If you have a PC with Windows 8 or 8.1 but miss Windows 7, there’s no need to downgrade. Following a few simple steps, you can make Microsoft’s current operating system look and feel almost identical to its predecessor. Here’s how to bring back the Start menu and the attractive aero glass theme how to hide other Windows 8 elements like the Charms menu.
Step 1: Swap the Start screen for a Start menu
Without a doubt, the most unfamiliar (and, for some, most annoying) feature of Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 is its tile-based Start screen. Where Windows 7 lets you choose from a list of applications by pulling up the Start menu, Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 make you go to a completely separate screen just to launch an application or conduct a search. Windows 8.1 places a Start button in the lower left corner of the screen, but don’t be fooled; it does nothing more than take you back to the same tile-based Start screen when you click it.
MORE: How to Upgrade From Windows 7 to Windows 8.1
There are a number of third-party Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 Start menu apps including the free Classic Shell, but if you’re willing to pay $4.99, we recommend Start8, because it looks the most like the Windows 7 Start menu and allows you to control many other elements of the UI.
To set up Start8:
- Download and install Start8. You can try the program for 30 days without paying for it.
- Select Windows 7 Style and Shadow Theme under the Style tab.
- Select the Desktop tab.
- Check “Disable all Windows 8 hot corners.” This setting will prevent the Charms and Windows 8 Start shortcut from appearing when you hover the mouse in a corner.
- Make sure “Automatically go to the Desktop when I sign in” is checked. This way Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 will take you straight to the desktop when it boots rather than making you go through the Start screen first.
- Make sure Disable Taskbar Translucency is unchecked.
- Select the Control tab.
- Uncheck “show the Windows 8 menu when I press the right windows key.” With this setting off, you won’t accidentally end up on the Start screen if you hit the right Windows key.
- Close the Start8 settings window.
- View all your programs by clicking All Programs on the Start8 menu.
- Pin your favorite programs to Start8 by right-clicking on them and selecting Pin To Start8.
MORE: 5 Windows 8 Apps to Bring Back the Start Menu
Step 2: Install the Windows 7 Aero theme
With Windows 8, Microsoft took away the attractive translucent Aero glass effects and style many people love in Windows 7. Instead, the company made the desktop theme flat, solid and a little bit boring. While you can’t get all of the translucent effects back, you can get a very similar look to Windows 7′s default theme.
- Download and install UxStyle. This application tweaks your settings so you can install third-party themes you didn’t get from Microsoft.
- Download this Windows 7 theme from Deviant Art and open its zip file. Ignore the warning saying that it does not work in Windows 8.1.
- Copy the contents of the Themes Files folder from the zip file to C:\Windows\Resources\Themes.
- Double-click the Aero8Rounded-Default.theme icon. Your theme should now change to Aero 8 rounded, which looks like Windows 7′s default theme, complete with the Windows 7 logo wallpaper.
To switch back and forth between this theme, the Windows 7 Architecture theme and several other Windows 7 and Windows 8 themes, right-click on the desktop and select Personalize.
MORE: How to Shut Down Windows 8 or 8.1 in Just One Click
Step 3: Add an Aero glass effect to window title bars
Even with the Aero theme installed, the window title bars and borders are opaque. While you can’t make all parts of the UI have the smoky translucent effect they do in Windows 7, WinaeroGlass can make the title bars see-through.
- Download and unzip WinaeroGlass to your desktop.
- Double-click Winaeroglass.exe to turn on its visual effect. At present the app has no UI; it just works.
- Copy WinaeroGlass.exe to the C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder if you want it to start every time Windows 8 starts.
Step 4: Skip the lock screen
Windows 7 doesn’t waste your time by making you swipe away a lock screen before you get to its login prompt. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to disable Windows 8′s time-wasting lock screen.
- Open Regedit by hitting Windows + R and entering regedit at the prompt.
- Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MARCHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows.
- Create a registry key called Personalization if it doesn’t already exist. You can create a key by right-clicking on the Windows key, selecting New then Key and renaming the folder that appears.
- Create a new DWORD value and name it NoLockScreen. To create a DWORD, right-click in the white space on the right side of the window and select New then DWORD (32-bit) value. Rename the DWORD.
- Assign NoLockScreen a value of 1 by double-clicking it and entering the number 1 in the dialog box that appears.
- Close Regedit and reboot. From now on you will be taken straight to the login prompt.
Step 5: Run Windows 8 style apps in Desktop mode
Even if your desktop looks like Windows 7, you have a Start menu and your system boots you directly to the desktop, you may still want to run some Windows 8 apps. Under normal conditions, you’d be forced to run new style apps like Bing News or the People app at full screen in Windows 8′s Modern UI, but with the help of a utility called ModernMix you can run every Windows 8 program in its own draggable, resizable window on the desktop.
- Download and install ModernMix. The application costs $4.99 but has a free 30-day trial. You may need to enter your email address to receive a download link.
- Select Windowed mode under “When launched from the Windows 8 Start Menu.” With this setting enabled, even if you launch a Windows 8 app from the Start screen, it will open on the desktop.
- Select “Never return to the Windows 8 menu when I close applications” under the Advanced tab.
- Close the ModernMix settings window.
As long as ModernMix is running, all Windows 8 style apps (also known as Modern apps) will run in windows. You can even pin Windows 8 apps to the taskbar by right-clicking on their taskbar icons and selecting “Pin this program to taskbar.”