Thursday, January 3, 2013

Windows 8... What a horrible thing. How to get your desktop and start menu back.

I just built another new computer to be my main home PC (link to my videos on how to build a PC), and decided to go with Windows 8.  I would have gone with Windows 7, but it is now extremely overpriced as Microsoft forces people to go with Windows 8.  Plus, I had read that even though Windows 8 is a nightmare, there are some 3rd party programs that can make it usable.  For a funny (but true) Windows 8 review, see Brian Boyko's Animated Review.  Rather than duplicate his comments, I will add some of my own observations.

Rather than install these apps that make WIN8 easier to use right off the bat, I thought I might as well try to figure out how to use Windows 8 for a little while first.  I consider myself an all around, jack-of-all-trades computer expert.  I am the guy people call when something goes wrong with their printer, networking, computer, or anything.  I can build and repair PCs, have used just about every computer program and platform at one time or another, and can do some light programming.  I taught myself how to program in Basic and how to use DOS, Lotus 1-2-3, and lots of other programs when I was 10-12 years old.  I have figured out every other computer in 30 minutes or less, and figured I could handle Win8. So, I actually did 15 minutes of reading about the Windows 8 interface to prepare beforehand, installed it, and jumped right in.

At first, it wasn't that bad. I had read people say how hard it was to get to the traditional "desktop", but I figured that out pretty easily.  I will call that main, ugly screen the "Metro Screen", for lack of a better term.   To get to something like the old "Desktop", click the Metro icon for "Desktop" on the left hand side (the block with the flowers in it, above).  But, the longer I have worked with Windows 8 (about a week now), the worse it has gotten.  It turns out that the learning curve is steep and downhill.

As long as I can stay on the desktop, I am fine.  But, since they removed the start button... or rather, even worse, the thing they call "Start" takes you to the Metro screen, it is difficult to run programs.  Oh, sorry Microsoft... "Apps". However, for some reason, Win8 thinks it is cute to open some things in some horrible full-screen mode (I guess this is the wonderful thing they call "Metro"?).  In this full screen mode, there are no menus, no way to minimize or adjust the window size,  and NO way to close it.  None.  Once you open one of these "Apps", it is there to stay, apparently.  For example, if you want to watch a video of your kid, you might click on the Metro Icon called "Video".
This takes you to an extremely stupid screen that says "XBOX Video".  I don't have an XBOX, and don't want one.  Why in the world would you call it "XBOX Video?"

Now, if you are lucky enough to actually find your file of your kid you want to play (these are in the 4  tiny unhelpful light gray rectangles along the left side, I think...).  Once you start playing one of the videos, you can't close it or re-size it. You can only pause, or hit a left-arrow, which seems to be Metro's "take me back to the previous place I was" option.  Hit that, and your video keeps playing, you just can't SEE it! But, the noise just keeps on happening.  Your only option seems to be to figure out how to get back to the still-playing video and pause the video, and leave it paused until the end of time.  Actually closing a program appears to be nearly impossible, without using Task Manager.  And, they broke the task manager interface so badly that it is much more difficult to use, as well.  The only way I have figured out to get out of these stupid full screen programs is to hit the Windows key repeatedly, which takes you to the stupid Metro screen, where you can get back to the desktop.  But, apparently every program you open stays open forever.

Another horrible thing in Windows 8 is the scroll bar.  It is light gray and dark gray, with no lines or shading of any kind.  In fact, no buttons have lines or shading, making them very hard to find.  But it used to be clear which part of the scroll bar you need to click on to drag it, but now it is very confusing.  Look at the scroll bar on the right of the picture below.  Should you try to drag the light gray part, or the dark gray part?

(Answer: The Dark Gray Part)   Additionally, the redesigned icons representing different file types are very hard to figure out... I can't tell a jpg from anything else.

The Metro Screen somehow randomly decides which applications should be accessible there, and which should not.  By randomly trying things I figured out that, you can get a list of all of your applications, if you right click in the metro screen, and click on the tiny "All Apps" thingy that appears.  See the red line I drew below to help you find it.

Click this Icon, and the most horribly-designed menu comes up.  After only one week, my list of all programs covers TWO 1920x1080 monitors.  I have only installed perhaps one third of my programs... errr, Apps yet!  This is going to get much worse very fast. Have a look so far...  What a confusing MESS!
What is even better, there seems to be no way to rearrange this mess, as you could do with the old "Start...All Programs " listing.

As others have written, Microsoft has done an extremely incompetent job of stapling a tablet on top of a computer, and it is determined not to allow you to peel off the tablet to actually use the computer underneath.  A tablet is not designed for doing work, but for playing and watching content.  They have made it almost impossible to DO things and CREATE things.  They also disabled many productivity-enhancing features of windows-past, like the task switcher.  They have created a different task switcher that might be better for phones, but we are not all on our phones all day!

I get the philosophy, I really do.  They are trying to catch up with Google's vision of "Many screens, one platform", so that on your phone, tablet, computer, and ... washing machine... you have the same information and the same experience.  But, for those of us that WORK for a living, we don't want to be stuck typing on a PHONE all day, when we are trying to do database management and data analysis!  All they need to do is have one button that switched back and forth between the dumbed-down phone platform and a real computing platform. Please don't hamper us by attaching a tablet-and-chain to our legs, or people who work for a living will be FORCED to switch to Linux.

How to Get Your Desktop and Start Menu Back
Addendum: After giving up on "Straight Win 8" I downloaded "Classic Shell"- it is a true open source, free program at SourceForge: Download Here.  It does a great job of bringing back the Start Menu. However, until the Metro Desktop can be disabled, Win 8 is still annoying.  I have tried to reset the default programs away from all of the default "Apps".  Another good finding is that when you use multiple monitors, the annoying Metro screen only appears on one of theme, leaving you a regular desktop view on the other.  See picture below with two monitors: While you can have the traditional desktop on both monitors, here I show you what it would look like to have Metro on one, and traditional desktop on the other.  On the right monitor, see the little "Start button at the bottom left, courtesy of "Classic Shell".

However, Metro takes over your Primary Screen... which is more annoying.  But, since you can have your Classic Shell start menu at the bottom of BOTH screens, this is a little helpful.  It just might be possible to integrate the annoying Metro desktop into a useful work life if you have say, three monitors.  Two for work, and one for Metro.  I doubt it... but it might be possible.  However, now after over a month, I have found absolutely no use for any of these Metro Apps. There is no excuse for designing a program with the inability to re-size, minimize, or close it.  If I could destroy and remove it all, I would. Make sure to install alternatives, like VLC media player for music and video files, and a good, free alternative for viewing photos (Picasa is OK). Below, see how "Classic Shell" brings back the traditional Start...Programs menu, helpfully separating the "Apps" from the real programs.  You can fully customize these menus, just as you would expect (from Windows before they went Bats@&% crazy).
One final example of rude stupidity on Microsoft's part is the removal of "Safe Mode" from Win8.  While they didn't totally remove it, they did make it impossible to boot into safe mode without first booting into normal mode.  This shows a complete lack of understanding about the purpose of safe mode!  You boot into safe mode when something goes wrong, say a driver conflict that prevents Windows from booting up.  In previous versions, you would hit F8 while booting, and you could choose to boot into safe mode (which doesn't load most drivers) and fix things.  While in some pre-release verisons of WIN8 you could hit Shift-F8 to boot into safe mode, most people say it has been removed, and I have not been able to get it to work. I have yet to figure out what one is supposed to do when Windows fails to boot.  I guess I will start doing daily images of everything... but this is a huge waste of time.