How to get the Windows 8 Start menu and Metro on your desktop

Under its new leadership, Microsoft (MSFT) has been busy re-engineering Windows 8.1 to appeal to its vast base of customers who weren't quite ready for a revolutionary operating system. The Windows team has been re-inserting the Star button, one-click shutdown, boot-to-desktop and a host of other features designed to make Windows 8 more like Windows 7, as well as friendlier to mouse and keyboard.

Microsoft is also planning to return the Start Menu to the Windows desktop. And to better integrate modern and classic experiences, Metro apps will eventually appear on the desktop in their own windows. What we don't know is when that will happen. It might be in a Windows 8 update that's right around the corner, or a year or two away in Windows 9. That's OK -- you don't need to wait for Microsoft. You can get both of those features today for just a few dollars.

In fact, the Start menu is available for free. Classic Shell is a favorite among Windows 8 users who have reverted back to the Windows 7-style Start menu, and is an open-source option that doesn't cost anything. It can mimic both the Windows 7 Start menu and the older Windows XP menu.

Or try Stardock's Start8. Not only does Start8 give you a convincing simulation of the familiar Start menu, but also provides access to both desktop and modern apps. It's more polished and easier to configure than the open source Classic Shell.

To complete the transformation and make Windows 8.1 work more like the upcoming update from Microsoft, you need a way to get your Metro apps out of isolation in the modern interface and running in windows on the desktop. For that, look no further than another Stardock app, ModernMix. It's another $5 app that puts Windows 8 apps on the desktop, where you're more likley to actually use them.

And that highlights the problem with the modern interface. If you're using Windows on a desktop or a laptop, you probably spend virtually all of your time on the traditional desktop running traditional apps. Why would you leave that environment to run Metro apps far away from the desktop? Using ModernMix, you can launch a modern app, press a keyboard shortcut and have it appear in a window on the desktop (sort of like the widgets that Microsoft tried to introduce in Windows Vista). Best of all, the modern apps inherit a title bar with app controls (minimize, restore, close and so on), just like a "real" program.

Of course, you can wait and get these features in a future version of Windows. Or, for $5 or $10, you can get them today.

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