Because there is so much work involved in an operating system migration, it is easy to assume that IT carries most of the burden, but don’t overlook the fact that the end users are also affected.
This can be especially true for upgrades or migrations to Windows 8. The fact that the long familiar Windows desktop is replaced by a series of colored tiles can be a tremendous source of anxiety for some users. As such, it is worth considering what you might be able to do to make the transition process easier on your users.
The first recommendation that I would make is to realize that not all users are the same. Some users are going to be absolutely terrified by the transition to Windows 8. On the flipside, there will be other users who have already been using Windows 8 on their personal computers at home, and who will wonder why it took you so long to make the switch.
That being the case, it is a good idea to offer assistance to everyone, but you shouldn’t force it. Forcing mandatory Windows 8 training may be perceived as condescending by those who are already proficient with the new operating system.
One of the first things that I recommend doing is to put in place some sort of program for training end-users on how to use the new interface. Administrators often think of training programs as being expensive and time-consuming. However, your users might be better served if you keep the training simple. For example, you might create a 5- to 10-minute training video and place it in a centralized location where users can access it on an as-needed basis.
As important as end-user training might be, there are some other things that you can also do to make Windows 8 a little bit more friendly toward those who have never used it before. If you’ve read any review of Windows 8, you will find that there are two main complaints about the user interface. One of these complaints is the absence of the Windows Start Menu. The other complaint is a jarring transition between the Modern user interface (formerly known as the Metro interface) and desktop mode. Fortunately, both of these issues are easy to address with a little bit of work.
Bring back the start menu
When Windows 8 first debuted, an entire cottage industry sprang up around building start menu alternatives. There are countless start menu replacement programs available for Windows 8. Some of these programs are free, and others must be purchased. One of the better free options is an app called Start Menu 8.
In some cases, bringing back the start menu might eventually lead to a little bit of confusion. I have a friend who decided to deploy Windows 8 in a corporate environment, and decided to use Start Menu 8 as a way of helping out the users. A few weeks later, one of the users approached him wondering why his corporate desktop featured a start menu when his newly purchased home computer did not.
Bypassing the modern user interface
Windows 8 does not contain a group policy setting or any other mechanism for disabling the Modern User Interface. Even so, it is possible to configure Windows 8 so that users are taken straight into Desktop Mode upon logging in.
The trick is to use the Windows Task Scheduler. The Task Scheduler lets you create tasks, which are made up of triggers and actions. By default, the Task Scheduler is designed to use scheduled triggers (such as launching a program at a scheduled time). However, you can use a variety of other triggers instead. One of the triggers that is available to you is at login.
In order to make Windows 8 boot straight into Desktop Mode, all you have to do is run a desktop application at login. For example, you might configure the Task Scheduler to run C:\Windows\Explorer at login. This will cause Windows to open Desktop Mode and launch File Explorer. This is just an example of a desktop application that you can run. You could actually get the same results by running just about any desktop application at login.
Of course, nothing is going to replace time with the system to get comfortable, and lots of training, but you can ease the transition and the anxiety if you provide some security blankets from previous Windows iterations. As an administrator, you can help to reduce helpdesk calls if you spend a little time upfront making the Windows 8 experience a bit more familiar for your users. Just remember that you don’t want to customize it so much that they can’t take advantage of what is new and good about Windows 8. There’s plenty to like once you get used to it.