Note: This help page is much shorter since I removed most items reffering specifically to Windows 8 because it is not supported any longer by Microsoft with updates and is no longer an active operating system. Windows 8.1 will suffer the same fate in January of 2023 when its extended support will end.
Third-Party Start Menu Programs
Following are my recommendations for Start Menu programs. Be sure to view the screenshots at the sites since they will give you a very good idea what the menus will provide in the way of features.
Classic Shell http://www.classicshell.net/ (https mirror on Github)
To sum up: If you like the way the Start Button worked in Windows XP then Open Shell is for you. (Classic Shell no longer works in Windows 11. Use Open Shell instead.) However if you want a more faithful rendition of the Windows 7 Start Menu, Start 10 or 11 may be more to your liking.
Watch the Installer
One important thing before moving on: Especially with all free (but including all shareware, or low-cost) programs, you should watch the installer to be sure it is not installing extra programs, browsers, browser add-ons, or Trial (PAID versions) that you neither wanted nor expected. Although most of this extra software is not harmful some of it may be potentially dangerous as well as unwanted. For this reason antivirus software companies such as Norton, Mcafee, and others have a name for this unwanted software, PUP (potentially unwanted program).
It is wise to always avoid these PUPs.
It is inadvisable to simply click through any software installer without watching what it is doing.
It appears that some vendors of free or low-cost software really want you to install these extra PUPs, so be aware that in some installers these options to decline are either intentionally confusing or not very obvious.
Be careful when updating also:
Use a free installer/updater program that requires no installation to use. Download and run!
Where to find good programs for your PC
Since you will find it difficult to get much of anything done on your new PC without good third-party software you may wish to acquire some. (Like a good word-processing program)
But be aware that it is not necessary to pay (a lot of money or any money at all) for computer programs unless you have very specific requirements. For help to find links to download free software as well as avoiding the pitfalls see my file Freeware.
If you experience any problems with any programs that do not open when you double-click a file you expect that program to open go to Setting Default Programs to learn how to set program defaults.
Windows 10 and 11 Hot Keys
The links to the two lists of keyboard shortcuts (hot keys) is very helpful if you wish to control some of the functions of your PC from the keyboard.
Don't worry, there is no need to remember them all - but the Windows+X (Quick Link Menu), and the Windows+R (Run box) hot keys are very helpful at times. A full list of Windows 10 hot keys are available here.
Or perhaps all you need are the basic keyboard shortcuts:
Watching DVD Movies with Windows 10 or 11
With the release of Windows 8 Microsoft no longer included software to view DVD videos. If you have Windows 10 Professional you have the option to purchase and download a Media Pack from Microsoft, but if you have the standard Windows Home version that option is not open to you and you need to search for a third-party alternative.
Just such an alternative is available as a free program. Download and install VLC Media Player then set it's defaults to play DVD videos and you're all set.
VLC Media Player can play all video formats without the need for codec packs - even DivX!
If you play DVD videos on your PC then VLC is for you! Get it straight from VideoLan or at Download.Com or FileHippo.
Boot your PC without a Windows Logon Password
When you first unboxed your new Windows 10 PC and started it you were advised, during the first boot process that you should have a password to log into your computer. If you were like most people you just entered one and that was that.
Perhaps you discovered that logging into your PC with its lock and logon screens was a hassle but you could find no simple option to change it.
However, if you decide your Windows 8 or 10 PC is in a secure environment, and you have only one user account and you have no need for password protection when you boot your PC you can eliminate the need for password entry.
I do not recommend this on a laptop that you carry outside the home since this removes all user security from your PC - anyone can use it and access all information on it. Instead use the PIN Option.
Very important - Either write your current password down and put it in a safe place or create a password reset disk.
The reason for this is that Windows will remember your current password and revert to it if you decide to reverse your decision to not to use a password at a later date.
At that time, if you have forgotten your current password, you will need it or the reset disk to boot your PC again.
Setup your PC to boot without a password:
*In both Windows 8 and 10 simply click the Windows+R keys to bring up the Run dialog. Enter netplwiz then press enter.
*In the User Accounts dialog that appears, uncheck the box marked Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer.
*Click OK, then enter your password (twice).
*Click Apply or OK and Restart your PC.
Viola! No more need to enter a password.
Note: netplwiz only checks that the passwords entered match - not if the passwords are correct for the PC. So if you enter an incorrect password (twice), when you next boot your PC you will be confronted with a Windows login asking for your correct password before you can login.
If you have forgotten your PC password go here to learn how to reset your login password
If at a later date you decide it would be best to have a password for your PC then reverse the above actions.
Put the check back into the box marked Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer then click Apply or OK and restart your PC.
Create a password reset disk:
*Click the Start Button and type password reset into the Search Box.
You can also get to this by going to User Accounts in the Control Panel.
*Follow the directions in the Forgotten Password Wizard dialog - you'll need a USB Flash Drive.
Note: Windows will only allow you to create one password reset disk. If you create one keep it in a safe place since anyone can use the disk to reset the password on your PC.
Use a Four or six-digit PIN to logon to your PC
Instead of a password!
You can use a four-digit pin to logon to your Windows 8, 10 or 11 PC instead of long password. Use the following procedure to enable the pin.
In Windows 8.1
*Click in one of the right corners - upper or lower - to enable the Charms Bar.
*In the Charms Bar choose Settings then Change PC Settings - at the bottom.
*In the Settings Window choose Users.
If you have installed a third-party Start Menu program and used it to disable the Windows 8 hot corners there is no need to re-enable them to get to this window.
*Instead do this:
*Open the Control Panel - change View by: to Large Icons then choose User Accounts.
*In the User Accounts window click on Make changes to my account in PC settings.
*In the Users Window that appears click Create a PIN.
You will need to enter your current logon password.
*Click OK and enter your PIN (twice) then Click OK
Hit the Windows+D keys to get back to the desktop and close the Control Panel.
In Windows 10 or 11 it's even easier
*Click the Start Menu then choose Settings (or Press and hold the Windows key and then press the I key)
*In Windows Settings Click on Accounts then choose (click on) Sign-In Options
*Next choose (click on) PIN then click the Add button
*Finally, Enter your Windows password, then choose and enter a Pin and then click OK.
That's it! Every time you boot your PC from now on you will be able to use the four or six digit pin you have chosen instead of the long password.
You will still be able to logon to your PC using your normal password if you wish. This merely adds an additional choice to the login screen - another (shorter) logon option.
Setting Program Defaults
If you have installed a Start Menu Program and plan to work exclusively in the desktop it might be necessary to set some of the desktop programs as default. Occasionally when you double-click a file one of the modern apps from the Start Screen may open them instead of the desktop programs you have installed for that purpose. Generally when you install a new program it will assume its defaults - meaning that it will open the files you expect it to. But not always!
If this ever happens it is easy to fix.
If you happen to have a file type that you would rather a particular program open rather than the default one then you can Choose Default Programs in the Control panel then choose Associate a file type or protocol with a program. After the Screen loads simply choose your file type (extension) by highlighting it then choose the program you want it to always open by clicking the Change Program button at the upper right.
The program you choose will alway open files of this type rather than the default program.
This is helpful, for instance, when you wish to open an mp3 audio file (song) with the fast-loading Windows Media Player rather than have to wait for the slow-loading iTunes program to open to play your song.
A note concerning compatibility with previous versions of Windows
Is Windows 8 compatible with Windows 7?
Locked out of your Windows 10 PC?
Can't remember your login password?
Reset the password of a Microsoft Account
Where are my Libraries?
You may have noticed that when you click on the folder icon in the desktop taskbar a file explorer window opens but there may be no libraries in the window.
Want to change Windows?
Different Types of PC Users
The first group of PC users simply utilize their computers "AS IS" without changing a thing or even thinking about changing anything.
The next group of PC users would only change things on their computers when they were forced to by circumstances - Such as when Microsoft introduced Windows 8 with its aggravating Start Screen, which replaced the perfectly suitable Start Menu that was introduced with Windows 95 and was perfected years later in Windows 7.
Some of these unsatisfied users reacted by completely replacing the offending Windows 8 operating system with Windows 7, which was, in effect, a downgrade even though they didn't know it or realize it at the time.
The third group of users, rather than just reacting, did a bit of research before they acted and discovered the Classic Shell Start Menu, which gave them a very nice Windows 7 style start menu on Windows 8. and 8.1 as well as booting directly to the desktop. They may not have even noticed that Windows 8 booted and ran a bit faster than Windows 7 and was also more secure!
The final group of PC users are those who are hard to please. They are on their PC for hours each day, either for work or for pleasure, so they want their PC to be secure, efficient, and easy-to-use. They want the latest technology, the lastest software, and both stable and fast PCs. They are not adverse to spending whatever time, or occasionally, the money it takes to get what they want (within reason, of course).
These PC users are now running Windows 11 on their upgraded or recently purchased PCs equipped with a fast Solid State Drive as well as a large Storage Hard Disk Drive. They also probably have either Open Shell, Start 11 or StartAllBack replacing the regular Windows 10 Start Menu and perhaps even replacing the Start Button. Their PCs sport very attractive Desktop Themes, free from the Windows Store.
If some of the same type of users from this group skipped installing a replacement Start Menu they probably have added a badly needed link to the Control Panel in the Quick Link Menu with the Win+X Menu Editor from Winareo. They may have even used the very handy Winaero Tweaker or a simple Registry Edit (regedit) to Remove (disable) the attractive but useless Lock Screen that pops up every time a Windows 8 or 10 PC wakes, restarts, or boots.
Note: This last group of hypothetical users could upgrade their PC's Operating System and add essential and useful software without spending any extra money. The only actual money spent was for either a new late model PC or a SSD drive to upgrade an older PC. The value of such purchases is evident. Every other tweak or improvement can be accomplished using Free Software or freely available information!
Uninstall Programs in Windows 10 and 11
The easiest way, by far, to uninstall a program or App in either Windows 10 or in Windows 11 is to open the Start Menu and find the program you wish to remove then right-click on it. In the right-click (context) menu you will see uninstall listed, simply choose that and also choose uninstall in the next smaller window.
Another easy way to uninstall (remove) a Windows Program or App is to go to Settings (Either click the gear icon in the Start Menu, or press and hold the Windows key (with the little flag) then press the I key)
*When the Settings window opens choose the Apps section (click once).
*In the Apps window click on Apps and Features
*In the Apps and Features window find the program you wish to remove (the programs are usually listed alphabetically) and click on it! - then Choose Uninstall
*Another little window will open - Choose Uninstall again in it to confirm your choice.
Note: In Windows 11 click the three dot menu (on the right) then choose Uninstall)
Also Note that some apps that ship with Windows may not be able to be uninstalled.
(Finally, the uninstall app should then run for that program - it may take a short while.)
Switching Out of S Mode in Windows 10 or 11
Microsoft claims that S Mode is a security feature. (If that were the case they would make it easier to switch in and out of it, but I digress)
S Mode is Microsoft's way of selling inexpensive PCs with a cheaper operating system by restricting app and program installation to whatever is available in the Microsoft (Windows) Store. It is also a security feature in that it will not allow installation of any apps that are not downloaded from the Microsoft Store. (this tends to prevent apps from being installed without the user's knowledge and consent, which is good.) However a similiar thing can be done by simply changing the "Choose Where to Get Apps" setting in the Apps section of PC Settings.
Go to Microsoft's Support Page if your prefer that - orMicrosoft Support: Switch out of S Mode in Windows gives directions for both Windows 10 & 11.
*Go to Settings by holding down the Windows key (with the Windows flag) then press the "i" key. (This opens PC Settings Window)
*For Windows 10 Go to Update and Security, then Activation (from menu on the left).
*For Windows 11 Go to System, then Activation. I sometimes believe the Microsoft Software Engineers make changes like these just to show how ornery they are.
*After getting to the Activation page in either OS choose: In the Switch to Windows 10 or 11 section, select Go to the Store
*(Do Not choose Upgrade to Windows Pro) Switching is NOT an upgrade. You simply want to switch from Windows S Mode to regular Windows either Home or Pro (depending on which one you have installed, most likely Home) Switching is FREE, but you must pay extra to Upgrade from Windows Home to Windows Pro.
*Finally, once you are in the Store on the Switch Page choose Get (or whatever button is default). (You should see a confirmation message after the usual identity confirmation procedure and then you should be able to install any Windows apps you choose, without restriction.
During the creation of this tutorial I have shamelessly ripped-off (stolen?) ideas, and tips from many other helpful sites on the internet. My thanks go to these and many others out there who have taken the time to provide instruction for other computer users.
Also, as I have discovered, there are also some info and tips out there on the internet that may be incorrect, incomplete or misleading. Take all advice you may find there with a grain of salt. Including mine!