Three ways to make Windows 8 easier to live with

If you purchased a new computer anytime in the last couple months, or you're planning to in the future, say hello to Windows 8. Microsoft's latest operating system debuted late last October, and reviews to date have been...mixed. 

Indeed, you may recall my three reasons you should steer clear of Windows 8, and I haven't changed my mind. For anyone already familiar with earlier versions of Windows, the learning curve can be steep and jarring.

Alas, unless you're planning to switch to Mac (an equally jarring move), you're pretty much stuck with Windows 8. So you might as well learn to live with it. Below I've rounded up three ways to make that easier.

1. Add a stylus The Targus Touch Pen adds touch capabilities to any Windows 8 laptop. No, really. It combines a special stylus and a small USB-powered receiver that clips to the side of your screen. The end result: You can operate Windows 8 with that stylus, same as if you were using a touchscreen-equipped laptop or tablet.

What's most amazing about the Touch Pen is that it works. I tested it on an older laptop that I'd upgraded to Windows 8. After a quick and easy calibration, my swipes and taps were recognized instantly and accurately, giving me a much "truer" Windows 8 experience than I could get from a mouse and keyboard.

The only downside: the Touch Pen is a little pricey at $99.99. Of course, if you search for Targus-related coupons, you might just score a better deal.

2. Add a Start button Windows 8 forces you to boot into the new tile-enriched Start screen. Assuming you're able to find your way to the more familiar-looking Desktop mode, you'll notice one startling omission: the Start button. Uh, hey, Microsoft, how am I supposed to, you know, do anything without one?

Thankfully, there are several utilities that will not only restore the Start button, but also give you the option of booting directly to the Desktop. My top pick: the aptly named Win8 StartButton. (Just make sure you pay close attention while installing it so you don't end up with unwanted shovelware.)

Win8 StartButton is free, and it gives you a choice of Start-button styles: Windows XP, Windows 7, Aero, and more. I think this utility is a must-have addition to Windows 8.

3. Learn to love apps The whole idea behind Windows 8 is to migrate you away from traditional desktop software and toward apps. This can be a hard pill to swallow, but in the end it might be for the best. Consider the speed, simplicity, and affordability of the apps you already run on a tablet; those same benefits can be yours on your PC.

For example, are you a heavy Skype user? Install the Skype app. Like Twitter? Forget using a desktop client; run the Rowi app instead. If you're into music, TuneIn Radio brings the same radio-streaming goodness to your PC that you get on your smartphone.

And consider Microsoft's own OneNote, the app version of the popular information-management tool normally bundled with its expensive Office suite. In Windows 8 it's free, and it automatically syncs with any app versions you run elsewhere (like, say, your iPad).

Bottom line: The more you can embrace the tiled Start screen and the apps therein, the better you'll get along with Windows 8.

Have you found any other ways to improve the Windows 8 experience? Share them in the comments!

Veteran technology writer Rick Broida is the author of numerous books, blogs, and features. He lends his money-saving expertise to CNET and, and also writes for PC World and Wired.


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