As of today, I have been using Windows 8 as my main operating system for exactly one year. I have used Windows 8 to play games (Diablo 3, Civilization 5, DOTA 2), edit photos and videos (Audacity, Photoshop, Premiere Pro), listen to music (Foobar, Spotify), and surf the web (Firefox, Chrome, IE).
For the most part, the experience has been surprisingly good. I’ve had a few driver issues, and a few odd compatibility issues (chiefly Firefox and the Adobe suite), but ultimately it has felt like I’ve just been using an updated version of Windows 7 – an updated version of Windows 7 that does away with the Start menu and introduces the abominably god-awful mouse-hating “Metro” Start screen.
Ah, the new Start screen. Over the last 12 months, it has become almost universally acknowledged that the formerly-known-as-Metro interface (let’s just call it Metro) is lovely on a touchscreen – but with a mouse and keyboard, it’s like trying to eat M&Ms with oven mitts. With no easy way to manipulate it using a keyboard and a horizontal scrolling paradigm that scorns your mouse, it’s plain to see that Metro simply wasn’t designed for those couple of billion PCs that run Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7.
I say “almost universally acknowledged” because I don’t agree; I actually like using the Metro interface with a mouse and keyboard. For 12 months I have been using Windows 8 and the Metro Start screen on a dual monitor setup – the worst possible setup for monogamous monitor Metro apps – and I can’t see what all the fuss is about. Really, it seems like tech writers and pundits are whining for the sake of hyperbolic titles and a large number of page views – or perhaps they simply haven’t tried the Metro Start screen for a prolonged period of time.
You see, if you use Windows primarily for Desktop apps (i.e. you use a mouse and keyboard), you will only see the Metro interface on two occasions: When you first log in, and if you need to search for an installed application. In the latter case, I won’t deny that it’s a wee bit jarring the first few times you flip to the Metro interface, but you do get used to it – and there’s no doubt that the new Start screen offers a much better search experience than the Start menu.
The first case, though – being forced to use the Metro interface after you log in – is by far the most common complaint when it comes to Windows 8. Again, if you’ve ever used Windows 8 for more than a few days, you will realise this is a non-issue.
Avoiding the Metro Start screen
When you log into Windows 8, you are greeted by a Start screen populated by live tiles (constantly updating icons that hook into Metro apps) and conventional icons. In the screenshot above, most of the buttons on the left are live tiles, and most of the buttons on the right are conventional icons. Now, get this: If you click one of the icons – for Filezilla or Photoshop, say – the Start screen automatically closes and the program opens up.
In my case, the first program I open every morning is Filezilla – so I log in, the Start screen appears, I click Filezilla… and that’s it. On a normal day, that is the sum total of my interaction with Metro. On a bad day (when I need to access an app that isn’t pinned to my taskbar), I hit the Windows key, type a few letters, and hit Enter to open a program.
Take a moment to think about that: To hide the Start screen, all you have to do is click a nice, large icon.
Removing the Windows 8 Start screen entirely
If seeing the Start screen once is still too much for your weak constitution, there’s another solution that automatically opens the Desktop after logging in. Simply add “C:\Windows\Explorer.exe” (without the quote marks) to your registry in the following location:
This is very easy to do using Regedit, but there are guides if you need help.
If you don’t want to mess around with your registry, RetroUI (which costs £3) does the exact same thing for you, with the added bonus of letting you disable some other Windows 8 features, too (Charms, hot corners). Ultimately, any Desktop program that executes after logging in will automatically hide Metro.
So, there you have it: Yes, Microsoft doesn’t seem to care that the Start screen is painful to use with a mouse and keyboard – but no, the retirement of the 17-year-old Start menu won’t actually affect your everyday usage of Windows 8.
Even if you’re still convinced that the Start screen will completely ruin the Desktop experience, please try to remember that Windows 8 is significantly faster and more efficient than Windows 7 in terms of CPU, RAM, and I/O usage – and a bunch of default tools, such as Explorer and Task Manager have received some really nice tweaks, too. Additions like performance monitoring don’t go amiss, either.
If you want to read up more on Windows 8, check out our in-depth look at the RTM version of the OS here.