Windows 8 brought down the axe on the Start Menu. This is a feature that no one paid special attention to for years but its untimely demise has caused all sorts of despair. Not only because it’s gone but also because its replacement is the Windows 8 Start Screen.
I have good news. The official Start Menu is dead, but there’s a number of ways to re-create a start menu on Windows 8, making it possible to enjoy a normal Windows desktop experience once more. There are even multiple options. You can use some UI trickery, pay for a robust replacement or try one of several free alternatives.
Fudging It With The Windows 8 Taskbar
The Windows 8 taskbar no longer includes the Start Menu but it does still include a system tray. That tray can be customized and one of the customizations lets the user point to a specific folder. Point to the Start folder and, tada! You have a sorta-kinda Start Menu.
Here’s how it works. Right-click on the Taskbar, select Toolbars, and then go to New Toolbar. You’ll be prompted to choose a folder. Instead, type the following.
Then open that folder. You will now see a new entry on the taskbar called Programs.
Now right-click the taskbar again and this time un-check Lock The Taskbar. Then click on the New Programs entry and drag it over to the left side of the Taskbar. This will shove your pinned programs over to the right, so re-size them to put things back to normal.
Now you have a Start Menu stand-in. It’s free of charge and doesn’t rely on any third-party software. It will show installed programs but doesn’t include any of the other features common to the Windows Start Menu like frequently used software.
Stardock, a company well known for its Windows modifications like Fences and ObjectDock, has quickly released a paid Windows 8 Start Menu. It’s only $4.99, however, so it’s not as if this option will put you in the poorhouse. There’s also a 30-day free trial.
Start8 isn’t hard to start using. Installation is painless and the interface used to control the software’s modest selection of options is intuitive. This is its main leg up on free alternatives. It’s not exceptionally functional but it is exceptionally easy to use.
Most of the options relate to customization. Stardock has included not only classic Start Menus but also a new Metro-style Start Menu with blocky edges and a Windows 8 start icon. Users who are more interested in the details can specify colors, add/remove translucency, change icons and change what the menu shows.
Pokki is not a traditional Start Menu alternative. It roughly replicates the functionality of the Start Menu and can be used to open programs or search your PC. Yet it also includes new features, like social network connectivity, that were never found in the Start Menu.
Your opinion on this option will likely depend on how you feel about simplicity. Pokki manages it’s many options well, but it’s far from simple. Users actually install apps into it to increase functionality and the default menu takes up about one third of a typical 1366×768 laptop display. It’s big, it’s functional and it’s complex.
If you’re into this sort of app, however, it should be perfect for you. Pokki can transform your Start menu into an online portal, a social networking hub or a productivity launch pad. Or you can just install a bunch of games and procrastinate.
If you want to know more check out our Pokki full review.
Now it’s time to go old-school. Classic Shell is a remake of the Windows Start Menu that lets you sit in the wayback machine. It includes customization options that let you go all the way back to a Windows 95/98 style Start Menu if that’s your thing.
Under the hood there’s wealth of options. Users can change the columns in the start menu, how (and if) user picture/name is displayed, the size of icons and the skin used. Start8 allows for more customization of color but Classic Shell goes into more fine-grain detail.
This software goes beyond the Start Menu. It also can be used to change Explorer and revert it back to an older style. Or you can simply change the current interface so that some features are disabled or more prominent. It’s great for UI grognards.
There’s something for everyone in this list. Using the toolbar trick is simple and quick yet limited in functionality. Start8 is intuitive and attractive but costs $5. Pokki is flexible and complex. And Classic Shell provides the fine-grain detail some geeks demand.
Your preference will depend on what you value most. Or you can try to use them all. These alternatives re-create the start menu on Windows 8, but they are still just programs. That means you can run Pokki alongside Classic Shell if you’d like.