Microsoft removed a variety of features from Windows 8. These features range from the widely-used — like the Start menu and DVD playback — to the useful-but-rarely-used, like Windows Media Center. Other features, like the Windows Briefcase, are hopefully not being used by anyone anymore. Many of these features aren’t great losses to most people, but they are if you depended on them.
Luckily, Windows 8 isn’t yet a locked-down mobile operating system, no matter how hard Microsoft is trying to make it into one. While many features are missing from Windows 8, you can still get them back. Most important features can be restored with high-quality alternatives, but replacements for other features — like the Windows 7 Aero theme and Windows Classic theme — are nowhere near as polished as Microsoft has removed the necessary theming code.
Start Menu, Unified Search & Boot to Desktop
Windows 8 removed the Start button and traditional Start menu, opting instead for the Start screen, which functions as a sort of full-screen Start menu. You also can’t boot directly to the desktop in Windows 8, nor can you use unified search to search programs, settings, and files at once, like you could in Windows 7.
All of these features can be returned to Windows 8 by installing a third-party Start menu like the popular Start8, free Start Menu 8, or traditional ClassicShell. There will be a delay before you see the desktop every time you log in — Microsoft added a delay to hinder people who try to boot to the desktop as they want you to see the Start screen every time you log in.
Windows 8 can no longer play DVDs out-of-the-box. While you can re-purchase DVD support from Microsoft by purchasing the Windows 8 Pro Pack and then the Media Center Pack, this will cost you over $100 in total. Luckily, you don’t have to do that. Just install the free VLC media player to play DVDs on Windows 8.
Note that, if you purchase a new computer that comes with a DVD drive, the computer likely comes with included, licensed DVD playback software that you can use to play DVDs without downloading anything else.
Windows Media Center
Windows Media Center is no longer part of Windows 8. If you love Windows Media Center and want to keep using it, you’ll have to upgrade to the Professional version of Windows 8 and purchase the Media Center Pack. You can do all this from within Windows 8, but it will cost you over $100 in total. You could also try using a different media center application like XBMC instead.
Solitaire, Minesweeper & Other games
Windows 8 removes Solitaire, Minesweeper, and the other games included with Windows that procrastinating office workers everywhere depend on. You can install Modern versions of Minesweeper and Solitaire from the Windows Store. If you really love the desktop versions, you can install the desktop versions of Solitaire and Minesweeper on Windows 8 — although this will take some work.
Windows Desktop Gadgets
Desktop gadgets were removed from Windows 8. Microsoft says they’re insecure — a desktop gadget is a program and can modify your system like any other program. This is true, but means that desktop gadgets are just as insecure as any other desktop program. If you love desktop gadgets, you don’t have to go without. You can easily install desktop gadget support in Windows 8.
The parental control feature found in previous versions of Windows is now gone. It’s now replaced by Microsoft Family Safety, which is integrated with Microsoft accounts, gives you a web-based administration console, emails you reports about your children’s internet use if you like, and adds many other new features.
Windows Aero Glass
The transparent, glass-like Windows 7 theme is also gone. You can get some transparency with a tool like Aero8Tuner, but don’t bother. This doesn’t work very well and, even if it did, Microsoft removed the blur effect so it’s not as slick-looking as it is in Windows 7. Microsoft went out of their way to strip the Windows Aero theme engine out of Windows 8.
Windows Classic Theme
The Windows Classic theme has been removed. You can approximate it by using a user-created Windows Classic theme, but it’s nowhere near the same. This theme is essentially a tweaked version of the High Contrast theme, as many elements of the default theme can’t be tweaked.
You can also install a variety of other interesting third-party themes for Windows 8 if you don’t like the included theme. This requires overriding the protection against installing third-party themes on Windows 8, just as it did on Windows 7, Vista, and XP.
Do you depend on another feature that’s missing in Windows 8? How did you get it back?