Windows 8: Bypassing the Start screen

After using the Windows Developer Preview (that is, Windows 8 pre-beta) build for a little while, I’m not at all sold on the Start screen as a replacement for the Start menu for keyboard-and-mouse users. I’m not giving up all hope yet, though – I wasn’t overly fond of the Backstage view when I first tried early builds of Office 2010, which similarly replaced what was a simple menu in Office 2007 with a full screen experience, but I’ve since grown to like it. And, of course, development is far from over at this stage.

I’ll be very surprised if I end up using any ‘Metro style’ applications on my desktop or laptop PCs, however. I’m happy to revisit this statement after Windows 8 launches, but the experience does seem much more suited to tablet and phone form factors (and I’d take a traditional PC any day).

There doesn’t seem to be an official way to disable the Start screen, which is not surprising (it would be akin to disabling the ribbon in Office 2007/2010). What is surprising is that it’s actually quite easy to do: just rename shsxs.dll in %windir%System32 and restart (thanks givebackstartmenu): voilà! The highly usable Start menu of Windows 7 returns. It will be interesting to see whether this remains an ‘option’ in future builds. Note that this disables the modern Task Manager, and potentially breaks other functionality, too.

A less radical option is enabling the Group Policy setting ‘Do not show the Start Menu when the user logs in’ (User ConfigurationAdministrative TemplatesStart Menu and Taskbar). This will open the traditional desktop directly after logging in, skipping the Start screen (but leaving it enabled). My initial impression is that this should be the default for non-touch/stylus form factors, but I’ll keep an open mind about that. Unfortunately, this setting isn’t actually working for me (possible PEBKAC). It seems to be connected to a DWORD in the Registry called ‘DontShowStartMenuOnLogin’. Modifying this also has no effect in the Windows Developer Preview.

Installing an OEM Xbox 360 Wireless Controller Receiver

Not wanting to pay the full retail price for a Microsoft Xbox 360™ Wireless Gaming Receiver for Windows®, I bought a knock-off from eBay. It turns out that you do get what you pay for – the drivers that came on the 80mm Mini CD were very old and didn’t work with Windows 7.

For anyone in a similar situation, here’s what I did to get everything working as it should (thanks are owed to jamesw1 for finding this solution):

  1. Download and install the latest Xbox 360 Accessories Software (version 1.2 at the time of writing).
  2. Plug in the device and open Device Manager (searching in the Start Menu is probably the quickest way to get there). Find your device in the list (it might be listed as an Unknown Device, though mine was labelled correctly), right click it and select ‘Update Driver’. Select ‘Browse my computer for driver software’, then ‘Let me pick from a list of device drivers on my computer’. Pick ‘Microsoft Common Controller for Windows Class’, click ‘Next’, then select ‘Xbox 360 Wireless Receiver for Windows’ and click ‘Next’ again. You will be given an ‘Update Driver Warning’ – click ‘Yes’ (and don’t blame me if your computer and/or controller blow up). That’s all.

Finally, apparently these drivers are recommended for some applications: XInput Force Feedback Driver (XInput 用フォース フィードバック ドライバ). You should be able to navigate the Japanese on that page – the platforms and languages are spelled out quite clearly.

Screenshot of Device Manager

Installing CUSP (Eclipse Lisp Plugin)

Update (2011-09-28): My own instructions didn’t work when I tried to install Eclipse and CUSP on a new machine. After much trial and error, I finally got a working setup by downloading a newer version of CUSP from here (version 1.0.414). This seems to work with SBCL 1.0.51 and Eclipse 3.7 (I downloaded the Classic package, in case that is significant). There no longer seems to be any need to copy the SBCL files to the plugin sub-directory. The CUSP maintainer has forked CUSP into a new project called Lispdev, which might be worth checking out.

For anyone struggling to install CUSP (a Lisp plugin for Eclipse) in a Windows environment, I hope these steps will work for you:

  1. Install the Steel Bank Common Lisp compiler.
  2. Download/extract Eclipse.
  3. Download CUSP from Sergey Kolos’ Eclipse Update Site (latest files here) and put jasko.tim.lisp.libs_1.1.1 and jasko.tim.lisp_0.9.390 in Eclipse’s plugins directory.
  4. Make a directory called sbcl in jasko.tim.lisp_0.9.390 and copy everything from your Steel Bank Common Lisp installation directory there (sbcl.exe, sbcl.core and all the sub-directories).

Everything should now work correctly (open the Lisp perspective in Eclipse via Window → Open Perspective → Other → Lisp).

Screenshot of CUSP in Eclipse 3.7

Changing the Synaptics ‘ChiralScroll’ Cursor

The Synaptics Gesture Suite enables a variety of useful features for supported laptop touchpads. My favourite is ‘ChiralScroll’, which allows you to scroll by making a circular motion on the touchpad. Synaptics actually offers generic drivers on their website now, so you can download them directly without needing to go via the usual websites.

Unfortunately, the cursor used for ChiralScroll leaves a lot to be desired:

Default ChiralScroll Cursor

At the very minimum, it doesn’t mesh well with the cursors found in the Windows Aero theme. I decided this would be a better cursor:

New ChiralScroll Cursor

I’m misappropriating the ‘Move’ cursor here (a separate metaphor), but I think the image fits with scrolling to some extent. Let me know if you can come up with a better alternative.

Read on for instructions on replacing the cursor.

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