10 programs that make Windows 8 better

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 3, 2012
Updated • Sep 3, 2012
Windows, Windows 8

So you have made the jump and installed Windows 8 on a computer, or, you are planning to buy a tablet, laptop or desktop PC running Microsoft's latest operating system. If this is your first contact with the OS, chance is that you will need some time adjusting to the new startpage, missing start menu, and all the smaller changes that come with it. I think we can all agree that Windows 8 is different, and that not only shows when you first boot into the operating system, but also when you try to run programs or tasks that may no longer work out of the box.

The following top list highlights ten applications that you may want to install on your Windows 8 system to either add missing functionality to it, improve existing functionality, or even remove some of the features that you do not want to work with. Lets get started.

DVD Playback

Windows 8 can't play DVDs by default, as Microsoft stripped Windows Media Player of those capabilities. The only native option to get DVD playback integrated again is to get the Media Center Pack / Pro Pack that makes available Windows Media Center which supports disc playback. This still leaves Windows Media Player without the options though.

If you do not want to buy the upgrade, you can instead install DVD player alternatives such as VLC Media Player or SMPlayer, both free and compatible with the Windows 8 operating system.

play dvd vlc media player

Start menu

Windows 8 ships without a start menu. Microsoft more or less has replaced it with the start page the operating system boots into. While that may work for some, others may prefer access to a start menu like interface right on the desktop, so that they do not have to switch over to the start page every time they want to launch a program that is not pinned on the taskbar or available on the desktop as a shortcut.

The best solution for that is Start8 from Stardock, as it makes available both desktop apps and Metro apps in the start menu that looks and feels exactly like the Windows 7 start menu. The only downside is that it is in beta currently, and that it may happen that it will not remain free when it is released. A free alternative is Classic Shell which is also an excellent program.



Microsoft has removed desktop gadget support from Windows 8 during development which puts users who want gadgets functionality in the unique position to get them back with hacks that integrate the components from earlier builds of Windows 8 back into the final version.

Unless you really depend on a gadget, I'd suggest to install a third party solution instead. Rainmeter comes to mind which ships with a number of gadgets installed.

rainmeter desktop

Blue Screens

Blue Screens in Windows 8 display less information about the cause of the crash. While it still displays the error code, part of the technical details of the error have been removed from the screen. To get those back, you need to use a program like Blue Screen View from Nirsoft.

windows 8 blue screen

Aero Glass

Aero Glass has always been a controversial feature. Some users love the transparency it adds to windows in the operating system, while other dislike it with a passion. Microsoft has removed Aero Glass from Windows 8 during development, pretty much in the same way that it removed the desktop gadgets.

Aero Lite Tweaker is a program that adds Aero Glass support back to the Windows 8 operating system. It comes as a price though as you can't reverse the changes that it makes unless you have a backup of sorts at hand.

windows 8 no aero glass

CD/DVD burning

With optical drives making a quite exit for some time now in the computing world, Microsoft has not improved the CD or DVD burning capabilities in Windows 8. If burning files or ISO images is not sufficient for your needs, you need third party software to enhance the capabilities of the operating system in this regard.

ImgBurn is a free alternative that you can use for all your DVD burning needs.


Windows Explorer

Windows Explorer now features a ribbon interface that is minimized by default. What's still missing is two-pane support to make file operations more comfortable. You can check out Explorer alternatives such as Ultra Explorer or Q-Dir.



Windows 8 ships with Windows Defender (which more or less is Microsoft Security Essentials and then some) included. While that's a good start, you may prefer to install additional security software to protect the operating system.

Besides installing an antivirus application like Avast Free Antivirus or AVG Free, you can also install EMET, an exploit mitigation tool from Microsoft on the system. And for the occasional scan, you have got Malwarebytes Anti-malware, Superantispyware or Dr. Web Cure It.

emet 3.5


It is still recommended to use third party backup software to backup data regularly. Windows 8 comes with a new set of features, like cloud synchronization of settings and features, but it is still missing a comfortable backup solution. A free alternative is RecImage which backs up core operating system files and installed applications. It is using the refresh and reset feature of Windows 8, but adds options to keep installed applications on top of it.

recimg manager

Image editor

Paint is still a mediocre image editor, and not really usable for anything besides light image editing operations. It may even not be sufficient for editing screenshots, something that I do on a regular basis. Alternatives are available, such as Paint.net or Gimp which you can use instead.

Closing Words

One of the biggest strengths of the Windows operating system is its third party development scene. It comes up with new and improved applications regularly, so that missing features can be added easily to the OS. This makes Windows 8 not different from previous Microsoft operating systems. Even Windows 7 or Windows XP had their missing features and great third party apps that made them available.

Have anything to add? Post a comment below.


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  1. Aaron said on January 24, 2013 at 5:31 pm

    wow… sound to me like the best way to make windows 8 work better…. is by installing apps that have worked n Linux for years….. maybe its time for the masses to take a look at Mint, Ubuntu, Fedora and other great Linux distros….if Microsoft has another diarrhea attack like they did with 8… I wouldn’t be surprised if companies like blizzard, EA, Steam, and the like start to demand Linux programs develop some sort of direct X alternative to run natively on Linux..

    just saying

  2. Jan Diebold said on October 27, 2012 at 11:59 am

    Is it only possible to install from Windows Appstore – or is it still possible to install programs (not apps) from other sources?

    Kind Regards

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on October 27, 2012 at 12:07 pm

      For Windows RT, you can only install from the app store. For Windows 8, or Windows 8 Pro, you can install both apps from the store and desktop programs.

      1. Jan Diebold said on November 4, 2012 at 9:23 pm

        Hi Martin
        Thanks so much for the answer.
        Kind Regards

  3. "Bill Gates" said on September 5, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    I will wait ’till Windows 300 ;)

  4. danichos said on September 4, 2012 at 2:02 pm


  5. Jeffrey Ryan said on September 4, 2012 at 3:29 am

    Explorer should be done better. Way better. Nothing beats the NeXTStep interface in Finder. Period.

    As for rest, no matter. I do that anyway. However, for real power user issues, is their a WebDAV client that works regardless of certificate verification? SSH support? Filesystem viewing (I guess that would fall on Explorer again) other than Windows defaults? FTP? How much is their in the OS that exists pretty much in any *nix environment, that is everyone else but Windows? Hm? I thought Steve Balmer said he wasn’t going to leave anything to be dominated by Apple (which by default, also means *nix). I have no use for Windows 8, except to support the idiots that will buy it, and charge them to support it. It’s a PITA. Nothing new. Seems to have gotten worse really. Explain VLC to my mom. No go. Explain WebDAV…even worse. MS is dumb for the dumb, and it’s headed for more dumb.

  6. jay said on September 3, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    For Aero Glass you should check out ‘Aero8Tuner’
    For explorer like chrome style check out ‘Clover’

  7. Windoooze said on September 3, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Llev, you have no idea what you are talking about. Firewalls are useless. Anti-virus doesn’t stop all threats. Anti-root/bot kits do more detecting than removing. I have cleaned up hundreds of computers with all this stuff on it and they were still infected. Just run a simple anti virus app like MSE or Avast to help warn you that you are infected.

    Not sure why the article says use imgburn for all your needs. CDBurner XP is far superior in functionality and capability.

    1. ilev said on September 4, 2012 at 8:19 am

      Only after working for 46 years in IT like do, from writing low level machine code programs
      to managing big networks serves and PCs security, you will be able to say that I don’t know
      what I am talking about.
      Every single utility build in Microsoft’s Windows over the years like : Firewalls, file management,
      file copy, anti-virus, defrag, disk cleanup, backup, error logs, app uninstall, registry handling… and the list goes on,
      has been of the lowest quality, where any script kiddie can write better applications.
      This is the low level of programmers, project managers and management of Microsoft
      through the years.
      What saves Windows are all those 3rd party applications , most of them are free and many are open sourced and run linux.

      1. Leslie said on September 5, 2012 at 1:25 am

        I doubt very much that you’ve worked 1 day in IT. I’ve been unfortunate enough to read many of your ridiculous responses. You are clearly a noob and that’s ok but when you spread mis/disinformation it’s not. Please respond less and read more. Thanks.

  8. Samuel Becks said on September 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm

    It seems to me that both windows and mac os x are moving towards harmonisation between their mobile os and desktop os. Although this might make some things easier for the lay user – it is a bad idea because a desktop is a desktop and should not be reduced in functionality in order to bring unity.

  9. TIm said on September 3, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    Brilliant article, cheers.

    Never heard of Rainmeter before, but looks excellent now MS have done away with Gadgets. Just spent an hour looking at other peoples desktops! :)


  10. Anupam Sharma said on September 3, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Removing DVD support from WM player doesn’t matter at all. It will still remain a useless media player “AS compared” to players like VLC, KM player…

  11. Andy said on September 3, 2012 at 2:08 pm

    Honestly, if you are going to do all that to win 8, you might as well stay with windows 7. Win 7 isn’t going away anytime soon as business will be using it for some time to come.

  12. Paquito said on September 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    10 programs to make your OS look like it was made in 1995.

    WAKE UP!

    1. Here said on September 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      Dead right! All that crap isn’t necessary any more which is the whole point of the new operating system. OK I get that you might want to watch a DVD but most tablets will have no optical drive so what’s the point of a DVD player software. And why on Earth would you want to BURN a DVD? Use a USB drive. It’s faster, less likely to fail, and even your TV will likely be able to play content off it. As for the rest of the recommendations: Widgets are superfluous because we have live tiles. Security software is, too, because Windows Defender is excellent and anywhere it’s not needed because modern apps run in their own sandboxes and are only available through the store so there’ll be few cases of malware downloads.

      It’s not about changing your new PC to suit your old usage scenarios, but about learning to use them in a new way which makes things a lot easier.

      1. ilev said on September 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm

        “…Security software is, too, because Windows Defender is excellent”…

        The new Defender/MSE is the crappiest anti-virus/malware on the planet.
        Windows 8 and RT need 3rd party decent Firewall, anti-virus, anti rootkit, anti botnet….
        ALL Windows 8’s, like Windows 7, internal utilities, are the worse ever written applications :
        apps like Firewall, Windows explorer, file copy, defrag, anti-virus, ….. and should be replaced with 3rd
        party apps, where any free, open source app, are much much better than anything Microsoft’s less than mediocre programmers can ever write.

      2. Here said on September 3, 2012 at 5:56 pm

        I had to reply to my own comment, kind of weird, because there is no reply button below Scott’s comment.

        I recognize that DVDs still have a use. I mean, I still buy CDs for that matter because of the sound quality. But with the increasing number of tablets and ultrabooks without optical drives it’s obviously a trend. But I get your point. I also did not want to offend anyone by saying you should own a TV with a USB connection, but the reality is, in half a year, you probably will.

        It’s good to have options and that is partly what Windows 8 is about, or at least that is what MS says to not alienate users. In reality, they want the desktop to go away. A more realistic way of seeing the desktop is comparing it to DOS or the command prompt in Windows 95 to 7. It’s still there! But never used. And that’s what the future is for the desktop.

      3. Scott said on September 3, 2012 at 5:39 pm

        Hey there “here”…get a grip…

        DVD’s still have a use – not everyone has the money to archive things onto a flash drive, or a “TV” that will play off a USB.

        And the point of “widgets” is that they are on the DESKTOP…Yes, a live tile might be a good thing to have on the START SCREEN..But, not everything can be done that way. Especially if you like to have applications (like even web browsing) that doesn’t take over the entire screen.

        The POINT is that one size NEVER fits all, so having options is GOOD.

  13. Rida said on September 3, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Really awsome, i like the start boutton most :)

  14. ilev said on September 3, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Which one of these applications glorify Windows 8 touch screen support ? NONE.

  15. Anonymous said on September 3, 2012 at 9:54 am

    no need for java this 9 programs?

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on September 3, 2012 at 10:15 am


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