Computers

How to keep the Windows 8.1 Modern UI out of your way

Here's how to make the Windows 8.1 Metro-style interface stay off your desktop
Here's how to make the Windows 8.1 Metro-style interface stay off your desktop
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Tweak the settings in the navigation menu to keep the modern interface elements off the desktop
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Tweak the settings in the navigation menu to keep the modern interface elements off the desktop
Making files open in desktop programs saves you from the full screen Metro-style annoyance
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Making files open in desktop programs saves you from the full screen Metro-style annoyance
Classic Shell is a free Start menu replacement for Windows 8.1
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Classic Shell is a free Start menu replacement for Windows 8.1
ModernMix from Stardock allows you to run metro-style apps on the desktop
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ModernMix from Stardock allows you to run metro-style apps on the desktop
Windows 8.1 allows you to uninstall multiple apps at the same time
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Windows 8.1 allows you to uninstall multiple apps at the same time
Here's how to make the Windows 8.1 Metro-style interface stay off your desktop
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Here's how to make the Windows 8.1 Metro-style interface stay off your desktop

The Metro interface in Windows 8.1 makes sense on a touch-enabled device, but on a traditional computer, it's only an afterthought. In the first iteration of Windows 8, it was hard to get around on the desktop without the Start screen, hot corners, app switcher bar and other elements of the touch interface getting in your way. Windows 8.1 has been improved and includes features that let you boot directly to the desktop and keep Metro elements out of your way. If you prefer to stay on the traditional desktop as much as possible, here's a look at how to do it.

Boot straight to desktop and remove Metro UI elements

The first thing you'll want to do with your new Windows 8.1 machine is set it up to keep Metro out of your way with its new settings. Right-click the taskbar, click Properties and select the Navigation tab in the resulting screen. Here's where you can tame the majority of the annoying Metro features that pop up. You can disable hot corners, the app switcher bar, and most importantly, boot directly to the desktop.

Tweak the settings in the navigation menu to keep the modern interface elements off the desktop
Tweak the settings in the navigation menu to keep the modern interface elements off the desktop

Make files open in desktop apps and not Metro

By default your music, videos, pictures and PDF files open in Metro-style apps.To avoid this, you can go into settings and change file associations. I wrote this trick up in a previous article for Windows 8, and the process is the same for 8.1 too.

Making files open in desktop programs saves you from the full screen Metro-style annoyance
Making files open in desktop programs saves you from the full screen Metro-style annoyance

Get back the Start menu you know and love

Microsoft listened to users complaining about the lack of a Start button in Windows 8, sort of. There is a Start button, but it will take you to the new Start screen and you might prefer having the full menu like in previous versions. There's a couple of ways to go about getting it back. Either the free way, or spending US$5 for Start8. Personally, I prefer free, and recommend using Classic Shell. It's easy to use and provides a lot of customization features.

Classic Shell is a free Start menu replacement for Windows 8.1
Classic Shell is a free Start menu replacement for Windows 8.1

Uninstall unused apps

Since your focus is on the desktop, uninstalling the pre-installed Windows 8.1 apps is a good idea as there's less of a chance of launching one inadvertently. The cool thing is Windows 8.1 allows you to uninstall multiple apps at once. Right-click on the Start screen, then click Customize and check the apps you want to uninstall.

Windows 8.1 allows you to uninstall multiple apps at the same time
Windows 8.1 allows you to uninstall multiple apps at the same time

Run Metro apps on the desktop

If you want to use some of the Metro apps while working in the desktop, check out ModernMix from Stardock. This allows you to run the modern Windows 8 apps on your desktop in resizable windows. They act like any other desktop program. This is much nicer than launching a Metro app and having it go full screen on you.

ModernMix from Stardock allows you to run metro-style apps on the desktop
ModernMix from Stardock allows you to run metro-style apps on the desktop

Conclusion

Whether you're getting a brand new computer, or upgrading to Windows 8.1 from a previous version, the touch-optimized Metro-style interface definitely takes some getting used to. While not as bad as Windows 8, the upgraded 8.1 gives you more control for keeping you on the desktop. Following any or all of these tips will make your experience less jarring.

15 comments
Bruce Mawby
Nice thanks i have both a touch enabled device (a surface rt i was given) and a laptop that came with windows 8 Windows 8/8.1 works well if you have a touch screen but can be a major pain if you do not have a touch screen being able to get back to more mouse based work will help with standard computers i might even put off the downgrade i had been thinking of doing on my lt
Chizzy
i've been using pokki start button replacement. it made up for the missing button very well in 8.0, and it integrates perfectly with 8.1 sitting next to the returned start button. the only advantage the returned start button has given me is the very nice list available on a right click. other things that 8.1 fixed are more important to me than a start button. on startup the machine no longer crawls for more than an hour as it reads the name of every file to create a file name search list. it's homegroup network is more responsive, and the feature that allows and blocks startup program is more reliable too.
DonGateley
Is there still a "Personalization" control panel with "Windows Classic" as an option?
Excellency Neckbeard
Or you could upgrade to Linux mint....
Mayhem
I have been using Win8 since March and 8.1. since it came out as a full release. I guess that I must have gotten a leg up by using my touch-enabled device and a second non-touch monitor with a mouse. I have no clue how people ever had problems with it. I find it to be effortless. While it is nice to see people developing apps to do things that are perceived to be useful by people updating from ancient Windows, I still don't really see the point of a lot of them. I switch between desktop and metro all the time for a bunch of reasons, mouse, touch, stylus, it makes no difference that I can see to my productivity other than I can choose the best tool for a particular job.
Jack Wong
No applications in the Windows Store is available. The word 'Unable to connect to the server ' always always appears on my screen. Windows Store is useless, isn't it?
Spike Spegal
@Jack Wong not that I use any of the apps really in the windows store but I never had any problems. I am downloading the update through the store right now. Your firewall might be blocking the connection for some reason?
Cathy Plotnick
Is it possible for you to give directions on how to get the new start button? You just tell us it is available, but no direction Where to find it. Just a download for Classic Shell? What do I do after that to get the start button?
Bruce Mawby
@Jack Wong I had an issue with the Surface RT on 8.0 that the store would not connect when I moved from Home to work wifi it was telling me that the Wifi was connected but the store could not connect at first I was rebooting to fix but I found that if I put it in airplane mode and then back out again it would work please note that I have not had the issue after the 8.1 update
nutcase
If it doesn't boot to a command line it is not a computer.