Apps to make Windows 8 [somewhat] usable

You can run modern UI apps in windows on the desktop as well as pin them to the taskbar using ModernMix on Windows 8 and Windows 8.1

You can run modern UI apps in windows on the desktop as well as pin them to the taskbar using ModernMix on Windows 8 and Windows 8.1

Although I primarily use a Mac these days, in part because of the Windows 8/Windows 8.1 debacle, I still use Windows 8.1 from time to time. For those who have used either Windows 8 or 8.1, you know it’s a rather miserable mismatch of two radically different user interface styles. One of those interface styles, the modern UI, is absolutely perplexing and brings along virtually useless, half-baked, buggy apps that desperately need a lot of work. The other more familiar interface style, typically called the desktop, is buried among the rather terrible modern UI and feels quite divorced from it. Despite the glaring problems with Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, there are ways to tweak them to make Windows more bearable. The keys to Windows 8/Windows 8.1 nirvana are two applications: Start8 and ModernMix. They’re both from Stardock and both are $4.99.

Installing Start8 brings back the familiar Windows 7 Start menu and with the right settings in place, you’ll have a hard time telling it was shoehorned into the OS through an app. It looks just as it should, almost identical to the Windows 7 Start menu but with Windows 8 finishings. You can search your computer, shut it down, restart it, access the Control Panel and a lot more just as you did in Windows 7. Start8 also supports modern UI apps, so they’ll populate the search results and show up in the Start menu just as if they’re desktop apps. Start8 also allows you to pin modern UI apps to the taskbar. It’s one little way that makes the modern UI (or the desktop depending at how you look at it) feel less like an operating system within an operating system. It’s a wonder why Microsoft didn’t ship Windows 8 with Start8’s features baked into the OS in the first place.

Since Start8 is a Stardock app, you might expect a ton of customization options here, and it doesn’t disappoint. You can make Start8 bring up a miniature Start screen if you prefer, change the Start button, add some translucency, disable some of Windows 8’s hot corners features, choose which Windows key on your keyboard brings up Start8’s menu or the Start screen and there’s a ton more options as well. Start8 was a particular lifesaver in Windows 8 (opposed to 8.1) when it introduced the Start button back to Windows 8 and allowed you to boot to the desktop. Thankfully Microsoft came to its senses and added the Start button and the boot to desktop option in 8.1. Stardock offers a 30 day trial of Start8 on its website, but when you try it you might as well kiss that $4.99 goodbye because you’re not going to want to spend a minute more of Windows 8/Windows 8.1 without it.

The other app I mentioned above, ModernMix, will also make you wonder how you put up with Windows 8/8.1 so far, especially if you’re using it on a desktop or laptop. Like Start8, it allows you to pin modern UI apps to the taskbar but it goes so much further. It allows you to run modern UI apps in windows on the desktop. You can run as many as you like, resize them as you please, and since they’re windowed, you can minimize your modern UI apps in the taskbar or close them using the familiar buttons in the top right of the window. It’s a simple function you take for granted until you use Windows 8/8.1. For essential apps such as Dictionary.com, Twitter, Facebook or Xbox Music that unfortunately only come in modern UI apps rather than desktop apps, ModernMix is essential.

Start8 and Modern Mix may fix my biggest gripes with Windows 8/8.1, but it’s still going to take a lot to make the operating system completely usable day-to-day. Microsoft really has their work cut out for them, but by stealing more ideas from Stardock (as they did with the Start button and booting to the desktop) and putting them in future updates, they’ll at least be making a step in the right direction.
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