Microsoft has revealed more about Windows 10, which is set to launch July 2015. The updated OS aims to combine the best ideas of Windows 8 with the traditional desktop model of Windows 7. The company has announced that it will be a free upgrade for Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 users, but if you’re a Windows 8.1 user who can’t wait for some reason, there are a few ways to get some of the best Windows 10 features right now.
Use Your Desktop
One of the most controversial changes in Windows 8 was the lack of a traditional desktop, especially since most Windows users still use a mouse and keyboard rather than the touch screens that the new Start screen and Metro apps are optimized for. (Get some background in 10 Things You Need to Know About Windows 8.)
Windows 8.1 made the desktop easier to get to, and Windows 10 will default to the desktop when it detects that the user has a mouse and keyboard attached. If you’re on Windows 8.1 and you work mostly with desktop apps, you can have your favorite interface by default, just like on Windows 7.
Of course, you can just click on the Desktop icon from the Start screen, but if you go to the "Taskbar and Navigation" portion of the Control Panel (which you can access from the Windows search function) and go to the "Navigation" tab, you can check the option to go to the desktop instead of the Start screen.
You’ll get the Windows desktop, complete with a Start button that you know and love. Clicking the start button will take you back to the Start screen rather than the traditional Start menu, though there are third-party apps that will mimic the traditional Start menu that I’ll mention later.
Right-clicking the Start button in the desktop will let you launch the Task Manager, the Control Panel or shut down the computer, among other things. This duplicates a lot of the functionality of the old Start menu, and should keep diehard desktop users happy.
Get Your Start Menu
If you’re really dead-set against using the Windows 8.1 Start screen, there are some third-party programs that aim to give you your traditional Start menu. Some of them include Start Menu 8 and Classic Shell.
But the Windows 8.1 Start menu does have some merits, so if you’re willing to stomach the full-screen version and the inability to have Metro apps run in a window on the desktop, living with the Start screen isn’t a bad idea.
Learn to Love the Start Screen
If you prefer your old Start menu, you can have it using the tools shown above. You won’t get any of the live tiles you get on the Start screen. You might prefer it that way, but some people actually like the live tiles.
While the current Start screen is optimized for touch devices like tablets, it’s perfectly workable using a mouse and keyboard.
Alan Peto has done a wonderful tutorial on YouTube showing how well Windows 8.1’s Start screen works even without a touchscreen. His setup is similar to what I’ve been advocating for desktop users: using Windows 8.1 in its Desktop Mode.
The Start screen is used as a way to have all your important applications in one spot, ready to launch. You can put all these tiles into groups, such as all your productivity apps in one place, games in another, and so on.
Use a Desktop Manager
One of the new features coming up for Windows 10 is the ability to have virtual desktops. If you’re a Mac OS X or Linux user, you know that it’s not exactly new feature, but it’s one that’s nice to have, especially on cramped laptop screens.
You don’t have to wait for the free Windows 10 upgrade to have it. You can just install something like BetterDesktop Tool to have features like Mac OS X’s Exposé in Windows 8.1, such as the ability to see all your open windows at once, or just for one application, as well as virtual desktops.
Use the Technical Preview
If all this talk of features has you hungry for the real thing, you don’t have to wait for the upgrade to get Windows 10. Just sign up for the Windows 10 Technical preview under the Windows Insider Program.
You’ll then be able to download an ISO file that you can burn to either a disc or thumb drive to install on a computer. Microsoft recommends that you install it on a spare computer. You might also consider installing it on a virtual machine.
You’ll be installing beta software, with everything that entails. You’ll be able to send feedback and actually participate in the next version of Windows.
Windows 10 looks poised to correct some of the problems with Windows 8 and 8.1. You don’t have to wait to get the benefits right now if you use some of the tools suggested here.