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Windows 8.1 Preview - user interface enhancements

Microsoft recently released the Windows 8.1 Preview, the future upgrade to Windows 8. Some of the changes are subtitle and are quite easily over looked, others are not. Changes included in Windows 8.1 are B.Y.O.D. (Bring Your Own Device), mobility, security and user interface enhancements. With the promise of better user interaction on personal computers, Microsoft made some tweaks to both Windows RT and Windows 8. Let's take a closer look into the user interface changes inside of Windows 8.1 Preview.

The Start button returns to Windows 8.1 Preview
The Start button returns to Windows 8.1 Preview

The first thing you'll notice is that nothing appears to have changed. Right out-of-the-box the only thing that caught my eye was the return of the Start button on the Desktop. You no longer have to hover your cursor in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. If you left-click on the Start button, it brings up the Start screen, not the Start menu from previous versions of Windows. If you right-click on it, the power user command menu appears without keyboard shortcuts. Pressing the Windows logo key Windows logo key + X does the same thing, but has the keyboard shortcuts (the underlined letter in the name of the program). If you want and/or need a Start menu, you'll need a third party app like Start8.

Smaller tile size on the Start screen inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
Smaller tile size on the Start screen inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

The Start screen has also under gone some changes. The tiles can now be resized smaller for non-touch devices like personal computers. You now have four different tile sizes to choose from: large (8x8), wide (8x4), medium (4x4) and small (1x1). There is now a button at the bottom of the Start screen to toggle in between it and the Apps screen. You no longer have to right-click the Start screen to bring up the Apps command bar. Now when you right-click on the Start screen, you get a customize button for adding names to groups of tiles. You no longer have to zoom out to do it. And now if you zoom out, all you can do is select a group of tiles to zoom in on.

The Personalize options for the Start screen in Windows 8.1 Preview
The Personalize options for the Start screen in Windows 8.1 Preview

The customization options for the Start screen have also been expanded. You can now use one of your own images for the lock screen or play a slide show on it. You can now also change the accent color along with the background color. Not as many options as some third party programs like Decor8, but it's an improvement compared to Windows 8.

Taskbar and navigation properties inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
Taskbar and navigation properties inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

One the most anticipated changes is the boot to Desktop option. It took a little hunting, but I did find it under Personalization > Taskbar and Navigation properties. It's there you can make Windows 8.1 go to the Desktop when you sign in. You can also have the Desktop background on the Start screen and set the Apps screen as the default when you left-click on the Start button.

The redesigned PC settings inside of Windows 8.1 Preview
The redesigned PC settings inside of Windows 8.1 Preview

Another program that got a face lift was PC Settings. Microsoft redesigned it with expanded categories and sub-menus to include more settings. It's still not as complete as the Control Panel, but it's getting better. The new layout seems more proportionate on a computer screen, with the menu titles smaller. Overall, I would say the user interface inside of Windows 8.1 is an improvement over Windows 8. But without a Start menu, it will still be a hard sell to die hard Windows users.

For more information on the Windows 8.1 Preview, just follow the links below:

Windows 8.1 Preview
Windows 8.1 Preview FAQ

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

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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.

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