How-To: Get rid of Modern UI and much more

This piece will be more of a how to have all the under-the-hood goodies from 8 in a 7 wrapper. I’m not going to read any other guides on the forum, nor will I edit this one (unless I make some glaring mistakes). In case there are conflicts between my and other, previously posted guides, I apologise. I’ll just try to present my approach to Windows 8.
Let's begin...

Are you one of many people who dread the Windows 8’s Modern UI?
Is it the sole reason why you passed up on the $40 upgrade promotion? Let’s see if I can make you regret your choice.
I’ll start with obvious negative and positive out-of-the-box differences between 7 and 8 from my own experience:

The good:
- Performance: Faster boot times, more efficient memory management, WDDM 1.2, vastly improved networking, power consumption optimizations (every Wh counts on portable devices)
- Functionality: detailed and (way more) visually pleasing Task Manager, Reset and Refresh PC options for less tech savvy folks who just want to reset their PC to factory defaults, File History (automated backup), Storage Spaces (user friendly JBOD with data security mechanics), Windows Defender (basic anti-virus/malware which is enough for smart users, WD in W7 only dealt with malware), support for mounting ISOs, coexisting dual interface with ability to completely ignore one or the other (with a little bit of tweaking), SkyDrive integration, wider language pack support for people who don’t necessarily speak English
- Price to features ratio – Windows 8 Pro has all of the Windows 7 Ultimate’s features at half the price

The bad:
- DVD playback stripped out of all versions except for Windows 8 Pro with Media Center
- Inability to boot straight to Desktop mode, loss of the iconic Start Menu
- PDF and Image viewers are Modern UI-only
- Software incompatibility

The ugl… err I mean the indifferent:
- Revamped Windows Explorer – some hate it, I love it (for the appearance, functionality and the fact that some older applications and games refuse to work with Aero)

So… we’ve all heard about how desktop-unfriendly Modern UI is, and I agree for the most part. Fortunately, there are many 3rd party application that help us get rid of it, almost completely. My personal favourite is Classic Shell. It’s free, it’s customisable and it does the job. You can choose between Win9x, XP and Vista/7 start menu styles, various skins, etc., but the main point of having it is its ability to completely disable ‘active corners’ and skip the Start screen on each reboot. It’s worth noting that it even allows you to customise every single item on start menu. Here’s an example of how it looks like on my PC.
Note: If you wonder why are there 2 misaligned taskbars, it’s because my main screen is 1680x1050 and 2nd screen is 1280x1024 and I like to see flashing icon if someone messages me when I’m doing something in full screen; 2nd can be disabled.

- If you need to play DVD or BluRay movies on your PC, you’ll notice that you can’t do it out of the box. You might ask, what are your options in that regard. Do you need to purchase Media Center Pack? Absolutely not. There are plenty of freeware media players that are way more powerful than WMP/WMC. One such player is VLC. What I like the most about it is the fact that the volume control gives you the option to boost volume to 200% without having to look through forest of menus. Its major selling point (oh wait, it's free) is the support for a very wide variety of media formats though. It can even play internet streams such as It really is a no-brainer once you get familiar with it. I recommend it to everyone in need of a good media player.

- One thing that vexes me about Windows 8 is the fact that opening an image or PDF document in Desktop mode will fire up the bloody Modern UI image/PDF viewer. I mean, I never liked Windows Photo Viewer but I’d rather use Paint than this abomination for picture viewing purposes in Win8. The folder navigation is absolutely atrocious for keyboard + mouse users. What were they thinking with this is beyond me… If you want to keep using desktop version of Windows Photo Viewer, you’ll have to go to Control Panel > Default Programs > Set your default programs. If you want more than basic viewer, this area is well covered by good freeware software. IrfanView has been the most popular for a very, very long time, but I’d give the advantage to Zoner Photo Studio. It just feels more robust to me.

Now, this is not a Windows 8 issue specifically since there was no built-in PDF viewer in previous versions of Windows but either way, the same rule applies here: get Adobe Acrobat Reader and you’re set.

Software (in)compatibility
- As with every new version of OS, comes the question of software compatibility. For the most part, Windows 8 will run Windows Vista/7 applications just fine. There are some programs that refuse to install or run properly. This is usually remedied by running the installer and/or application executable in Windows 7 compatibility mode. It has worked for me in all cases but one. I’ll give you a few examples:

1) Samsung SSD Magician – when I first installed Windows 8, I had to make sure that my SSD recommendation at the time (Samsung 830) would work with Windows 8. So I proceeded to download the Magician and it refused to install, saying something about Windows version. This was the problem with the installer software they used to pack the Magician utility with, it didn’t have Windows 8 in valid OS version list. Needless to say, I ran it in Windows 7 compatibility mode (right click > Properties > Compatibility) and it installed without any problems. It also worked without issues (I didn’t have to run the Magician executable in compatibility mode)

2) Games for Windows Live (GfWL) redistributable – games that use GfWL platform, such as F1 2010, refused to run on Windows 8 even though I reinstalled the game without issues. I spent couple of hours trying to figure out what’s going on until I pinpointed common denominator, or in this case perpetrator. I looked for latest version of GfWLredist but it was well over a year old. I still downloaded it, and repeated the process I did with Magician, and it worked! All games (F1 2010, DiRT3, Street Fighter IV) worked once again.

3) Acronis Disk Director – this one is the first and only piece of software I couldn’t get to run on Windows 8. It installs correctly and all, but it just won’t run. I believe the issue with it is that it’s a driver based application and its driver isn’t configured to run on Windows 8.

- Now, after reading my semi-negative to negative experiences, you might think to yourself, well f*** that, I’m not fiddling with all the settings to get something to work. But wait, there’s a flip-side to the story. There are actually quite a number of older games that I used to love, i.e. Diablo, Age of Empires II, Hexplore to name a few, that would have severe graphical artifacts (Diablo was all pink, AoE2 had all the colours messed up) or wouldn’t run at all, no matter what (Hexplore) on Windows 7. Some of those games actually had me thinking about building a legacy Windows 98 PC for a while. It seems that Microsoft had done some work regarding the backwards compatibility while building the Windows 8 from the ground up – that’s a plus in my book for sure.

How to (avoid Modern UI as much as possible now that you've got your brand spanking new OS)
Okay, you’ve lived through the descriptive part in which I tried to redeem Windows 8 because I honestly think it didn’t deserve so much hate. Time for some specific how-to-make-Modern UI-go-away tips.

- First, as stated above, you’ll need a 3rd party software made for that exact purpose. I’ll cover the option involving Classic Shell.
I recommend installing only Classic Start Menu and Classic Shell Update, unchecking the other options. Once that’s done, you’ll see there’s a start button in its usual spot. To open settings and begin with bringing back the familiar start menu, right click on start button and click Settings. Click on desired style and open your start menu by clicking on start button or pressing Winkey. Any change you do will appear instantly, without having to confirm with OK, so keep checking your changes to see how you like it. Now click ‘All Settings’ option and switch to ‘Windows 8 Settings’ tab. All options here are self-explanatory, if you want Windows 7 experience, check ‘Skip Metro screen’ and select ‘All’ option.
For advanced users, I’ll just leave you my custom made start button for you to use or to use it as a template for something you’d want instead (Big taskbar icon, Small taskbar icon). Start button icon can be changed in ‘Start Button’ tab; it has to be specific image format, BMP or (preferably) PNG and size (54x162). You’ll need something more than Paint for transparency (PNG alpha channel)

- Windows 8 also brought few new cool keyboard shortcuts that I found very pleasing to use, namely Winkey + X and Winkey + I, first one being a minimalistic administrative menu and second one being a hub for extra few settings that aren’t accessible from Desktop mode, mainly the Refresh and Reset PC, additional user account protection options (picture and PIN passwords) and interestingly enough, exclusive ability to change user account picture (it can't be done from Users applet in Control Panel :ange:).
Another important shortcut to note is Shift + (click on) restart that brings up advanced boot menu option.
Some people might miss the old Quick Launch toolbar, but it’s completely unnecessary since you can pin applications to taskbar (right click > Pin to Taskbar) and then quickly access them by pressing Winkey + # (0-9).

- Most of the power users don’t like having UAC on. In Windows 8, even if you move the slider all the way down, it still leaves certain level of UAC on which is required for Modern UI apps, including Store, to function. Unfortunately, even such low level of UAC active, It won’t let you install absolutely everything. I learned that when I tried to install my script (.msi installer containing a registry entry and a VBS script) that adds re-lock drive option for Bitlocker partitions.
This last level of UAC can be turned off in Local Group Policy Editor. You can run it by typing ‘edit group policy’ in start menu/screen search box. The option in question is called ‘User Account Control: Run all administrators In Admin Approval Mode’. It’s located in Computer Configuration > Windows Settings > Security Settings > Local Policies > Security Options at the very bottom of the list (3rd option from below).
Note that disabling this option will break Modern UI apps functionality. Your live tiles will still work though.

Tips for people who want to do fresh install of Windows 8 on a small SSD but want to extend their SSD’s lifetime expectancy as much as possible by offloading Users folder to HDD
- Why would you want to do that you ask? Let’s say you’re like me, avid e-sports follower, spending most of your free time watching your favourite game’s tournaments (there’s a hell of a lot of those in Starcraft II). Considering I’ve got only a 60GB SSD, 33GB is occupied by OS and all the frequently used applications. Another 7-12GB is used by a game I play frequently at the time (Diablo III patch just hit so it’ll be that because I don’t want to have horrible frame lag when zoning due to slowness of HDD). That leaves me at 15-20GB free space. Now, taking into consideration the fact that SSD shouldn’t be filled up, leaving at least 15% of its space free to keep write amplification in check, you start to notice I don’t have much choice but to offload most of the daily writes to another drive. Here’s how to do it:
WARNING: Before doing this, I’d highly recommend backing up your system partition with a tool that provides bootable media creation for easy restoration. Macrium Reflect Free is a tool I can recommend. I will not take the responsibility if you break your system. Proceed at your own risk.

1) You’ll need to make an XML unattend answer file for System Preparation tool to successfully move your Users folder to another location. For me it’s F:\Users, you can change that though
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<unattend xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:unattend">
<settings pass="oobeSystem">
<component name="Microsoft-Windows-Shell-Setup" processorArchitecture="amd64" publicKeyToken="31bf3856ad364e35" language="neutral" versionScope="nonSxS" xmlns:wcm="" xmlns:xsi="">
<cpi:offlineImage cpi:source="wim:W:/sources/install.wim#Windows 8 Pro" xmlns:cpi="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:cpi" />

Copy/paste to notepad and save as C:\answer.xml (if you’re saving it to other location, be mindful of the change since you need to type in exact location for Sysprep to work)
//click reply/quote on this post so you can easily copy/paste; I can't disable smileyfaces
This is answer file for 64-bit Windows 8, if you need it for 32-bit Windows, use google.
2.a) If you're doing a fresh install skip to step 2.b; if not, backup your system partition. After your backup is done, press Winkey + R and type in sysprep and finally open sysprep.exe. Select 'Enter System Audit Mode' and 'Reboot' and confirm with OK - skip to step 3
2.b) After you’re done with installation procedure, you’ll get to Personalise screen where you put in your desired PC name. DON’T. Instead, press Ctrl + Shift + F3.
3) Your PC will restart and load Windows with temporary local Administrator account and the Sysprep tool. Close the Sysprep tool, press Winkey + X and select Command Prompt (Admin). You should see command prompt window located in C:\Windows\System32. If it’s in some other folder, get to System32. Once there, type cd sysprep, confirm with enter and then type sysprep /audit /reboot /unattend:C:\answer.xml and confirm with enter once again.
4) Your PC will restart after a little while back to audit (admin) mode. Now, open Computer and check if the migration of Users folder was successful. If it was, there should be Users folder on newly specified location (in the answer file, F:\Users for me). At the same time, Users folder should be gone from C:\. One last thing you need to do to keep the folder’s consistency is creating directory junction because some applications deal with absolute addresses, i.e. C:\Users\crapappfiles instead of %USERS%\crapappfiles.
Once again, open command prompt and type the following: mklink /j C:\Users F:\Users (replace ‘F:\Users’ with location you specified in answer.xml)
5) Open Sysprep.exe (if you closed it), select 'Enter System Out-of-Box Experience (OOBE)' and 'Reboot' options and confirm with OK
6) For people who didn't do fresh install - after reboot, you'll have to make a new local account. Once you've done that just log out, switch to your old account and delete the newly created account in Users applet in Control Panel

General tips for saving space on SSD
1) Reduce page file size to 1GB – disabling it completely defeats the point of having an SSD, regardless of how much RAM you’ve got, OS still requires page file to some degree
Winkey + X > System > Advanced system settings > (Performance) Settings > Advanced > Change – uncheck ‘automatically manage paging file size for all drives’, change the size on C: drive to 1024-1024 and add a system managed size page file to your HDD to avoid OS lock-up in case you exceed RAM usage
2) Disable hibernation – this will also disable Hybrid Boot which is responsible for faster boot times but it’ll save 6-7GB of space
Winkey + X > Command prompt (Admin), type in powercfg /h off
3) Disable system restore and wipe restore points
Winkey + X > System > System protection, click on C: (System) > Configure > Disable system protection and Delete, confirm with OK

Tips for people who have privacy issues with new online user account scheme in Windows 8 regardless of UI choice
- It’s very simple, just don’t use an online account. Once your Windows 8 is installed, you’re given the choice to login with existing Microsoft (Hotmail) account. What is less obvious on account screen is that you can create local account just like in all the previous versions of Windows.
Here's a screenshot album (click Prev/Next or numbers to cycle through screens) with recommended settings for maximum privacy and security:,8RuGPtA,nlPguaQ,QT6pgLZ,Nmv91Ap,bD9j9Pk,oenXmFh#0

- Another great thing about Windows 8 is having 3 different ways to input your password, standard alpha-numeric password, PIN (4-digit number) and a touch-friendly picture password. You can set up all 3 types of password and on each login you’ll be able to choose which one you want to input. Handy for situations if you can’t remember your main password or if you want to check your e-mail on your friend's Windows tablet for example.

You can add PIN and picture password by pressing Winkey + I > Change PC settings > Users
This applies to both, local and Microsoft accounts.

- Finally, I’d like to list a bunch of applications I consider to be a must have on a, but not limited to Windows 8 PC:
Classic Shell – its ability to single-handedly remove every annoying part of interface changes in Windows 8, whether you like Modern UI or not, is astounding. Start screen is still accessible by pressing Shift + Winkey after you install it; great commercial alternative is Start8
VLC – it’s light, it plays everything you throw at it without the need to install big codec packs and it’s free
7-Zip – arguably the best free archiver, it can handle pretty much all types of archives; LZMA2 compression method can do wonders compared to zip and rar if you have a lot of RAM to use large dictionary size for compression
CCleaner – a very good clean-up utility for both system (including registry) and browsers, great to have in your PC maintenance arsenal
Acrobat Reader – just because Windows 8 Reader is horrid and you don’t want to put yourself into situation where you accidentally misclick random PDF file bringing up that abomination from the depths of Modern UI
Zoner Photo Studio – for people who aren’t pleased with very basic Windows Image Viewer; once you install it, it’ll offer you to activate 30-day trial of FULL version which you shouldn’t accept because it’s going to break after 30 days. Just click ‘START FREE’ here, no need to provide your e-mail. If you prefer Windows Image Viewer, I already explained how to set it as default earlier
Web browsers – I always recommend having multiple browsers to people for various reasons. Sometimes, due to carelessness and/or ignorance, people install something that’ll slow down or break the browser they’re using the most. If they’re doing a research or any other kind of work, they don’t want to spend time fixing it, especially if they don’t know how. For such situations, it’s great having a backup browser. I’ve got IE10, Chrome and Firefox. 99% of the time I’ll be using Chrome while having backup browsers for other e-mail accounts because if I’m signed in to google/youtube (with Hotmail account) and want to check my other e-mail (Gmail), it’ll sign my main account out which I don’t like one bit.
- Honorable mentions
Winamp – I’m a long time Winamp user for a few reasons. It’s small, it has hotkey support, e.g. I can skip back and forth within the song, skip through playlist, turn shuffle on/off, change player volume, I can even copy title of the song currently playing and paste it to in-game chat, all that without having to tab out of the game I’m playing. Also I hate stupidly big, full screeny players like WMP covering my whole workspace if I tab to look through playlist.
BitTorrent / µTorrent – disregarding the negative software/movie/music pirating connotation, it’s a great tool to have if you want to share files with your friends. It gets better the larger your files are and the slower your upload speed is. I’ve had to resend some big files over various messengers (WLM, Skype) way too many times due to either mine or file recipient’s connection breaking before it was done. Thanks to torrent, you can stop and resume the file transfer at any time.

What would I like to see in Service Pack 1 for Windows 8
- Bring back the Start menu, add Start screen as a link on Start menu; if there’s a touch device driver installed, boot to Start screen, if not, boot to Desktop (and disable active corners – they’re intrusive to mouse users) by default; add options for users to fiddle with said settings
- For the love of God, don’t have a Modern UI image viewer set as default in Desktop mode, it doesn’t make any sense; change the default to Windows Image Viewer
- This one is wishful thinking, but you (Microsoft) need some compatibility mechanic that would automatically run the executable in compatibility mode based on the ‘date modified’ or some variable. As I stated earlier, your own gaming platform (GfWL) installs incorrectly if you don’t install it in Windows 7 compatibility mode and the worst part is, the games based on it don’t show any errors; this is necessary if you won’t have 100% architectural consistency between different versions of Windows.

Thanks for your time!
7 answers Last reply
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  1. 7AM here, bed time for me :sleep:
  2. The is top notch and VERY complete. I like the list of programs at the end(I use VLC and Winamp every day.).

    Now I have another disk cloning utility to try too :)
  3. Oops "reviving" and old thread! I think a forum moderator should sticky this post! That is all. :)
  4. Windows 8 has been a constant irritation since I replaced my old laptop with a new Win 8. I am very grateful to the author for recommending Classic Shell. It is awesome, it is free, and cures all that (IMHO) is wrong with Win 8.
  5. Definitely worth 'Sticky' Status!
  6. This thread was added to another thread called Windows 8 Frequently Asked Questions

    The link seems broken but should be fixed soon. All the entries should be added soon.

    Fixed and ALL entries to the contest have been added. If I missed any, please PM me.
  7. Excellent! Just one thing: you can easy change the user picture when click on it in start/metro UI. You are provided with a small menu: change picture, lock & sign out.
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