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How To Make Windows 8.1 Act More Like Windows 7

Written on October 17, 2013 by Matt Bach


When Windows 8 launched, there were many users who mourned the loss of the Start button, and many others who claimed that the new Start screen was much more useful than the Start button ever was. As tends to happen on the internet, this caused many heated discussions. With Windows 8.1, Microsoft has (sort of) brought back the Start button in response to the many complaints.
While the Start button isn't exactly the same as the Windows 7 Start button, it has made Windows 8 more accessible to those who were reluctant to upgrade to Windows 8 due to the UI changes. With the return of the Start button, we've decided to write up the best ways to customize Windows 8.1 to make it act more like Windows 7. There are plenty of programs available to make Windows 8 and 8.1 look more like Windows 7, but in this article we are going to focus solely on settings you can change that are natively available in Windows 8.1

Boot Directly to Desktop

One of the easiest and most noticeable things you can do in Windows 8.1 to make it behave like Windows 7 is to have the system boot directly to the Desktop rather than the Start page. To do this, follow the two steps shown below:

Right-click on the Taskbar and select "Properties"

Switch to the "Navigation" tab, check the box shown and click "OK"

About the New Start button

Windows 8.1 may have brought back the Start button, but it is fundamentally different than the Start button in Windows 7. While there are programs like Classic Shell and Start8 give you third-party options for getting a Windows 7-like Start button, if you want to stick with native Windows settings you will never get the exact same functionality as the Windows 7 Start menu. We will cover a few of the ways to customize the Windows 8.1 Start button to make it more useful, but there are a few things that you simply cannot change.

One of the first things to know about the Windows 8.1 is that right-clicking the Start button is much more useful than it ever was before. Rather than just getting options for "Properties" and "Open Explorer" like you do in Windows 7, the right-click menu now gives you quick access to most of the advanced system tools. Task Manager, Control Panel, Run, Device Manager and many more are now very easy to access.

In addition, right-clicking the Start button gives you something that was severely lacking in Windows 8: a quick way to shutdown, sleep or reboot the system.

Right-clicking the Start button gives you easy access to advanced utilities and shut down/sleep/reboot options

Customize the Start Screen

By default, clicking the Start button brings you to the Start screen (previously known as Metro). This may be useful for many users, but depending on how you want the Start button to act you may want to tweak its behavior. Note that depending on your individual preferences, you may choose not to use one or more of these options. Simply use the ones you like, and skip the ones you don't.

The first thing you must do is get to the Taskbar properties page.

Right-click on the Taskbar and select "Properties"

Once on the Taskbar properties page, you must first go to the "Navigation" Tab. From there, you can make each of the changes below.

The first bit of customization we recommend doing is to match the Start screen background to the Desktop background. This doesn't cause any real functionality improvement, but it makes the Start screen feel more like a quick popup rather than switching to a different application or screen.

Switch to the "Navigation" tab, check the box shown and click "OK" or "Apply"

The Start background now matches the Desktop Background

With the background the same for both the Desktop and Start screen, we next want to make the Start screen a bit more useful for finding any applications that are not on the Desktop or pinned to the Taskbar.

Check the box shown and click "OK" or "Apply"

The Start screen now shows all apps rather than just what was on the original Start page

This is a good start, but you may want to see applications like Chrome listed before Windows 8 apps like Finance. Luckily, there is an easy way to show applications that are likely more important to you first.

Check the box shown and click "OK" or "Apply"

Applications are now sorted with desktop apps listed first

The two Start screen checkboxes that we did not discuss are the "Show Start on the display I'm using when I press the Windows logo key" and "Search everywhere instead of just my apps when I search from the Apps view". The first option to show start in the active display simply makes the start page open on whichever screen your mouse cursor is currently on rather than your primary display. Some people will like this feature, others may not. The second option is to search everywhere rather than just apps when you start a text search (start typing) when on the start page. This means that you can just start typing anything (an application name, document name, etc.) and it should find what you are looking for. This is checked by default, but some people who only use the search feature to launch applications may want to turn it off to speed up the search times.

Change Default Programs

If you dislike having the Windows 8 Photo app starting up whenever you open an image and instead just want the normal Windows Photo Viewer (or some other program you have installed) to be used, follow the steps below.

From the Start screen, search for "Default app settings"

This screen allows you to set the default applications. If you want to get more specific, you can also choose to set default apps by either file type or protocol (links at the bottom of the screen)

Simply click on an icon and select the application you want to be used by default


Windows 8.1 is never going to be identical to Windows 7, and in many ways that is a good thing. But if you are not quite ready to be forced into making the jump to the Windows 8 Start screen and want to retain some of the flexibility from Windows 7, then these changes are a great starting point. There is certainty more you can do to tweak Windows 8.1 to make it behave exactly how you want though third party applications (which we actually do in our Windows 8 Makeover: Emulate Windows 7 courtesy installation), but the changes showed in this article should help bridge the usability gap between Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 without any additional software installations.

Is there something else you have done to your Windows 8 or 8.1 system to make it more useable? Let us know in the comments below.

Tags: Windows 8.1, Start, Desktop

How can I make Win 8.1 display the taskbar at all times, specifically when I have apps open? The taskbar has been a very productive component of Win for several versions. Thanks.

Posted on 2013-11-10 23:44:52

I don't believe it is currently possible to show the taskbar when you have a Windows 8 app open. This is the closest I could find: http://www.youtube.com/watc... but even that is just putting the taskbar over the Start screen and doesn't show the taskbar over an app.

If you need the taskbar, I would recommend trying to use the desktop as much as possible. Some like the games or store apps you pretty much have to use the app version, but most others apps also have a standard equivalent available, although you may need to do some looking.

Posted on 2013-11-11 19:53:46

I am looking for a way to have the photo's I have in my computer show in a view, at this time you get the default of the picture program, but not the picture, with makes it very hard to find the specific picture you want, with out counting them out to find the exact picture you want

Posted on 2014-08-04 07:39:53

If you are using Windows Explorer - the default program in Windows for viewing files and folders - you can to View along the top menu and then select one of the sizes of "Icons" (small, medium, large, extra large) instead of "List" or "Details". Then you will see thumbnails (small versions of the picture) in place of photos. Hopefully that helps :)

Posted on 2014-08-04 16:12:40

Thanks, Matt. It is nearly inconceivable that Microsoft would devo Windows' taskbar, but, then again, it is Microsoft. Thanks for your reponse. I still have a desktop with Win 7 for the heavy lifting.

Posted on 2013-11-12 01:47:38

Stardock's Start8 & ModernMix are lifesavers to anyone dumbfounded by the stupidity of Microsoft throwing desktop users to the curb. The former truly restores the Windows desktop experience we all know and love. The latter opens modern apps in a window like everything else (i,e, maintaining the task bar always). Close these apps as your accustomed to on a Windows PC. With 8.1 Microsoft have proven themselves to be bullheaded morons. But as always (one good thing about Windows), we can get things to work the way we like. I actually love Windows 8 (with the above mentioned modifications). Without them, just stick with Win7.

Posted on 2013-11-28 20:33:13

Microsoft are true to their stupidity. It has always been one good release and then followed by a disaster. Remember Vista that followed XP and now Windows 8 following 7.
I just bought a new laptop and I was forced to buy one with windows 8. I tried it for a few days and after raising my blood pressure and pulling my hair a few times, I decided to format the damn thing and install Windows 7, I've lost the touch screen capability but at least I still have whatever left of my hair.

Posted on 2013-12-28 19:01:40

very true.ditto here...

Posted on 2014-03-18 15:08:45

I'd like to know your reasoning behind this

" in many ways that is a good thing. "

While many of us never like change, they have completely forgotten where their main customer base is..... PC users. Not all of us use tablets, and more often than not we use both.

The fact MS took this plunge truly shows how out of touch they are with their customers.

Regardless I appreciate the solid tips.

Posted on 2013-12-30 20:53:34

I agree with the out of touch. I was a W95 beta tester and after use W3.1 for quite a while, I really loved W95 warts and all. I had to install each new build, (Wait for it), with 1.4 Meg floppy disks. I had over 100 floppies around at the end of the beta. I have used W95, W98 SE, XP, Vista, and finally W7. W8 was like getting hit with a wet towel in the face. W7 works like I work, W8 does not!!!! Case Closed!!!!

Posted on 2014-03-27 16:19:58
Maria Mari

....i was reading all time about windows 8.1 new until i faced this grea Article ...but what was really cool for me today is the coming Mini start for windows 8.1 http://www.windowsbleu.com/...

Posted on 2014-01-10 13:45:40

Fascinating! I'm finally getting used to working without a Start Menu, and they are thinking of bringing it back? Well, that should help make the transition to 8 easier for people who haven't yet made the jump on their desktop computers.

Posted on 2014-01-10 16:33:02

Windows 8 = Obamacare

Posted on 2014-03-27 16:13:23

And Rgeiken=idiot. Save your ignorance of politics for a conservative board, and your ignorance for computers in general.

Posted on 2014-08-05 04:39:39

windows 8 did equal obamacare . total flop

Posted on 2014-08-29 11:18:43
Fox News

Save your ignorance of politics for a conservative board, and your ignorance for computers in general.

Posted on 2014-09-03 17:18:20
Micky Baker

You're not that bright. Stop pretending.

Posted on 2014-09-04 03:37:13

Okay folks, please calm it down. People here are free to express their feelings about technology - but lets keep any personal attacks and foul language out of it. (just trying to head this off before it gets worse).

Posted on 2014-09-04 05:19:57

Any luck on a fix for the photo app in Win 8.1? Did fine in 8, now I click photos & pics do not show up...real sad about Microsoft being so clueless & careless...

Posted on 2014-04-20 16:34:39

We love Windows 7, BRING IT BACK on the top spec PC-s.

Posted on 2014-04-22 06:05:33

My old PC got in the settings TOUCHSCREEN.

Posted on 2014-04-22 06:07:40

Great article Matt

In keeping with what's natively available it is possible to add a simple program menu.
Right-click on the taskbar and choose Toolbars > New toolbar.

In the "Folder" text field at the bottom of the "New Toolbar Choose Folder" window paste in the following path:

C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs
Next click the "Select Folder" button to finish.
You should now have a simple programs menu right next to the notification area.
Click on the arrows not the name to pop up the menu, enjoy !

Posted on 2014-04-24 09:36:39

So use this guide, or actually pay 5 dollars for Start8 to get the real start menu back? Buy Start8 like you should have done right after Win8 came out.

Posted on 2014-08-05 04:37:47

so when i install a game can i add it to the desktop ? or click start menu games ? or when i download something can i add it to desktop or create a folder on the desktop ?

Posted on 2014-08-29 11:15:32

Yes, absolutely! You can make icons on the desktop for things just like any other versions of Windows, and store files / folders there too.

The changes described above do not get an actual Start Menu back, though. If you want that on Windows 8, you can install something like ClassicShell (free) or Start8 ($5).

Posted on 2014-08-29 16:05:18

Easy solution to all the above, put it back in the box and return it. Then go purchase a MAC

Posted on 2014-10-13 18:15:10

Artilces like this are indicative of why I trust and admire Puget Systems.

Posted on 2014-10-28 19:56:27

Wow, I felt I had to stomach this article, but it was difficult, especially after reading one of the dumbest lines ever, so dumb in fact that I thought this might have been written by Balmer or Gates themselves.
"One of the first things to know about the Windows 8.1 is that right-clicking the Start button is much more useful than it ever was before."
You are definitely a Windows 8.1 fanboi, and as long as crap software is spirited forward by idiots like you who think different is the new better, MS will continue to wreak havoc on legitimate computer users in order to strip us of another hard-earned $200.

Posted on 2014-10-30 10:11:47

I didn't write this article, but I don't see how writing about ways to make Windows 8.1 act more like 7 would make the author an "8.1 fanboi". Further, the one sentence you quoted is actually true: one of the few cool things in 8.1 is that right-clicking the Start button gets you a shortcut directly to a lot of things which otherwise take several steps to reach in previous versions of Windows. What is wrong with mentioning that?

Posted on 2014-10-30 16:23:11

The 'dumbness' of 8 and above is the fact that you get nowhere you want to be fast. It's a sloppy, ignorant, failed attempt to combine a tablet interface, which was designed around the limitations of a touch environment, with a primarily keyboard and mouse environment. There was never a need for such an interface to begin with!
So, you contend now that you've thoroughly thought thru your comment and aren't interested in revising it in retrospect, or more likely, you're not interested in rethinking your fan boi opportunism. That's another sign of being a fan boi. (I can't believe I have to contend your contention, but I'll do it for others who don't perceive your fan boi mindset.)
Let's assume for argument's sake, since you'd probably debate me regarding this truism, that the 8.1 context menu of the so-called Start button is possibly an attempt by Microsloth to compensate for the loss of the previous Start menu functionality. It follows that it was due to the mass appeal of the previous Start button menu. It is a bit of dundering logic to think that adding some of it back, and not even the most popular part - the All Programs menu, in a context menu is 'awesome' in any way. It is in fact a failed attempt to make 8.1 more functional to many stranded, frustrated users who are 'semi-stuck' with it on at least one of their computers, and as an added benefit, it may make some potential buyers who are teetering on the fence about getting a new computer with 8.1 installed or upgrading (other-grading?) if dolts such as you can convince them that it has 'new and improved' functionality.
Let's start (no pun intended) with the 'Desktop' selection. How is this in any way an advantage or enhanced feature when the Desktop didn't have to be a selection from any menu before?
Next, 'Shut down'. Am I wrong or was that more convenient before with a left-click because you could set it to default to one of six different modes, or simply wait a moment and the other five would avail themselves?
Next 'section'. The five commands, Task Manager, Control Panel, File Explorer, Search and Run, were readily available before, also with a left-click. In fact, you had the option to tailor those to appear as a Link, Menu or not at all (out of the way). Albeit these were important functions, they weren't necessary most of the time, so a right-click or left-click hardly made them easier to consume than sliced bread.
In the last section there are ten commands, again, most of which were readily available from the Start menu under the Control Panel, and again with only a slight delay of your cursor over the Control Panel selection if you had chosen the Menu option in the Start menu preferences.
Now, you may prefer to see the glass of urine half empty, but many people still feel that Microslut pissed in their glass, and it's a despicable thing to do, unless you're a dundering fan boi. You're just another MS pimp.

Posted on 2014-11-03 15:47:57

lol wow. Instead of taking time to post these insulting comments, why don't you just use that time to learn how to use W8?

Posted on 2014-11-11 03:23:46

this a good infomation tnx but i didnt get the answer to my question, i wanted to change the start button on windows 8.1 like the past windows. But tnx i learned more on the way

Posted on 2014-12-29 20:29:29

Windows 8.1 has a start button, but not a traditional start menu (like past versions of Windows, from 95 to 7). If you want that, I recommend a third-party program like Classic Shell.

Posted on 2014-12-29 20:30:34

am on to that thanks

Posted on 2014-12-29 20:36:00

The next person that sells Bill Gates a car need to put the steering wheel in the back seat, the accelerator on the hood and the brake pedal in the rear trunk and see how he likes it.

The wasted productivity every couple years learning a bunch of needless changes is beyond annoying. The only reason I upgrade is just to make new hardware work and install newer software (ie 64bit) - I don't need the controls to change at all. Fairly sure most everyone else doesn't either.

Posted on 2015-04-11 09:25:55

This is the best comment I have ever seen and I second, third and fourth this motion...

Posted on 2015-04-25 21:43:46
Roger Skelton

I use windows 8/8.1 and I find it hostile to use... totally not made for desktop users... it seems to be made for touch screens/tablets... it's not for key board and mouse use... it's made for touchy feely tablet and touch screen products (like smart phones for the not so smart people... simple for the simple minded... if you have any brains of your own windows 8/8.1 doesn't like you... your too smart for it's use and it likes to take full control of your PC from you and will fight you for that control... maybe if your a computer guru with a hi tech degree you can over come.

Posted on 2015-05-28 18:48:29

hey it says this app does not support the contract specified or its not installed

Posted on 2015-09-07 21:40:08