Did a relative snag a new desktop PC in the post-Christmas sales? It very probably has Windows 8 pre-installed on it. Here, for those who want it, is my hard-won step-by-step guide to the essential steps in stripping Windows 8 of its new touchy-feely junk. The idea is to make the new desktop look like Windows 7 and have it behave like a normal hardcore desktop PC operating system. It’s fairly easy to do, once you know how. I couldn’t find all this information gathered in one place, and made into a step-by-step guide, so here it is.

1. First let Windows 8 takes you through the user name setup and registrations, and then let it start up for the first time. Those who just want their desktop back again should ignore the new colourful tile-tasic interface. Simply locate the Internet Explorer “tile”, click it, and immediately go online to download the free official Windows 8.1 update. It will download in a minimalist tile, which it’s all too easy to accidentally close. But the download will continue in the background, and Windows will pop something up to tell you when it’s ready.

The 8.1 update is a 3.5Gb download, so let’s hope you have fast broadband. Windows Update won’t fetch this Windows 8.1 for you — you have to get it for yourself.

2. After the Windows 8.1 upgrade has downloaded and installed (maybe 90 minutes), you will then be able to apply the following simple fixes, which are only available in Windows 8.1:

Load Windows, and find the tile that switches you to the normal desktop. Down at the very bottom of your desktop screen, right-click on the taskbar | Choose “Properties” | Choose “When I start by computer, go straight to the Desktop instead of Start” | Uncheck “When I point … show the charms” and “When I click the top left …”. Then click Apply, then OK.


Reboot (restart) the PC. Your PC should now go straight to the normal desktop after being rebooted. Most of the “charms” are also gone.

3. Now start Internet Explorer again (In Windows 8.1 its tile may not be on the front starting page). Download and install the free Classic Shell for Windows 8. This gets your Windows “Start” button back again, near enough…


You can also use Classic Shell to disable a few lingering charms, such as those that appear from the bottom right of the desktop. Right-click on the new Start menu button, and choose: Settings | Windows 8.1 Settings, as shown here….



Unofficially, the maker of Classic Shell also supplies a Windows Style Start orb button. Swop it in by right-clicking on the Classic Shell Start button icon, and choosing: Settings | Replace Start Button | Custom.

4. The final step in reclaiming your old style Windows desktop is to associate file types (.jpg. .txt and so on) with proper Windows software — rather than with apps that pop up as screen-filling tiles.

(This step is needed because applications like the free Windows Essentials come as both apps and as proper Windows software. For instance, the Windows Essentials bundle’s Windows Live Mail is an app, but it is also to be found in the more straightforward desktop version at: C:\Program Files (x86)\Windows Live\Mail\wlmail.exe Incidentally, this desktop version of Live Mail works fine with POP email accounts, despite what you may have heard about Windows 8 not supporting POP email).

So… to associate file types you first need to give them something to apply to. So download (or install off disks) your normal complement of desktop software. Remember to try to get 64-bit versions of the software, if that’s the version of Windows 8.1 you’re running. Keep in mind that most 64-bit software won’t run 32-bit plugins inside it (e.g. Photoshop), although the exception to that rule seems to be the 64-bit Firefox.

5. Then go to your new Start button, click it, and in the box there type: “PC Settings”. A hideously new-style PC Settings screen pops up, in which you should navigate to: Search and Apps | Defaults | “Choose Default Applications by File Type”.


Here you find a single huge list of file types, and this is where you can change them all in one go (hurrah). Associate the most usual file types to straightforward desktop software — which means that an app tile won’t pop up to handle them.


While you’re looking around in PC Settings, you may want to completely turn off SkyDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage service). Simply select the SkyDrive tile and disable the “Save documents to SkyDrive by default” option. Note you have to verify your identity with Microsoft first, (by acknowledging their Windows registration email) before they will deign to let you change this Skydrive setting.


Then to escape from PC Settings, press the Windows button on the keyboard. (You can also go so far as to edit the Registry to it won’t start at boot, restart, and then rename the SkyDrive executable file — should you really want to rip it out by the roots. It won’t just uninstall).

You will still see the new Windows interface when pressing: Crtl + Alt + Delete, because the default Task Manager is now an app. However, you can still get straight to a more desktop style Task Manager by typing “Task Man” into the Start Button’s search bar. From there you can pin it to your taskbar, so you no longer have to Crtl + Alt + Delete except in an emergency.

That’s it. After these few fixes you may never have to see the horrendous new interface of Windows 8 again, and your Windows 8 will work and look much like Windows 7.