Windows 8 and 8.1 for XP Users

First Impressions - Windows 8 and 8.1 for XP Users

by Larry Neal Gowdy -November 02, 2013

Life Without the Start Menu

Upgrading to Windows 8/8.1 can be a bit of shock to a lot of long-time users of XP. Likely over 90% of my business customers still use XP, so I get to hear a lot of opinions, and surely the number one complaint is Windows 8's lack of a start menu.

Windows 8 has a lot of good improvements over XP that ought to be enough to entice even the most adamant XP lover (like me) to upgrade. The file explorer is hugely better with added directory commands, the task manager has several additional features that make it fast and easy to check the computer's operation, the theme skins enable attractive styling for most all software, and in most every measure Windows 8 will keep up with or surpass XP in speed, stability, and function. Perhaps the one and only thing that is lacking in Windows 8 is the start menu, but once we work around that one small oddity we soon find Windows 8 to be the best choice.

The following tips are being aimed at the many individuals who are just now migrating to Windows 8/8.1, and hopefully the tips will help soothe the shock of leaving XP.

Start Menu on the Taskbar

One option is to create a new toolbar on the taskbar. Simply right-click on the taskbar, hover over Toolbars, left-click to choose New Toolbar, navigate to c:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu, and choose Select Folder. You can drag the toolbar to the far left on horizontal taskbars, or to the top of a vertical taskbar to place it in whatever order you prefer. The toolbar may not be quite as convenient as a normal start menu, but it is adequate enough to get the job done.

Windows 8 Start Menu Toolbar

Windows 8 Start Menu Toolbar.

It is a purely personal preference, but I prefer to not have any icons on the desktop, and as few as humanly possible on the taskbar, so to me I would rather use the Start8 menu than the toolbar. Nevertheless, the start menu toolbar is fully usable and it is an acceptable alternative for most users new to Windows 8.

One thing that I did when Windows 8 preview was first released was to create an additional folder of shortcuts, and I used an icon for the folder that looked similar to a normal start button so that when I made a new toolbar with the folder it would actually look like a start button. (The details are at Windows 8 Start Menu.) There are a lot of little modifications that you can do to create the user interface that works best for you.

Pinning Programs to the Taskbar

Windows 8 / 8.1 Taskbar Recent Files

Windows 8 / 8.1 Taskbar Recent Files.

After ten years of using XP, and twenty years of using start menus in all pre-Windows 8 versions, for many of us it is not comfortable to learn how to adapt to life without a start menu. Two of the better choices are to (1) install and use Stardock's® Start8 start menu ($4.99) which is similar to the Windows 7 start menu, or (2) relearn keyboard shortcuts while pinning frequently used programs on the taskbar.

Two advantages of pinning programs to the taskbar will be immediately recognized by XP users: (1) the icons can be dragged with the mouse to arrange the icons in any order that you want, and (2) right-clicking on a shortcut icon opens a list of files recently used by that program. I myself usually dislike lists of favorites and frequently used programs, but I did find favor with the list of recent files because it enables me to quickly return to a document with only two clicks.

After using Windows 8 without any start button for six months I grew accustomed to using pinned taskbar shortcuts, and by the time that Windows 8.1 was released I did not want a start button at all. Due to the 8.1 start menu being a non-alphabeticalized list of utilities and commands that apparently cannot be rearranged in alphabetical order, I chose to reinstall Start8 just so I can customize the start menu to meet my own personal preferences.

Windows 8 / 8.1 Start8 Menu Minimalized

Windows 8 / 8.1 Start8 Menu Minimalized.

Configuring the Start8 menu to only have the basics enables us to cover the 8.1 start button while providing full access to all installed programs and utilities. Most individuals upgrading from XP will likely prefer to continue having all favorite programs accessible on the first screen of the start menu, and we have that option with the Start8 menu.

Wrist Pain

A complaint that I have heard from almost all customers using Windows 8 on a desktop is that of wrist pain. Yes, using a mouse in Windows 8 is hugely more demanding on the wrist, especially if you use any of the start screen apps (like games and other full-screen apps). My recommendation is to enter into the control panel and increase the mouse pointer speed to be as fast as you find usable, and too, begin learning more keyboard shortcuts so that you will not need the mouse quite as often.

The wrist pain may subside in time as your wrist becomes accustomed to the additional stress (mine did), but everyone is different, and the speed of growing accustomed to Windows 8 is different for everyone. I now prefer to enter sleep mode or shut-down a computer with ctrl-alt-delete plus five tabs plus two arrow-downs plus the enter key. As we grow more accustomed to keyboard shortcuts, in time it seems as though using a mouse can sometimes feel to be more trouble and work than several quick strokes on the keyboard.

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Copyright©2013 by Larry Neal Gowdy.
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