Showing posts with label Windows 8. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Windows 8. Show all posts

Aug 8, 2013

How to Personalizing Windows 8

Windows presents a lot of different ways to personalize the look and feel of your system, and this chapter teaches you some of the ways you can do this.
When you first turn on your new computer system, you see the Windows Start screen as Microsoft (or your computer manufacturer) set it up for you. If you like the way it looks, great. If not, you can change it.
Windows presents a lot of different ways to personalize the look and feel of your system. In fact, one of the great things about Windows is how quickly you can make Windows look like your version of Windows, different from anybody else’s.

Personalizing the Start Screen

Let’s start by learning how to configure your own personal Start screen. As you know, the Start screen, shown in Figure 5.1, is your own personal home base in Windows 8; it consists of a number of tiles that you use to open apps and files. You can change the background color of the start screen, as well as determine which tiles are displayed—and how.

 The Windows 8 Start screen.

Changing the Background Color

When you configured Windows when you first turned on your new computer, you were asked to choose a color scheme. This color scheme is what you see when you display the Windows Start screen.
Fortunately, you’re not locked into your initial choice. You can change the color scheme for your Start screen (and various subsidiary screens) at any time. Just follow these steps:
  1. Display the Charms Bar and click or tap Settings to display the Settings panel.
  2. Click or tap Change PC Settings to display the PC Settings page,

    1. Personalizing the Start screen color scheme.
    2. Click or tap Personalize in the left column.
    3. Click or tap Start Screen in the right panel.
    4. Drag the background color slider to the color you want.
    5. Click or tap the desired background pattern.
    That’s it. The changes you make are immediate and interactive. You don’t have to “save” them; they’re applied automatically.

    Making a Tile Larger or Smaller

    The Start screen is composed of dozens of individual tiles, each representing an app, program, operation, or file. There are several ways to personalize the Start screen by changing how these tiles are displayed.
    For instance, tiles can be either one- or two-column width. To change the width of a given tile, follow these steps:
    1. Right-click the tile (or press and hold it on a touchscreen) you want to change. This adds a check mark to the tile and displays the pop-up bar at the bottom of the screen

    1. Changing the size of the Video tile.
    2. Click or tap Smaller to make a large tile smaller; click or tap Larger to make a small tile larger.

    Rearranging Tiles

    If you don’t like where a given tile appears on the Start screen, you can rearrange the order of your tiles. To move a tile, use your mouse (or, on a touchscreen display, your finger) to click and drag a given tile to a new position.

    Removing a Tile

    You might find that there are one or more tiles on your Start screen that you never use. You can remove unused tiles to get them out of your way and make room for additional tiles. Follow these steps:
  3. Right-click the tile (or press and hold it on a touchscreen) you want to delete. This adds a check mark to the tile and displays the pop-up bar at the bottom of the screen.
  4. Click or tap Unpin from Start.

Adding a New Tile

If you accidently remove a tile from the Start screen, or you want to add a tile for an app that isn’t already there, you can do so. To add a new tile, follow these steps:
  1. Press the Windows key to display the Start screen.
  2. Right-click anywhere on the Start screen (or press Windows+Z) to display the Options Bar at the bottom of the screen.
  3. Click or tap All Apps.
  4. When the Apps screen appears, right-click the item you want to add (or press and hold it on a touchscreen); this displays the Options Bar at the bottom of the screen

    1. Adding a new tile to the Start screen.
    2. Click or tap Pin to Start.
    The new tile appears at the end of your existing tiles on the Start screen. You can move it to a new position by clicking and dragging it with your mouse or finger.

    Turning On or Off a Live Tile

    Many tiles are “live,” meaning that they display the current information or a selected document for that app. For example, the Weather tile displays the current weather conditions; the Photos tile displays a slideshow of photographs stored on your computer.
    To turn off a live tile—that is, to display the default tile icon—follow these steps:
    Right-click the tile (or press and hold it on a touchscreen) you want to change; this adds a check mark to the tile and displays the pop-up bar at the bottom of the screen
  1. Turning “off” the live Weather tile.
  2. Click or tap Turn Live Tile Off.
To turn on a live tile, repeat these steps but select Turn Live Tile On.

How to Switching to Windows 8: A Quick Guide for Current Windows Users

Here it comes — Windows 8 is on the way! Windows 8 is a lot different from older versions of Windows, however, so you may have a little reeducation to do. In this article author Michael Miller shows you what’s new in Windows 8, and helps you learn how to do all your old tasks the new Windows 8 way.
Windows 8 is the latest version of Microsoft's iconic operating system. And it's a lot — really, a lot — different from those previous versions you've learned to know and love. (Well, at least to know and tolerate.)
The entire Windows 8 experience is new, from first power-on to running your favorite apps. It's so different, in fact, that current Windows users may have a hard time figuring out exactly how to do what they want to do. Windows 8 doesn't look at all like Windows 7 (or Vista or XP), and doesn't work quite the same way.
Whether you're upgrading to Windows 8 or purchasing a new computer with it already installed, you're going to have to learn to live with Windows' new tiled interface and Metro-style (excuse me, Modern-style) apps. The challenge is to do so while minimizing the learning curve — which is what this article is all about.

Welcome to the Start Screen

The first thing you see after logging into Windows 8 is something called the Start screen. This ain't the old Windows desktop folks — far from it. The Start screen looks more than a little like the screen from a Windows phone, which isn't surprising because that's where Microsoft got the design.

The Windows 8 Start screen — this is where everything begins.

You see, Windows 8 is Microsoft's attempt to design an operating system for handheld touchscreen devices. Most of the basic operations, in fact, are optimized for touch, not for mouse or keyboard use. The strategy is to provide a version of Windows that works great on tablets (and thus let Microsoft compete with Apple's iPad) and is pretty much the same across all types of devices, from personal computers to tablets to smartphones.
The problem is, 99.9% of all current PC users do not have touchscreen devices. We have notebook and desktop computers with traditional keyboards and mice (or trackpads). So being forced to use on our computers an operating system that was designed for tablets and phones — well, one can certainly argue the wisdom of that decision. But that's exactly what Microsoft has given us, a touch-based tablet OS for your notebook or desktop. Lucky us.
Knowing this background helps a little when it comes to figuring out just how Windows 8 works. It certainly explains all those tiles you see on the Start screen; they're the Windows equivalent of the tappable icons you have on your iPhone or iPad.
In fact, Microsoft goes Apple one better by making many of these tiles “live,” in that they display real-time information right on the face of the tile. Take the Weather tile, for example, which displays your current weather conditions, or the Photos tile, which displays a slideshow of your favorite pictures.
The goal here is to make the Start screen as useful as possible, so you get a lot of information without having to open all those apps. Basic weather info without launching the Weather app? Yeah, that's pretty neat.
The main point of the Start screen, however, is to provide a gateway to all the apps you run on your computer. Every app appears as a tile on the Start screen; to launch an app, all you have to do is click the appropriate tile. This launches the app in full screen mode — which is the new default way to view apps. Microsoft is discouraging the tillable or stackable windows experience, in favor of viewing everything by itself on the big screen. So that's something else to get used to.
By the way, it's likely you'll have more tiles pinned to the Start screen than can be displayed at one time. No problem; the Start screen scrolls left and right (not up and down, like you're used to), using either the left/right arrow keys on your keyboard, or by displaying the scrollbar at the bottom of the screen and then using your mouse.
One more thing. Once you launch an app and it displays full screen, how do you get back to the Start screen? There are several ways to do so, but the easiest is to press the Windows key on your keyboard. This will always return you to the Start screen in Windows 8.

How to Customizing the Windows 8 Start Screen, Colors, and Other Settings

This chapter walks you through some basic Windows 8 personalization features using lots of illustrated, step-by-step examples.

When you first turn on your new computer system, you see the Windows Lock screen, and then the Start screen, as Microsoft (or your computer manufacturer) set them up for you. If you like the way these screens look, great. If not, you can change them.
Windows presents a lot of different ways to personalize the look and feel of your system. In fact, one of the great things about Windows is how quickly you can make Windows look like your version of Windows, different from anybody else’s.

Different Windows Lock Screens



How to Starting and Stopping Windows 8

This chapter walks you through the steps necessary to start your computer and then sign in to Windows in you're new to Windows 8. You'll also learn how to put your computer to sleep and shut it down completely.
If you have just brought home a new computer with Windows 8 preinstalled, or if your computer has just been upgraded to Windows 8, maybe you’re thinking, “Now what?” The obvious answer is to power up your computer and sign in to Windows 8. Like everything else in Windows 8, though, the power-up and sign-in phases are quite different than those in prior versions of Windows, especially Windows 7. And if you haven’t used Windows before, the start-up process appears unique. For these reasons, this chapter walks you through the steps necessary to start your computer and then sign in to Windows. You also learn how to put your computer to sleep if you won’t be using it for a while, plus you learn how to exit Windows 8. First to cover, though, is powering up your Windows 8 hardware and then signing in to Windows 8.

Starting Up Windows 8

Before you can start up Windows 8, there are a couple of steps to take first. After these few steps of preparation, you can read next in this section how to power-up Windows and how manage if more than one operating system is stored on your computer. Think about these issues first:
  • If someone other than you installed Windows 8, check with him for the user ID and password you should use. Be sure to ask if he used a local account or a Windows account. You’ll learn more about these two different account types in Chapter 10, “Sharing Your Windows 8 Computer with Others” in the “Windows 8 Users and Account Basics” section.
  • If you sign into Windows 8 for the first time at your place of business, check with a person from your IT or Support organization for your user ID and password, and, if required, your domain. The domain identifies what part of the corporate network you log into. If your computer has been upgraded to Windows 8, your user ID, password, and domain are probably the same as you used previously.
  • If you couldn’t connect to the Internet for some reason when Windows 8 was installed, it would be helpful to be able to connect now. Try to address your connection issues before starting Windows 8.

Powering Up Your Computer

If your computer is off, or powered down, you need to power it up to start your Windows 8 experience. If you are turning the computer on for the first time after installing Windows 8, be sure the DVD has been removed from the DVD drive or else your system could restart the installation program.

When a computer starts, a number of internal programs run to prepare the computer for operation. You will likely see a flurry of messages run up your screen in white text over a black background. These messages aren’t required, though, so don’t call the hotline if you don’t see anything happen initially. Depending on your type of your computer, this initial startup process might run for just a second or two or for a few minutes,
When the computer start-up process is complete, Windows takes over control of your computer, launching its own start-up process. You can tell Windows has started by the appearance of the Windows logo

The appearance of this Windows 8 logo indicates Windows has taken over control of your device

Shortly after Windows starts, the sign-in screen appears, enabling you to finally sign in. Before that sign-in screen appears, however, you may have one more step to take, as covered in the next section.

Choosing an Operating System

If another version of Windows were installed and running properly on your computer when Windows 8 was installed, whomever installed Windows 8 may have chosen to create a dual-boot setup. This setup enables you to choose the operating system to use when the computer is turned on—yes, this is possible. You may be wondering, “Why wouldn’t I want to use Windows 8 if it were installed?” Here are a few reasons:
  • You have a number of older Windows programs, and you rely on these programs. As much as Microsoft expresses confidence that your programs will run in Windows 8, you might not want to commit to Windows 8 until you are sure your programs run properly.
  • You are not sure you have time to learn Windows 8.
You can find more information about dual-booting in the “Understanding Dual-Booting” section. For now, learn how to respond if Windows prompts you to choose an operating system.

You can use Windows 8 or your old operating system (Windows 7 in this case).

  If a screen with one or more sign-in portraits appears, dual-booting has not been enabled.

Hwo to working with Data in Your Windows 8 Application

Learn about the different types of data that are available to your Windows 8 application and techniques for manipulating, loading, storing, encrypting, signing, and querying data.
Data is central to most applications, and understanding how to manage data and transform it into information the user can interact with is critical. Windows 8 applications can interact with data in a variety of ways. You can save local data, retrieve syndicated content from the Web, and parse local resources that are stored in JSON format. You can query XML documents, use WinRT controls to direct the user to select files from the file system, and manipulate collections of data using a structured query language.
In this chapter, you learn about the different types of data that are available to your Windows 8 application and techniques for manipulating, loading, storing, encrypting, signing, and querying data. You’ll find that the WinRT provides several ready-to-use APIs that make working with data a breeze. This chapter explores these APIs and how to best integrate them into your application.

Application Settings

You were exposed to application settings in Chapter 5, Application Lifecycle. Common cases for using application settings include
  • Simple settings that are accessed through the Settings charm and can be synchronized between machines (Roaming)
  • Local data storage persisted between application sessions (Local)
  • Local persistent cache to enable occasionally disconnected scenarios (Local)
  • Temporary cached data used as a workspace or to improve performance of the application (Temporary)
The settings use a simple dictionary to store values and require the values you store to be basic WinRT types. It is possible to store more complex types. In Chapter 5, you learned how to manually serialize and de-serialize an item by writing to a file in local storage. You serialize complex types using a serialization helper. An example of this exists in the SuspensionManager class that is included in the project templates. You can search for the file SuspensionManager.cs on your system to browse the source code.
The SuspensionManager class uses the DataContractSerializer to serialize complex types in a dictionary:
DataContractSerializer serializer =
   new DataContractSerializer(typeof(Dictionary<string, object>),
serializer.WriteObject(sessionData, sessionState_);
The serializer (in this case, the DataContractSerializer class) automatically inspects the properties on the target class and composes XML to represent the class. The XML is written to a file in the folder allocated for the current application. Similar to the various containers for application settings (local, roaming, and temporary), there is a local folder specific to the user and application that you can use to create directories and read and write files. Accessing the folder is as simple as
StorageFile file =
   await ApplicationData.Current.LocalFolder.
You can access a roaming or temporary folder as well. The Create CompletionOption is a feature that allows you generate filenames that don’t conflict with existing data. The options (passed in as an enum to the file method) include:
  • FailIfExists—The operation will throw an exception if a file with that name already exists.
  • GenerateUniqueName—The operation will append a sequence to the end of the filename to ensure it is a unique, new file.
  • OpenIfExists—If the file already exists, instead of creating a new file, the operation will simply open the existing file for writing.
  • ReplaceExisting—Any existing file will be overwritten. The example will always overwrite the file with the XML for the dictionary.
After the dictionary has been written, the serialization helper is used to de-serialize the data when the application resumes after a termination:
DataContractSerializer serializer =
   new DataContractSerializer(typeof(Dictionary<string, object>),
sessionState_ = (Dictionary<string, object>)serializer
The local storage can be used for more than just saving state. As demonstrated in Chapter 5, you may also use it to store data. It can also be used to store assets like text files and images. A common design is to use local storage to save cloud-based data that is unlikely to change as a local cache. This will allow your application to operate even when the user is not connected to the Internet and in some cases may improve the performance of the application when the network is experiencing high latency. In the next section, you learn more about how to access and save data using the Windows Runtime.

Essential Windows 8 Shortcuts, Clicks, and Gestures

Windows 8 has a lot of cool features, but they’re hard to find - unless you know the secret keyboard shortcuts, mouse clicks, and touch gestures. In this article, author Michael Miller provides an invaluable reference to everything you need to know to use Windows 8 to the fullest.
Windows 8 is much like previous versions of Windows—except it’s not. That is, you can do almost everything you used to be able to do, and then some, if you know the secret handshakes. Well, not really secret handshakes, but it seems like that, sometimes.
That’s because a lot of what used to be out in the open in Windows 7 and Windows Vista (and even Windows XP) is now accessible only by a touch gesture or keyboard shortcut or mouse movement. There are fewer “visual cues” to what you need to do, and more stuff you need to memorize. You can’t rely on whatever you want to do being located somewhere on the Start menu, because the Start menu doesn’t exist anymore.
So to get the most out of Windows 8 —heck, just to use it on the most basic level—you have to learn a series of shortcuts, clicks, and gestures. These aren’t always intuitive, and are often difficult if not impossible to remember.

Essential Keyboard Shortcuts

Let’s start with how to operate Windows 8 with your computer keyboard. Yeah, you might have a fancy new touchscreen PC (although you probably don’t), and I’m sure you’re a wiz with the mouse or touchpad, but more often than not, the fastest way to do any specific operation is to tap a key or two on your keyboard.
I say a key or two, because much of what you need to in Windows 8 is accomplished by pressing two keys together—what we call keyboard shortcuts. When you see a key combination, such as Windows+C, you can press both keys simultaneously, or press one then press the other (while still keeping the first key pressed, of course).
The following table tells you all you need to know.


Shortcut Keys

Close currently running app or window
Display Charms bar
Display context-sensitive options menu
Application (menu) key
Display Options bar
Lock computer
Open a program or document
Move to item with arrow keys, then press Enter
Open All Apps Window
From Start screen, press Ctrl+Tab
Open Windows Help
Return to Start screen
Windows key
Scroll down
PageDown or down arrow
Scroll left
PageUp or left arrow
Scroll right
PageDown or right arrow
Scroll up
PageUp or up arrow
Shut down Windows
View or switch to other open apps

Most of these keyboard shortcuts are self-evident; you know what the Alt key is, and the Tab key, and even the various function keys (F1, F2, F3, and so forth). Two keys, however, are unique to Windows PCs.
The Windows key is the key, typically on the bottom row of the keyboard, to the left of the spacebar, that has a picture of the Windows logo on it. This key is particularly important in Windows 8, as you press this key to display the Start screen, which in the lieu of the old Start menu, you use to launch all your apps.

How to Using Windows 8’s Xbox Music

Xbox Music is the new music app in Windows 8; it’s also accessible from Microsoft’s Xbox 360 game console and Windows 7/8 phones. In this article, author Michael Miller shows you how to use Xbox Music to manage your own music collection and to listen to and purchase new music online.
Every recent version of Windows has included some sort of music player application, such as Windows Media Player. Windows goes one step further, however, in including both a music player app and a music download/subscription service.
Windows 8’s music player/service is called Xbox Music. (Microsoft is obviously playing off their successful Xbox videogame brand.) Xbox Music is both a media player for music stored on your PC or network and an online service for purchasing, downloading, and even streaming music tracks. It’s a full-screen (Metro or Modern-style) app you can use if for pretty much all your music-related activities in Windows 8.

Understanding Xbox Music

Windows 8’s Xbox Music isn’t just one thing. It’s a music player, it’s a music store, it’s a streaming music service – in short, a central hub for all (or at least most) of your music-related activities. You use the Xbox Music app to play music stored on your PC or network, to purchase and download new music, and (if you choose to subscribe) to stream millions of tracks to your computer over the Internet.
On the PC platform, Xbox Music is available only if you’re running Windows 8; if you have a Windows 7 or Windows Vista computer, you’re out of luck. However, Xbox Music is also available to anyone using an Xbox 360 videogame console or Windows 7/8 smartphone. The service works similarly on all devices.
On a Windows 8 PC, you launch Xbox Music from the Start screen; just click or tap the Music tile. The main screen is divided into four sections that you can click to view additional content:
  • My Music. This is your own personal music library, those files stored on your PC or shared over your network. This includes tracks you’ve ripped from your own CDs or downloaded from the web – not just from the Xbox Music Store. Your newest music is featured on the main screen; click or tap an album cover to play that album. To view your entire music collection, click or tap the My Music header. Or, if you want to listen randomly, click or tap the Play All Music tile.
  • Now Playing. This is where you listen to music now. The currently selected track is shown in the main tile; tap or click to pause or resume playback. You can also opt to play music from a specific artist, play a playlist, or start a new Radio session– enter the name of an artist and the Xbox Music assembles a “station” of similar music.
  • All Music. The tiles in this section are of artists that Xbox Music thinks you might be interested – or, more likely, those artists being promoted this week. Tap or click the All Music header to enter the Xbox Music store, where you can search for or browse for music by category.
  • Top Music. This section hosts the most popular music on the Xbox Music service – sort of. You see the top albums and artist in the tiles on the main screen, but when you tap or click the Top Music header, you’re just taken (once again) to the Xbox Music store. 
 The Windows 8 Xbox Music app

That basic navigation out of the way, let’s look at how you can use Xbox Music to perform specific tasks.

Using Xbox Music to Play Your Own Music

All the music you’ve purchased and downloaded online, as well as music you’ve ripped from your own CDs, is stored in the Music library on your computer’s hard drive. To play any of these tracks, just launch the Xbox Music app and then click or tap the My Music heading.
You now see all the music stored on your computer. There are a number of ways to display and play your music.

Viewing your personal music library with the Xbox Music app

The default view displays all your music by the date you added I – that is, the newest albums or tracks are listed first. To display your music in a different order, tap or click the Arranged By control. You can then opt to display your music in alphabetical (A to Z) order, or by artist, release year, or genre. Click the appropriate link in the left column to display albums, artists, songs, playlists, or Radio stations. (Xbox Music’s Radio automatically creates online “stations” designed to appeal to fans of a particular artist, by assembling tracks based on the artist you select.)
To play an album, track, or list, just click or tap it. Xbox Music now displays a large tile for that item. You can now choose to play the album or track, add the item to your now playing list or to a new playlist, display more information about the artist, or create a Smart DJ station based on this artist.

 Playing a track in the Xbox Music app

Playback controls are displayed in the Options bar at the bottom of the screen. (If/when the Options bar disappears, just right-click screen to redisplay it.) From here you can pause or resume playback, go to the next or previous track, or even choose to “shuffle” the tracks in random order.

Downloading New Music from the Xbox Music Store

The Windows 8 Xbox Music app also enables you (actually, encourages you) to purchase more music online. You can purchase individual tracks or complete albums from Microsoft’s Xbox Music Store.
(One of my beefs with the Xbox Music app as it now exists is that it pretty much defaults to the store mode; you have to work at playing your own music.)
The Xbox Music Store is Microsoft’s competitor to Apple’s iTunes Store. Microsoft offers more than 18 million tracks, which is pretty good. All downloads are in 256kbps MP3 format.
Both the All Music and Top Music sections of the main Xbox Music screen link to purchasing opportunities. Click or tap an individual tile to purchase that item. Click or tap either the All Music or Top Music headers to view more items for purchase.
What you see next is a collection of featured albums. You can browse these featured albums by genre by clicking or tapping the appropriate genre along the side of the screen. Switch between Featured, New Releases, and Top (bestsellers) by clicking the down arrow under the New Music header. Or click the Search (magnifying glass) icon to search Xbox Music for specific items.

 Browsing music for sale in the Xbox Music Store

When you find an item you want to buy, click or tap it. You now see a tile for that item; you can then opt to view artist details, play a preview of selected tracks, or buy the album.
If you decide to make a purchase, you’re prompted for your password and then shown the Confirm Purchase screen. If you haven’t yet entered a credit card number, you’re prompted to do so. Once your credit card info is entered, confirm your purchase and wait for the tracks to download to the Music library on your PC.

Streaming Music from the Xbox Music Pass Service

Downloading music is old school these days; streaming music is where it’s at. To that end, Microsoft offers its own streaming music service tied into the Xbox Music app. The service is called Xbox Music Pass, and its available in both free and paid versions.
Xbox Music Pass streams its music using the Windows Media Audio (WMA) codec, encoded at 192kbps. That’s not bad, but it doesn’t sound quite as good as what you get from competing services. (Spotify Premium, in comparison, streams at 320kbps in the Ogg Vorbis format.)
One of the drawbacks of the free version of Xbox Music Pass is the ads. These aren’t your basic run-of-the-mill audio advertisements, but rather full-screen video ads. (Quite annoying, in my opinion.) The free service also limits you to 10 hours of music a month – after the first six months, anyway.
Xbox Music Pass Premium doesn’t have these restrictions. Pay your $9.99/month (or $99.90/year) and you get rid of the ads and get unlimited music streaming. One subscription applies across all your compatible devices – Windows 8 PC, Windows 8/RT tablet, Windows 7/8 phone, or Xbox 360 game console. (Actually, a single description is good for up to five devices – and if you want to use it with your Xbox 360, you need an Xbox LIVE Gold subscription first.)
Whether you’re using the free or paid versions, streaming music via the Xbox Music app is a snap. When you select an album or track, just tap or click Play or Play Album. This starts the streaming, in real time.
You also get real-time streaming when you select the Start Radio option at any point. An Xbox Music Radio station is constructed from tracks stored in Microsoft’s digital library and streamed live to your PC or other device.
Even better, you can download music from the Xbox Music Pass service to your PC for offline listening. Click or tap Add To > My Music and the track or album is downloaded to your computer for playback when you’re not connected to the Internet. It’s also “matched” in the cloud for playback from your other devices.
How does Xbox Music Pass compare to Spotify and similar streaming music services? The cross-device compatibility is nice, the selection is good, and the audio quality is okay. Pricing is comparable, and the option of downloading tracks for offline use is a plus. If you have a Windows 8 PC – or an Xbox 360 console or Windows 7 or 8 smartphone – it’s certainly worth considering.

What Xbox Music Doesn’t Do

So Xbox Music is good for playing digital music stored on your computer, downloading new music, and even streaming music from the Xbox Music Pass service. What’s it not good for?
Unfortunately, the Xbox Music app does not play physical CDs. Nor does it let you rip those CDs to digital files, or burn your digital files to CDs. For these tasks, you’ll need a different music player – such as Windows Media Player, which still exists in Windows 8 (albeit relegated to the virtual wasteland of the Windows Desktop).
For everything else, however, the Windows 8 Xbox Music app – and the accompanying Xbox Music Store and Xbox Music Pass service – offer a ton of options for both casual and serious music lovers. You should give it a try.

How to Add the Start Menu Back to Windows 8

One of the biggest complaints about Windows 8 is Microsoft’s removal of the Start button and Start menu. In this article, author Michael Miller examines third-party applications that promise to put the Start menu back in Windows 8 – and tells you which are worth your while.
Windows 8 introduces a brand new user interface, alternately called the Metro, Modern, Windows 8, or Tiled interface. This new interface is typified by the new Start screen, where big, brightly colored tiles represent all the apps and utilities installed on your PC.
Windows 8 also takes away many things of which we’re familiar, most notably the Start button and Start menu. This move has annoyed and incensed millions of upgraders, and quite possibly been part of the reason for Windows 8’s poor reviews and even poorer sales.
Fortunately, you don’t have to live with Microsoft’s decision to remove the Start button and Start menu. There are several third-party solutions that return this basic functionality to Windows 8 – in an unofficial capacity, of course.

What Happened to the Start Menu?

If you’re one of the hundreds of millions of people who’ve used a previous version of Windows, Microsoft’s new Windows 8 represents somewhat of a conundrum. There’s all this new candy-colored window dressing, in the form of the tiled Start screen, but at the expense of the tried and true way of doing things. In particular, users are griping – loudly – about Microsoft’s removal of the Start button and Start menu from the Desktop environment.
And justly so, if you ask me. Those of us not using Windows 8 on a touchscreen tablet – which is pretty much everyone – are forced to relearn what used to be a simple way to launch programs and utilities. Instead of clicking the Start button and selecting an item from the Start menu, you know have to back out the Start screen (and how do you do that, exactly?), then find and click or tap a big ol’ tile for the item you want to open. This approach – the only way to do it in Windows 8 – rudely shifts you from one operating environment to another, which adds more time to a common task. It’s an unnecessary and inefficient change that was not requested by any user I’m aware of.
Why, then, did Microsoft remove the Start button and Start menu? To force everyone into the new Metro interface, of course. Deep within the bowels of Microsoft, the Windows Development Team got a bug up its collective butt that the very nature of personal computing was shifting, and that tablets with touchscreen capability were going to be stealing users away from the traditional PC environment – and Microsoft’s very profitable Windows operating system. Since Microsoft was not a player in the tablet market, this fear of tablets (specifically, a fear of Apple’s iPad) led the team to develop a version of Windows optimized for tablet use. Hence the big fingertip-friendly tiles of Windows 8’s Start screen.
That’s all well and good, and maybe even a decent product strategy, but then Microsoft took this point to its illogical conclusion and decided that the new touch-friendly operating environment (initially dubbed Metro) should be made universal across all types of devices – from tablets to smartphones to desktop and notebook PCs. And the Metro interface wouldn’t just be made available on these devices, but rather made mandatory. Metro was the way of the future, whether anybody wanted it or not, so Microsoft would force it upon its entire user base. It didn’t matter whether or not people like it, it was good for them. Or so sayeth Microsoft.
So that’s how we got Windows 8 and the tiled Start screen interface. And since the Microsofties were drunk on the Metro Kool-Aid, they decided to force this new way on everyone by making it impossible to do things the old way – that is, by removing the Start button and Start menu. In Windows 8, if you want to launch a new program, you have to use the Start screen. There’s no other option.
You don’t have to be a member of the Gallup family to realize that most existing Windows users would resist this change. Nobody asked for it, after all; people have been happy using the Start button and Start menu ever since Windows 95, almost two decades ago. Removing those old familiar tools not only confused existing users, it made them angry. Very angry.
We want our Start button back

Examining Start Menu Replacements

Fortunately, there are some options, in the form of Start menu replacement utilities. These are third-party tools that add back some semblance of a Start button and Start menu to the Windows 8 Desktop. These tools are not supplied or endorsed by Microsoft; that would be asking too much. Instead, these tools come from outside companies recognizing a true user need.
Let’s take a look at the most popular of these Start menu replacement tools. There are actually more available than I mention here, but I’ve found these to work the most smoothly and have the least compatibility problems of the bunch.

Classic Shell for Windows 8

Classic Shell is actually a collection of utilities for Windows 8. In addition to the Start button and Start menu for the Desktop, you also get a new toolbar and status bar for Windows Explorer, as well as a caption and status bar for the Internet Explorer web browser.

 Classic Shell for Windows 8 – with the Windows 7-style Start button selected

Start Menu 8's replacement Start menu
As noted, Start Menu 8 is completely free. Learn more at


Stardock’s Start8 adds a Windows 7-style Start menu back to Windows 8. It also addresses another issue faced by Windows 8 users by letting you boot directly to the Desktop, completely bypassing the new Metro Start screen. That’s a big plus, as it makes Windows 8 pretty much like Windows 7 – you never have to exit out to the Metro interface if you don’t want to.

 Start8 in action

To my mind, Start8 does the best job of all these tools at accurately reproducing the look and functionality of the Windows 7 Start menu. The only thing different is the flat “flag” button, which is less attractive than the Win7 Start “orb.” No matter; the Start8 menu itself is a pretty close representation of what you’re used to in Windows 7.
By the way, Start8 offers a slew of customization options, including the ability to display a Metro Start screen-style menu when you click the new Start button. This might be a way for some Desktop users to ease into the Metro interface, if you like.
Unlike some of the other Start menu replacements, however, Start8 isn’t free. You’ll pay $4.99 to download and install this tool, although there is a free trial available if you just want to check it out. Learn more at


Pokki differs from the other Start menu replacements in that it doesn’t try to be an exact replacement. Instead of trying to replicate the Windows 7 Start menu, it lets you create your own customized Start menu experience.

 A custom Pokki start menu

In other words, Pokki is an appealing utility for inveterate tweakers. You can create a Windows 8 Start menu that looks pretty much any way you want it to look, with all manner of program and menu options. Forget Windows 7; Pokki lets you create a new custom Start menu, just for you.
Pokki is a free utility, which is also appealing. Learn more at

Other Start Menu Replacements

In the course of writing this article I checked out several other Start menu replacements, and found them lacking. Here are the utilities you might want to skip:
  • Power8. This one works fine, but really isn’t a genuine Start menu replacement. First of all, it really doesn’t add a Start button, but rather a small Start bar at the far left of the Taskbar. Click this and you see the replacement Start menu, which looks kind of sort of like the traditional Start menu, but not quite. You don’t get the same menu options, and to view all your programs (as with the old All Programs option) you have to first click Start Menu and then click Programs. It’s better than not having any Start button or menu, but not near as appealing as the other options discussed previously.
  • Start Is Back. I kind of liked this one at the start; it does an excellent job of mimicking the Windows 7 Start menu. (Start is Back ties into some legacy Win7 code that’s still in Win8, so it’s pretty much the real deal.) My problem was in uninstalling the program – which I couldn’t. For some reason, at least on my system, Windows’ Uninstall Program tool doesn’t uninstall this program. That may not be a big deal for you, if you really like Start Is Back and want to keep using it (it costs $3, by the way), but I don’t like programs that won’t let go; it’s an indication of questionable programming.
  • ViStart 8. This utility really isn’t much of a utility. Instead, it’s a new toolbar that installs on the Desktop Taskbar that mimics the appearance and operation of the traditional Start menu. I found ViStart to be extremely kludgy, and a very old school, low tech approach to the problem. You’re better off going with one of the more modern and sophisticated Start button replacements.
Your mileage may vary, of course, which means you might like the options that I didn’t. Still, for most users I recommend one of the previous programs[md]Classic Shell, Start Menu 8, or Start8. (Or, for tweakers, Pokki.) These utilities provide the most Windows 7-like experiences, with the least amount of hassle.

What About Windows Blue/8.1?

As noted, any of these third-party tools will add Start button/menu functionality back to Windows 8. But why doesn’t Microsoft offer similar functionality itself? Isn’t the company listening to its (loud and numerous) user complaints?
The answer to that question may come in what was code-named Windows Blue and is now known as Windows 8.1. Windows 8.1 promises to be a necessary update to the Windows 8 operating system. It’s somewhere between a simple service pack and a more full-fledged upgrade, offering bug fixes and enhanced functionality.
One of the features included in Windows 8.1 is – wait for it – a Start button, as well as the ability to bypass the Start screen entirely by booting directly to the Desktop. Rumor has it that the Windows team has been resisting this addition, but that it’s being forced back in by upper management. (If this is true, bravo to upper management!)
Until the Fall of 2013, however, if you want your old functionality back, you need to go with one of these Start button replacements. It’s not quite the same as having it all built into the operating system, but it’s a far sight better than doing completely without.

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