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Windows 8 isn’t quite as configurable out-of-the-box as previous versions of Windows, lacking such seemingly important features as the ability to boot to the desktop and run “Modern” applications in windows. For all its problems, Windows 8 is still Windows, and Windows is a very configurable operating system. These third-party utilities allow us to do things Microsoft has made impossible by default or easily change settings Microsoft has hidden.
Whether you want to run Modern apps in windows on your desktop, use a Start menu, create custom tiles for your Start screen, or tweak every little part of the system, there’s a developer out there who has worked hard on overcoming Windows 8’s limitations.
OblyTile allows you to create your own custom tiles for desktop applications, websites, folders, and anything else you like. You can download pre-created tile images, so you don’t have to make your own. Your custom desktop shortcuts can look much nicer than the dull desktop shortcut tiles Windows 8 uses by default.
Windows 8’s new Modern environment doesn’t allow you to run Modern applications in windows on your desktop. Microsoft doesn’t seem to think this is a problem, but Stardock has fixed this with their ModernMix application. ModernMix allows you to run Modern apps in a window on your desktops, even having multiple Modern apps on your desktop at the same time. Like other Stardock applications, it’s free for 30 days and will cost you a one-time fee of $5 afterwards. ModernMix is currently the only application that offers this feature.
By default, you can’t choose your own Start screen background image. (Windows 8 does allow you to change your lock screen image for some reason, however.) Stardock’s Decor8 allows you to set a custom background image and color scheme for your Start screen. It’s free for 30 days and will cost you $5 afterwards.
If you’re looking for something that’s permanently free, you can try, although it hasn’t worked properly for us in the past. Decor8 seems much more polished and less buggy.
Start Menus, Boot to Desktop, and Hot Corners
Windows 8 replaces the Start menu with the new full-screen Start screen. If you’d rather have a traditional Start menu, there are quite a few third-party Start menus available for Windows 8. Manufacturers like Samsung and Lenovo are even creating their own Start menus and shipping them with their new Windows 8 PCs.
We’ve covered several start menus for Windows 8 in more detail, including Stardock’s polished (but paid) Start8 and the free Classic Shell. IObit also offers a free, polished Start menu for Windows 8.
These Start menus also allow you to boot straight to the desktop and disable the hot corners that activate Windows 8’s charms and app switcher when you move your mouse to the corners of the screen. You can still access these features with the appropriate Windows 8 hotkeys, even if you opt to disable the hot corners.
Windows 8 automatically selects window border colors by default, but you can also select a color from a short list of provided colors. With Aero8Tuner, you can select any custom border color and color balance you like. You can also enable an Aero Glass-like transparency effect with this tool, although the transparency is very buggy and you probably won’t want to use it for long.
Win+X Menu Editor
Windows 8 has a special “power-user menu” that appears when you press Windows Key + X or right-click at the bottom-left corner of your screen. It’s full of links to things like the Control Panel and Device Manager.
If you want to add your own custom program shortcuts to this list or modify the existing ones, you can do easily customize the menu with Win+X Menu Editor.
Alt Tab Tuner VIII
The Alt+Tab dialog is extremely customizable. In addition to adjusting the thumbnail, icon, and margin sizes, you can also opt to use a class-style Alt+Tab dialog. However, these settings are buried in the Windows registry. Alt Tab Tuner VIII allows you to adjust these settings without using the registry.
Start Screen Animations Tweaker
You can tweak the Start screen’s animations, but these settings are also buried in the registry.Start Screen Animations Tweaker allows you to tweak these animations without looking up registry settings.
You can still customize the desktop’s animations through the Control Panel. To learn more about Windows 8, consult our free guide to Windows 8.
Do you have any other favorite Windows 8 tweaking applications? Share them in the comments!