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.

Links:

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Windows 8 is complete and ready to rock and roll…are you ready?

Microsoft has released Windows 8 to manufacturing. This simply means that companies like Dell and HP now have the ‘final code’ for the new operating system and can begin to pre-install it on their products. Microsoft also released the server version to manufacturing as well. October 26 is the general release date for the product (and, by extension, the Surface tablets running Windows RT will also be available.)

Win8LogoWhile the near final version of Windows 8 has been available for several months, the final version will, no doubt, yield a few surprises.  The removal of Aero and other changes to the look and feel of the operating system have yet to be revealed.

There are still those who feel that the operating system will be ‘another Vista.’  Hmm…if I were Microsoft, I would not feel bad at all about that.  Vista sold 300 million copies, hardly anything to sneeze at, not at all. However, I understand the analogy and I don’t think it will be the case. Windows 8 is, dare I say, beautiful. The ‘metro’ (I understand that Microsoft is now shying away from that word, yet I’ve not seen a replacement name for the style) style is gorgeous and, contrary to what some would want you to think, it is very easy to navigate with a keyboard and mouse. 

So, now that the operating system is going ‘gold’, here’s a few things you should know…

PRICE

Windows 8 will be available as an upgrade only. For the time being, it will sell for $40 (US). If you are running any version of Windows from XP up, you are eligible for the $40 upgrade through January 31, 2013. That is for the download version. If you want a disc, it will cost you thirty bucks more.

If you buy a new PC now, you can get the upgrade for $14.95 (US).

If you have MSDN or TechNet, you can download the RTM on August 15th.

HARDWARE

If your computer can run Vista or Windows 7, it will run Windows 8. 

Microsoft is releasing a line of keyboards, touchpads and mice that are designed to work with Windows 8 and Metro.  This line of hardware is designed to make the non-touch PC ‘easier’ to use with Windows 8.

Compatibility may be a problem for things like printers, serial and parallel devices and video cards.  It is now known that some older printers will not work with the operating system and, since most modern computers now lack serial and parallel ports, I’m not sure that is going to be a problem for most. However, if you have such a device and are using a USB adaptor, THAT could be a problem, especially if specialized drivers are involved. You might want to download and install the Release Preview first and try your hardware on that.  You can install it on a separate partition without losing your current installation.

APPLICATIONS

If your application runs under Windows 7, it should run under Windows 8.  Windows Vista software should also run. Software designed for older versions of Windows, like XP, should, generally, work with Windows 8 but, as with Vista and 7, no 16 bit applications will work. However, you can still use applications like VirtualBox or other virtual machines and install an older version of Windows and run the old software that way.

USABILITY

win8startWindows 8 boots really fast, faster than any previous version of Windows.  That won’t be the only thing you notice. No, the operating system will take you to a new start page. The start page resembles Windows Phone 7/8 in that instead of the standard desktop, you have tiles with the app icon. Tiles can be ‘live’ in that the associated application can present information in the tiles, like weather, free space, etc. When you switch to the standard desktop, the thing you see-or don’t see-is the lack of the Start orb. Microsoft removed the orb to force people to use the start page to launch applications.  However, you can still pin things to the task bar as well as create desktop shortcuts, so I don’t understand the furor over the removal of the Start orb.  I rarely use it under 7 and do not miss it for Windows 8 at all.  While it is true that ‘metro’ is best suited for touch devices, it is very easy to use with the mouse and keyboard, though a certain learning curve does exist.  For some information on using the keyboard and mouse, go here.

Windows 7 is the best version of Windows yet, but I feel that Windows 8 may give it a run for the money.  Windows 7 will, likely, have the same very long legs as Windows XP and will, likely, outlive Windows 8. However, the success of the operating system is largely dependent on the success of several products: Surface and Windows 8 tablets, Windows Phone 8 and developers.  Yep, developers.  No, developers are not products, but they produce products and if there are few compelling ‘metro’ applications, then 8 will be relegated to the bargain bin.  With everything that Microsoft is doing to entice developers, I am confident that there will be a plethora of apps that will make 8 worthwhile (or, rather, metro.)

Office 2013: word

Microsoft has formally introduced Office 2013 and Office 365. Office 2013 is the successor to Office 2010 and Office 365 is the rental version. I’m not going to discuss 365 today, in fact, I want to talk about one component of Office: Word. Word is probably tied with Excel as the most used application on the planet.

Before I start, I want to give a quick overview of the Preview version of Office that Microsoft made available today.  (You can grab it here.)

You start the process of acquiring the preview by clicking a bevy of Try It! buttons. Once you get to webmanagementyour Live account page, you click the install button to begin the download.  Once started, the process is fairly quick. It downloaded and began the install process in just a few minutes. Within 15 minutes, you can actually start using the suite. Performance is below par until the entire process is complete, but, once it is, I found the suite to be pretty snappy. Your account page on Live.com will show you how many machines you can install it on and will track that for you. It will show you the name of the computer(s) you have installed it on.  You have the option of deactivating office on a computer so you can install it on another. You have up to five computers for the home edition.

Word

Word15LoadDocumentThe first thing you notice about Word (or any of the apps) is that it has a Metro ‘feel’. No tiles, but the typography and colors match Windows 8’s Metro appearance.  Office, however, is a DESKTOP application, not a real Metro app.  That said, it has a Metro look and feel. Word looks terrific.  Gone is Aero and the chrome associated with a ‘normal’ Windows app. There’s no Window border and the open, close and minimize widgets are small and out of the way.

Upon opening a document,I noticed several things right away: the open file dialog box is now full accountscreen and if you hit the BROWSE button, only then will you get a standard file open dialog.  The open file page also has a link to your SkyDrive. SkyDrive is a 20gb file store that lives on Microsoft servers somewhere on the planet. Microsoft have integrated its web services very nicely and pretty seamlessly.  Also, you notice all of your options are now in a bar down the left side of the page and there’s an Account option that gives you control over what services you want, your SkyDrive and a few options for Office itself.

WordNavWhen your selected document loads, you get a navigation pane on the left.  It shows the structure of your document, provided you actually use the headers and sections properly (which I often don’t.) It is a convenient way to organize and edit your document.

hideRibbonThe Ribbon has been refined further. It is now flat (following the Metro mantra) and can be tucked out of the way, only to show when needed.  ribbonpinThe organization and presentation of the ribbon is much nicer than in previous versions of the suite.  The most used features are prominent on the ribbon and most of the keyboard shortcuts are still there.

Word is, first and foremost, a text editor.  As such, Microsoft added several things to enhance its editing abilities.  Text flows more smoothly and more intelligently when you move objects around your document. In previous editions, moving an image could sometimes result in your text going to a completely different page. That does not happen now.

A bit of Google Docs has been incorporated as well. I speak of the ability to share a document and have a group edit it.  Versioning and comments are integral and there is now the ability for an editor to respond to a comment without affecting the document.  Sharepoint like functionality is possible with SkyDrive.  Microsoft really has embraced the web, in ways I never thought they could.

One interesting, though totally unimportant feature: themes. Office 2007 gave you three color schemes. Office 2013 gives you Zune-like themes. There are no color schemes, oddly enough.  And the ‘themes’ are simple backgrounds that are unobtrusive and barely noticeable. They blend in while you work and are not in your face. In fact, you don’t really notice them. I’m not sure if this is good or not or why they bothered.

One annoying thing: as the result of Microsoft losing a bogus patent lawsuit, custom XML tags were bogusXMLremoved from the DOCX format. So, when I tried to load such a document, I was greeted with a message informing me that the XML custom tags would be removed. Not earth shattering, but annoying.

Overall, I’d say Office 2013 may prove to be a bigger deal than Windows 8 and I’d love to try it on a Windows 8 touch screen device.  It will ship on the Surface tablets, so when you purchase a Surface, you will get Office with the device.

The preview edition is available now and you can download it from here.

EDIT: Changed references to Office 15 to Office 2013.

Windows 8 release candidate now available

Microsoft surprised us by releasing the Windows 8 Release Preview.  This is the last public release of the new, re-imagined version of Redmond’s flagship product.  Windows 8 RP is mostly feature complete with the underpinnings complete.

So, how good is it and how different is it from the Consumer Preview?

Well, pretty damn good and not very much.

This version, near production ready, sports a slightly refined visual appearance (which, as we found out, is not in stone as Aero is going away on the desktop, but is still present here) and more complete apps. It is pretty solid, so far, and the browser is, night and day, better than the browser in the Consumer Preview. The Consumer Preview was also a bit more clunky with non-touch devices. Happily, I can say that this version just feels ‘normal’ with Windows 8.

I was able to ‘upgrade’ from Consumer Preview to Release Preview without any fuss.  It ONLY allows for ‘clean’ installs, but it, like Windows Vista and 7, it saves your previous world in Windows.OLD.  Not a problem.  The upgrade took about 45 minutes, including the download time.  A marked improvement over XP and Vista and on par with 7.

Another noticeable improvement is the transition from Metro to desktop. Still somewhat jarring, just not as much as it was in the previous Consumer and Developer versions.

There are a number of changes being made that are not yet included and almost all of the have to do with ridding Windows 8 of its legacy.  Among the changes:  removing the ability to restore the native Windows 7 start button and menu; removing the ability to boot into the desktop; removing the ‘chrome’ from the desktop by flattening out everything and removing transparencies (Aero); and other changes dealing with the legacy UI bits they want to replace.  Now, before you get all bent out of shape, you have to keep in mind the goal of this release: consistency across platforms.  See, Microsoft understands that the PC, their bread and butter, is fading from importance and they do not want to fade with it. Tablets, phones and other devices are slowly taking over and they wand Windows front and foremost and, to achieve that, they must sacrifice backward compatibility.  They cannot break it at once (ala Apple) but they can start to do so slowly and these are the first steps.  They want to get the public used to Metro and cannot do so if people insist on bypassing Metro and going straight to the Desktop. If they give the choice, many, if not most, will choose to bypass Metro, which is not a good thing to do.  So, you MUST boot to Metro-even on the Server side.  Hell, I know people who, even today, turn off all of the eye candy and load up the ugly old Windows ‘classic’ theme to make Windows look like Windows 95.  UGH.

If you want to learn more and download the Release Preview, go here.

Head over to the WinSuperSite for reviews, screenshots and tips and tricks.

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What you do and don’t need to do if you run Windows: keeping your computer healthy

Recently, my main Windows 7 machine seemed rather sluggish. While the machine is a few years old, it is no slouch either.  So, I got to poking around to figure out what was slowing it down.  I did the usual, clearing out caches, checking the hard drive, uninstalling needless software, updating drivers, etc.  I was doing a lot, but, as it turns out, if you run Vista or Windows 7, most of the ‘usual’ stuff just isn’t necessary. And the problem I was having?  Well, as it turns out, there are several things that have been impacting my machine:  Zune Marketplace downloading podcasts and music subscription tracks, Firefox (yes, even version five seems to have a memory leak or some process that, after a time, start to hang and slow it and the computer down) and a USB external drive.

What you don’t need to do if you run Vista or Windows 7

 

Re-Install Windows:

There was a time when re-installing Windows, especially XP, was necessary every six months to a year.  Windows XP was a magnet for cruft.  Uninstall something here, install something there and, after just  a few months, your machine had lots of crap hanging around.  Windows XP would just kind of give up and you’d have to re-install. No more.  The latest versions of Windows do a much better job of keeping things straight. They aren’t perfect, but they have come a long way.  Rules that govern where apps can put things are enforced and Windows just does a better job of cleaning up now. Which leads me to…

Registry Cleaners.

You do not really need to mess around with the registry.  Going through and cleaning out unused settings is just a waste of time and will do little, if anything, to speed your computer. Ignore those silly ads, they are just trying to get your money.

 

Defrag your disk:

  Again, unless you are on Windows XP or earlier, you do not need to do this.  Windows Vista and 7 do it on a regular basis and do a fairly good job too.

What you should do if you run Windows Vista or 7 (or XP too)

Download and install Microsoft Security Essentials.

If you have not already done so, you need to go to the Security Essentials website and download and install this software.  It is probably the best solution for keeping most malware off your computer.

Use a decent, modern browser.

Internet Explorer 9, Firefox 5, Chrome or Safari are all decent and modern browser (I suppose Opera whatever is OK too.) Each has their own issues (Firefox seems to get bogged down after a time, Safari doesn’t always render correctly, Chrome also has rendering issues) Each of these browsers does a much better job with providing a safer browsing experience.

Clean up the junk.

Even though they are far better than any previous version of  Windows, they still aren’t perfect and you will still need to do some periodic housecleaning.  Just not nearly as much or as often as you once did.  Use the usual tools, CC Cleaner or any similar tools you like.  CC Cleaner does a nice job.

Keep Windows up to date.

Make sure Windows Update is on and you have it scheduled. Microsoft releases updates generally once a month, but will also offer ‘out of band’ patches and updates as needed. 

Keep your drivers updated.

Nothing affects performance more than out of date drivers.  What was once a blazing fast video driver can actually degrade your system if Windows or other software are updated but not your drivers.  System improvements like a newer version of DirectX (the underlying graphics system in Windows) may not be completely compatible with an old driver and could slow you down. Likewise, drivers for disk drives, external devices, etc. could also slow you down.  Windows Update will only notify you of drivers supplied by Microsoft or vendors who submit their drivers to Microsoft.  Make sure you check these when diagnosing slow downs.

Reboot.

This is probably the first thing you should try. Sometimes a process just gets ‘hung’ and can really affect your computer.  This may be all you need to do. Do it the right way, if possible.  That is, click the Windows Orb, click the right arrow next to ‘Shutdown’ and then select Restart.  Of course, selecting Shut Down is fine too and could give you even better results, especially if you’ve been on the computer a long time. In this case, click the Orb, select Shut Down and then go outside and get some fresh air.  That always helps me.

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