Bend Windows 8 to your will with these free tools

Three free utilities to customize Win8, make it look like OS X, or eliminate the Start Screen entirely.

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If youre wondering where your normal Windows 8 Start screen went, its not gone forever;  you can still access it if you hold down the Shift key and click on Classic Shells Start button (or press the Windows key on your keyboard).  You can also change which Start menu you use based with the Basic Settings tab on the aforementioned Settings window.

One important fact to note: Toward the very, very bottom of the Basic Settings tab is an option that comes checked by default, Skip Metro Screen.  When you next restart your system, youll notice that Windows 8s Metro UI pops up as usual, but is quickly replaced by Windows 8s Desktop Mode. that's how Classic Shell works; it just automatically launches the Windows 8 Desktop as soon as you boot up your PC. If you ever want to go back, simply uncheck that "Skip Metro Screen" option.

But wait, theres more!

Click on the All settings button toward the bottom-left of Classic Shells Settings menu, and your three available tabs will explode into 13 different tabs for further customization of your Start menu.  While you could spend days editing variables like the time delay for menus, what items appear on the Start menus right-click context menu and the specific buttons, links, and options that appear on the entirety of the Start menu itself, its important for Windows 8 haters to make note of the Windows 8 Settings tab.

In here, youll find an option that lets you switch Disable active corners from Start screen to All, removing the Metro bits that pop up whenever you hover your mouse in one of the four corners of your screen.

Testing note: Switching over to the apps All Settings option gives you the ability to customize a special Classic Explorer toolbar thats supposed to appear within File Explorer. I couldnt quite figure out where this was, or how to get it to appear, so dont go too crazy customizing a toolbar that might not even exist.

Tweakers beware!

Ive covered three excellent utilities that I tested personally for this brief Windows 8 customization guide, and there are plenty more out there if you do a cursory Google search.  However, just because an app exists doesnt mean that its going to be able to do exactly what it promises without error.  Since Windows 8 is so new, there are a number of apps that were created based on outdated versions like the Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

For example, the app My WCP Start Screen Customizer which sounds like a super-easy method for changing the color or image on the Windows 8 Start screen to anything you want ended up slapping every single Metro tile I had into a single, huge row. Worse, it managed to bork my Start screen so badly that no app would even load.

In other words, dont just install a bunch of tweaking apps the moment you find them.  Do a little research first or fire up a copy of Windows 8 running on a virtual machine (if you can somehow get past the licensing key requirement) and test your apps there before you use them to tweak your primary PC. If something goes wrong, youll be glad you did!

This story, "Bend Windows 8 to your will with these free tools" was originally published by PCWorld.

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