So you’re using Windows 8 on a desktop or laptop. Microsoft goes out of their way to make this more awkward, scattering the tweaks you need to turn Windows 8 into a serviceable desktop operating system all over the OS.

We’re gathering together all the tips you’ll need to reduce the annoyances of Windows 8 when you’re using it on a traditional desktop or laptop without touch, making this conversion as easy as possible.

Change File Associations

By default, Windows 8 associates image, video, music, and PDF files with the included full-screen Modern apps. Double-click a file on the desktop and you’ll be immediately whisked away to the Modern environment where the programs you have open are hidden and you don’t have a visible taskbar.

Even if you like the new Modern interface, this is extremely clunky when you’re using the desktop. Microsoft won’t give us separate file associations for the desktop, so you’ll have to change your system’s file associations to desktop programs.

Shut Down Without Charms

The included charms are a more time-consuming and awkward way to shut down or reboot your Windows 8 PC. Skip the charms and use an easier method to shut down your PC:

  • Click your desktop background and press Alt+F4 to open the Shut Down Windows dialog.
  • Press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and use the Shut Down button.
  • Create special shut down shortcuts, which you can pin to your Start screen or place on your desktop.

Install a Start Menu

If current rumors are to be believed, even Microsoft realizes that removing the Start button from Windows 8 was a mistake — they’ll be bringing it back in some form in Windows 8.1. Until then, you can install a Start menu that will eliminate the need to use the Start screen, restore universal search of programs, settings, and files in a single place, and give you access to easier Shut Down and Restart options.

Check out our round-up of third-party Start menus for Windows 8 to find the right Start menu for you.

If you love the Start screen but wish there was a button to access it on the taskbar, you can create your own Start button with no memory usage.

If you would rather try to embrace Windows 8’s new interface before using a Start button, read our guide to living without the Start button on Windows 8.

Disable Charms and Hot Corners

The Charms and app switcher can get in the way on a desktop where you never use Modern apps. Move the mouse to the top-left corner of the screen and you’ll activate a “hot corner” that displays an app switcher for Modern apps. Move the mouse near the top or bottom right corners of the screen and you’ll see the charms start to fade in. If you never use this stuff, it will just get in the way and bother you while you use the desktop — many charms features don’t even work on the desktop, after all.

If you installed a Start menu, the Start menu may be able to disable the hot corners for you. You can also disable the hot corners and charms with a registry hack.

After disabling these hot corners, you can still access the charms or app switcher with hotkeys.

Enable Boot to Desktop

Microsoft went out of their way to make boot-to-desktop difficult. They want you to see the new Start screen every time you log in, encouraging you to buy Windows Store apps, Windows tablets, and Windows phones.

If you installed a Start menu, the Start menu may have a built-in boot-to-desktop option. If you haven’t, you’ll need to ensure that some sort of “Show Desktop” action runs when you log in — you can enable boot-to-desktop via scheduled tasks or by placing an appropriate shortcut in your Startup folder.

Hide the Lock Screen

Windows 8’s lock screen is more at home on a tablet, requiring an additional key press every time you want to log in. To skip the lock screen and get right down to the business of logging in every time you use your computer, you can disable it entirely.

You’ll need to use a registry hack to disable the lock screen. If you have the Professional version of Windows 8, you can disable the lock screen via group policy instead.

Hopefully Windows 8.1 will make the two environments work together more seamlessly, giving desktop users a nicer experience without requiring all this tweaking. We’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, these tweaks will have to do.

Sadly, there’s no way to eliminate all of the new interface formerly known as Metro. For example, you can’t get a Windows 7-style network menu when you click the Wi-Fi icon in your system tray.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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