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In Pictures: 8 ways to customise Windows 8

Here are eight ways that you can customise your installation of Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

  • The Consumer Preview of Windows 8 -- which was made available to the public to download, install, and use for free until the new Microsoft OS is officially released -- has its share of the good and not-so-good. Fortunately, you can tweak various things to make it work the way you like, particularly if you’re not fond of its radically new Metro UI. Here are eight ways that you can customize your installation of Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

  • Restore the Start button Microsoft made a big deal about the Start button being removed from the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. It actually still exists in functional form, just invisibly -- in Windows 8’s Desktop mode (the GUI environment that resembles the classic Windows desktop), hover the pointer over the lower-left corner of the screen, and a thumbnail of the Start Metro panel pops open. Clicking this thumbnail opens the Start Metro panel. But if you miss the good ol’ Start button, you can install one. Stardock, a company known for its myriad of Windows customization software, released a free tool, Start8, that puts the Start button back.

  • Put in a new Start Menu The Stardock utility, Start8, also plugs in an application launcher which looks and works similarly to the old Start Menu interface. Of course, doing this and putting back the Start button brings to question why you would even bother to install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview in the first place when its new program launcher UI, Metro, is its most prominent, front-and-center feature.

  • Change rectangles to squares Under the Metro UI, the panels represent icons for apps or are windows of widgets showing information updated in real-time (e.g., news headlines, stock quotes, weather). To avoid having to scroll the Start Metro panel toward the right, set any of these panels that are rectangles to squares. Do this by right-clicking on the panel and choosing “Smaller.” Leave the widgets that show you updated information as rectangles if this display size works better for you.

  • Un-install or un-pin unneeded Metro apps This is another simple and obvious way to tighten up the layout of the Start Metro panel -- just un-install (or un-pin from the Start Metro panel) any app and widget that comes preinstalled on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview that you don’t need or want to use. Right-click on its panel and select “Uninstall” or “Unpin from Start.”

  • Remove the Ribbon The Ribbon UI, first introduced in Office 2007, seems to have an equal share of fans, haters and those indifferent to it. Over time, Microsoft has integrated the Ribbon into their other applications. Now in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the UI of Windows Explorer has been Ribbon-ized. Don’t like it? You can minimize it by right-clicking on the Ribbon and selecting “Minimize the Ribbon” or alternatively clicking the up-arrow set to the far right, just above the Ribbon UI. But if you despise it so much, you can strip it out from Windows Explorer completely by running a free tool, Ribbon Disabler.

  • Adjust sync settings Since Windows 8 has been designed to be used on tablets, too, it will incorporate a whole bunch of settings for keeping your applications, browser and system preferences in sync with the cloud and any other devices of yours running Windows 8. If you’re using Windows 8 as a desktop or notebook OS, you should keep track of what it’s syncing and turn off whatever you don’t need to have synced, especially if you’re not using Windows 8 on another computer, to save on system resources and protect your privacy. Go to the sync settings by moving the pointer to either the upper-right or lower-right corner of the screen, click the gear icon that appears on the screen, select “More PC settings,” and then “Sync...

  • Activate SkyDrive SkyDrive is Microsoft’s cloud storage service. There’s a SkyDrive app listed on the Start Metro panel. Through it, you can upload files to the cloud -- to storage space on your SkyDrive user account -- and download files you’ve stored on it to your local computer. Conveniently, you can access your SkyDrive files from another computer (whether it’s running Windows 8 or another OS) through a Web browser. Microsoft offers 25GB of space on SkyDrive for free. All you have to do is log in with a Windows Live or Hotmail account, or sign up for either service for free.

  • Boot to Desktop Mode By default, the Windows 8 Consumer Preview boots to the Start Metro panel. If you prefer to stick with using Windows 8 the “old way,” through its Desktop UI, and don’t want to have to click the Desktop icon panel on the Start Metro interface in order to enter this mode, you can adjust things so Windows 8 will go straight to the Desktop instead. It is, however, an involved process to pull this off.

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