restore the missing Windows features in windows 8 with start8 and aero8tuner

Windows 8 will soon be for real, meaning it will be available, in it’s official release, in October (the 26th.) If you are worried about missing some of your favorite features-and many are-fear not, they can still be had.

start8menuSince Microsoft announced the expulsion of the START ORB and MENU, many have lamented its passing.  Some even going so far as saying it will kill the operating systems acceptance. That’s just wrong, but, for those who do want the little beast, Stardock has your answer. Called Start 8, it is a start menu worthy of something from Microsoft.

Once downloaded and installed, the familiar Start Orb displays in the lower left corner start8buttonoptionsof your task bar, just as it did in previous versions of the operating system. Click it and up pops the familiar menu, with a slight Windows 8 flair.  It will take a few moments for the menu to populate, but, once it does, your apps and familiar options will be there.  The applet also lets you customize the Orb itself. Included are images for variations on the Windows 7/Vista style button, XP’s START button (ugh, why?) or even the Windows 8 logo (which looks nice.)

start8optionsThere many options for Start8, like allowing you to go straight to the desktop upon logging in and using the Windows 8 style menu page for the start menu. I like this option a lot, it gives you the best of both worlds: a quick way to start applications while staying in the desktop yet taking advantage of what makes Windows 8 so nice. Once you select the Windows 8 style, you have more options.  You can select the size of the Windows 8 menu, search and set Windows settings.

start8win8styleFor now, the application is still in beta, and it is not perfect. After a few uses, the Windows 8 style menu, for example, ceased to display once I started a Windows 8 style app (the News app.) I know Stardock will fix that, likely in the next release.  Stardock releases quality apps and this looks like one. It is currently free.

Aero8Tuner brings back the Aero effects that made Windows Vista and 7 so beautiful. While the flat look of 8 is nice, I like the transparency of the last two versions of Windows and it will be nice to have it if I want it-which Microsoft should have allowed anyway.  Aero8Tuner gives you other options like coloring the window borders.

As I am still running the Release Preview, which still has Aero, I have not yet tried Aero8Tuner, but it looks promising and I will definitely follow up on this once I get the final release of Windows 8.  Redmond Pie has an article here.

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Windows 8: Microsoft’s best yet?

I’ve been using Windows 8 for months now, first with the developer’s preview (admittedly, did not use this much) then with the consumer preview and, now, the release preview. With each release, the operating system became more and more usable as well as nicer to look at and experience.

While the removal of some of the stalwarts of Windows does nag me a bit, I cannot say that I will entirely miss them. Except for Aero, which I will miss, I don’t think I’ll miss anything.  Aero, however, I will. I love the way Aero looks in the Release Preview. I also like the flattened look, so I am a bit divided, but I do like the live window previews and all of the other Aero bits. I’m hoping that Microsoft will only do away with the Aero Glass…while I do like that, I could live without it.

I won’t, however, miss the Start button. I have been waffling back and forth on this, but, finally, decided that, no, in fact, I won’t miss it. Why? because the Start screen has what I need. The hot corners and the right click will give me most, if not all, of the Start button functionality.  The neutering of the desktop is just fine with me.

Why?

Metro.

Metro is gorgeous, as far an operating system is concerned.  The clean typography, full screen layouts, loss of the ‘chrome’, the gentle colors all add up to a very pleasant and easy to use OS. I hope developers fall in line and develop Metro apps that live up to the potential of Metro.

Metro, in many ways, is a step back in time to Windows 1.1. Windows 1.1, for those of you who do not know or remember, did not have overlapping windows. It presented them in a quadrant like display or, if only two apps were open, half and half.  It was also flat. There were no shadows or three-dee like buttons. Typography, however, was not its strong suit.  Machine requirements, as well, have not increased with Windows over your average Windows Vista computer. Hell, even some XP class machine will run Windows 8.  Windows 1.1 had rather modest requirements as well: CGA (remember that?) graphics, 256k RAM, Floppy disk. Mouse. That was it.

So, with Microsoft recent announcements, Windows 8 is poised to become the must have upgrade. It will be at the heart of Microsoft’s mobile strategy with Windows Phone 8, the Surface Tablets and who knows what else. Metro will be on those as well as the XBOX and, presumably, its successor.  So, what will this cost for existing computers? Well, no a whole lot. $40. And, the best part? You can upgrade from all the way back to Windows XP, if your computer will support it, that is. My guess is it will if that computer is five years old or newer. And, if upgrading from Windows 7 or the Windows 8 Release Preview, your programs and settings will remain intact.

I am also quite pleased with the compatibility as well. So far, I’ve not run into any application that won’t run. Some are not as smooth, but they do run. As a rule, if it runs under Windows 7, it will run under Windows 8. I am sure there are exceptions, but I have not run into them.

Microsoft is still being dodgy about a release date, but all evidence points to an October release. I can’t wait.  I thought Windows 7 was Microsoft’s best, but, that might just be Windows 8 instead.

Windows 8: gripes and missing features…are they really that bad?

Win8StartWindows 8, Microsoft’s next iteration of it’s vulnerable Windows operating system, is due out later this year, with a release ‘preview’ due up in the next couple of weeks.  After a ‘developer preview’ and a subsequent ‘consumer preview’, the operating system has garnered a fair amount of praise and criticism.

Some of the criticism is warranted, others…well, not so much.  For example, the lack of a start button seems to really bother some and is the number one complaint, followed closely by Metro’s seemingly unfriendliness for mouse and keyboard.  These are more personal preference, in my opinion, than short comings of the operating system.  Microsoft is attempting to re-invent Windows and they have a desire to just break with the past and killing the start button is just one way to do so.

Another way, as announced recently, is to ditch much of the eye candy they introduced with Vista. In fact, in a blog post, Microsoft proclaimed that Aero (the fancy special effects for window presentation such as see through borders) is tacky and that they are getting rid of it. Now, MY preference would be to keep it as it made that rather staid and plain Windows desktop look a bit more attractive.  So, Microsoft is killing off many of the things that made Windows, well, Windows. Some of the other things that are getting removed include:

  • DVD Movie playback – you will need a third party solution for this
  • Windows Media Center – it will still be available, but will cost money and you MUST be running Windows 8 Professional (just like in the XP Media Center days)
  • Aero
  • Blue Screen of Death (replaced by a uninformative frowny face and friendlier message)
  • Start Menu and Start Button (similar functionality available via the start screen and a hotspot in the lower left corner of the screen)
  • Previous Versions replaced with File History
  • Overlapping, multiple windows in Metro (there is a snap feature that lets you see two apps at once)
  • Flip 3D appears to be gone. Alt-Tab still there.
  • Traditional menus in many desktop apps (like Explorer) replaced with the ribbon UI

The biggest criticism that actually makes sense is the stark contrast between the Metro and Windows desktop interfaces. Microsoft has done little to ease that while many third parties have designed very attractive themes that follow the Metro look and feel and make the desktop feel like it is part of Windows 8.  However, I get why Microsoft has not done so much, they really are trying to kill traditional Windows.

Negatives aside, there is much to like about Windows 8.  Metro presents a whole new interface (that dates back to the Zune and Windows Media Center) that is attractive, clean and does not rely on gee-whiz effects to work. Yes, I am contradicting myself here: I LOVE Metro’s clean look yet LOVE Aero Glass.  I think they both can co-exist, but, if Microsoft really does not want Metro, fine. I’m sure the fine folks at StarDock already have an Aero Glass mechanism in the works for Windows 8.

One really nice thing about the new operating system is its speed. Boy, is it fast.  Start up is very quick, even on the Celeron based computer that I am using to write this post.  Not only is it fast, it’s memory requirement is pretty conservative: this machine has 2gb of ram and performance is very snappy, unlike it was with Vista or even Windows 7 (which is still my favorite version of Windows.)

The lack of a touchscreen, for me, in no way hinders my ability to use Metro applications. I find the mouse and keyboard to work very well. Yes, it took some getting used to, but it just seems like second nature now. I do find myself wanting to reach up and touch the screen (no, not out of disgust) and move those tiles.  It is going to be great with a touch screen, but is great with mouse and keyboard too. 

Over the next few weeks, we should learn about what will be in the final shipping version.  The release candidate is due to be unleashed the first week of June, so we should have a good idea of what is to come. Stay tuned for more.