I’ve been running Windows 8 since it came out as retail. Basically what i needed was an upgrade for Vista on my laptop and wanted Windows 7 originally. Since the upgrade offer to Windows 8 was super cheap in some promotion i went with that instead and had it running for a while on my laptop. Performance was great compared to Vista. It was a nice way to give Windows 8 some testing since the laptop is just a secondary device only used for some basic stuff and recording here. Had Windows 7 running on my main system.
Meanwhile Windows 8 runs great on my main rig and the laptop got Windows 7 on it. Personally i don’t like that title screen either, so i compared a few start menu apps for Windows 8. If you don’t want to pay anything the mentioned Classic Shell is a good free alternative. I went With Stardock Start 8, simply because it looked not out of place and feels like it really belongs to Windows. With Classic Shell one was dependent on a skin and most of time it looked odd. With Start 8 you can change your colors in the Windows settings and the menu will perfectly adjust to it. It costs only 4.99 USD and won’t break the bank at least. Normal left click opens the start menu, holding CTRL and left click opens the title menu.
Another great tool by them is Stardock ModernMix. Say you find a neat little app in the store you want to use, but hate that those apps always run fullscreen, you can install ModernMix and your Windows 8 apps behave just like any other desktop program would do. You can put those apps as shortcut into your start menu and don’t need to fiddle with that title screen anymore. Also costs 4.99 USD.
Stardock Decor8 let’s you customize the title screen with various options but it’s not really essential i think. Again 4.99 USD.
A few free small tools i found helpful. Aero8Tuner can disable window border colors. This is especially helpful if you want your taskbar in a dark color, text would get unreadable then on window borders. Tiny Windows Borders allows you to tweak that thick frame around a program window to your liking or just get rid of it.
So, what do i actually like in Windows 8 compared to Windows 7. First is some small changes here and there, new file operation dialogs, new task manager, multi monitor support for the taskbar and overall a slightly better performance compared to Windows 7. One feature which was worth the upgrade alone for me is the new Storage Spaces. In the past i had a RAID 1 running for backup purposes, you needed two HDDs with the same size for that, if a HDD failed you had to buy the same size again and rebuild the RAID. With the Storage Spaces you can simply put in any number of HDDs with any size you might have and make a big pool out of those, then tell Windows you want each file stored on at least two HDDs, so in case one fails you always have a working copy. At any time you can add more HDDs as needed and grow the pool, Windows handles all the rest in the background for you, which is fantastic.
Overall, Windows 8 simply looks and behaves like a pimped Windows 7 here and i never regretted the upgrade. A few VST plugins and programs needed an update to work with Windows 8, but that’s it.
It’s clearly not as bad as people say with a bit of tweaking. Most just saw the title screen and instantly said it’s crap without ever having tested it. It’s so easy to get rid of with free or paid tools that this argument hardly counts imo.