Between the release of the PC-friendly spring update for Windows 8.1 and the newfound introduction of universal "buy once, play anywhere" Windows apps, Microsoft is doing all it can to spur the One Microsoft vision while, well, letting a PC be a PC and a tablet be a tablet. But, sadly, the most anticipated improvements have yet to arrive.
At Build 2014, Microsoft operating system head Terry Myerson teased bringing the Start Menu to Windows 8, along with the ability to run universal Metro apps in desktop windows rather than the full screens they consume today. (See screenshot above.) Myerson didn't say when the features were going live, however--only that they'd eventually appear in a later update for Windows 8.1 users. Does that mean later this year? The Windows "Threshold" update rumored for April 2015? Windows 9? No one knows.
But you don't have to wait to get those killer features. With the first universal apps hitting the various Windows Stores this week, here's how to bring a Start menu and windowed Metro apps to Windows 8.1 today.
The return of the Start Menu
A slew of Start menu replacements hit the web the second the Start Menu-less Windows 8 hit the streets, but when it comes time to put your cash on the line, the decision boils down to just two programs: Stardock's Start8 and Classic Shell.
Those reviews have all the nitty-gritty details, but you'll probably want to start with Classic Shell since it's donationware. Classic Shell includes options for both Windows XP- and Windows 7-style Start menus, along with numerous customization options. You can tinker with what's listed in the Classic Shell Start Menu, or even change the look of its Start button to an icon of your choice. Cool stuff, indeed.
Start8, meanwhile, offers either a Windows 7 Start Menu or a Modern UI-tinged Windows 8 Start Menu that's more in line with what Microsoft itself is cooking up. The $5 Start8 app is more polished and easier to use than the open-source Classic Shell, which is chock full of ugly buttons. Start8 still offers plenty of options and features, though, and you can't go wrong with either program.
Windowed desktop Metro apps
Sure, the recent update to Windows 8.1 adds plenty of mouse-friendly features, but it still doesn't let you use Modern apps in desktop windows. If you want that capability today, you only have one place to turn: The utterly superb ModernMix software.
Again offered by Stardock--do you get the feeling that the folks at Stardock weren't impressed by Windows 8?--ModernMix exists solely to let you run Windows Store apps in desktop Windows. It's wonderful if you use Windows 8's native apps, such as email, calendar, and Music, all of which stick to the Modern UI.
ModernMix runs like a charm even with the updates recently introduced to Windows 8.1. It's well worth the $5 admission price.
Bringing it all together
There you have it: For less than the cost of a pizza, you can have Windows 9's most-anticipated improvements right now. And once you've welcomed a Start Menu replacement and ModernMix into your workflow--especially paired with the Windows 8.1 spring Update's tremendous tweaks --you might just be surprised how well those newfangled Modern apps translate to the familiar desktop experience.