Make Windows 8 usable for people who think it’s not. Add a start menu to the desktop and tweak the way Explorer and Internet Explorer behave, all thanks to a piece of software called Classic Shell. If you like tweaking your user interface, and miss the options provided by previous versions of Windows, you’ll love this software.
To say Windows 8 is controversial would be an understatement. While many love the new security and speed of Redmond’s latest offering, some wish there was an optional way to avoid the Metro interface – including most of the MakeUseOf staff. Forcing a touch-based interface on a mouse-and-keyboard loving populace probably isn’t the smartest thing Microsoft’s ever done – even if it could help them sell a couple of phones someday.
So I’m glad there are ways to make Windows behave a little more like the operating system we know how to use properly. Classic shell gives you exactly the start menu you prefer, whether that’s the one from Windows 7, XP or even older versions of the OS. It also lets you tweak Windows Explorer, adding a customizable toolbar and letting you make other changes to the classic shell in Windows 8.
The Start Menu
Install Classic Shell and you’ll see it immediately – a start menu! The button will stick out like a sore thumb at first but you can configure it to blend in with Windows 8 quite nicely. Here’s how it looks on my computer:
Once you install Classic Shell, Windows automatically boots to the desktop – nice if you’d rather avoid Metro’s distractions and get right to work.
Do you want to change that, or anything else? Right-click the start menu and you’ll find a “Settings” button. From here you can change the style of start menu you want:
You’ll find a wide variety of options; just be sure to hit the “All Settings” options so you can see all tabs. You can make your start menu work exactly the way you want, so check it out.
Many people like the new Windows Explorer, but if you’re not one of them Classic Shell is here for you. With it you can make the file manager behave just the way you remember. When you launch it you’ll see a new toolbar in Explorer. Click the Classic Shell button on it and you can configure things, including what does and doesn’t show up in your toolbar:
Again, you can configure just about anything here. Explore the options and you’ll be blown away.
My wife – a brilliant physicist who is also very computer savvy – recently had cause to replace her computer. The new machine came with Windows 8, with which she was initially frustrated.
“I’m just not sure how I’m supposed to use this,” she said. The Metro apps, which she accurately deemed “Internet stuff”, didn’t seem that useful for most of the things she spends her time doing: crunching data, preparing presentations and taking notes while reading at the same time.
Her plan was to install Windows 7 until I pointed out Classic Shell. It provided the means to get used to Windows 8 without throwing old workflows away completely.
I think Microsoft made a mistake in not making more of their Metro features optional. People love Windows and have workflows worked out using it. Why try to change everything in one swift blow? Classic Shell helps, at least. Install it if you’re feeling the way my wife did.
If you want more help, be sure to check out Chris’ piece on resolving Windows 8 niggles or his piece on making Windows 8 faster. Or, if you want to learn more about Microsoft’s latest operating system, be sure to check out our full, free manual for Windows 8. It goes over all of the new features, teaching you how to use the Metro interface and get the most out of the new configurations.
Thoughts? Leave them below, as always. I’ll be around for the after party.
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