This five-dollar app solves the biggest problem with Windows 8

Credit: IDGNS

I spend the bulk of my time using Windows 8 in the traditional desktop view, and I often wish it were easier to use apps built in the Windows 8 modern style. 

The new ModernMix app from Stardock -- the same company that created Start8, which restores the Start button to Windows 8 -- is for people like me.

It takes all the modern-style Windows 8 apps and lets me run them on the old-fashioned Windows desktop, exactly as if they were traditional Windows apps. 

The problem with two interfaces

With Windows 8, Microsoft rolled out a dramatically new user interface. Apps designed with the new UI in mind have a distinct look and feel. In particular, when open they take up the whole screen. There’s no resizing and stacking apps in the traditional Windows fashion.

To close an app in the new interface, you swipe down on the screen. To toggle between apps, you swipe across the screen.

The trouble is, so many apps – including Office apps like Word and Outlook – aren’t available in the new Windows 8 style. Those apps open in the desktop view, which looks just like previous versions of Windows.

That means a lot of people are in the desktop essentially all the time. For instance, my most commonly used apps are Word, Outlook, Excel, and AIM – all of wihch are only available on the desktop.

Still, sometimes you have to use modern-style Windows 8 apps, and it's often a pain to switch back and forth between interfaces.

For instance, to use Skype, I have to use the modern style Windows 8 app. Don’t get me wrong, I like the app. It’s got a great interface. But I often dial into conference calls that require a pass code. And there’s no easy way to share the screen with Skype and either Word or Outlook, where I’m likely to have the numbers written.

Windows 8 does have a neat screen share capability that lets you stack apps vertically. But Word and Outlook can only appear stacked when they’re the larger app, taking up three-quarters of the screen. When Skype appears as the smaller stacked app, all you see is a blue screen with the Skype logo. There’s no dialer available. You can cut and paste the phone number into the Skype app, but you can’t cut and paste the passcode into the keypad.

That means I end up writing the passcode on a piece of paper, then entering it manually into the Skype app.

ModernMix from Stardock solves that problem for me by letting me resize the Skype window so that I can view Skype and Word at the same time.

[Update: A reader mentioned via Twitter that he had no problem with this same scenario. After installing an update to the Skype app, I too am now able to get the full functionality of Skype while sharing the screen with Word. This is a nice workaround, but I still find juggling apps via ModernMix to be an easier option for working with desktop and modern-style apps at the same time.]

How ModernMix fixes the problem

Free for a 30-day trial and then $5 for the beta, ModernMix is seriously easy to use. It downloads in seconds and immediately starts working.

You’ll know it’s working when you launch a modern-style Windows 8 app. In the top right corner you’ll see a small icon that looks vaguely like the app tiles that appear on the Windows 8 launch screen. Hover over the icon and it expands slightly, displaying a second similar icon highlighted in blue. Click on that icon and the app instantly switches to the familiar old Windows 7 style, complete with a blue frame, an "X" in the top right corner to close the app, and options for resizing and shrinking the app.

ModernMix lets you stack modern-style apps in the Windows 8 desktop view

Once an app appears in the desktop style, an icon for it also pops up along the bottom of the screen so you can jump from app to app just like you would with any desktop app.

To switch back to the regular Windows 8 view, hover over the small icon that again appears in the top right corner and click on it.

ModernMix has one particularly neat feature: it lets you use the touch screen swipe feature to toggle among all apps that are now in the desktop view.

Typically, when you’re in the desktop view, if you swipe across the screen, the desktop – no matter how many apps you have open in desktop view – appears as one single new-style app. As you swipe you see the desktop (with all its apps) and then each individual modern app (separately). 

With ModernMix installed, swiping toggles through each app individually -- even those you’re viewing in desktop view.

I don’t know what Microsoft will think of ModernMix (I’ve asked and will update this story if I get a response). Microsoft offered the desktop view as a way to ease the transition to a radically new UI but also because many apps – including its own Office suite – aren’t yet available in the new design (OneNote is an exception).

From Microsoft's point of view, ModernMix might seem like a step backwards, as it makes it easier for people to spend all their time in desktop mode, rather than transitioning to the new Winodws 8 look and feel.

But because it's so clunky to use desktop and modern-style apps at the same time, Microsoft can hardly blame people for using an app like ModernMix.

Want to try it? Download the free trial version here.

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