On the Start screen, you’ll find one tile that’s different to all the others and is exclusive to the X86 rather than RT version of Windows 8. It doesn’t give you access to an app, shortcut, widget or ‘folder’. Rather, it brings Windows 8 as close as Microsoft’s newest OS gets to the Windows 7 of old. Appropriately, it’s called Desktop.
The Desktop You Know and Love in Win8
The moment you press Desktop, it’s as if you’re thrown back into the Windows 7 you may be feeling quite nostalgic about at this stage. It’s all there: a traditional desktop with your old friend the Recycle Bin, traditional folders and shortcuts you can place anywhere on the desktop, the wallpaper of your choice, the semi-transparent taskbar to which you can pin programs and which shows active programs - even the customisable icons, time and date in the task-bar’s right-hand side.
Right-clicking here also brings up the familiar menu with View, Screen Resolution, Personalise and the like. Even Aero Peek and minimise all open programs still hide in the small far right corner of the toolbar. It’s like you never left.
The only things that are missing are the pervasive transparency effects of Aero, leaving the bars of windows disconcertingly solid. Oh, and the Start button. So where has all that button’s precious functionality gone? Worry not, it’s all still there, somehow or other.
Want to search? The Charm Bar (that name just makes us want to shoot somebody - maybe whoever came up with the name?) is still there, just like it is in Windows 8’s Start screen. An even better option is going down to the bottom-left corner and, when the Start screen ‘button’ appears, simply right-clicking on it. This will bring up a menu with an absolute wealth of options.
From Task/Device Manager to the Command Prompt, Control Panel and Run, most of the options of the old Start button can be found here. Unfortunately, there are still a few missing. Perhaps the most crucial is Computer, which gives you quick access to all your storage. But you can get it back.
Windows 8 Can Be ‘Windows 7’
To get Computer on the Start Screen, access Computer through Windows Explorer. Right-click on Computer in the menu to the left and select Pin to Start. Next, to get it into Desktop, right-click anywhere, go to Personalize, click Change Desktop Icons, and tick Computer. Dragging the icon this creates on the Desktop to the Taskbar lets you pin it to Windows Explorer, meaning you’re there with a simple right-click.
This is far from the only way to get Windows 7 features back on your Windows 8 Desktop. There are plenty of command line, registry and other simple hacks that will get the features back, as well as a slew of apps like Start8, ViStart, MetroUI Tweaker, Classic Shell, StartMenu7, and more, with many doubtless on the way.
All of which begs the question: why didn’t Microsoft just include a way for the user to easily configure this for themselves? Well, because it wants you to go with the revolution, and upgrade to touch, and start using Metro Windows 8’s tile interface. Then you’ll want smoothly compatible Windows Store apps, from which Microsoft will make a ton of money - essentially, it’s the Apple approach, and it’s the nature of the beast.
What’s important to remember is that, if you want to (with a little effort or some third-party software), you can spend your entire Windows 8 time in Desktop mode, without ever seeing its tile interface. Just don’t count on this working if you want the latest software down the line...