posts from the life professional


November 2012

Working in Win8–making it behave like Win7 Part 2

Continuing on the theme of making Win8 behave more like Win7 (so that you can get the benefits of Win8 without having to make significant changes to the way you’re used to interacting with your applications), this post features two apps that give you let you find and launch your apps without having to visit the Win8 start page (the one with the rectangle and square tiles) or type <Window Key>+Q to get to Windows 8’s app search page.

What if you wanted a “partial” windows 8 user experience?

You spend most of your time in the desktop mode because that’s where your chosen  apps for work or play reside, but you would still like to slowly ease into using Win8 full screen apps, so that you’ll be familiar and comfortable with them when a really good app comes along. 

In that case, the quick launch bar will serve for the 5% of apps you use 95% of the time, and populating the quick launch bar is the topic of this earlier post.

How about the less used but occasionally accessed apps that you still want easy access to from within win8’s desktop mode? 

One solution might be to use HP Quick Launch.  This is a free utility that you can download from’s support & drivers section

HP’s own description goes thus: 

HP Quick Start provides new Windows 8 users, who are used to the traditional Start Menu, with convenient accessibility to launch apps, files, and programs from the classic desktop.

Once installed, Quickstart places an icon on your taskbar on the left most end, siting itself roughly where the Win7 start button was.  Click on this, and a menu comes up giving you the familiar “all programs” view from Win7, but note that all you get are the apps that run in desktop mode.  Win8 apps will not appear in the list.


In the screen grab above, the icons in the “Favourites” pane to the right were put there by me.  One easily gets desktop apps to show up in the Favourites pane by finding them on the left pane (using the search box at the base of the pane is a good way), and then simply dragging the selected app icon to the right. 


In the image above, I’ve dragged the Photoshop icon across to the right, and released it there so that Photoshop shows up as a favourite.

With this scheme, I have my top accessed desktop apps in the taskbar, my less but still occasionally accessed apps in the Quicklaunch favourites pane (just a click away), and the Start Button or <Windows Key>+Q to locate Win8 full screen apps. 

What if you wanted NOTHING to do with the Windows 8 user experience? 

Then Classic Shell is just the utility for you.  I was surprised at how completely this program, with no changing of the default settings, made my Win8 system behave like Win7.

  • With Classic Shell and using only the program defaults, my PC boots DIRECTLY into the desktop screen, bypassing the Win8 Start Page completely.
  • When I press the <Windows Key>, something like the start button menu from the Win7/vista days pops up from the bottom left of my screen, instead of bouncing me into the Win8 Start Page.
  • I can even shutdown the PC using the familiar <Start Button> click followed by selecting the “shutdown” command. 

Classic Shell is available from, completely FOC, and worth a look if you’re serious about avoiding the Win8 UI.

Here are some screenshots (the classic shell icon is right where the start button would be if this was a Win 7 system):





Notice in this last screen grab above – Classic Shell will list and launch Win 8 full screen apps for you.

I occasionally use Skydrive and Evernote which are full Win8 apps, and getting to them via this menu might be easier than surveying a start page full of animated tiles split out across several tile groups. 

Classic Shell has many settings that you can select from to make it behave just so for you.  Just look at all those option tabs!



Working in Win8–making it behave like Win7 Part 1

In my previous post, I wrote about taking advantage of the latest hardware in all-in-one touch based desktops, and running these with Win7.  This is what I have done for my “home” PC. 

In this and subsequent posts, I’ll be writing about using Win8 on my “work” laptop, nicely configured to let me work as closely as possible to how I used to work with Win7.  This way, I get the benefits of Win8 (cool new hardware, fast to start, clean flat look to the UI) without having to change too much of how I interact with my files and applications.  And when Win8 apps reach the level I’m satisfied with, I can easily make the move from the old style “desktop” apps to full screen Win8 apps.

I call this my “Best of Both Worlds Approach”

Pin commonly accessed apps to the desktop taskbar

Begin by making a list of the 10 “desktop” (ie NON-Windows 8) applications you will most often use. 

Then remove Microsoft Office apps (apart from outlook) from that list, because you can easily create new documents by right clicking on an empty space on the windows desktop and selecting “new”.

Your list will probably include apps in the following categories:



Browser Chrome (Google)
eMail Outlook (Microsoft) or Thunderbird (Mozilla)
PDF file reader Acrobat Reader (Adobe)
Music iTunes (Apple)
Video/DVD VLC (VideoLan)
Image Viewer Windows Photo Viewer (Microsoft)
Photo Editor Photoshop Elements (Adobe)
Screen Capture Snipping Tool (Microsoft)
Chat Live Messenger (Microsoft)
Calculator Calculator (Microsoft)


I like having links to my commonly used apps on the taskbar in my Win8 desktop.

The easiest way to get them there is to press “Windows Key”+Q, which brings you to the application search screen, then type in enough letters of the name of the app you want until it appears in the listing on the left of the screen.

Pin 2 Taskbar 1

Right click the selected app, and a list of actions appears on the bottom edge of your screen.  Click on the icon for “Pin to Taskbar”.

Pin 2 Taskbar 2

Repeat these steps for the other applications on your list, and you’ll have a nicely populated taskbar in your windows desktop.

Tell Win7 what app to launch when you double-click an icon

I dislike reading an email in Outlook in the desktop view, then clicking on an image attachment or PDF attachment, and finding myself bounced out to the full screen view. I want these files closed before I return to my email, and the gesture for this on a touch machine, or using a mouse, is not a good use of my time. (See the keyboard shortcut at the end of this post for a better solution).  I would much rather have such files (whether as attachments or in list in an explorer window) open in a window alongside my outlook inbox and message windows. 


I’ve written previously that I like my PDF reader lightweight and fast.  My choice is Sumatra PDF.  For creation, editing, marking up of PDF files, I use Adobe Acrobat X.

I probably read 20 PDFs for every 1 PDF that I mark up.  So it makes sense for me to set up Sumatra PDF as the default app to open when I double click on a PDF in an email message or an explorer folder.

Right click on a PDF file, and select “Open with”, then “Choose default program….”



I click on “SumatraPDF” (you click on the application of your choice – perhaps Acrobat Reader if that’s what you want to use).  Make sure the check box is ticked.

I mentioned earlier that for editing of PDF files, I use Acrobat X.  In an editing case, when I right click on the PDF file, I select “Open with” and then click on the line for that application. 


PDF files come with just one type of extension:  “PDF”

With images, there are lots more formats/extensions to choose from.  JPG, GIF, PNG, TIF are the common image type extensions.  You need to set up the default application to open images as many times as you have image file extensions. 

I like the default Windows Photo Viewer that shipped with Win7.  The good news is that it’s still present in Win8.  It’s just not the default app for opening common image formats since Microsoft wants to have customers use full screen Win8 apps as much as possible.

We change that by using the same procedure for PDF, the only difference being that we select the “Windows Photo Viewer” line item instead.



In the images above, I set the default app to open PNG files to be “Windows Photo Viewer”.  I need to repeat the process for JPG, GIF and other image file types I also want to have open in my choice of default image viewer.


You’ve probably got the hang of setting the default app to open files with a particular extension by now.  So for videos, just know that the common formats are WMV, AVI, MP4, MOV, M4V…..

I use VLC as it handles them all, and it does the job very well. 

Convenient Keyboard Shortcuts

A laptop I’ve been playing with has a synaptics touchpad with a Win8 driver that supports gestures that bring up the charms menu, lower/upper screen edge menus and slide from left edge to right to switch between full screen apps. 

It’s awkward, to say the least.  I have not mastered the combination of trajectory, speed, pressure and pauses to get it to work reliably.  A proper standalone touchpad accessory might do the job better, and I’m seriously considering buying one in the coming months.  But with things as they are, I depend on a few common keyboard shortcuts to help me stay away from the Start Page as much as possible, and when I HAVE to be there, not miss the fact that my laptop does not have a touchscreen.

Here’s my list for this week:

Alt+F4 = close current application (My Favourite since starting to use Win8!)

Windows+X = Get a list of System Tools

Windows+C = Charms Bar

Windows+P = External Display options (extend, duplicate, one screen only)

That’s it for this episode.  In the next posts, I’ll write about two Start “button” retrofit utilities I’m trying out now.

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