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  • Essential tools to make Windows 8 and 10 more like 7

    Posted on Ascaris Comment on the AskWoody Lounge

    Home Forums Tools Essential tools to make Windows 8 and 10 more like 7

    This topic contains 21 replies, has 9 voices, and was last updated by  Cybertooth 1 month, 1 week ago.

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    • #92834 Reply

      Ascaris
      AskWoody MVP

      Yes, 8, the OS that has less market share than XP at present. It may become a lifeline for those of us who can’t abandon the Windows platform (or who aren’t ready to yet) in 2020, but who still can’t stomach 10. I’m starting to look for deals on 8.1 Pro in case of that eventuality. It will buy another three years beyond 7.

      When I first tried 7, 8 had already been written off as a disaster by much of the tech press. As I’m even less flexible than most of the writers who hated 8, I went to 7 instead. I never would have imagined that the OS that was supposed to rescue MS from the 8 disaster would have me looking for Windows 8 deals…

      So, here are some things I use.

      First, Old New Explorer. It gets rid of the ribbon in File Explorer and replaces it with the command bar once again! I about choked on my tongue the first time I saw that ribbon in 10. I know that some people like it, but the overall verdict seems to be that it’s terrible. I don’t disagree.

      Second, 7+ Taskbar Tweaker. What an outstanding little gem this is! I use it with Windows 7 on both my main PCs just as I did with 10 during testing. It has a ton of options not available in the OS by default… it gives me seconds on the systray clock, kills the thumbnails when the mouse arrow hovers a taskbar button (the options to turn this off never worked; the only thing that came close was setting the hover delay to a huge number that would never be seen in life, but even then, the thumbs still popped up from time to time), and other stuff. If you like those taskbar thumbs and the clock as they are, you might still find some other option you like.

      Third, and the most obvious… Classic Shell, including Classic Start. In 7, the Classic Explorer component brings (among many other things) the option to bring up-arrow back on the main toolbar (one of the few UI bits 10 did better than 7). Of course, there’s the start menu portion too. There are other start menu replacements, but this one is free (and in my experience, fast and stable too), and it seems to be pretty close to the de facto standard. I’ve downloaded a ton of third-party Windows 7 themes, and some have come with Classic Start skins to match the rest of the theme. I’ve never seen that for any other start menu replacement. It’s very configurable, and the publisher’s site has instructions for making skins for it.

      Speaking of third-party Windows themes… if you want one, you’ll need one of the third-party Windows theme enabling patchers (or UXStyles, which is a service that does the same thing… I used to use it, but when I turned on driver verification in 7, it bluescreened mercilessly before Windows even started, so I removed it). Microsoft began blocking third-party themes starting with Vista; if they don’t have a MS signature, Windows simply pretends they don’t exist. Given that they’re just themes and not executable code, there’s no massive security reason to do that as MS claims for their ban on unsigned drivers in x64 builds of Windows (which would doom me to using the “Standard VGA adapter” driver on my laptop’s Nvidia GT220M if I couldn’t bypass it). It seems to be more about Microsoft wanting to have control over how anything called “Windows” looks– branding, you know.

      So if you’re like me and white backgrounds make your retinas sizzle like a hamburger on a grill, know that your sacrifice is not in vain; MS appreciates your cooperation in making sure Windows looks like Windows in case some random passer-by happens to glance at it and not recognize it, even if it causes you actual physical pain and makes Windows a lot less usable. Priorities!

      I haven’t provided links as all of these are easy enough to Google. I’m not affiliated with any of the publishers of these products!

      If you have any suggestions of your own, please post a followup!

      7 users thanked author for this post.
    • #95250 Reply

      MW
      AskWoody Lounger

      I second the use of Classic Shell. I started using it when I got my first W7 machine. I use it on both W8.1 & W7. I use the classic mode. I dislike scrolling, and don’t want to do it in a start menu, nor do I want to be confined to the bottom left corner of the screen letting all that screen real estate going to waste.

      I would be miserable if I didn’t have that up arrow for navigating.

      W7 & W8.1 - Group W
      Mac Sierra - Group A
      Mint Cinnamon - Group A

    • #95313 Reply

      anonymous

      Actually, 8.1 is not THAT bad. You can get used to it. I got it on my work computer and I bought one for myself yesterday :). I did 3 approaches to W10 and I believe I’ll stay a bit with W8.

      4 users thanked author for this post.
    • #95381 Reply

      Noel Carboni
      AskWoody MVP

      When significantly tuned and tweaked, Windows 8.1 can be the best Windows ever released, and it’s going to be supported for a while.

      It’s entirely possible to rid it of all the things that Microsoft made worse and turn it into the stable, powerful, efficient, private desktop-centric system Windows 7 users hoped for. Honest!

      But make no mistake, the work to re-skin it and tune it and augment it with 3rd party software to make it really work is not trivial! But it’s doable.

      I know this because my main workstation is running Windows 8.1 MCE (since 2013) and I’m more productive with it than I’ve ever been before (I run a small software engineering company).

      Some attributes of my setup, on 5 year old Dell Precision T5500 workstation hardware:

      • No Apps, no tiles.
      • Desktop start menu (Classic Shell)
      • Aero Glass and elegant, functional theme
      • Runs virtually forever without fault.
      • Lean and efficient. 42 processes in 1 GB RAM with an empty desktop.
      • Handles multiple monitors seamlessly.
      • Easily handles all the work I can throw at it, simultaneously.
      • Private (people often don’t realize Win 8 was as chatty online as 10).
      • Fully controllable.

      As a glance at what can be done to improve the desktop usability and elegance, please see this:

      http://www.msfn.org/board/topic/173976-craving-an-updated-ui-experience-re-skin-windows-81/

      See also my list of essential tools to augment Windows:

      https://www.askwoody.com/forums/topic/my-essential-geeks-geeks-list/

      My advice: If you’re interested in serious computing, concerned that Win 10 can’t carry your load, and you’re worried that Win 7 is falling out of date, consider Windows 8.1 Pro or MCE.

      It might just bridge the gap for you until Microsoft brings Windows 10 back to the straight and narrow.

      -Noel

      8 users thanked author for this post.
    • #95468 Reply

      MW
      AskWoody Lounger

      Completely agree, although the tweaking IMHO isn’t as involved as you state. Installing Classic shell alone solves 90% of the woes everybody has with that O.S. Classic Shell can be configured to skip the Metro UI altogether at boot up.

      Removing the apps is easy in the settings page, Microsoft even suggests it if you want to free up hard drive space. Microsoft Store is the one that can’t be uninstalled in Home Premium. It can in the Pro version.

      The privacy settings are easily accessible.

      W8.1 is a lot lighter on the resources than W7, and boots faster than W7 could ever dream of, even on older hardware.

      I like W8.1 and will no longer be building W7 machines. I think the O.S. deserves a second look (with classic shell) by computer users.

      W7 & W8.1 - Group W
      Mac Sierra - Group A
      Mint Cinnamon - Group A

      • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by  MW.
      3 users thanked author for this post.
    • #95469 Reply

      Noel Carboni
      AskWoody MVP

      the tweaking IMHO isn’t has involved as you state

      Agreed that it doesn’t HAVE to be. I’m just kind an extremist. 🙂

      -Noel

      1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #95472 Reply

      wrangler
      AskWoody Lounger

      I’ve been using Classic Shell on 7 & 8.1 machines. I don’t like the popups when hovering over taskbar buttons, the newer search screen, the ribbon, Metro, etc., but then, I was happy enough with the XP interface without Aero.

      I did not want Win 10. I hadn’t used the Win 8 machine for a while, and couldn’t update it last year without getting stuck with the GWX junk. I ended up buying a legit Win 8 Pro upgrade on ebay, and using the key to validate a Win 8.1 Pro install from an ISO. I obtained the ISO from a friend with an MSDN account. I picked a release old enough to not have GWX, but recent enough that I could get the updates I needed, without the GWX stuff buried in cumulative updates.

      I’ll take a look at suggestions that have been posted; thanks.

      1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #95548 Reply

      Ascaris
      AskWoody MVP

      I just noticed a bit where I wasn’t clear in my original post. When I wrote this (italics added):

      “…kills the thumbnails when the mouse arrow hovers a taskbar button (the options to turn this off never worked; the only thing that came close was setting the hover delay to a huge number that would never be seen in life, but even then, the thumbs still popped up from time to time),”

      I meant that the options to turn this off provided by Microsoft never worked. There are a number of sites that provide instructions like turning off Aero Peek from within the Windows UI or various registry settings that supposedly turn these taskbar thumbnails off, but they never worked for me. The 7+ Taskbar Tweaker’s option to turn them off works perfectly!

      As for Windows 8.1 (which to me is under the umbrella of ‘8’ informally): it’s supported until 2023, which is quite a long time from now, and even though 10 was supposed to be the “fix” for the unloved 8, I have to say that the cure is far worse than the disease. I’ve seen reports like what Noel has written from lots of other people on other sites too, which is what got me to start thinking of 8 as a possible replacement for 7… reports by people who like 7 and despise 10 as I do, and they say the same, which is that a tweaked, modified 8 installation can be as good as or even better than 7. I will have to see it for myself before I can be convinced completely, but it does look promising.

      Win 10’s extended support is only listed as good until 2025– which is kind of interesting, given how MS has told people that 10 is the last version ever, giving some people the impression that they will now have lifetime support for any device running 10.

      • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by  Ascaris.
      1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #95563 Reply

      Noel Carboni
      AskWoody MVP

      …they say the same, which is that a tweaked, modified 8 installation can be as good as or even better than 7…

      Oh, it’s true – it can be tweaked to be better by a little bit even than a well-tweaked 7 (been there, done that) – but the tweaking to get it all the way there isn’t trivial, as I’ve mentioned before.

      Somewhere around here I have a screen grab where I really loaded up my 3 monitor desktop to the extreme. Ah, here it is:

      http://Noel.ProDigitalSoftware.com/ForumPosts/Win81/BusyDesktop.png

      Name some things off the top of your head that you really like about Win 7 that you don’t like about the newer system(s) and I can tell you how I’ve got them working in Win 8.1. I don’t find it WAY better than Win 7, but certainly as good and with a few small advantages.

      And I really, really hate to throw a serious monkey wrench in the works, but…

      It’s actually possible to “extreme tweak” Windows 10 to be almost as good. The problems are that:

      1. It doesn’t make Win 10 any better in any particular way than a fully tweaked Windows 8.1 (or 7) on the same computer, because Microsoft really just didn’t make the underlying OS any better.
      2. The goodness of the tweaking evaporates when Microsoft releases a new Windows 10 “version”, and a lot of it has to be done over. Given the release cadence, you could literally spend all your time re-tweaking.
      3. .

        These Windows 10 screen grabs tell some of the story…

        http://Noel.ProDigitalSoftware.com/ForumPosts/Win10/14393/Tweaked.png
        http://Noel.ProDigitalSoftware.com/ForumPosts/Win10/14393/Win10Desktop.png

        -Noel

      2 users thanked author for this post.
      • #96880 Reply

        Ascaris
        AskWoody MVP

        Name some things off the top of your head that you really like about Win 7 that you don’t like about the newer system(s) and I can tell you how I’ve got them working in Win 8.1.

        I bought two copies of 8.1 pro for the reasons above.  Well, part of it is that I like tweaking stuff, and curiosity was getting the better of me regarding how much I could improve 8.  It turns out, quite a lot!

        I got my custom theme ported to 8.1.  It’s a one-off; no one has it but me, since it’s based on another person’s work and I do not have permission to distribute it (and it was really just for my own use anyway).  It’s an “aero” theme as far as using the DWM, but it does not use transparency effects.

        Right now, the remaining issues I have with theming are the stark white bitmaps present in several UI elements… the things that would be baby blue with those swirly lines in them in Windows 7, like the header on top of the Control Panel or the left panel on the Personalize menu.  They’re defined, as far as I know, by bitmaps 633 and 635 in shell32.dll, and I don’t know how to substitute resources without using the brute-force (Reshacker) approach.

        Side note: I used that to completely return XP to the appearance of 2k… every icon, animation, bitmap.  I think by the end of it I’d modded about 130 files, and of course every time MS updated one, I had to redo it.  That was before each component had to be digitally signed, but even so, I grew weary of it and eventually gave up.

        Now back to 8.1.

        That, and the Win 8/1o “up” arrow on the navigation bar.  I’d thought it was good that MS finally put that back after having used Classic Shell to restore it in Win 7, but it turns out that it’s actually a flaw, because it too is defined by a system .dll and not the .msstyles file.  I noticed you have yours removed; I know I can do that with Old New Explorer, but I really like the arrow (having it back on the file save/open dialogs is one of the perks of 8 and 10 compared to 7 and Vista, even though the latter two still obeyed the keyboard shortcut).

        “It’s actually possible to “extreme tweak” Windows 10 to be almost as good. The problems are that:

        “The goodness of the tweaking evaporates when Microsoft releases a new Windows 10 “version”, and a lot of it has to be done over. Given the release cadence, you could literally spend all your time re-tweaking.”

        That was just the problem I had.  I’d found out about all of the creative ways people had broken Windows 10 to stop doing what it was designed to do and to do what the user wanted instead, and I performed a bunch of them on my test 10 installation.  I had 10 free of Cortana, Edge, MS Store, and every other discrete app; I had my same theme I mentioned above ported (but not fully retweaked to fix the minor issues); I had Classic Shell, Old New Explorer, etc., all installed and de-dumbing 10.  I hadn’t gotten to the more nitty gritty control over the telemetry; from what I could tell, though, simply removing Cortana does away with most of the mysterious packets flowing to MS servers, like the burst of data that is sent to Bing each time a local Windows 10 search is performed.  Even if you have the web search turned off, and all of the privacy settings to allow the lowest amount of telemetry possible, every search still gets logged with MS.  Why?

        Even though my Windows 10 installation worked fine without Cortana and her appy friends, that was really close to the time that I finally gave up on 10.  Above all, I value stability in my PCs, and introducing such a large amount of breakage on purpose didn’t bode well for long-term stability.  Some program I install down the line may depend on one of the bits it thinks every Windows 10 installation has, but in my case it was ripped out, and I’d have no way of knowing if the bug was with the program itself or because I was running a heavily modified version of 10.

        And then there is the rapid pace of change.  Not only does every update back out many of the changes, as you noted, but there is always the strong possibility that the tweak that worked in the last build won’t work in this one, or that it will work, but with bugs that hadn’t been seen in older builds.  Windows 10 worked fine without Cortana when I tried it, but some future build may depend on Cortana code even more heavily than it does now, and the Cortana eviction Powershell script may no longer result in a working system.  Given that MS is actively trying to prevent customers from having choices, the odds of them catching wind that people are removing their “features” and having them modify the system so such hacks will no longer work seem pretty high.  They already did this when people figured out how to use Cortana with Google or other non-Bing search engines; MS stepped in and actively worked to thwart their customers’ ability to choose that for themselves.  Who do they think they are– Apple?

        So even if you can remove Cortana and Edge and what-not now, it doesn’t mean that will always be the case, and that’s too much of a risk going forward for me.  The fact that 7 is in extended support, where it supposedly will only get bug fixes and security patches, is one of the best features about it– its code base is mature, and with few changes taking place, the odds of new bugs being introduced are a lot less than with 10.  That means stability, and that’s something I really want (unlike 99% of the “features” MS has been pushing out).

        Windows 8, of course, is supposed to be in mainstream support for one more year, but the reality is that it’s been in de facto extended support ever since 10 hit the market over a year ago.  One example would be when MS declared that Skylake would only be supported on Windows 7 and 8 (including 8.1) for another year (even though they did walk it back in the face of customer pressure), and that only Windows 10 would support Kaby Lake and Zen (now Ryzen).  Being in mainstream support should mean that 8.1 would receive the feature upgrades necessary to make full use of Skylake, Kaby Lake, Ryzen, and every other architecture that is released during the mainstream support period, especially given that 8.1 and 10 are essentially the same under the hood, but MS altered the deal… “Pray that I don’t alter it any further.”

        • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by  Ascaris.
        • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by  Ascaris.
        1 user thanked author for this post.
        • #96891 Reply

          anonymous

          Yes, the approach MS takes towards 8.1 is a disaster for me. They could have added some sort of Start Menu (just like W10 before AU) – not that I need it that much, but there are many users for whom that would be a very welcome addition, and have 2 systems running – one for the current W7 users (8.1) and the other for those looking for “features” (W10). Instead, they didn’t make enough push for people to use W8.1 and now they basically abandoned it.

          Well, not a problem for me – I resisted W8.1 for a long time, made a jump straight to W10 but, as somebody wise wrote here, W10 was meant to be a cure for what W8 was, instead it turned out the cure was much worse than the disease. So, while W7 started to feel a bit dated after using W10 for a few weeks, W8.1 seems to be the best compromise – you can cut out 90% of the Metro Apps & Store and Start screen usability is more or less the same as W10 Start menu after AU – it just takes more place on the display, that’s all.

      • #98361 Reply

        Ascaris
        AskWoody MVP

        Name some things off the top of your head that you really like about Win 7 that you don’t like about the newer system(s) and I can tell you how I’ve got them working in Win 8.1.

        I’ve got a few things I’d like to find out how to fix, if it is possible.  Not really “getting things working,” per se, but banishing the last remnants of Metro/Modern that never should have been on a desktop PC in the first place.

        First, is there a replacement for the wifi AP select dialog?  It’s so stupidly simplistic, giving little information, taking up the whole screen vertically in all of its purple and white ugliness. In the XP days, I thought the stock dialog was lacking, so I used the Atheros suite or the Intel suite to manage my wireless settings (depending on which machine I was using at the time)… in both cases, the aftermarket program replaced the stock wifi select screen, appearing in its place whenever it was called.

        Now, even the Windows XP wifi dialog would be an improvement over what 8 offers.  The Windows 7 version is also much nicer… it matches the elegance of the OS itself, whereas the Win 8 version looks like a child’s crayon scribbles on a wall, compared with a masterful painting.  I know Metro/Modern/UWP are not made for desktops (so why am I seeing them?), but they’re hideous even compared to Android or iOS.

        The same question applies to the ctrl-alt-del screen and the “waiting for these programs” shutdown screen.  Are there any registry settings to go back to the originals, as there is with the “coolswitch” function?  Or at least some way to theme them; I have a theme I’m using on my Win 8.1 system, but these bits stubbornly refuse to get with the program.

        It’s relatively minor, and it won’t keep me from moving to 8 full-time in 2020, but having these ugly bits in will bother me compared to 7.  It’s things like that which keep me from switching from 7 now.

    • #97029 Reply

      Tiny
      AskWoody Lounger

      Now that this topic has stewed for a while, I’ll add my two cents worth.  In a word “YAWN”.  This happens whenever an OS substantially changes.  I’ve found that they usually work better when I take the time to learn how to use them.  Windows 3.1 was always the easiest to use.  Just double click an icon on the desktop.  On my Windows 10 machines, I find myself using the start button less and less.  I might be more interested in the Classic Shell type programs if they made my Windows XP machine and my Windows 7 machines look and feel like W10.

      Bottom line:  to each their own.  Do what works best for you.

      Where am I? What am I doing in this hand basket?

      • #97101 Reply

        Noel Carboni
        AskWoody MVP

        Bottom line: to each their own. Do what works best for you.

        Thank you! That’s actually ALL we tweakers ask!

        Trouble is, Microsoft no longer supports this! By undoing/breaking our tweaks at a rapid pace, they’re trying to wear us down to where we just give up, presumably so we all fall in line and don’t require them to work as hard.

        Problem is, that whole philosophy supposes that Microsoft knows better than we do what we need from our technology. That’s simply not true. It’s like building a hammer and requiring that you only hit nails with it. Try to use it to break ice or flatten a piece of sheet metal and you’re out of luck, even though the hammer you got 3 years ago would do it just fine.

        One could be forgiven for thinking they’re trying to get out of the operating system business and into the application business, because presumably that’s easier and more profitable.

        -Noel

        2 users thanked author for this post.
    • #97078 Reply

      anonymous

      Tiny: You’re certainly welcome to your opinion, but this topic is about tools to make Windows 8 or 10 more like 7.  Do you have anything to add in that regard?

      FWIW, Windows 3.1 was only that easy to use if all you wanted to do was launch programs, which is far from being all an OS needs to do well.  Its program manager looked enough like a representation of the file system to confuse a lot of people, even though it wasn’t.  PIF files weren’t all that easy to use for beginners, and the “shell stacked on DOS” architecture, and the requirement for the user to maximize conventional memory (QEMM was great for that) for real mode programs (even if you had plenty of extended memory) was not something everyone understood well.  The means of changing screen resolution (installing a new driver!) was not what I would have called ideal, and it had no support for sound (that would have to wait for 3.1).

      Back then, I used a tool back then called Pubtech File Organizer that greatly improved Windows 3.0, giving it a file manager far more useful than the Windows file manager (fileman.exe).  That level of file management would not come to Windows by default until 95 came along– five years later.

    • #97084 Reply

      Ascaris
      AskWoody MVP

      Gah, I did it again.  Posted as anonymous by mistake…

    • #97102 Reply

      anonymous

      Windows 8.1 with Classic Shell is all you need for the next few years people.

      2 users thanked author for this post.
    • #210204 Reply

      OscarCP
      AskWoody Lounger

      Two questions about ClassicShell:

      (1) Can one still use as Wallpaper some JPEG or GIF of a picture one really likes and is not from some Win 8 built-in themes directory or comes from some MS-approved service? I have used for close to a decade and a half (on my Win xp first, my Win 7 and also the new Mac now) Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”. If I didn’t see Ms. Venus and her attending mythological celebrities on my PC’s screen, it would not feel like it is my PC.

      (2) Does one have tearing when watching video? If one has, how hard is to fix it?

      Thank you all, than you so much.

      1 user thanked author for this post.
    • #210206 Reply

      MW
      AskWoody Lounger

      Two questions about ClassicShell: (1) Can one still use as Wallpaper some JPEG or GIF of a picture one really likes and is not from some Win 8 built-in themes directory or comes from some MS-approved service? I have used for close to a decade and a half (on my Win xp first, my Win 7 and also the new Mac now) Sandro Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus”. If I didn’t see Ms. Venus and her attending mythological celebrities on my PC’s screen, it would not feel like it is my PC. (2) Does one have tearing when watching video? If one has, how hard is to fix it? Thank you all, than you so much.

      1, yes and 2, no.  Classic shell works seemlessly, as if it were part of the OS.

      W7 & W8.1 - Group W
      Mac Sierra - Group A
      Mint Cinnamon - Group A

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by  MW.
      2 users thanked author for this post.
      • #210209 Reply

        Kirsty
        AskWoody MVP

        I’d suggest a read of this weekend’s blogpost by @gborn:

         
        PSA: Classic Shell is now Open Shell Menu – and a warning
        By Guenni | August 11, 2018

         
        New information for users and interested parties of the Windows tool Classic Shell: The follow-up project has already been renamed again and is now called Open Shell Menu. Here’s some information and a hint why I (currently) would say ‘be careful’.

         
        Read the full article here

        2 users thanked author for this post.
        • #210217 Reply

          OscarCP
          AskWoody Lounger

          Oh Dear! Developers just can’t refrain from developing what is already well developed and even old enough to drink and get married…

          • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by  OscarCP.
        • #210222 Reply

          Cybertooth
          AskWoody Lounger

          @kirsty, the link to Borncity.com didn’t make it to your post.  🙂

          I did find the discussion, though. Thanks for the heads-up.

          2 users thanked author for this post.

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