Windows 10 contains some great new features. if you’re a Windows 8 user, you may be tempted to upgrade just to have your desktop work better. But you can get many of Windows 10’s features without upgrading.
Why not just upgrade? Well, Windows 10 is early in development and unstable. Even if it works for you today, an upgrade in a month could break it. Windows 10 needs more time in the oven.
A Start Menu
You Windows 7 users are already part of the future — you have a Start menu on your desktop and everything! Windows 8 and 8.1 users aren’t yet in luck. After saying they’d add a Start menu in Windows 8.1 Update 2, Microsoft backed off and Windows 8 users will never get an official start menu — not unless they upgrade to Windows 10. That will hopefully be a free upgrade, but Microsoft refuses to confirm that rumor.
You don’t have to wait — install a third-party Start menu today and you’ll never have to see that full-screen interface. Stardock’s Start8 even provides a “Windows 8 style” Start menu that will let you see live tiles in a floating pop-up Start menu, just like the one on Windows 10. If you don’t need that feature, any one of the other Windows 7-style Start menus will work for you. We like Classic Shell, but be sure not to install Classic Explorer or Classic IE while installing it — you probably don’t want those.
“Universal Apps” in Desktop Windows
Metro apps, modern apps, immersive UI apps, Windows 8-style apps, Store apps, and now “universal apps” — whatever Microsoft is calling them this week, they’re inconvenient to use on desktop PCs. As Microsoft put it, there’s a “duality” of competing interfaces here. That will be fixed in Windows 10, where those apps can run in Windows on the desktop. But you can install ModernMix today and get those apps in floating windows on Windows 8.
At $4.99, this is the only feature here that will cost you. But you can install the trial and take it on a test drive for 30 days, if you like.
Virtual desktops have been a part of Linux and Mac desktops for many, many years. Now they’re officially coming to Windows. But you can already get virtual desktops today with one of many virtual desktop utilities.
Microsoft actually built in multiple desktop support into Windows, but there’s no interface around it. The Desktops 2.0 utility, offered by Microsoft themselves, allows you to use that virtual desktop support. Third-party applications like Dexpot also provide virtual desktops and work a little differently.
Task View (aka Exposé)
Exposé was a feature added to Mac OS X, and a similar feature showed up on Linux desktops thanks to Compiz. But Microsoft refused to copy Expose — until now, with Windows 10’s Task View — and instead added the clunky, slow Flip 3D feature to Windows Vista and 7. Microsoft finally came to their senses and just copied Exposé like they originally should have.
There are many applications that do this on Windows. We like Switcher 2.0. It was designed for Windows Vista, it still works on Windows 7 and 8. It was created by Bao Nguyen, a Microsoft employee — although it was written as a hobby project in his spare time.
A Voice Assistant and Notification Center
Windows 10 will bring Cortana to desktop users — eventually. Right now, the feature that will become Cortana is just a redundant search box that tells you topics like “Never chew your hair” are “Trending now” if you make the mistake of clicking it.
You can get a voice assistant and notification center today by installing Google Chrome. Open Chrome and click the microphone icon to perform a voice search. On Google.com, you’ll be able to enable the “Okay Google” voice hot word so you can talk to your PC — just click the microphone on Google.com in Chrome and click the “Enable Ok Google” button. (This feature specifically requires Google.com, the US version of Google — not other Google domains, even English ones like Google.ca or Google.co.uk.)
Chrome also offers a notification center with the kind of smart notifications Cortana will offer, thanks to Google Now. Access Google Now functionality by clicking the Chrome notification center that appears in your system tray. From what we’ve seen so far, the Windows 10 notification center will just be a pop-up that appears from the system tray, too.
A Better Command Prompt
Want a better Command Prompt with Ctrl and Shift key shortcuts? You can get one on Windows 7 or 8 with a third-party Command Prompt replacement. These add features like Ctrl+V to paste, Shift to select text, and transparency to make your Command Prompt look better. They also add other powerful features Microsoft hasn’t added — for example, tabs that allow you to organize all your Command Prompt sessions into a single window.
Sure, all of these features are all already out there. But adding polished versions of them to Windows itself will be a big win for users when Windows 10 is finally released. Windows 10 is currently very early in development and shouldn’t be used on your primary PC, so these third-party tools can hold you over if you see a feature you really like.