. On the General tab, left-click on Advanced.
  5. Left-click the check box for Encrypt contents to secure data.
  6. Left-click on OK. Be patient, encrypting the folders and/or files may take some time.

Insert bootable media and restart system

When you restart your system, it should boot up on the media you created. Follow the on screen instructions. If using the UBCD, navigate to HDD > Disk Wiping for the list of utilities. Each program will have similar data destruction settings. I always look for the latest Department of Defense standard (currently DOD 5220.22-M). If you really want to clean your hard drive, just run two or more of the disk wiping programs included on the UBCD.

If your system does not boot up on the media you just created, you may have to change the boot order for the computer. Check the 'splash' screen that first appears when you start your computer. Sometimes there is an option for boot device and/or menu, usually an F key. If not, you will have to change it manually inside the BIOS (Basic Input Output System). The BIOS can usually be accessed by pressing the DEL or F2 key when the 'splash' screen appears. It's always recommended to check the documentation for your motherboard on which keys are used to access the BIOS and where in the BIOS to change the boot order.

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4722 East Monte Vista Road
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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

Geeks in Phoenix have the best computer repair technicians providing computer repair and service in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona. We offer In-Shop, On-Site and Remote (with stable Internet connection) computer repair service.

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