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Windows 8 tips: How to boot to the desktop, and how to disable SmartScreen

By now, you’ve either upgraded to Windows 8 – or you’ve decided to skip the operating system entirely (at least until Microsoft does something about that pesky Metro – ahem, new-style – Start screen). If you haven’t upgraded, you can safely stop reading now.

If you have upgraded, however, you have probably discovered quite a few irksome “features” that have inexplicably changed since Windows 7. With that in mind, we’re going to bring you a short series of tip articles to show you how to get some of that functionality back, beginning with looking at how to boot directly to the desktop, and how to stop SmartScreen interfering with your downloaded apps.

An easy way to bypass the Windows 8 Start screen

For some unknown reason, Microsoft does not provide a configuration setting for bypassing the new Windows 8 Start screen. You would think that, at least on non-touch-enabled devices, Windows 8 would default to the Desktop – but alas, Microsoft in its infinite wisdom thinks that Metro with a mouse and keyboard is a joy to use (it isn’t).

Fortunately, with a little bit of hacking, there’s a very easy way to bypass the Start screen after logging in. Hit Start, type schedule, click Settings, and open “Schedule tasks.” Click Task Scheduler Library from the left pane, Create Task on the right pane, and give it a name like Boot to Desktop.

Then head into the Triggers tab, click New, and then select “At log on” from the drop-down. Click OK. Head to the Actions tab, click New, and then simply type explorer into the Program/script text box. Click OK, OK again, and you’re done. Restart (or sign out) to test it.

Configuring SmartScreen

Internet Explorer has long had a feature called SmartScreen, which was first implemented in Internet Explorer 8, and has since been a part of IE9, IE10, Hotmail, and now Windows 8. When you visit a website, or open a file, SmartScreen communicates with Microsoft and checks if that website/file is whitelisted or not.

In both cases, SmartScreen pops up a warning if you try to visit a site or open a file that isn’t confirmed to be safe. As a defence against malware, SmartScreen is actually rather effective – and, really, no other browser or OS offers the same kind of protection. SmartScreen can be a little irritating, though, especially if you regularly download third-party EXEs from the internet.

To disable SmartScreen entirely, though, hit the Windows key, type SmartScreen, change to the Settings tab, and then click “Change SmartScreen settings.” From there, click “Change Windows SmartScreen settings” from the left-hand menu, then select the “Don’t do anything” radio button.

With that done, you will no longer be badgered by Microsoft’s net nanny.

If you're keen to see more Windows 8 tips, then check out our bumper crop of 50 top tips.