StartW8 is a free tool which can help make Windows 8 look and feel a little more like Windows 7: it allows you to boot to the desktop, restores the Start menu, and can effectively turn off the "hot corners".
Installation is easy. The Setup program started by offering a "Typical", "Custom" or "Complete" install, which made us wonder if it was also going to install a lengthy list of toolbars. But we shouldn't have worried, there's nothing here beyond a Paypal "Donate" button, and within a few seconds we were looking at the StartW8 settings screen.
The program is quite configurable. By default it will boot you to the desktop, and allow you to open the Start menu when pressing the Windows key (on the desktop), for instance, but you can change that if you like. There are options to turn off the "hot corners" individually, set the default Power button action or choose exactly which folders should be on the Start menu (Music, Videos, Computer, Control Panel etc) .
Perhaps best of all, StartW8 can be enabled for some users on your system, disabled for others, ensuring everyone gets the interface they prefer. (If Microsoft had thought to do something similar then this class of utility would have been entirely unnecessary, but that's another story.)
With Setup complete, StartW8 adds something like the Windows 8 logo to the left-hand side of the taskbar, and clicking that (or pressing Win) displayed a very good recreation of the Start menu. There are favourite programs on the left, system folders on the right, a "Shut down" menu with all the regular power options. An "All programs" menu expands to help you browse your installed programs, or you can use the Search box to locate them directly. And a "StartW8 Setting" entry recalls the program's Settings dialog for further tweaking, handy if you're not happy with something.
While all this works very well, integration with the rest of Windows 8 is a different story. If you want to switch to the Start screen, for instance, you apparently need to click Start > All Programs, but that only displayed a "Start screen" link on one of our test systems. And even clicking that didn't work (nothing happened at all).
Our test systems also had a link for the Windows 8 store, but instead of launching the Windows 8 app, they simply opened Internet Explorer on the desktop. This then displayed the regular Store app background, but stopped there.
If you never want to see the Start screen again, you may not care about this very much. Or you can always tell the program not to take over the Windows key, in which case tapping it will launch the Start screen, as normal.
For us, though, this all seemed a little unreliable, and we'd probably prefer to get our Start Menu replacement elsewhere.