Windows XP officially expired on April 8, 2014, finally giving a lot of Windows users the reason they need to make the move to the newest version of the operating system. Windows 8 launched with a certain amount of controversy because of its totally revamped interface. It worked for some people, and for others it didn’t – and if these users had not even made the move to Windows 7, this new direction was enough to keep them away from Windows 8.
Migrating to Windows 8.1 meant going into some very unfamiliar territory, and there were a lot of reports that users couldn’t get the same flexibility and functionality that they were used to. If this was in a design and development company of any sort, those perceived limitations could be very troubling.
However, there are actually a lot of ways to customize the environment to make it work more like an XP or 7 desktop. With a few tweaks (and possibly some third-party apps), users can turn the new operating system in a more familiar and make an easier transition for users who have been using the XP system for years.
The World of Windows 8.1
Switching to 8.1 can be a shock for users accustomed to their old XP – though not necessarily as jarring as Windows 8. Microsoft has heard a lot of its customers’ demands, and the recent updates (and some of the ones that are still on the way) are aimed at making the current operating system more palatable for the masses.
Back at the start of April, with the impending end of XP just days away, Microsoft announced that they were planning some interesting changes in the near future. The first, and most critical for many users, was the inclusion of a new Start menu. It has been suggested that we may see this update around August or September, but nothing is confirmed yet.
These changes are part of Microsoft’s apparent dedication to a faster release cycle. This has made some people happy, because new updates can immediate address the users’ concerns, but it also has some companies concerned. When the IT department is already stretched really thin just trying to rollout the regular security patches, the idea of distributing, optimizing, and configuring new operating systems on a regular basis can be somewhat stress-inducing.
As Microsoft continues to add new features that make Windows 8 easier to use with a mouse and keyboard, many users have taken this as a sign that the company is capitulating to the criticisms. However, it may be more appropriate to look at these actions as just a way for Microsoft to gradually acclimatize new users by making the current generation operating system more familiar to those who have spent years on XP or Windows 7.
Will a Faster Update Cycle Encourage Faster Migration?
Windows 8 Update 1 was only just released a few months ago. Nevertheless, that isn’t going to stop Microsoft from making further updates to encourage new users to make the move. For businesses, this has created some concerns because of the difficulty in keeping up with the changes, and while they have expressed these concerns, Microsoft is still trying to maintain their more aggressive schedule.
This shift in strategy could imply a number of things. First, it could just be a way for Microsoft to try and maintain a faster release schedule, much like iOS and Android do. On the other hand, it could be a way to encourage users to migrate to the most recent operating system. After all, if companies are still holding on to their XP machines, they obviously aren’t feeling the need to upgrade.
However, they may be pushing this a little too hard. When Update 1 was released, for example, Microsoft announced that they would only support Windows 8.1 for 30 days after that. Due to the backlash from the users, the company decided to extend its support for 120 days. Still, it doesn’t hint that they don’t want to get in a situation where they’re supporting users of an operating system that is more than a decade old.
Working within Windows or Using Third-Party Apps
Users have a couple options to make Windows 8.1 a little more like the older operating systems they’re accustomed two. The first is to work within the Windows structure to tweak and customize the options closer to your liking. The second is to use one or more third-party apps specifically designed to bring back some of the functionality that many users feel as though they’ve lost.
Option A: Staying within the system
Windows 8.1 does have a number of options that you can employ to create an environment you’re more comfortable with. There are a couple ways get started.
1. Start by booting directly to the desktop
If you’re not a fan of the Start screen, you can set Windows to take you directly to the Desktop on bootup.
- From the Start page, launch the Desktop by clicking on the tile labeled “Desktop”
- In the Desktop, right click the Taskbar at the bottom of the screen
- Click “Properties” and then click the “Navigation” tab
- Check the box “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the Desktop instead of Start”
- Click OK or Apply
Now when you start up your computer you will immediately go into the user interface that so many people are more comfortable with.
2. Make all your apps more accessible
The Start screen doesn’t always display every app on the computer, which means that the user must click through different areas to see all the options. This can be avoided by configuring the system to display the Apps page by default when you go back to the Start screen. This process is very similar to the one above.
- On the Desktop, right click the Taskbar
- Click the Navigation tab
- Check the “Show the Apps view Automatically when I go to Start”
- Click OK or Apply
Here you can also check the “List desktop apps first” box to help categorized the apps that are used more often.
Option B: Using third-party apps
This isn’t a bad option, but you’ll want to do a lot of research before installing a program that changes how you interact with the operating system. Some of these systems may not work as advertised, so be sure you know what you’re getting into.
Different users want to emulate different parts of their former operating systems, and this should also be considered when considering third-party apps. Some of the more common choices include
- Start8 – This app is a popular choice among users who simply want to add a menu similar to what they used in Windows 7.
- RetroUI – While this app also adds a functional menu to Windows 8, it is not exactly like the one the user may have used in other iterations of the operating system. This is more of a hybrid model that includes elements of both Windows 7 and 8.
- Classic Shell – This is for users who are looking to create an experience that is almost exactly like the Windows 7 interface.
What Is So Important About a Single Button?
Why is it that so much of the talk surrounding Windows 8.X is centered on the loss of a single button? The simple answer is that the traditional start button from XP and 7 had a lot of clear and direct functionality. Windows 8.1 brought some of these functions back, but the experience still wasn’t the same.
While you can make some tweaks (either within the operating system or by turning to third-party apps), users still might not get all the same functionality back. However, there are some elements of the new button that may open up some new possibilities and help users feel like they are regaining some control and flexibility.
This is accomplished by right clicking the start button and bringing up a more extensive list of options. In Windows 7, this action only allows the user to choose the “Properties” or “Open Windows Explorer” options. Now, the menu includes a lot of important functions, such as the system tools, device manager, task manager, and other items. Most importantly, for some users, is that this is an easy way to get to the shutdown, sleep, and restart functions that were strangely absent from 8.
Why You May Wish You’d Upgraded Sooner
Despite the lukewarm reception that Windows 8 received when it launched, there are plenty of features that make it worth the migration. Whether you’re looking to upgrade functionality, or got caught stuck with Windows XP after support was discontinued, there’s no time like the present to make the move. There are a lot of advantages to switching to the new version. It is bigger, better, faster, stronger, and since Microsoft is working at making their apps cross compatible between their three platforms (XBox, Windows, and Windows Phone) making the move now may open up a whole range of possibilities down the road.
Windows 8.1 also has many added security features and a lot of versatility to help move your computing solutions upwards and onward. One last thing to think about is whether or not the company will be investing tablets or mobile devices. You can remain connected much easier if they all use the same Windows operating system (or a version of the same OS). In the long run, being able to understand your PC and tablet and have them work with each other is a time and money saver.
Baby Steps—The Windows 7 Option
If changing to Windows 8.1 is still too big of a jump for you as an XP user, you may want to think about upgrading to Windows 7. It has a lot of the same look as XP and includes many of the same features, though it may be harder to come by, since Microsoft no longer sells it directly.
If, however, you are determined to go this route, you can still get it from some online shops that stockpiled the system before Microsoft stopped offering it. You can also buy a new or refurbished Windows 7 laptop or desktop from Dell and various other vendors. While it may not be the most ideal option, Windows 7 is still more secure than XP, and Microsoft is also still supporting it (for now).
Holding Out for a Hero
If you can’t (or won’t) upgrade to a newer version of Windows, there are a few tips and tricks that you can use in order to hang on to your system without worrying about the threats of viruses, etc. Staying with XP is definitely not a recommended course of action, but there are helps out there for those that want to continue with their old ways until upgrading becomes possible.
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