Is Windows 8 truly awesome or an utter failure? We have examined Windows 8 from various angles, including what it’s like in daily use, the impression from a Linux user’s perspective, or how to make Windows 8 suck less. The one thing most of us agree on, is that the Modern interface, formerly known as Metro, is pretty cool. I mean, it’s clean and so much better organized than a Windows 7 desktop. That, however, is not quite enough to provide motivation for a full upgrade or PC replacement.
So, how do you keep everything you love about Windows 7, while also enjoying the user interface of Windows 8? Windows 8 themes are the obvious answer. The one theme that in my opinion provides the Modern experience better than any other on Windows 7, is the Windows 8 Transformation Pack.
After reading Christian’s mention of the Transformation Pack, I decided to give it a test drive to see if it would be something worth keeping permanently installed. In this overview, I’m going to show you how simple it is to install the theme, all of the features that are available once you have it running, and some of the limitations to keep in mind if you’re considering running it on your PC permanently.
Installing Windows 8 Transformation Pack on Windows 7
Before you install the transformation pack, you’ll want to take a full restore point of your Windows 7 machine – just go to the control panel, select System, click on the System Protection tab, and then click the Create button to create your restore point.
When you download the zip file, extract the EXE file and run it, you’ll see what looks like a setup screen where you can select a few settings, but most importantly you can choose which Immersive UI you want. I also highly recommend setting the Taskbar User Tile checkbox, as it’ll give you quick access to all of the apps you have running in Windows 7 on your task bar, on the right side of the Modern start screen.
Click the Install button, allow the routine to run, and then when it asks to restart your computer, accept the restart.
Playing With Windows 8 on Windows 7
The install went pretty smoothly and upon reboot, the Windows Modern start screen came up and filled most of the screen. I say most, because I actually ran this theme on a computer with a big external monitor hooked up, and the start screen didn’t really fill the entire screen until I changed the resolution to 1360 x 768; something to keep in mind if you intend to use this on a computer with a larger than normal screen.
As you can see here, this is what the start screen looked like until I configured the resolution so that it filled the whole screen. This is just a personal preference of course – plenty of people may be fine with the start screen not actually filling the entire display.
Each tile is a fully functioning feature – this isn’t some fake decorative display. You get instant stock quote updates, weather, news, sports, a slideshow of photos on your computer, and of course smaller tiles to the web and social apps you use all the time. No need to mess with the Start menu anymore, you’ve got Windows 8 now! Sorta.
You can slide tiles around just like puzzle pieces and place everything exactly where you want them to go. Off to the right is the grid of tiles containing taskbar items as well as your recently used programs. This one screen really does put about 90% of what you usually use right at your fingertips.
Instant Data On Your Desktop
Again – this theme isn’t about decorating your PC as Windows 8 – it’s fully functional. Click on the stock quote tile and it’ll open up a new window with the biggest market movers of the day, and a Watchlist that you can customize.
Click on the calendar, and you’ll see a screen filled with the entire year calendar, and today’s date and time.
Click on the tile that’s actively displaying recent news updates, and you’ll be brought to a page filled with all of the latest headlines from the web.
Click on any of the headlines, and you can read the full article, just as though you were browsing the news site right on the Internet. Because, of course, that’s what you’re doing. These pages are essentially embedded web pages, made to look like they are just a part of the Modern experience.
This is particularly obvious when you click on Map tile in the Modern start screen. This takes you to a new screen, displaying Google Maps, complete with everything except for the browser search bar at the top. However, if you start clicking around on links like News or Search, you can actually start browsing the web from this page that’s supposed to be dedicated to Google Maps.
There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but it’s something to consider depending where you’re planning to install this theme. If you’re putting it on a school computer where you might have the default web browser normally locked down, keep in mind that these embedded browser pages may represent a “backdoor” to the web for students.
Using Windows 7 and Windows 8 Together
If you’re looking for all of your software, just click on All Programs, and you’ll have access to everything you’re used to seeing under your Windows 7 start menu. Each former program folder under the start menu is now a title under which like programs are grouped together.
One thing I was curious about is what would happen if you exit the Start screen. What I discovered, for me – using two monitors with the Start Screen appearing on only one – that I went back to a sort of hybrid Windows 7/Windows 8 mix. The Windows 7 start bar was available at the bottom, but the desktop will still featured the Windows 8 Start Screen. However, it was difficult for me to see if this was a bug in the software that allowed me to launch the Win7 taskbar from my second screen, or if it’s an intended feature.
Suffice to say, if you exit the Start Screen, you could experience different behaviors depending on your setup. So, my recommendation is this – if you’re running a complex setup with multiple windows, or if you are using an extra large screen, the Windows 8 transformation pack may have some odd behaviors. However, if you are running a smaller netbook or even an average sized laptop using one screen, this transformation pack will literally feel like you’ve transformed your computer into Windows 8 without actually having to upgrade or replace your computer.
Have you ever used the Windows 8 Transformation Pack? What’s your take on it? Did you use it go Modern on Windows 7? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.