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Tools Toys and Technology

About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Tools Toys and Technology - About the Tools You Use and the Toys That Make Life Interesting

Windows 8.1 … A New User’s Perspective

When Windows 8 first came out a little over a year ago, I installed it on an old Windows XP machine that I was not using, just to check it out and see if I wanted to upgrade my main computer from Windows 7. My reaction … “meh.” I think I’ll keep my friendly and familiar Windows 7, thank you.

My opinion has changed. I LOVE Windows 8.1! Here’s why.


Well, first let me say that I think Microsoft has gotten somewhat of a bad wrap over the Windows 8 thing. I can’t think of a single significant software or Website change that a large number of consumers (and reviewers) did not start out dissing. It was inevitable that Windows 8 would suffer a bashing just because it was different. Different good … or different bad, it would not have made a difference as far as initial outcry is concerned.

Now, to be sure, Microsoft maximized the inevitable outcry by making it SOOOO different and slapping us in the face with the difference by forcing a boot to the so-called “Start” screen. I won’t review that here. It’s been reviewed to death.

In Windows 8.1, Microsoft responded to the negative outcry about the Start screen by baking in an option to boot to the more traditional Desktop. Turns out, that’s a big part of why I now like it.

My Road from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1

I loved Windows 7 from the day I installed it. It was so logical. If there was something I didn’t know how to do, it was so easy to find out how, by just typing into the search box on the Start Menu (which Microsoft also saw fit to remove from Windows 8 and hasn’t even replaced it on Windows 8.1). More on that later.

So, I loved my Windows 7 machine. I built it myself, so the hardware was right; the operating system was right. It did everything I wanted it to … UNTIL IT DIDN’T.

Here’s the quick synopsis of my problems:

  1. One day it wouldn’t boot. After much troubleshooting, it turned out to be a hardware problem. I replaced the graphics card, and all was peachy again … UNTIL IT WASN’T. 
  2. It developed start-up problems again. I decided to do a clean install of Windows 7. Since I was doing a clean install anyhow, I decided to do it on a state-of-the-art Solid State Drive (SSD), hoping to get faster response from the double-whammy of a fresh Windows system combined with the speed of the SSD. It worked great … UNTIL IT DIDN’T.
  3. I had been very stingy about the programs I installed on my fresh Windows 7 system. To this day I don’t know what happened. But one day, it wouldn’t boot again. Finally I did get it to boot, but it was extremely slow getting there. I tried a system restore; I did malware scans. I never was able to identify the problem. But the painfully slow start-up continued.
  4. I was on the verge of giving up on this computer, my prize home-built machine. In what was actually an act of desperation, I upgraded the operating system to Windows 8.1, thinking all the while, “I have nothing to lose.” Result?

It’s working great. Whatever broke my Windows 7 start-up was eliminated when I upgraded to Windows 8.1. My computer has never been this blazing fast before. So, yes, I like what Windows 8.1 has done for my system. It’s given it new life. It’s given it new vitality (I could use some of that). From a performance point of view, Windows 8.1 is a winner.

Windows 7 to Windows 8.1: Adjusting to the Differences

I am very pleased to announce, Windows 8.1 really isn’t that much different from Windows 7 if you make a few tweaks to the user interface. I have had zero trouble in adapting.

First, that troublesome Start Screen. It is such a shock when your system boots up to this. I’m sure that’s been the biggest deterrent to upgrading to the Windows 8 environment. But it is now so easy to make that disappear, the Start screen shouldn’t deter you from Windows 8.1. You can work exclusively in the familiar Desktop mode if you want.

“If you like your desktop, you can keep your desktop.”

… Hmm? That sounds strangely familiar.

By default, Windows 8.1 still boots the the Start screen. But to make it boot directly to the desktop, all you have to do is:

  1. From the Start screen, click the Desktop tile to go to Desktop mode.
  2. Right-click an open area on the taskbar; then click Properties.
  3. Select the Navigation tab
  4. Under “Start screen” check the box for: “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start”; then click OK.

That’s it. Next time you boot up, you’ll see the “familiar” desktop. Familiar? Well, there are a couple more tweaks you may want to implement to make it more Windows 7 like.

Restoring Windows 7 Desktop Features

The Start Menu

For reasons known only to Microsoft, the imminently useful Start Menu did not return in Windows 8.1. They added a start BUTTON, but all it does is send you to that Start screen us Windows 7 users are trying to avoid. “Sneaky,” Microsoft.

If Microsoft won’t give you the Start menu, someone else will. There are a number of third party Start menu replacements out there. I chose “Classic Shell.” It’s highly configurable to your preferences, and that’s what this is all about, after all. It’s also free … love that word. Classic Shell offers three style options. I chose the Windows 7 style to keep things familiar.

Restoring Libraries

Another one of those things known only to Microsoft, the highly useful “Libraries” navigation aid was removed in 8.1. But that’s also easy to restore.

  1. From the Desktop, click the File Explorer (file folder) icon in the taskbar.
  2. Click the View tab at the top of the window.
  3. Click the Navigation pane drop-down (top-left of the window)
  4. Check “Show libraries”.

Your done.

Finding Windows 8.1 Operation Details

With these few changes, Windows 7 users should have no trouble with Windows 8.1. But if there is something you can’t find, try this.

Microsoft has provided a number of useful ways to find stuff in Windows 8.1. But, it’s not so easy for recent Windows 7 converts to find those handy search tools… the ultimate irony. If you’ve installed Classic Shell, the solution is already at hand.

Type what you’re looking for in the search box of the Start menu. Odds are, the function you’re looking for is now a click away. You’ll see a listing of links to settings, files, documents and anything else relating to your search.


Performance … If for no other reason, Windows 8.1 is worth considering because of its performance. It will breathe new life into your Windows 7 computer.

Transition … By making the few tweaks noted above, experienced Windows 7 users should have no trouble adapting to Windows 8.1.

I’ve been using Windows 8.1 for just a couple of weeks now. I’m sure there are a lot of things I’m missing. I’ll learn them as I gain more experience. But within a very few minutes of installing and tweaking Windows 8.1, I’ve been completely comfortable with it.

Supporting my position, PC World recently presented it list of the 50 best tech products of 2013. Windows 8.1 was #14 on the list, garnering this review:

If you can put aside its disappointing app store inventory and confusing Live Tile interface, Windows 8 has always been a solid operating system—precisely because its desktop features improve on Windows 7. You get an improved file system, speedy performance, and elegant cloud integration. And now, with Windows 8.1, Microsoft offers traditional PC users even more, including a boot-to-desktop option and various features that make the schism between “old” and “new” Windows less pronounced. … Windows 8.1 is definitely a product of the year.

Category: Articles, Software