How To Use Windows 8 Productively Despite Its Modern Interface

Aaron Couch 05-11-2014

Remember back when Windows 8 came out?


It sure got a lot of hate – even being compared with the likes of Windows Vista and Windows ME (Millennium Edition). Partly because most of us hate change, but change is a constant in the technology field and the modern interface is here to stay.

That said, it certainly isn’t the most ideal setup for non-touchscreen desktops and laptops. But don’t shut the door to it and revert back Windows 7 It's Not Easy, But You Can Uninstall Windows 8 And Revert To Your Old OS If you’ve installed Windows 8 and found yourself wishing that you could go back to Windows 7 or another operating system, there’s a way to do this. If you installed Windows 8 in a dual-boot... Read More just yet. Give these tips a try and see if they help you be more productive – you might just like it!

Add A Program List To Your Taskbar

“Where did all my programs go?!” This was one of the biggest complaints people had in regards to Windows 8. There’s nothing more anti-productive than searching everywhere to find something. And even when with the Windows 8.1 update Windows 8.1 Update Is Here! What It Is & How To Get It Now Curious about the latest Windows 8.1 Update or not sure what this is about? KB2919355 is a cumulative update that comes with useful features. It can also be removed in case it causes issues. Read More , there still wasn’t a foolproof solution.

One of the simplest routes to access your programs quickly is to add the Programs List to the Taskbar Build A Custom Windows 8 Start Menu Using Toolbars You’re using Windows 8. You want the Start Menu back – but do you really need it? Instead of relying on a third party substitute, build a custom Windows 8 Start Menu with a few... Read More . This isn’t to be confused with the Programs Folder, but rather the one in the Start Menu – there is a difference.

1 Add Programs List - Taskbar


Right click the Taskbar > Toolbars > New Toolbar. Then paste in the following folder path below into the Windows Explorer address bar.

C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu

1.1 Select Folder - Add Programs List - Taskbar

Click on (but don’t open) the Programs folder, click “Select Folder” and you’re done.


How To Use Windows 8 Productively Despite Its Modern Interface 2 Programs List Taskbar1

Use Run Box Or Launchy

Windows has a built-in feature called Run Box that allows you to launch programs both which are default to windows (like the Task Manager) and those you download, such as your web browser. Below, it’s being used to launch Windows Live Writer.

3 Run Box - WLW

The problem with this option though is that it’s inconsistent. Some prompts work, while others don’t. In the image above, “windowslivewriter” works, as does typing in “chrome”. No need to even add “.EXE” at the end. However, other programs which you’d think would work, like “taskmanager” or “recyclebin”, don’t launch.


4 Run - recyclebin - error

I’m sure there are working shortcuts. In fact, I know there are – “taskmgr” is a relatively well known one. But there are so many – which you’ll discover upon a quick search – how are you supposed to remember them all? You can, but do you want to?

There’s a simpler option – Launchy. The stylish third party launcher app How To Be More Productive with Launchy Program Launcher Read More was covered on MakeUseOf in 2008 and has been mentioned in many articles since, including several by yours truly. Launchy is no veteran in the tech space, but still in very active duty – it’s efficient, minimalistic, simple and looks good. Start typing in any program and it immediately pulls the closest results, listing the most accessed first.

5 Launchy - recyclebin


Pin Folders To Taskbar & Start Screen

Not only does pinning folders allow you to quickly access them, but it also helps keep your desktop tidy How to Clean Up Your Windows Desktop Once and For All Do you look at your Windows desktop and wonder how to clean it up? Here are some decluttering tips that can make you productive. Read More . Did you know that “folder icon” on the Taskbar has a “hidden” feature in Window 7 and 8 that allows you to quickly access folders via a right click?

6 Pin folder to Taskbar

Referring to the photo above, you can simply drag and drop the icon of the preferred folder onto the “Pinned Folders” icon in the Taskbar. However, if you have too many pinned folders, you may not see it appear. To remove the ones you don’t want, hover over the pinned item(s) and click the “tack” icon.

7 Pin folder to Start

You may also want to quickly access some folders from the Start Screen – don’t think you’ll use it? I’ll address that later. For now, find a folder you think you’d want to access (or any folder just to practice) and right click on it. In the image above, you’ll see an option in the context menu called “Pin to Start”.

8 Pin folder to Start 2

Install A Third Party Start Menu

9 Classic Shell

The uproar about “no Start Button” on Windows 8 was overwhelming. And Microsoft realized their mistake and fixed it in 8.1. However, they didn’t add a Start Menu, which was what at least half the complaints were about. Instead, the button just took you to the Start Screen. It certainly was an improvement over no button at all, but it’s still not a Start Menu. Microsoft has also acknowledged this, but is holding off until 2015 to feature it again in Windows 10 Windows 10 In Pictures - A Guided Tour Of The Technical Preview The Windows 10 Technical Preview is now available to everyone. Some bugs aside, it does look promising. We'll guide you through the new Windows one screenshot at a time. Read More .

So what to do until then? Tina covered 5 excellent third party Start Menu apps 2015!? No Way Microsoft! How to Get Your Windows 8.1 Start Menu Now Windows 8 won't get a native Start Menu after all. But why wait on Microsoft? Here's how you can help yourself with third party tools like Classic Shell or Start8 and other workarounds. Read More , as well as some additional options you have. Classic Shell, my personal favorite, is a Start Menu replacement we’ve thoroughly reviewed Make Windows 8 Suck Less With Classic Shell 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... Read More , but refer to her article and the comments for more great suggestions.

Important Point: This Is A Band-Aid

I’ll cover this more in a bit, but I wanted to briefly address it now as well. Don’t find a Start Menu replacement simply because you’re stuck in your old ways and don’t like change. I’ll admit, initially I wasn’t thrilled. But we should realize by now that technology changes, and generally it goes in the right directions. As with any change, there will initially be hiccups, but the Modern Start Screen is actually far easier to use than the old text-heavy Start Menu. For the time being, try a third party Start Screen, but make yourself slowly get used to the Modern Start Screen – you’ll appreciate its many new features.

Master Essential Keyboard Shortcuts

On the topic of “making yourself learn new things”, knowing shortcuts for Windows 8 Every Windows 8 Shortcut - Gestures, Desktop, Command Line Windows 8 is all about shortcuts. People with touch-enabled PCs use touch gestures, users without touch devices must learn the mouse shortcuts, power users use keyboard shortcuts on the desktop and novel command-line shortcuts, and... Read More will make your life far easier. Let’s look at some essential ones for navigating around Windows 8.1. If you already had a basic understanding of some shortcuts prior to Windows 8, then you undoubtedly had an easier time merging into it. There are also some new shortcuts to Windows 8, such as Win + X, which awesomely launches the Windows Tool Menu 8 Ways To Improve Windows 8 With Win+X Menu Editor Windows 8 contains an almost hidden feature you need to know about! Press Windows Key + X or right-click at the bottom-left corner of your screen to open a menu you can now customize. Read More , also known as the Power User Menu (pictured below).

10 Windows Tools Menu

Below are some must-know shortcuts:

  • Win + D – Show/Hide Desktop
  • Win + Tab Cycle through open apps
  • Win + X – Launch Windows Tools Menu
  • Win + Left/Right Arrow Keys – Dock windows to left/right sides
  • Win + . (period) + Left/Right Arrow Keys – Snaps current app to right or left sides
  • Win + J – Switches between snapped modern apps
  • Win + S – Launch Search
  • Win + E – Launch Windows Explorer
  • Win + C – Launch Charms menu

There are many more (if you have a favorite I missed, share it in the comments!), so check out both Craig’s article on Windows 8 keyboard shortcuts A Handy Keyboard Shortcuts List for the Upcoming Microsoft Windows 8 Not having to reach for your mouse to do the most routine task is one huge benefit I enjoy every day. That's because I've memorized my list of Windows 7 keyboard shortcuts, and I use... Read More as well as the MakeUseOf Windows 8 Keyboard Shortcuts Cheat Sheet Windows Keyboard Shortcuts 101: The Ultimate Guide Keyboard shortcuts can save you hours of time. Master the universal Windows keyboard shortcuts, keyboard tricks for specific programs, and a few other tips to speed up your work. Read More , which you can download as a PDF.

Dock Windows To Edge

11 Dock Windows

This is simple, but works wonderfully. In fact, you may even know this one already as it was a feature in Windows 7 as well. Take any two windows on your desktop, select one at at time and hold down Windows Key + Left/Right Arrow. Do the same procedure, but tap the opposite arrow for the second window. I work almost exclusively in this mode, often times swapping three or four windows with each other.

Split The Screen Between The Desktop, Start Screen And Apps

12.1 Split screens 1

Multitasking with Windows 8 What You Should Know About Multitasking In Windows 8 Windows 8 features two types of foreground application multitasking. The first is the traditional desktop application switching, while the second is a limited full-screen multitasking found only in the Modern applications launched via the Start... Read More can be a bit cumbersome at first, but once you understand how to split the screen, you’ll wonder how you got along without it for so long. Instead of just desktop applications like the docking feature allows, you can simultaneously use any combination of a desktop window, Start Screen or Windows 8 app. Below is a quick tutorial video, if you’re more of a visual learner.

If you’re in an app, use Win + Arrow Keys to dock it to a side, then Win + D to display the Desktop and its windows in the opposite pane. Don’t forget about Alt + Tab to quickly navigate between Desktop windows and Win + Tab to navigate through open apps, which can also be used to pin two apps side by side.

12.2 Split Screens 2

The divider is very easily moved to adjust various widths. You’ll also notice that while the Desktop pane is selected, you can dock two windows to either side as well, though on a smaller screen, this gets to be a little cumbersome… leading us to an awesome solution…

Invest In A Dual Monitor Setup

13 Dual monitor setup

Or triple, or however many you want – can you actually have too many monitors? For practical purposes, I only have one monitor plus my laptop screen, but to each their own! Nonetheless, multiple monitors are incredibly useful, especially with Windows 8. You could have the Start Screen always up on one monitor (which you’ll definitely want to do after you read all about how awesome it really is). Or you could use them to display two windows (the most common route). Lastly, you could combine multiple monitors with splitting the screen, like we just covered, for an incomprehensible amount of productivity Get Things Done! 5 Ideas To Make The Best Productive Use Of Your Desktop People love their desktops! Whether you're on a Mac, Windows or Linux computer, the desktop is an open space that isn't pre-defined by a rigid structure. Unlike the interfaces of mobile devices or Windows 8's... Read More – there, now you have absolutely no reason to not get work done… except for the fact that one screen most likely has a movie or YouTube video playing.

Don’t Abandon Your Start Screen

Let me guess, the reason you don’t like the Modern Start Screen is because it has a bunch of “Internet-looking stuff” that you don’t need and is cluttered with various-sized tiles that you have to scroll through to the end of the earth to find what you’re looking for… like this, or worse.

14 messy Start Screen

And how do you get back to the desktop? Or find anything? You have to move your mouse to the bottom corners to make anything pop up – why?!

First off, you’re right – the majority of the default tiles aren’t needed. The best way to tackle this is by holding down the Ctrl key and clicking each Tile you don’t want – you can always add it back later. Then right click on one you’ve selected and click Unpin from Start.

15 Unpin from Start

Secondly, don’t let this “work” turn you away from trying to use the Start Screen – there are so many hacks to make the Start Screen work for you 10 Windows 8 Start Screen Hacks Windows is moving towards a more locked-down direction with Windows 8 and its Start screen and "Modern" app environment. There's no denying this -- you can't even set a custom Start screen background without installing... Read More .

I’m going to address a few important and simple options to get you started, but Justin Dennis has gone into great depth explaining how to manage Start Screen Tiles and Modern apps like a pro Manage Start Screen Tiles & Modern Apps Like A Pro Some things take time to grow on you. The Windows 8 Start Screen is one of them. I bet you'll appreciate it more after learning about these tips and tricks. Read More .

Simplicity Is Key

Initially, this might be experimental – seeing which programs you use the most, but in the beginning, just pin what you want to use the most.

Next, break the Tiles into groups – organizing them however works best for you. You can label these groups by right clicking anywhere on the Start Screen and clicking “Name groups”.

16 Start Screen - name groups

Just Start Typing To Search

If you haven’t discovered the robust search features in Windows 8 How To Search Better & Faster On Windows 8 Windows 8 search features are quite robust once you get used to them. You can use modern and desktop approaches to search your computer and the Internet. Find out more! Read More , you’ll find that they’re very similar and far superior to previous versions. Just like in Windows 7 when you opened the Start Menu, you can immediately start typing in the Start Screen to search for something. It could be anything from a folder to an app (even ones not downloaded or installed) to a bookmark to a file.

17 Start Screen - Search by typing

For more great start screen tips, check out the video by Alan Peto below:

Alan also has another great article I recommend studying called Windows 8.1 with a Mouse and Keyboard.

How Do You Use Windows 8 Productively?

Once you learn how to use something foreign, it can benefit you greatly, even if it doesn’t make sense initially. Windows 8.1 is a prime example of this. Sure it still still has a few quirks, and they’re being ironed out, but it’s pretty awesome just as it is.

Do you have any additional tips that you’ve discovered through your experience on Windows 8? Please share them with us and your fellow MUOers in the comments!

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Syed Naimath
    November 12, 2014 at 8:54 am

    Well, I'm actually trying to get the Windows 7 feel on my Windows 8.1 Laptop. But looks like there are some really cool ways to be productivity in the latest UI. Didn't know we could unpin the tiles from the menu.

    Anyway, thanks for the wonderful tips.

  2. Doc
    November 7, 2014 at 2:16 am

    Why in blue blazes is your taskbar at the *top* of the screen in those screenshots? Linux geek? Mac addict? :)

    • Aaron Couch
      December 3, 2014 at 3:19 am

      Ha! Well, it's just what I find most useful for my workflow. I actually have used Linux and Mac operating systems very little. For me, having my taskbar at the top just makes sense.

  3. Henk van Setten
    November 5, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    This post was titled "How To Use Windows 8 Productively Despite Its Modern Interface". It's the word "despite" that says it all.

    • Tina
      November 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      It's the word we thought would catch the attention of those people who struggle with the modern interface. Not everyone does.

  4. likefunbutnot
    November 5, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    I actually start most of the programs I use regularly from a command line session , and I keep the dozen or so most common applications pinned to the taskbar. I appreciate the Start Screen quite a lot on Surface (Pro or not) tablets or on large screen interfaces. It really very useful for everything except desktop computing.

    • Aaron Couch
      December 3, 2014 at 3:22 am

      Agreed. Hopefully in the upcoming versions of Windows there will be more desktop-friendly alterations made.

  5. Bill
    November 5, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    It isn't hated because its different, its hated because its useless - and rightly so.

    • Aaron Couch
      December 3, 2014 at 3:26 am

      You have a point, Bill. Though, there have been some impressive tips shared all over the Internet where people have shown how they've adapted their workflow to the new Windows Modern look. Microsoft is on the right track, but they didn't think it through on how it'd affect the use of their operating system on desktops. Thankfully our cries have been heard and they're working on this in the upcoming versions of Windows -- hoping they'll keep listening to their users.