While everyone has been focusing their attention on smart phones and tablets, there are people still buying new computers and in the process getting Windows 8. I have received many questions asking what makes Windows 8 better and some wanting to know if they can go back to Windows 7.
Update: Microsoft says they’ve sold 100 million copies of Windows 8.
Let’s first address the question about installing Windows 7.
Unless the agreement included in your purchase specifically provided the ability to install Windows 7 you’ll need to purchase a new Windows license. That means you can’t get an upgrade version, you’ll need a complete version of Windows 7. Since you’re doing a full install it’s also reasonable to obtain a less expensive “OEM” or “System Builder” version of Windows 7. Unfortunately as noted by award-winning author Ed Bott, there is some debate if this version provides a valid license for an individual.
You’ll want to check with your computer maker before downgrading to make sure a traditional BIOS is supported. If your new computer is Windows 8 Logo approved hardware it won’t have the familiar BIOS that is accessible before you boot into Windows. New Windows 8 hardware has something called “Unified Extensible Firmware Interface”. UEFI provides enhanced security called “Early Launch Anti-Malware” preventing malware from taking over your computer immediately as it boots. If you visit some Linux forums you’ll hear many complaints about these changes that prevent the installation of Linux. UEFI has many advantages including fast boot times and remote repairs but since it replaces your BIOS it will need to be disabled.
My recommendation is Don’t Panic. The new “modern” tile interface in Windows 8 isn’t something to fear. While it may not be intuitive and lacks documentation just knowing some basic tricks can help you work around it. If you do downgrade make sure you keep everything you may need to restore Windows 8 including your Microsoft Windows product key.
Windows 8 Basic Tricks You Need to Know
The Windows 8 Modern interface was optimized for touch devices. If you have a tablet or touch monitor you’ll really like the new interface. If you don’t, you may be ready to throw your new computer out the door. Hopefully I can help.
Windows 8 uses “hot corners” for your mouse which emulate the options available when you swipe the touch interface. I’m not a fan of hot corners and found using shortcut keys much more consistent. There are plenty of shortcut keys but I’m going to cover the ones that will immediately help if you don’t have a touch device.
Some good news may come soon from Microsoft with an update that will allow you to start your computer in the familiar desktop mode. Until then you can use WinPatrol with it’s trick to start you on the desktop. Even easier, just press the Windows logo key + D and voilà you’re on the desktop.
Windows Key + C
Opens the “Charms Bar” on the right side. This bar is required to access some settings and especially if you want to shut down your computer. Accessing this touch screen friend swipe can be frustrating with a mouse. The Charms Bar is application specific so many of the choices, especially Settings, will change depending on what application you’re running. It’s available in both the Modern tile mode and Desktop mode. Windows Key + X
Brings up a handy menu that provides easy access to many popular tools. Some applets will be familiar but you’ll notice Explorer is now appropriately named “File Explorer” and is still available with Windows Key + E.
This will help its confusion with Internet Explorer.
Task Manager doesn’t look the same and the updated includes much more functionality. Every choice runs in Desktop mode except the new “Search” applet which switches you to the Modern interface. It’s worth learning more about Search.
One of the features many miss is being able to find a program or documents by just typing in the part of its name into the Windows 7 Start button menu.
On the left is an example using the Window 7 Start button searching for my WinPatrol program and/or any related documents
Using Windows 8 you don’t need the Start button. Just press the Windows key, Release and begin typing.
The Windows 8 Search will provide similar automatic results that change to narrow down your choices as you type.
The tiles you see on the Start screen are considered “Pinned”. To see all the available applications you can use Windows key + Z and click on “All Apps”. Since this takes two steps it’s quicker to just use the Search shortcut Windows key + Q which provides the same access
Windows 8 Modern Interface Mode
If you’re looking to move tiles around, the mouse interface is actually easier than touching them. Using a mouse you can right-click on a tile and see what options are available. It’s also easier to slide the tiles around to change their grouping.
One advantage of this mode is the Microsoft Store. You should certainly browse around for free applications available in the store. In theory, these applications have been tested to be virus free and won’t sneak a toolbar on your system. Every app must conform to Windows 8 standards including the ability to be removed. There is some crap but I’ve found some very useful apps like Netflix, IHeartRadio, Kindle, a variety of games along with other typical ways to waste your time.
The most confusing feature of the Windows 8 Modern UI that developers are encouraged to leave out a standard way to Exit or Close a program. Instead apps are expected to always be running but must support a fully suspended mode. When you switch to a new application, the original app receives a message to save its current status, all its data and be prepared to go to sleep. There are some exceptions but this is how Windows 8 handles having many programs quickly available without using a lot of memory or power. You can still use Windows Key + Tab or Alt-Tab to cycle through open apps. If like me you want to keep your environment tidy you can still used Alt+F4 to exit a program.
Windows 8 Desktop Interface Mode
This is your same old Windows with a few changes. There’s no Start button although you can find any number of utilities online that provide the same function. Most of the programs you currently use will run in the Windows 8 Desktop mode and work like they always have.
The most annoying thing about this mode is occasionally you’ll chose a feature that will switch you back to the Modern Interface taking up the entire screen. There are duplicate applets for many system settings like power management, network settings and other control panel applets so you can remain in Desktop mode for most operations.
Alt + F4 is also your friend if you want to shut down or re-boot but only in Desktop mode.
Conclusion: Two for the price of one
The Desktop mode is just like using Windows 7 with a few tweaks. What was added for your protection makes up for what you’ll miss. Think of the Modern interface as a bonus. You can learn about the new Windows at your own pace. When the time comes that you’ll need to use a Windows tablet you’ll already know how to use it.
There is plenty of useful information online. If you have any questions just search Bing or look on Amazon for books by your favorite authors.
Windows 8: Out of the Box by Mike Halsey
Windows 8 Secrets by Paul Thurrott & Rafael Rivera
Windows 8 Hacks by Preston Gralla
Windows 8 Essentials by Ed Bott
Windows® 8 Step by Step by Ciprian Adrian Rusen & Joli Ballew
Online Help: Beyond the Basics