Tips for Windows 8

To disable the corner charms in Windows 8, bring back the start menu and skip the metro start screen, install Classic Shell.  Right-click on the start menu orb, go to Settings.  Click the box next to All Settings, then click on the tab “Windows 8 settings”.  Under “Disable active corners”, click All.  Now you won’t have that stupid metro bar coming up when you place the mouse cursor in the upper right or bottom right corner of the desktop.  If you want to get back to the Metro UI, hold the Windows key and press Q.  If you like to go to the default Metro start page, use Winkey+C.

I found a nice list of Windows 8 shortcut keys here: http://www.techspot.com/guides/506-windows-8-shortcuts-and-tricks/.  Winkey+Q, Winkey+D and Winkey+X are my current favorites.

You can also disable this via registry keys: http://www.ghacks.net/2012/08/19/disable-windows-8-mouse-over-corner-interfaces/

– Soli Deo Gloria

An Inplace Upgrade to Windows 8

Maybe I’m getting old and cranky, but I’m not really excited about this version of Windows.  I downloaded the RTM bits from Technet on 8/15/12 and installed the Enterprise version at work in a VM. On Friday night, I decided to upgrade my laptop (a Dell e6420) running Windows 7 Professional to Windows 8 Professional before taking the plunge on my main desktop.  The first thing I noticed is that the retail media now requires you to enter a product key and will not let you go further without it.  This is a pain in the neck…what if I just want to evaluate Windows 8 and not activate it?  The Enterprise version by default does not ask for a product key.  I went to the Technet web page and copied and pasted the key.  It ran a compatibility check and told me I had to remove Microsoft Security Essentials (Windows 8 comes with its own AV solution), the bluetooth drivers and the wireless drivers.  It also wanted me to plug in the AC adaptor.  I removed all items and rebooted.  I re-ran the setup and it wanted the product key again.  Now I had no Internet because I had to remove the wireless drivers, so I had to manually key in the product key from another computer (grumble).  It still would not let me upgrade without plugging in the AC adaptor.  I plugged it in and then it proceeded with the setup, so I unplugged it, but thought better of it…who knows what Windows will do if it finds out later on that it is on battery power (like cancelling the upgrade!).  I told it to keep all programs, settings and personal files.

After the upgrade, I noticed the wallpaper and my profile picture was not migrated, but were reset to the default pictures.  All of the files and programs did seem to be intact, however.  I had no Internet access, because I had removed the wireless drivers which in turn likely wiped out my connection settings, so I had to manually key those back in.  Certainly not a seamless upgrade.  I attempted to launch Mobaxterm and was told by Smartscreen that the publisher wasn’t recognized and did I really want to run this program?  That’s fine in Internet Explorer, but not the main operating system, so I headed to the Action Center to turn Smartscreen off.

I immediately loaded Classic Shell, because not having the start menu is not an option.  If you are looking for a hotkey to get some type of menu before hand, try Windows Key-X.  Classic Shell also bypasses the Metro screen by default (can be turned off) and the next version will allow disabling of the “charm” corners (all or a select few).  I also noticed that Windows went ahead and activated itself right away with Microsoft. In Windows 7, it would give you 3 days to activate.  Maybe I didn’t want to activate Windows just yet…maybe I wanted to move Windows 8 to another piece of hardware…why does Windows activate itself without my permission?  Do you have to keep it off the Internet to evaluate it?

I had been using Windows XP Mode on this laptop, but Windows XP Mode is no more in Windows 8.  It’s now been replaced by Hyper-V.  Hyper-V is great and all, but what about all the setup I did in my XP VHD?  I went ahead and made a new VM in Hyper-V and attached the Windows XP Mode.VHD file.  As expected: Windows XP wanted activation and would not let me proceed further.  The version of Windows XP in Windows XP Mode is BIOS locked to the BIOS that Virtual PC emulates.   So if you want to use XP in Windows 8, you need a retail/volume copy, a license and you need to set it up from scratch.  Bummer, this is progress?  The new Windows explorer does load VHD files natively just by clicking on them, which is a nice touch, meaning you can get all of your data out of the VHD (I guess this also works for ISO and IMG files: no more having to load Virtual CloneDrive).

Also, the removal of Windows Media Center is disappointing…Microsoft is trying to kill it off: http://thedigitalmediazone.com/2012/06/06/windows-8-media-center-startup-options/.  No longer can you boot directly into Windows Media Center and Microsoft is no longer logo certifying hardware tuners for Windows 8.  Guess my HTPC is being left with Windows 7 Ultimate.

Windows 8 also comes bundled with certain Metro applications for dealing with files, such as PDF and music files.  When you double-click on a file ending with .PDF, it switches to the Metro desktop away from the “desktop” or “Win32” environment.  Annoying.  This can be changed of course back to the default applications you want to open these types of files, but why would I want a Metro application on my desktop to open a PDF?  Suggestion to Microsoft: detect the chassis of the equipment Windows is installing on and give different options to desktop users, laptop users and tablet users.  Speaking of Metro, how the heck do you get out of the “Personalize your Computer” page?  ESC key doesn’t work and there is no X to get out.  I had to keep using Windows Key – X to go back to the desktop.

Now the good…I do like the new Windows explorer and the tabbed top section.  To view hidden files, all I had to do is click the view tab and then check mark “Hidden items”.   It still won’t replace XYExplorer, however, for heavier operations. The ability to pause file copy operations is a long overdue feature in Windows.  Task manager (under the performance tab) now includes an uptime count and mini graphs for CPU, memory, disk, and Ethernet: very cool!  Performance seems good as well: mainly in the startup and shutdown phases.

I have yet to find the “killer app” in Windows 8.  There’s nothing in Windows 8 that jumps out and says “I can’t live without this feature”.  However, with the $40 promotional upgrade, it’s a relatively painless upgrade to the pocket book.  Just be prepared to do some tweaking to get things the way you like.

– Soli Deo Gloria