6 Ways to Totally Avoid Metro and Use Only Desktop Mode in Windows 8

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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% 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% 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.

    Task Manager

  4. Right click in the task area and select Create New Task.
    Select Create New Task
  5. Enter a name (ex: ShowDesktop)  on the General tab.
    Enter a Task Name
  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.
    Add a New Trigger, Set to Begin the Task at Log on
  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.
    Set your script as an action
  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.
    Toggle off Stop if the computer switches to battery power
  9.  Click Ok and close the Task Manager.

The next time you log in, whether at boot up or after signing out, the desktop will launch before you can even see Metro.

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.
    Launch Control Panel in Windows 8
  2. Select Default programs
    Choose Default Programs 
  3. Click "Set your default programs" A two-pane window appears.
    Select 'set your default programs'
  4. Select Windows Photo Viewer in the left menu and Click "Choose defaults for this program." A list of file extensions appears. Select Windows Photo Viewer
  5. Toggle on the Select all button and click Save. Now all photos should be associated with the desktop photo viewer.
    Select all file types as associations for Windows Photo Viewer
  6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for Windows Media Player to associate music and video files with the desktop player.
    Select WIndows Media 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.
    ViStart

    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.
    Start8

    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.
    Start8 Showing Full Metro Page in a Frame 

  • StartMenu7: Like ViStart, StartMenu7 emulates the look and feel of a traditional Windows start menu, with lots of options thrown in for customizing 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. 
    StartMenu7

    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, customizable version of StartMenu7 is available for $19.99, but you can download the basic version for free from StartMenu7.com.

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 dialog box appears and asks you to choose a folder
    Right Click and Select New Toolbar
  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.
    Select your programs folder.
  3. Drag the border line to the left to make the toolbar bigger if you want to make it larger.
    Resize your toolbar by dragging its edge
  4. Select "lock the taskbar" after right clicking on the taskbar to prevent the toolbar from being inadvertantly dragged around.
    Lock your taskbar

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.
Toolbar Lets You Access Your Programs Folder

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 favorite 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.
    Enter C: in the address field
  3. Enter the name of your program into the search box (ex: Firefox) and wait while a list of results appear.
    Search for your shortcut
  4. Look for a shortcut in the result set and drag it to the taskbar.
    Drag your shortcut to the taskbar to pin it

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 favorite 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.
    Right click your 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.
    Fill in your keyboard shortcut. Make sure it's a combination of CTRL + ALT + a character.
  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.

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Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on
Add a comment
25 comments
  • AS Says:

    Thank you may have saved me from wanting to throw this new, labtop out the window.

  • Chris Quirke Says:

    You can create a Toolbar as say C:\Users\Pumblic\O, populate that with a few shortcuts, then use MklInk to create hard links to existing per-user and All Users Start menu. The "O" looks like an "orb" when suitably sized etc. and you'll have a "Start Menu" without 3rd party software.

  • Jon Says:

    This is pathetic "windows key X" yo. furthermore, just type the program you want in metro and it searches for it. Is it really so bad for you? i think learning how to use a new device efficiently is fun, and if you know any keyboard commands you can fly

  • jimbea74 Says:

    Problem is if you buy a new proprietary machine now (HP etc) it comes with Win 8 and if it's the consumer version there is no downgrade option. Removing Win 8 and loading 7 may affect the warranty.

  • rucbar321 Says:

    The only reason im having this problem at all is cause my poor laptop finally shit the bed. but for all you jackasses out there that say "well noone is forcing you to upgrade" um, yes they are, you CAN NOT get a new computer WITHOUT a windows 8 interface. wtf? you want me to go and buy windows 7? i too use my computer for work. not all those shit apps, not shopping, and i dont like to waste my time navigating around a system that caters to a device i have no desire to own. and one more thing. you DO NOT need the newest thing. you DO NOT need to take some handheld device with you everywhere you go. and i certainly DO NOT have to be inconvenienced because of you people who are addicted to that kind of shit.

  • Megan Says:

    ads on every picture makes you a douche-bag.

  • tanzanos Says:

    Just stay with windows 7 and leave all the fashion victims to go to the FISHER PRICE designed Win 8 METRO! All these fanbois who claim that win8 is progress should demand to be paid by MS for their propaganda services!

    Win7 + Classic Shell is all you will need!

    Win 8 is not recommended for enterprises, professionals, and PC users in general.

  • Efi Says:

    "Metro" is well suited for touch, and hence for tablets and media consuming users.
    But What about the people that produces the media, or program the apps you use?
    this people uses desktop or BIG very big screens (usually two).

    This people want to use win8 but don't need or want touch. (I want to see you seat on a chear with the hands extended on the screen a few hours....)

  • Deks Says:

    [quote]
    This is a script for dorks living in the past.

    See ya later luddites. The rest of us will MOVE FORWARD and enjoy computing in the 21st century. If you can’t get your supposedly intelligent heads around Metro, I’ve got an old copy of Windows 3.1 to sell you.
    [/quote]

    Lol... luddites?
    Seriously?
    The Metro UI was designed for touch based devices (namely, smart-phones and pads), and to top it all off, it looks ghastly from a design perspective - using it on a desktop or laptop (where you use a keyboard and a mouse) is incredibly stupid.
    Furthermore... the 'consumption' aspect is idiotic to say the least. I detest the 'consumerism' mentality in the first place and I don't want huge blocks that say 'entertainment', 'pics' and the likes sticking out like a sore thumb because I don't use Windows in such a manner in the first place (plus I put my files and everything else on a separate partition or on a completely different HDD in the first place - I only keep the OS, programs and maybe some games installed on the C partition - everything else is elsewhere in case I want to do a complete wipe of the OS without losing any of my data, or if the OS was compromised by malware/virus/whatever).

    Metro UI seems to work great on touch based devices, but start moving beyond 'always online' mentality into doing some other type of work or customization, the new UI falls flat on its face.

    I'm all for moving forward, and it would have been nice to see an evolution of the known UI into something better, but Metro is NOT the answer we are looking for.

  • Not an Idiot Says:

    @ZipZipRap
    Its more for people looking to do ACTUAL WORK. Metro is ok for consuming content, but its lack of flexibility becomes apparent when multitasking. Why should I have my screen cluttered with huge (touch based) tiles when I'm working with a mouse? WHY SHOULD I GET LOCKED INTO MICROSOFT'S METRO APP STORE. This is a step back for people who are productive...

  • bpphantom Says:

    Just use Win+t to switch to the desktop, or even Win+m

    Sometimes the old shortcuts are still the best.

  • Vinci Says:

    Very good article; thanks to sharing.

    I tried Windows 8 consumer preview, and I switched back to 7.

    I have to admit a gain in term of performance, but in my case, I lost twice the time I win in performance at searching and opening programs, or do easy tasks.
    Maybe I'm too old, but I really NEED to be able to open my favorite programs in two clicks, and not to have to browse between a forest of apps I even don't use to do it; and to fill my desktop or taskbar with all my Office programs in shortcuts is not an option too.
    I'm not a fan of installing these "start menu"-emulators. As you stated, they don't offer all options a real start menu, and we all know installing such programs negatively influences the overall performances; as well as create autostart tasks.

  • MotorMouth Says:

    I have Win8 CP installed on my laptop and it always boots through to the desktop anyway. I assume this is because it doesn't detect any touch-enabled hardware. I'd also suggest that the Metro Start Screen is a massive improvement over the steaming pile of camel dung that is the Vista/Win7 Start Menu. Because I had already set my PC up to avoid it, I almost never see any Metro stuff unless I want to. (I upgraded my machine from Win7, rather than do a clean install.)

  • Scott H. Says:

    Thank you for publishing this. Unlike Zippy, my life doesn't revolve around having a cell phone constantly in my hand and I actually use a computer for WORK instead of playing Angry Birds or being on Facebook all day! Now I can actually see if Windows 8 will work correctly for my applications.

    Hey Zippy, good luck with your McJob and NO, I don't want fries with that!

    -Scott H.

  • David Says:

    I think it is interesting to watch these things in cycles. People had the same problems adapting to Windows 95 when it came out. They wanted to know how to run the old program manager (which actually came with Win 95).

    Folks will get used to Metro eventually, then be upset when it leaves, too. as far as "MS totalitarian disease ", this is no different than it has been since the DOS days. if you don't like what they do, it is customizable. If you don't want to adapt... don't.

  • LL Says:

    Staying in W7. Let's hope for W9... At that time i hope this MS totalitarian disease is stopped.

  • Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    Yes, but this no longer works in Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

  • VHMP01 Says:

    In W8 Developers Preview there was this hack:

    For the last day one of the hot topics circulating online is the news that a hack has been found to reinstate the Start Menu in Windows 8. Doing so is just a simple registry hack too.

    Open RegEdit from Windows 8 search by just typing it with the Start screen showing

    Go to:

    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer

    Change the value of RPEnabled from “1? to “0?

    The thing is that this hack also disables the new Start screen completely so you’ll never see it. In returning to Start menu to Windows 8 you make the default interface the traditional Windows desktop.

    And there was also a Widget called: "Windows8ShowStartMenu" that could alternate between UIs.

  • TOMxEU Says:

    OK thanks for reply. Well as far as I can tell, MS finally did it, persuaded me to seriously consider moving to Linux, Fedora most likely, since it is the normal OS, which gives customers, what they want and do not move backwards like 8.

  • Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    It does open Explorer on the desktop at boot. I couldn't find a way around that when writing this article, but I'm sure there probably is one.

  • TOMxEU Says:

    Can you please tell me, what is wrong with the script, it bypass the childish metro, but it also opens Libraries folder.

  • brock Says:

    The best way to avoid metro is just stick with Windows 7 no one is forcing anyone to upgrade.

  • Trevor Says:

    For an even better programs menu, use the real Programs path at C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs. You can also re-create the quick launch toolbar by using the path for that in C:\Users\YOU\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch.

    Also, someone noticed you can right-click the start corner and get a lot of useful items to run.

  • Jordan Says:

    Hey laptopmag. I downloaded the beta version but I heard you can't uninstall it! do you know how?

  • ZipZapRap Says:

    This is a script for dorks living in the past.

    See ya later luddites. The rest of us will MOVE FORWARD and enjoy computing in the 21st century. If you can't get your supposedly intelligent heads around Metro, I've got an old copy of Windows 3.1 to sell you.