Six Ways To Avoid Metro And Use Only Desktop Mode In Windows 8

While we're huge fans of Windows 8's Metro interface, there are plenty of folks who'd rather never let it see the light of day. If you're one of them, our friends at Laptop Mag explain how to quash it from the get-go.

As installed, the Windows 8 Consumer Preview forces users to navigate through two attractive, but disparate UIs: the tile-based Metro Start Screen and the traditional desktop, which now comes without a start menu. Even though 99.9 per cent of Windows programs run in desktop mode, the new OS effectively forces you to return to Metro when you want to browse through your applications and launch one. Fortunately, with a few tweaks, you can live 100 per cent of your Windows 8 life in desktop mode, without even setting foot in Metro.

Editor's note: It almost goes without saying, but if you want to run a dedicated Metro app like Bing Weather, you'll have to launch and run it in Metro.

Boot To The Desktop In Windows 8

The first and most unavoidable time you'll see Metro in a given Windows 8 session is upon start-up. There's no way to disable Metro, but you can force the desktop mode application to load as soon as you log in, effectively covering over Metro, before it even has a chance to draw. Here's how.

1. Create an Explorer script file that launches the desktop. Open Notepad and paste or type in the following text:

[Shell] Command=2 IconFile=Explorer.exe,3

[Taskbar] Command=ToggleDesktop

Save the file as showmydeskop.scf and put it in a location you'll easily remember.

2. Launch Windows Task Scheduler. You can find Task Scheduler by using Windows 8's built-in search or by navigating to the Administrative Tools section of Control Panel.

3. Select Task Scheduler Library in the left window pane.

4. Right click in the task area and select Create New Task.

5. Enter a name (ex: ShowDesktop) on the General tab.

6. Set the task to trigger at log on by clicking new on the trigger tab, and selecting "At log on" from the Begin Task list.

7. Make your script an action by clicking New on the Action tab, selecting "Start a program" from the Action menu, and entering the full path of showmydesktop.scf (ex: C:\myscripts\showmydesktop.scf) in the Program/script field.

8. Toggle off "Stop if the computer switches to battery power" on the conditions tab. You want to log in to the desktop whether your notebook is plugged in or not.

9. Click Ok and close the Task Manager.

Prevent Your Media Files From Launching In Metro

By default, Windows 8 launches your images, music files and videos in its Metro photo viewer and media player. So, even if you are just minding your own business browsing your picture library in Windows Explorer, you'll be shoved head-first into the Metro UI as soon as you double click to view a file.

Fortunately, there's an easy way to prevent your media files from opening into Metro. All you have to do is associate the appropriate file types with Microsoft's desktop media player and photo viewer.

1. Open the Control Panel. You can get to it by hitting Win + R, typing control panel into the dialog box and hitting Enter.

2. Select Default programs

3. Click "Set your default programs" A two-pane window appears.

4. Select Windows Photo Viewer in the left menu and Click "Choose defaults for this program." A list of file extensions appears.

5. Toggle on the Select all button and click Save. Now all photos should be associated with the desktop photo viewer.

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for Windows Media Player to associate music and video files with the desktop player.

Install Third-Party Start Menu Utilities In Windows 8

Though there's no way to enable Microsoft's own old-school Start Menu in Windows 8, a number of third-party utilities provide alternatives that are almost as good. Here are three of our favorites:

ViStart: Visually the most similar to Windows 7's Start Menu, ViStart places the familiar Windows logo orb in the lower left corner of your taskbar and shows an Aero styled menu with subfolders. Unfortunately, it's not a perfect replica as you can't drag and drop shortcuts onto it or right click to change their properties. ViStart takes over control of the Windows key on your keyboard so that, when you press it, you open the menu. Keep in mind that breaks some built-in keyboard shortcuts.

Some users have also reported that the orb overlaps other taskbar icons, but we didn't have that problem. However, we did find it was far too easy to accidentally click on the Metro start button on the lower left corner of the screen when we were targeting the orb.

You can download ViStart for free from LeeSoft software. Make sure you hit decline when the installer attempts to load RegClean Pro.

Start8: Made by Stardock, a company famous for its UI-enhancement utilities, Start8 makes Windows 8's Metro "all apps" menu serve as the start menu, forcing it to appear in the lower left corner of the screen when you click its start button. Though a departure from Windows 7's UI, we like Start8's approach because it allows you to see all of your apps using Windows 8's built-in menus, without the hassle of leaving the desktop.

You can even configure Start8 to show the actual Metro home screen in a frame, allowing you to see all the live tiles, without leaving your desktop. Unlike ViStart, Start8 prevents you from accidentally launching Windows 8's built-in Start Screen. When we clicked in the lower left corner of the desktop, Start8 -- not Metro -- opened. You can download a beta of Start8 from Stardock's website.

StartMenu7: Like ViStart, StartMenu7 emulates the look and feel of a traditional Windows start menu, with lots of options thrown in for customising the background and font size. However, we found the program a bit clunky as it creates a huge menu that floats several pixels above the taskbar. Like ViStart, it does not allow drag and drop, though unlike ViStart, it does support right clicking on its shortcuts.

Thankfully, StartMenu7 does not take control of the Windows key, but it fails to prevent you from accidentally opening the Metro menu when you click in the lower left corner of the screen. A more robust, customisable version of StartMenu7 is available for $US19.99, but you can download the basic version for free from

Create A Custom Toolbar For Your Programs Folder

If you don't like using third-party utilities to create a Start Menu, Windows 8 has a built-in solution that doesn't give you the familiar Start orb, but does pop-up a menu with all your shortcuts when you click on the taskbar. Simply by creating a custom toolbar and assigning it to the right folder, you can attach this new menu to the right side of your taskbar.

1. Right click on the taskbar and select New Toolbar from the Toolbar menu. A dialogue box appears and asks you to choose a folder.

2. Navigate to C:\Users\MYUSERNAME\AppData\Roaming\ Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs where MYUSERNAME is your actual username (ex: Avram) and C:\ is your system drive letter. Then click select folder. The Programs menu will appear on the right side of the taskbar, next to the tray.

3. Drag the border line to the left to make the toolbar bigger if you want to make it larger.

4. Select "lock the taskbar" after right clicking on the taskbar to prevent the toolbar from being inadvertantly dragged around.

Unfortunately, the toolbar will only show programs that get installed into the current user's Start Menu/Programs folder. A few applications install into the default user's Programs folder at C:\Users\Default\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs, but you'll need to create a second toolbar if you want easy access to those shortcuts.

Pin Shortcuts To The Taskbar

In reality, you don't even need a Start Menu to get to your applications; you can just pin your most important shortcuts directly to the taskbar as you would in Windows 7. If you have a shortcut to a favourite application sitting on the desktop, you can simply drag it onto the taskbar where it will stay pinned. However, if you don't have a shortcut icon for a particular program staring you in the face, you'll need to browse or search for one.

To search for shortcut icons:

1. Launch windows Explorer. You can do this easily by hitting Win + E.

2. Enter C:\ into Explorer's address bar. If your Windows drive is not C:, use the correct letter.

3. Enter the name of your program into the search box (ex: Firefox) and wait while a list of results appear.

4. Look for a shortcut in the result set and drag it to the taskbar.

To browse for shortcut icons, you can simply navigate over to the Start Menu/Programs folders for both the current the default user and try to find them there. Searching for shortcuts is clearly a much faster way to go.

Create Keyboard Shortcuts For Windows 8 Apps

Though Microsoft has done away with the Start Menu in Windows 8, it didn't eliminate your ability to create keyboard shortcuts that launch your favourite applications with custom key combos you set. To create a keyboard shortcut for any app:

1. Locate the application's shortcut icon. If it isn't already on your desktop / taskbar, use Explorer's search feature (described above) to query for it.

2. Right click the shortcut and select properties.

3. Enter a key combo in the Shortcut key field. The combo must be CTRL + ALT + a third key such as a letter or number.

4. Click OK.

You can now launch your application by simply hitting the key combo you've set, no mouse movement required. That said, some applications you run may occasionally have their own CTRL + ALT + key combos that override yours, though this problem is extremely rare. We recommend assigning hot keys to your most frequently-used programs like your browser. Using the first letter of the application name as the third key (ex: CTRL + ALT + W for Microsoft Word) can be a good way to remember your shortcuts.



    I'm starting to get used to metro. It's actually faster than win7. Just press the windows key and type the first few letters of what you want to open. E.g. Press WIN key, then type 'contr' + enter to get to control panel

      You don't need to press the WIN key at all. Just start typing.

        You need to press the WIN key to get to the Start Screen.

      Sounds like Windows 7?
      To get calculator I just press the Windows key, type "calc" and hit enter to get calculator

      Sounds like how Gnome desktop in Linux has worked since about 1995.

      Yea only fail of this implementation is it searches applications only, not settings etc.

        really? In Win7 I hit "WIN" and type "sound", and the second choice is the sound settings control panel (first is sound recorder).

    Having not tried out Windows 8 yet, I'm not sure what my initial reaction will be to the new Metro system. My gut feeling is telling me it's going to be something I'll constantly be fighting with to work but I'm thinking it might be a pleasure. Not sure, might get VirtualBox out of the box and try this out.

    Wouldn't the easiest way to be to just use Windows 7?

    The whole point of the preview is to see the new interface, without it there's only minor improvements.

      No, 8 is much faster. Personally I like it a lot, however I think Metro is specifically designed for touch screens and as such I don't like it on a regular PC. People do seem to be getting used to it, but for my personal taste, the sooner they re-enable the regular start button the better. It shouldn't be this hard to simply get the regular desktop running, just bring it back MS!

      WIn7 runs like a dog compared to Win8. Seriously, the Metro UI might be getting all the attention but it is really quite minor compared to some of the other stuff that's been done.

    None of these methods is of any real use. Stardock is close, but still not right. Keep sending us this sort of info though, I really like it. :)

    Cool, Windows 8 just got a whole lot more appealing. I'm sure Metro will be "interesting" to use but it will be secondary to the regular desktop for business use.

    My 2 cents..

    I think the standard windows environment is terrible for tablets as you need to use fingers on a tablet or phone and you don't generally require much more precision to use the interface as it has been built for a mouse.
    it's the equivalent of starting an RDP session and using windows from your tablet, it just sucks.

    As for using metro on a PC, I also think it's terrible, you have a mouse and keyboard, so you have precision, also, you have countless applications, so having them look all big, blocky and chunky makes it feel like you're at a kiosk or you're playing with a childrens toy or something.

    I think metro is great as a "theme" for people if they want to use it (think window manager for linux) but using it as a primary UI replacement is a bad idea. And personally, i'd get sick of looking at those big blocky icons all the time wasting all my screen space.

    I have 3 windows machines, 1 mac and 1 linux, windows is unbeatable when it comes to business applications as it has all the tools and complexity required, as for a consumer UI, I don't think you can beat OSX, it has the power of running linux shell commands in the console and an amazing UI.

    Linux also has an amazing UI (I personally like unity) however, it's still out of most peoples reach for its lack of windows/mac compatibility (not it's fault of course) and it still needs a lot of polishing, bug fixing and uniformity to become truly great (imo, until it has some native amazing apps like photoshop, a store to buy them and easy professional support, it's not going to ever become mainstream)

    The only thing that windows has done to greatly improve it's UI in the last 15 years (since windows 95) is have icons with groups in windows 7. Everything else is just cosmetic IMO.

    I've always hated the start button (actually, I've always hated any menus that cascade like that, especially webpages, there's a reason not many web pages do that anymore. How to quickly find and launch applications easily has remained possibly the biggest challenge for UI design:

    iOS has it's "icon grid" which only works up to about 3 pages or 48 icons, which was great when iOS started, though it's a little dated and simplified now. (I'm really really sick of looking at the same set of icons day in day out, where's my nice widgets like android has apple?)

    Android is kind of like the linux for phones, it has an amazing UI and lets you launch applications in many different ways (as I said, I wish iOS would catch up), I can't comment on it much as I don't have an android phone, but it seems that it's only downside is people still have issues with it's robustness and managing running applications, it's not quite as polished and simple as iOS.

    windows has it's start menu, which looks terrible and has the cascading problem, which since vista they've changed somewhat, however, it's still terrible. it let's you run things with a keyboard, however, by default you have to click start/run or know the hotkey win-r to use it and the big problem is if you don't know what applications are available, how do you know what to run? also, the run command is great, however, apart from it's autocomplete, it's fairly simplistic and doesn't search for applications when you start typing.
    The third method is pinning icons to the start bar, which IMO is the best thing to happen to windows in a long time, it brings it inline with both what macs and linux use.
    Finally, it has the desktop for launching icons, however, because of the windowing style to applications, it's too hard to access these without minimizing everything.

    Macs have a few ways, you can use the launcher bar, which is great and basically the same as pinning with windows, however, both these methods only fix the main problem of your most used apps. They have the finder app, which is basically the start menu in windows. Finder also lets you search for apps, however, it's not quite as nice as the linux launcher. Macs are now experimenting with the iOS style and including launchpad, which is an icon grid (I can't say I like it very much, but it's to bring it inline with iOS)

    Linux Ubuntu (unity): obviously there are a bunch of different versions of linux, however, the most common one for consumers is ubuntu, and they are using unity now. It has a wonderful application launcher which is similar to how web browsers use their address bar, showing the most relevant applications. It also has a pinned bar, though not nearly as nice as windows or mac.

    So, there are a bunch of different ways of launching applications, some operating systems handle it better than others
    In the future, I'd like to see UIs greatly improve upon these elements, however, I feel that it's going to have to start with new input methods (eg: mouse and keyboard / touchscreen / eye tracking / voice / mind control?)

    one final amendment, i forgot to include you can both run and search for programs in the windows start menu now, however, it's not that great imo as it searches for items in the start menu, not applications installed on your computer (eg: photoshop might install 5 different icons in your start menu of which you might only use 2)

      How can Windows search for applications? It would assume they are all in one place but I install applications in several different folders, none of which are C:\Program Files\. Much easier to search the menu.

      You are also making incorrect assumptions about Windows 8. Semantic zoom allows your Start Screen tiles to be as big or small as you like. If you want them the size of icons, just zoom out. I've been using Metro with a keyboard and mouse quite regularly and I have no issues with it at all because it is so easily and thoroughly customisable that any issues you think you might have can be sorted out in no time.

        I would suggest that windows requires that all installed programs use MSI files and in the MSI it marks what executables are the primary programs and classifies them into groups eg: photoshop might be under "image editing" and "productivity" and "artistic" or something

        Then, any menus / searches can have their lists built dynamically.

        The start menu isn't very good at the moment, as programs put their uninstalls, help files etc.. all in there, plus the fact that users can delete items or rename them and some programs leave items in there when they're uninstalled. all this makes it difficult to quickly find what you want.

    @Kris anyone that's staring at the big blocking icons all day needs to be fired for not doing any work, that's like staring at your task bat all day.

    I'm using win 8 as my primary OS On a non touch desktop now, it took a day or two to get the hang of it but I really like it.

      I'm glad that you like it, that's great, i'm just stating my opinion.

      How many times have you seen your desktop / start button / login screen?
      Does that mean you sit there looking at it all day?

      I think you've either taken what I said the wrong way, or just feel like exaggerating for the fun of it.

    Can you please tell me, what is wrong with the script in Boot To The Desktop In Windows 8? Well, it bypass the silly metro, but it also opens Libraries folder.

    If you don't use Metro you're alienting yourself from the Windows Store.. going to seriously miss out on that one.

    isnt there anyone left in this world who misses windows 'bliss' ;-(

    It shouldn't be this hard................

    "Boot To The Desktop In Windows 8 script in Task Scheduler doesn't work for me , I have tried multple times and keeps booting into Metro; then once I click desktop and the library folder opens.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now