Windows 8 has proven frustrating to many attorneys. I’ve helped several lawyers this year who were having difficulty with the newest version of Windows as they felt it was bringing their productivity to a halt. With Microsoft’s recent release of Windows 8.1, now is as good a time as any to discuss tips for making Windows 8 useful and why, after a few easy tweaks, I feel you’ll consider it your system of choice.

Attorneys have been frustrated by Windows 8

Attorney Frustrated with Windows 8Early reviews of Windows 8 were that it was not a good fit for attorneys. Deanne Katz wrote a blog post[i] earlier this year explaining why attorneys should stay away from it and gave the reason that is obvious – it is designed more for use with a tablet than a desktop computer or laptop (the environments in which lawyers do most of their work). I’ve worked with multiple attorneys who regularly complain about how difficult it is to navigate the new Windows and that their work day has suffered as a result.

There are actually quite a few positives for lawyers who use the newest version of Windows.  First, the startup time is much quicker than any previous version of Windows. In fact, from the moment you hit the power button you are online in a time similar to what you experience on an I Pad. Second, vast security improvements were made in Windows 8 which makes it much more reliable than Windows 7 from a security standpoint. Third, and most importantly, Windows remains the best choice for having a variety of billing and case management software choices. I recently consulted with an attorney who had switched his office over to using Macs and was frustrated by the experience of trying to get his billing setup to work with them. He would not have had this difficulty in Windows.

While the frustration over Windows 8 is warranted (I consider the interface to be terrible), it is also easily corrected.

Steps for lawyers to make Windows 8 more like an improved version of Windows 7

A few easy to follow tweaks allow even a “non-techy” lawyer to vastly improve Windows 8 in about 10 minutes.  After following the steps below the interface will feel like you’re on a Windows 7 machine but you will still have the benefits of faster boot times and improved security. You can make these tweaks by reading on or watching this instructional video:

Upgrade to Windows 8.1 and set “Boot to Desktop”

If you haven’t upgraded your Windows 8 Machine to Windows 8.1 then do so by entering the Windows Store at the Start screen. This is a free download and it’s Microsoft’s effort to fix some of the errors they made in the original design (although they’re still way off).

Once you’ve upgraded to Windows 8.1, right-click on the task bar. Click “Properties” and then “Navigation.” Check the box which says “When I sign in or close all apps on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start.” This will allow your PC to boot straight to “desktop mode.” In other words, when you start your computer you will now skip the tiled “home screen.”

Use Classic Shell to put a true Start Button in Windows 8

Windows 8.1 put the familiar Start button back in Windows 8 but with a catch. All the button does is take you to the tiled Start screen.  Fortunately there is a free download called Classic Shell that will give you back the familiar Start menu from Windows 7. Simply visit Classic Shell’s website and install this free app. The install is quite simple. You’ll then have your Windows 8 Start Menu back.

Set your default programs in Windows 8 to use the desktop versions

Windows 8 opens a number of file types in what I call “tablet mode” by default. Attorneys I’ve dealt with are trying to use these apps on their desktop PC to handle things such as PDF files, photos relevant to a case, and other media. There is an easy fix so that you can handle these files in the interface you became accustomed to in Windows 7.

Simply click the start button (thanks to Classic Shell) and point to “Control Panel.” A list of options will pop out. Choose “Default Programs.”  Click “Set Your Default Programs.”  First, scroll down to Windows Media Player and click it. Then click “Set this program as default” and then click “OK.” Repeat this process for the “Windows Photo Viewer” application and Voila, your photos, videos, and audio files will now open in familiar “desktop apps” that are much simpler to work with when using a mouse and keyboard.

Install Adobe’s PDF Reader

To be honest, I was surprised at how many attorneys I’ve spoken to who were struggling with the PDF application in Windows 8. As attorneys we open a number of PDF documents. The default Windows 8 app launches in “tablet mode” and can be frustrating to work with. Many attorneys appear to be assuming that this is the Adobe reader they’re accustomed to and that it was reworked for Windows 8. To get your traditional PDF experience back simply download and install Adobe’s free PDF reader here (make sure you uncheck the box to download trial antivirus software).

Lawyers can enjoy increased productivity with Windows 8

Windows 8 certainly has its shortcomings for those who sit behind a desk. The incongruity in the interface can be maddening. Also, the 8.1 update, by itself, only marginally improves the operating system. That being said, the OS can be a boost to your productivity if you follow the tips above and take ten minutes or so to implement these easy to follow tweaks.

Update: December 9th, 2013 – Given that Microsoft will be cutting off support for Windows XP in April of 2014 many attorneys will need to upgrade their computers. Many lawyers, understandably, are concerned about upgrading to Windows 8 and have commented to me that they will purchase a Windows 7 machine instead. Purchasing a Windows 8 machine, and following the tips in this article, will provide you with a Windows 7 – like experience while providing improved security and a longer product support life cycle. This is why I would suggest buying a Windows 8 PC over one running Windows 7.

Update: March 25th, 2014 – Support for Windows XP will officially end on April 8th, 2014. In spite of this, the operating is still used by roughly 30 percent of Windows users[ii]. It is suspected that many of these users are businesses (including law firms) which means that many of these businesses will have major security issues shortly. As an incentive to upgrade, Microsoft is offering $100 to many Windows XP users who upgrade to Windows 8. More about this $100 offer may be learned here.