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NoelC

A REALLY USEFUL Win 8.1 Desktop

54 posts in this topic

Remember the Thomas the Tank Engine series?  All the little train engines strove to be Really Useful.  I enjoyed that aspect of the show when my son was growing up back in the '90s.

 

Perhaps we can learn from one another by describing some of the things we do that make our Windows desktops more useful for us.

 

I'd like to hear what YOU do to make your Windows 8.1 desktop Really Useful.

 

Here's some of what I do...

 

1.  NEVER, EVER SEEING Metro/Modern screens decreases distraction, and thus increases the usefulness of the desktop.  Not regularly having mind-numbing color and animated tiles overlay everything you're working on helps keep the mind focused on the problem at hand:

 

1a.  I use the ClassicShell start button/menu replacement for when I need to search or run something I don't use very often, and I keep icons on the desktop for the things I do run a lot. 

 

1b.  I've run Vista Shortcut Overlay Manager to remove those stupid not-so-little arrow overlays from my desktop icons.  Now I see the whole icon.  It's amazing how much the arrows get in the way of recognition.

 

1c.  I don't even have a Win key on my keyboard (a vintage Digital LK250), and I never, ever see the Start screen, not even accidentally (I could still call it up with Control-Esc if I wanted to, but I simply don't want to).

 

1d.  I have disabled UAC, so Microsoft offers me no ability to run a Metro/Modern toy app anyway.  Their loss for having that limitation, and my gain.  I doubt that anything Really Useful will show up in the Microsoft App Store any time soon.  I don't need distracting toys.

 

1e.  I run Big Muscle's Aero Glass for Win 8.1, which beyond creating a glass effect that can help make the chrome around windows less intrusive and easier on the eyes, also facilitates the compositing of a significant drop shadow around windows via theme atlas replacement.  I don't care what Marketing BS Microsoft is pushing about "skeuomorphism", a drop shadow helps differentiate one window from another on the desktop.  Ever have a Win 8 pop-up show in front of what you're working on and you have trouble perceiving that it's there at first?  There you go.

 

1f.  Beyond Aero Glass, I've reduced the size of the chrome size around windows by importing a set of values under the  that were created by running the desktop metrics control panel applet on Windows 7.  Less chrome means more room to work.

 

1g.  Even with the above chrome reduction, I have a big desktop running across 3 monitors.  ATI Catalyst drivers help manage the space quite well.  It's amazing how much easier it is to work on complex things when there's room to have a couple of reference documents/web pages open and completely visible while working.

 

 

2.  I've tweaked File Explorer a number of different ways, since it's the great integrator of Windows file access:

 

2a.  I use a tool called ShellFolderFix by Georg Fischer to pre-position my Explorer windows (depending on the path they're being opened to), and I have several different icons on my desktop for opening folders that I specifically use a lot, including the root folders of C:\, D:\, E:\.

 

2b.  I have set registry entries to cause Explorer to show me General Items, Details View for all folders by default, though I occasionally switch some appropriate folders (e.g., those with photos/videos) to Thumbnails View.

 

2c.  I have augmented Explorer with a commercial codec pack (FastPictureViewer codec pack, specifically), which provides thumbnailing and preview support for virtually ANY image file type, including raw camera files and PSDs from Photoshop.

 

2d.  I use a combination of ClassicShell and Folder Options X settings to make the vertical density of things shown in Details view higher (more dense - more items showing in the same vertical space).  To me it's amazing how much more useful being able to see more items in the list is - it's more like XP was in that regard.

 

2e.  I've also removed the "full row select" using Folder Options X.  Things like drag and drop just work better this way.

 

2f.  I've installed Old New Explorer and also set Explorer configuration options to reduce the root namespaces in the Navigation (left) pane to just This PC and Network.  All those other abstractions are just distractions. And beyond usability, Explorer actually does work better when run on real file folders than on abstractions such as Libraries or the user profile area.  For example, refresh problems are a non-issue.

 

2g.  I name all my drives using the form "drive letter - Computer name" with possibly some additional text after.  For example "C - NoelC4 SSD" or "E - NoelC4 ReFS".  At a glance - even over a network connection (mapped drive) - it's obvious what drive I'm looking at.

 

 

I've done much more, but this is getting kind of long. 

 

I'd really like to know:  What things have YOU done to your desktop setup to make it Really Useful to you?

 

-Noel

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Just an example of what I see in File Explorer as a result of the above tweaks...

 

FileExplorer.png

 

-Noel

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@Noel

 

I use your following settings as well Numbers 1, 1a, 1d, and 1e. I also use Chrome as well almost

exclusively and use a aero glass add-on that gives really good "eye candy" to the taskbar. and a

Custom theme with the rounded style Vista toolbar that sets it apart from the flat look.

 

 

~DP :whistle:

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Thanks, DP.  Nobody else?

 

You haven't done anything at all to your desktop environment to make it work better?  This forum seems to be all about making the desktop more pleasant to use.

 

I thought of something else I've done that's pretty fundamental:  I disabled the stupid "Hide Folder Merge Conflicts" setting in Folder Options.  Without doing that there's real potential to get into trouble and not know it!

 

-Noel

Edited by NoelC
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This recent programs thread is partly similar:

http://www.msfn.org/board/topic/171729-your-favorite-apps-for-windows-8-and-81/

As for non-program tweaks, sadly it's mostly hard to remember. I really wish there was a simple way to keep track of and backup/restore Windows, and other software, tweaks.

What I do remember:

I changed the default skin to remove the Explorer hot tracking/hilite-on-hover of files (which reminds me I still need to remove this effect also from the item with keyboard selection focus).

I made the taskbar non-transparent.

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Thanks, Shae.

 

I know what you mean by the set of things to do to a system to make a system useful being difficult to keep track of.  I wrote a book on the subject just for that reason (currently 123 pages).  Originally it was for in-house use only.  When I set up a new system I just go through the book, front to back.  It takes me between one and two hours, including the Windows install itself.

 

Thing is, much of it is disabling the crapware Microsoft has added - things such as disabling "HomeGroup networking" and "Indexing", which don't really work right.  And making (as I described in the OP of this thread) Explorer act more like its predecessors.

 

Another thing I do is to use the Classic Explorer component of Classic Shell to replace the File Explorer Status Bar.  It's not something you can't live without, but it adds a little value.  Add a little value to the desktop a bunch of times and it gets more useful.

 

I'm always looking for more tips and tricks.  Thanks for sharing.

 

-Noel

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A few other things:

* Set Windows to show absolute file dates and times instead of "5 minutes ago" and "yesterday".

* Set Windows to underline shortcut letters in context menus.

* Add .LNK to executable-by-default extensions (plus shortcuts and batch files to various things, placed in a common directory that's in the path, to make them easily accessible from commandline).

* Decrease Desktop icon spacing (I think I did).

* Decrease window border thickness.

Things I still haven't figured out:

* Disable smooth scrolling in Explorer.

* Make the Explorer Ribbon menu work without having to release Alt before pressing the letter(s).

The problem with the "write down notes" approach is that I constantly need to update it as I tweak, and not only for Windows but also for 3rd party software. I wanted to start using a wiki for that but still haven't set it up.

And you really should try the programs I suggested in that other thread, if you haven't. Particularly QtTabBar to make Explorer a more viable file manager, and 7tt to tweak taskbar behavior and a bit looks.

Edited by shae
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* Set Windows to show absolute file dates and times instead of "5 minutes ago" and "yesterday".

 

That's a good one, and something I haven't accomplished yet.  Can you please share (or point me to) information on how to do that?

 

You're talking about this, right?  I would love it if I could see hours:minutes:seconds there instead of "4 minutes ago".

 

4MinutesAgo.png

 

 

 

* Decrease Desktop icon spacing (I think I did).

* Decrease window border thickness.

 

I accomplish this by importing into Windows 8 a .reg file exported from a Windows 7 system on which the control panel was run to lower the various sizes.

 

I have placed a copy of this file, called SetWindowMetrics.reg, online inside this zip file:  Click

 

-Noel

Edited by NoelC
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How about this Windows 8.1 with update 1 (MY NEW TEST SETUP FROM TODAY):

http://s3.postimg.org/jl2uy29df/Rocket_Dock.jpg

 

Pic Updates1:

http://s1.postimg.org/58oc5r99b/Screen_Shot.png

 

http://s9.postimg.org/6ljl2whrz/Screen_Shot_2.png

 

Pic update2:

http://s15.postimg.org/y0p9hv9x7/Rocket_Dock_and_Spencer_Start_Menu.jpg

 

Explorer Tweaks:
NO explorer.exe (loading at startup)
NO dwm.exe
NO Taskbar
NO Ribbon
Windows Features (Custom Setup)

Regedit Tweaks:
NameSpace     OFF
LockScreen    OFF
Libraries     ON
Category View ON
Performance Options (Custom Setup)
Startup and Recovery (Custom Setup)

 

Drivers:
All Drivers and DirectX End-User Runtimes up to date.

Firefox and Addons up to date:
Adobe Flash Player
Adobe Shockwave Player
Silverlight
Adblock Plus
Youtube High Definition

NOTES:

This setup is working fine for

Online browsing / Movies / Music.

Playing PC Games.

 

AT THE MOMENT. :angel

Edited by ace2
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That's a good one, and something I haven't accomplished yet.  Can you please share (or point me to) information on how to do that?

Oddly, the indirect way to do it is to change the day part of the date format. The long date has to have day as "ddd" instead of "dddd". You may have to set it as custom format, or something.

 

* Decrease Desktop icon spacing (I think I did).

* Decrease window border thickness.

The first is HKCU\Control Panel\Desktop\WindowMetrics\Icon*Spacing.

The second I set with a utility that sets it somewhere in the registry.

ace2: That's quite extreme.

More things I recalled:

* Disable Explorer's automatic custom formats for different directory "types", like "Images directory" and all that. One thing I hated in particular about that is that for "Images" it shows an EXIF date column instead of file date, and a Tags column, which I had to undo every time.

* Remove from SendTo the removable drives.

* Hide in the logon screen all users that are only used to regulate LAN share access. (That means all of them besides the actual logon user.)

Edited by shae
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That's a good one, and something I haven't accomplished yet.  Can you please share (or point me to) information on how to do that?

Oddly, the indirect way to do it is to change the day part of the date format. The long date has to have day as "ddd" instead of "dddd". You may have to set it as custom format, or something.

 

 

OutSTANDing!

 

You've just earned yourself a free eBook for sharing that.  PM me and I'll arrange to send it to you.

 

Thanks!

 

-Noel

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Thank you, ace2.  Can't say I've wanted a Mac-like desktop, but to each his own.

 

Can you please describe a bit more the implications of "NameSpace     OFF"?

 

-Noel

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Ah, I see - thanks.  Nice find.  That's something one can do through Old New Explorer as well.

 

I'll have to experiment with this as it doesn't require 3rd party software.  Not that ONE is bad, but having to run less software to accomplish a goal is often better.

 

PM me if you'd like a free copy of my book.  Though you seem to be accomplished at desktop tweaking, who knows, I might have found something you've not seen yet.  :sneaky:

 

-Noel

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These are the programs I use on my Win 8.1 Desktop.

 

1. StartIsBack+ - Obvious reasons.

 

2. Stardock Fences - Group icons into reduced opacity "fences" plus it removes the shortcut arrow and suffix.

 

3. Old New Explorer - Get the look of the Windows 7 explorer back.

 

4. Aero Glass for Win 8.1 - Obvious reasons.

 

5. Win+X Menu Editor - Removed the user command prompt and chopped the suffix of admin command prompt.

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Heh, that pretty much defines a "clean desktop" look.  Not the direction I go, but certainly an accomplishment.  Well done.

 

If it's at all interesting to anyone, here's my whole desktop layout.  Note that the Taskbar normally auto-hides at the top.

 

ReallyUsefulDesktopInUse.jpg

 

-Noel

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Firefox and Addons up to date:

Adobe Flash Player

 

Adobe Flash Player is implemented in Windows 8 (or IE 10/11, I'm not sure).

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Firefox and Addons up to date:

Adobe Flash Player

 

Adobe Flash Player is implemented in Windows 8 (or IE 10/11, I'm not sure).

 

:huh: ?

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I'll throw this on the table :w00t: without comments (and without having *any* idea if it works (or can work) on Windows 8/8.1 :ph34r: ).

 

It is something for which there is NO "middle way" people can only choose between "hating it" or "loving it":

http://sourceforge.net/projects/winqconsole/

 

One needs to try it for a few days, I became "addicted" to it :yes: in no more than three days, but of course a lot of people may find it useless :(.

 

As a matter of fact, since it is going (alas) to become unsupported, if anyone among the programmers would contact the Authors and take the matters in his/her hands it would be a great thing.

 

jaclaz

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What does that do?  Is it just a graphic to show in the back of your CMD window instead of the black background?

 

I'm not being critical, and I haven't reached a "love" or "hate" level because I simply don't know what it does yet, but (in the spirit of this thread)...  How would it increase the usefulness of the desktop?

 

-Noel

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