Fixing Windows 8 for the Desktop

Windows 8
I’m a fan of Windows 8. I’ve been using it off and on since the first preview, and I’ve been using it as my primary development OS since release. One obvious reason is that it provides all of the modern API’s necessary to test and target the latest OS and Windows App Store. But another reason is the speed of Windows 8. From boot to shutdown and in between, Windows 8 is faster than Windows 7.

By now everyone is aware of how polarized people are on the UI in Windows 8. The main complaint is how disconnected the Modern (Metro) workspace is from the classic Desktop workspace. This is especially true when using Windows 8 as a development OS. I develop inside of a VM as well, which makes the Metro elements particularly unnecessary.

Luckily some amazing help has come from the folks at Stardock. Stardock has been around for years, known most famously for creating WindowBlinds. Over the years Stardock has been recognized for creating eye candy for Windows, along with some power-user apps as well as games.

But now Stardock is making great strides in the area of “fixing” Windows 8 for the Desktop user. Their first product in this area was Start8. Start8 does two things and does them very well:

  1. It adds a very nice looking Start menu back to the desktop workspace
  2. It adds the top to go straight to the desktop after logging in

    1. Start8 Settings

      Now I’ve heard the purists, and I’ve even repeated some of the same things myself. “Hit the Windows key and just start typing…it works the same as Windows 7”. “Just hit Winkey+D after logging in, it’s one keystroke”. Maybe so. But if I would otherwise never see or use the Modern (Metro) workspace, why not improve the experience? And Start8 arguably improves the experience of the Desktop user.

      Not only that but Start8 looks great. I am an admitted UI snob. I want things on my system to look good, and look native. When I write my own applications I want them to look good, and to look native. Start8 looks like it came with Windows 8. There is nothing about it that calls out “3rd party”.

      Start8 Menu

      Stardock’s latest product in an effort to fix Windows 8 for the Desktop user is ModernMix. ModernMix allows you to run Modern (Metro) applications, windowed, in the Desktop workspace.

      ModernMix Apps

      And it lets you do so on a case-by-case basis. It also has smart options for how to launch a Modern app from the Modern Start screen versus from the classic Desktop workspace.

      ModernMix Settings

      This makes Modern apps behave more like a WPF apps on the Desktop and makes the apps arguably more useful and accessible if you are using Windows 8 as a desktop user.

      And, like with Start8, ModernMix looks great and looks native. It adds a small overlay in the upper-right hand corner of Modern apps that only shows when you hover there – similar to many other Windows 8 aspects (Charms, the Start button). Clicking the overlay toggles the Modern app between full-screen and windowed.

      ModernMix Overlay

      While I’m a big fan of Windows 8, I’ve also argued since its release that it is targeted at filling a need in the touch & tablet department. Windows 9 will need to circle back around, in my opinion, and make this new Modern experience jive well with the existing Desktop paradigm and users. I think Microsoft would do well to look at these two products for some direction to do just that.

      Also – note that Stardock is not the only company filling needs in this area. While these products are the ones I am most familiar with, the following solutions are also available:

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