Saturday, November 15, 2014

How to Make Windows 10 Look More Like Windows 7 (UPDATE 3!)

I treat Windows 7 much like many people treated Windows XP. I see no real reason to upgrade until something better comes around. Vista was a letdown, but I got used to it for work purposes (after Windows 7 had been out for some time). To its credit, it did pave the way for Windows 7 which I thoroughly enjoy. Windows 8/8.1 (from hereon just Windows 8) just gave me headaches, and while I do use it from time-to-time, and it does have some neat features, it's not enough for me to take the plunge. Windows 10 seems like it will be the new Windows 7 for me, as it takes ideas from both 7 & 8 that make it much more bearable in my eyes.

Windows 10
As of now, Windows 10 is in the Technical Preview stages, which means you can download and try it out for free. I found it immediately superior to Windows 8 as it didn't force me into the Metro UI, which I really only see useful if I have a touchscreen monitor. It already has some build updates which do more than just security issues or bugs. If you are a fan of Windows 7, then you may want to give Windows 10 a spin before losing official support like Windows XP did this year.

Windows 10 Download
In order to get Windows 10 you can go here and register for their Insider Program, needed for the official preview download. The download will be a large ISO file, which you can burn to a DVD or USB flash drive [will require free software] for installation.

For those of you unwilling to sign up for Microsoft's Insider Program, there are downloads available on the Internet elsewhere...

The installation will be like any Windows OS install. If you have never done this before, I would recommend reading a few online articles to better prepare yourself, and - if possible - have someone with you who has done this before.

Moreorless, pop in the CD (or set your BIOS/EFI to boot from the USB flash drive). The Windows 10 installation will begin. You will need to select a hard disk or SSD to install Windows 10 on. Then you will have a couple prompts to agree to, followed by some customization options (if not using express) before Windows 10 finally boots up.

Note: You should also be able to use this in a multi-boot setup, but be sure you now how to perform this method properly.

For those of you looking for less of a risk, VMware is the way to go. It is quick, simple, and painless:

  1. Create a new virtual machine.
  2. Select the Windows 10 ISO.
  3. Select Windows 8 x64 as the type of virtual machine to create.
  4. You can proceed with the rest of the options left at default.

Note: I found that installing VMware tools immensely helped clear up lag I encountered from the mouse and opening applications. I noticed that when I first tried to install it VMware acted as though I had a CD or ISO ready. I did a reboot of Windows 10 and tried again, and this time it downloaded, appearing as a CD Drive in Windows 10 once completed.

Other (Free) Virtualization Software
You can also try your luck with VirtualBox, but there could be a bevy of issues to contend with. However, I usually find little to none for Windows OS's.

If you're good at finding things, you can look for the old free version of VMware, or try VirtualPC that was discontinued by Microsoft some years back.

Sign In to Windows 10
If you have a Hotmail, Live or Outlook account, you can sign into Windows 10 quickly.

Otherwise, you can click the option to create an account which will lead to a final option of not using a Microsoft account. This will force you to make a general user account that you can then use to get into Windows 10.
Windows 10 Build Updates

So far there have been two build updates since the Windows 10 Technical Preview was released to the public. The only drawback is that you can't just download the newest build, you have to get the original preview and work your way up.

If you do want to get the latest "preview", I suggest downloading all Windows updates available first. Some people have had issues with downloading the newest build update and then not being able to install it. The only way to get it to work was for them to then download and install all the Windows updates, followed by redownloading the build update.
If you can't get seem to get the latest build, and you were able to download at least the first build update, you will need to change the speed of when you get a build update from "Slow" to "Fast", and then check for a new preview build. The original preview does not have this option. You can find this area by clicking on the Windows start button > PC Settings > Update and recovery > Preview builds.

Note: You do not have to do any updates to make Windows 10 look like Windows 7, but you will get newer features to try out.

DISCLAIMER: The tweaks presented here are to be used at your own risk. While Windows 10 will not likely be vastly altered upon its official release, there is the possibility these tweaks would no longer work properly, or at all. Some of these programs will also be updated or outdated as companies work on "solutions".

My Computer
My Computer, or Computer as it is actually known in Windows 7 (it just makes for a better subject title), is the simplest tweak to make in Windows 10:

  1. Right-click on the desktop.
  2. Select "Personalize".
  3. Click "Change desktop icons".
  4. Check off "Computer".
  5. Click "Apply".

UPDATE 2 - Windows Explorer Open to My PC (My Computer)
One of the main objectives I had was to have Windows Explorer open to My PC. However, none of the old tricks worked, and nothing I tried worked. Thanks to the new Windows 10 build 9926, this has been made extremely easy to accomplish:

Open up Windows Explorer.
Go to "View".
Select on "Options".
Click "Change folder and search options".
From the "General" tab, click on the drop-down box for "Open File Explorer to:".
Change "Quick Access" to "This PC".

Now you will have the classic view that most of us are accustomed to.

Windows Explorer Quick Access Toolbar
The Quick Access Toolbar could be helpful, but I wouldn't have any regular use for it. I find it rather intrusive and prefer to do away with it as much as possible:

  1. Click on the small drop-down arrow next to the tools.
  2. Uncheck all the checked off options.
  3. Click "Show above the ribbon" if the Quick Access Toolbar is below the ribbon.
This won't completely take away the Quick Access Toolbar, but it will just leave the small drop-down arrow, which is barely noticeable.

Note: The small drop-down arrow is not to be confused with the one for the "View" tab, which gives you some organization and viewing options.

Sign In
Another shortcoming that has yet to disappear, is the need to sign in before getting to the desktop. While this can be good if multiple users have access to only one computer, for many of us it is just another annoyance. Here is how to skip the sign in process:
  1. Press CTRL+R.
  2. Type in "netplwiz".
  3. Push enter.
  4. Highlight the account you want to have automatically sign in with.
  5. Uncheck the "Users must enter a user name and password to use this computer" box.
  6. Click "Apply".
  7. Type in the password for the account.
  8. Click "OK".
Windows Start Button (Optional)
Windows 10 brings back the start button, but it's still not like it used to be. While I think it is actually quite good, I am still annoyed by the Metro UI-styled side pane. In addition to this, I had found that when my task bar was on "auto-hide", I could not position my mouse over the lower-left corner to get it to pop-up. I would have to go a bit further right before it would spring up.

UPDATE - StartW8 Start Button 
I started a search for a better start button again and found this one. This start button not only mimics Windows 7 much better than the Pokki start button, it too fixes the "auto-hide" issue.
  1. Download the StartW8 menu button.
  2. Doubleclick the .MSI file to begin installation.
  3. Windows 10 should prompt you with a compatibility helper, but you can ignore that. Confirm any remaining prompts.
  4. Select "Complete" (it seems all the options are actually the same).
  5. Click "Finish".
  6. A settings window will appear where you can choose what the shut down button does and what folders you want. Peruse through them and click "OK" to confirm.
The Windows start button will appear in the corner and will actually look a little different than normal. A power button is actually located within the button icon and separately highlights from the rest of the image (it does not function though). This start button also gets rid of the need to install Start Killer, which was needed for the Pokki start menu. Thanks to this, there a quite a few steps and less work involved.

One additional step is getting back a simple way to go to the PC Settings area. Most updates can be done from the Control Panel area, except for upgrading you preview build. Follow these steps to get back to the PC Settings easily:

  1. Go to Control Panel.
  2. Click on Recovery (switch from large to small icons if you don't see it listed).
  3. Select "If you're experiencing problems with your PC, you can refresh it in PC Settings."

This will open PC Settings, and I would suggest that you pin it to the task bar for easy access later.

The Windows 10 start button is actually quite customizable, and many important items can be reached from right-clicking on it. The main reason I want to use an alternative is because I still want that Windows 7 feel to remain.

Quick Launch & Program Files Toolbars (Optional)
While it is not part of the stock Windows 7 UI, I feel that the Quick Launch Toolbar is just irreplaceable. While Program Files should have everything you need, I require Quick Launch for two reasons. The first reason is that I may not allow the installer to put it in the start menu (programs area). And the second reason is that I often put as many programs as I can on a separate hard drive. I then make a shortcut to the program and drop it into Quick Launch so I have an easy way to access it.

Here is the easiest way to get the Quick Launch Toolbar:

  1. Right-click on the task bar.
  2. Select "Toolbars".
  3. Click "New Toolbar..."
  4. In the folder's path area copy and paste "%appdata%\Microsoft\Internet Explorer\Quick Launch".
  5. Push enter, to ensure the path has been chosen.
  6. Click "Select Folder".
  7. The Quick Launch Toolbar will appear on the far right of the task bar.
  8. Right-click on the task bar.
  9. Uncheck "Lock the task bar".
  10. You will now see three columns of dots next to the Quick Launch Toolbar, as well as a set for pinned applications on the left. Click on the dots to the left of the applications and drag it completely to the right of the Quick Launch Toolbar. (If you drag and go above the task bar with your cursor, it will stop the drag and force you to click and drag again.)
  11. Now drag the dots next to the Quick Launch Toolbar completely to the right.
  12. Right-click on Quick Launch Toolbar.
  13. Uncheck "Show Text".
  14. Right-click on Quick Launch Toolbar.
  15. Uncheck "Show Title".
  16. Drag the dots next to the applications back to the right until you are next to the Quick Launch Toolbar.
  17. Right-click on the task bar.
  18. Check "Lock the task bar".

Note: You can skips steps 10 & 11 if you would rather leave the Quick Launch Toolbar on the right side. And you can skip steps 12 & 13 and/or 14 & 15 if you would rather see the text and/or titles for the Quick Launch Toolbar.

Note II: If you are using the Pokki start button, and you implement the Quick Launch Toolbar, every time you reboot the Quick Launch Toolbar will be reduced to show one application icon.

You may also need to shimmy the applications slightly to the left or right (via the dots) depending on how many applications you want the Quick Launch Toolbar to show from the task bar.

The Windows 10 start button has an "All apps" button that shows you all your programs, but I found this to difficult to find at first. If you want a Toolbar that shows all your programs you can create a Programs Files Toolbar easily.

Just follow the same steps outlined for the Quick Launch Toolbar, replacing the folder path with:

"%ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs"

And that's it. While the Program Files Toolbar may not seem handy, it can be a lot easier to deal with than how Windows 10 has it setup now.

Note: If you uncheck either the Quick Launch or Program Files Toolbar from the task bar under "Toolbars", it will remove that toolbar as an option; forcing you to redo the entire process in order to get it back.

Windows Aero
Windows Aero was just one of those themes that was great to have, but since Windows 7, Microsoft has shied away from it with their goofy, cartoony feel. Sure, there are still traces of it left, that I am glad they kept, but I don't like that square look on my folders and browsers. It's far too classic for me, and I stopped using a classic theme during Windows XP.

Admittedly, this tweak isn't perfect. The program used still needs some work, or maybe it's the themes that do. In either case, here's a way to get a little bit of that Windows 7 feel back:

  1. Download 7-Zip. Don't worry that it only shows support for Windows 7, it'll work.
  2. Install 7-Zip.
  3. Download Skin Pack Auto UXThemePatcher (choose Windows 10 Technical Preview).
  4. Install Skin Pack Auto UXThemePatcher. (I noticed my Windows 10 running a bit slow, so double-click and single-click through the prompts, waiting for each step to complete).
  5. Restart the computer.
  6. Download Aero 8 Glow.
  7. When first opening the Aero 8 Glow .7z file, Windows 10 will not know what program to use. You will need to click on more options, choose to browse, and manually choose the "7zFM.exe" in Program Files (x86) > 7-Zip to get it to recognize which program to use.
  8. When opening Aero 8 Glow, you might get prompted to install the .NET 3.5 Framework. Accept the download and wait to finish.
  9. Go to " C:\Windows\Resources\Themes".
  10. Open the Aero 8 Glow 7-Zip folder.
  11. Highlight all the contents in the Aero 8 Glow 7-Zip folder.
  12. Drag and drop the contents into the "Themes " folder previously opened.
  13. Right-click on the desktop.
  14. Choose "Personalize".
  15. Select "Aero 8 Glow v2".
  16. Click on "Color" at the bottom.
  17. Select Color 12, which is a particular blue.

Note: Aero 8 Glow (v1) is the same except that it keeps the angular corners of Windows 10.

You can choose whatever color you want, I just found this the best color for the theme. If you leave the default color it will retain a gray that looks awful. However, I am using a Windows 10 blue background, so it may be better on others.

This is as about as close to Aero as you can get for now. While changing the color helps the look of folders and browsers, the task bar preview thumbnails will still have a gray color. You'll also notice the corners are rounded, but still have tiny angular corners showing. Again, I am not sure if this is from the theme or the program itself. Feel free to dig around for more Windows 7 themes at

This PC (Computer)
This will work in the latest build of Windows 10, older versions did not have the ability to perform the following trick...

Anyways, if you're like me, you enjoy opening the File Explorer to see all your drives at your disposal. As it stands presently, you must actually take an additional step in order to accomplish this in Windows 10. However, Microsoft has given the option to change this is its newest build:
  1.  Go to Start menu.
  2. In the search box type "folder options".
  3. Select "File Explorer Options".
  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click the "View" tab.
  3. Select "Options".
  4. Choose "Change folder and search options".
  5. Change "Open File Explorer to:" for "This PC".
 This will make it a bit easier for those trying to adjust to what Microsoft assumes you want to access quickly. Of course, if you prefer the new area, you can always go back. I guess Microsoft thought it would be better for people to be able to access destination they use often, or have just used. Concerning my circumstances, going to one of my drives is normally the my most used area.

Windows Explorer Ribbon
Before you perform this tweak, I would recommend giving administrative privileges to your current user account. And if you do that, might as well change the UAC (User Account Control) so that prompts never pop-up when you're performing a task - unless you just make mistakes non-stop, or feel safer with it on...

Anyways, I don't like the Windows Explorer Ribbon very much. It was better when it was hidden and you could just use the Alt key to make it appear. I can see why it could be useful, and you may want to check and make any necessary changes under the "View" tab, but once that's done I think it's better to ditch it altogether:

  1. Download Resource Hacker.
  2. Go to "C:\Windows\System32".
  3. Search for the file "ExplorerFrame.dll".
  4. Copy the file to your desktop (it cannot be removed from the folder). Click "Continue" if you get a prompt telling you the action requires administrator privileges.
  5. Open Resource Hacker.
  6. Go to File > Open.
  7. Find and choose the "ExplorerFrame.dll" on your desktop.
  8. Open "UIFILE".
  9. Right-click "EXPLORER_RIBBON".
  10. Delete "EXPLORER_RIBBON". Alternatively, you can open "EXPLORER_RIBBON" and delete the "1033" key. However that specific key is for English, so it will be a different number if you use a different language.
  11. Go to File > Save.
  12. Save the file. The copy of "ExplorerFrame.dll" will rename itself to include "original" in the title, as a backup.
  13. Take the altered file and place it into "C:\Windows\System32". Click "Continue" if you get a prompt telling you the action requires administrator privileges.
  14. Restart the computer.

Note: Some people may need to have the System32 folder give you permission to place/replace files inside of it if they do not already have administrator privileges (I tried this and got just a bunch of error messages). You can also use "Net user administrator /action:yes"  in an elevated command prompt, which may help you around this problem.

Windows 10 will now be devoid of a ribbon in Windows Explorer! If need be, simply rename the "original" copy and put it back in the System32 folder; one restart later and you will have the ribbon back.

UPDATE - For whatever reason, my ribbon did come back, but with some issues... There are a couple times where a program pin icon will appear on the left pane of Windows Explorer. No biggie, but looks a bit odd. When right-clicking on any program in the task bar you will have a fairly messed up option menu. Not a deal breaker for me, but it may be for others. I again try to attribute these problems to having Windows 10 on a virtual machine and doing constant experimentation with it, but I cannot be sure.

I tried to redo the process, as it seemed that some items reappeared, but it essentially took away the file explorer from Windows. Fortunately, I had my original backup copy, and a snapshot to revert back to. Unfortunately, I started getting issues with permissions, even though none had arisen when replacing the file with the tweaked version... To bypass this restriction I had to rename the original backup copy to "ExplorerFrame1.dll", then place it in the System32 folder. I then renamed the existing file in Systerm32 to "ExplorerFrame2.dll", and the original backup copy back to "ExplorerFrame.dll".

A restart later and nothing seemed fixed. I redid the tweak just to see if I could (again) get rid of the explorer ribbon. The ribbon did disappear again, bringing back the oddly-placed pin icons in the left pane of Windows Explorer. I did one last restart to ensure that it would not just reappear on boot, and thankfully, it did not.

Notepad on Context Menu (Optional)
This is another item that was left out of Windows 7, but just seems to be extremely helpful in certain circumstances. I deal with a lot of different files, and often I need to use Notepad to open them up. Instead of changing those file types to only open in Notepad, I just use this tweak:

  1. Push CTRL+R.
  2. Type in "regedit".
  3. Click enter.
  4. Go to "HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\*\shell".
  5. Right-click on "shell".
  6. Select "New".
  7. Click "Key".
  8. Put in a name like "Notepad", or "Open with Notepad".
  9. Right-click on your new key ("Notepad").
  10. Select "New".
  11. Click "Key".
  12. Double-click on the "(Default)" value in the right-hand pane.
  13. Put the values as "notepad.exe %1".
  14. Click "OK".

Note: Do not mess around in the Windows Registry area, this will only lead to problems if you don't know what you're doing (or even if you do).

You can actually use this method to open items with other programs, but the value inputted needs to be the correct path (with the correct syntax) to that program.

BONUS: Resize Task Bar Thumbnail Previews (Optional)
So, since Windows Aero is on the menu, I wanted to add this little bonus for anyone who actually took the time (and effort) to read this article. The task bar thumbnail previews are the small previews you get if you have the Aero theme enabled on Windows 7 and you hover your cursor over an app or folder from the task bar. Sometimes you have things going on in them (i.e. downloads, videos, etc.) that you want to monitor without having to actually check on. With this tweak you can resize the thumbnails to a size that will allow you to do so without squinting:

  1. Download the Windows 7 Taskbar Thumbnail Customizer.
  2. Open the Windows 7 Taskbar Thumbnail Customizer zip file.
  3. Click the Windows 7 Taskbar Thumbnail Customizer.
  4. Choose to "Run".
You now can resize your task bar thumbnail previews as you wish. There is even a button included to restore the thumbnails to their default sizes.

What's Not Windows 7
I tried my best to get as close to Windows 7 with what is widely and freely available. I am sure that once the official release of Windows 10, there will be more programs to help modify and customize items to give a closer feel to Windows 7.

The only thing I could think of that would really make this experience is having the File Explorer open up to Computer instead of Home. Unfortunately, the "File Target" located in its "Properties" is blocked from being changed. I did try some registry tweaking, but couldn't get it to change other than to having nothing in the Home folder. If I ever figure out a method, I'll be sure to update this article with it.

Goodbye Windows 7
I really think (hope) this will be a good replacement for Windows 7. I think part of the problem is that none of us want drastic changes, just subtle ones. Really it comes down to teaching old dogs new tricks. We, myself included, need to move forward, less we miss out and are later unable to keep up with new OS's.

I wanted to add that I tested each one of these tweaks in VMware, which gave me the advantage of being able to take a snapshot of a state (much like a System Restore Point) that I could easily revert to if the tweaks were unsatisfactory. And each tweak was tested on the Windows 10 9879 Build.

Lastly, many of these tweaks are actually for Windows 8. Some are for Windows 7 that also work on Windows 8. So, if you find something for Windows 8 (or 7), feel free to give it a go. Just be sure to make a snapshot, System Restore Point, or backup everything important first.

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