In April, Microsoft demonstrated a Start Menu mock-up, which fueled speculations that this much-demanded feature would make a return with Windows 8.1 Update 2. Recently, however, Microsoft clarified that the Start Menu won’t be rolled into a new version of Windows until 2015. Well, you certainly don’t have to wait that long.
Whether you’re on Windows 8 or have upgraded to Windows 8.1, you can get your Start Menu back right now.
Third Party Start Menus
As soon as it became clear that the Start Menu was missing from Windows 8, developers got busy and released third party software that emulates the classic Start Menu. We have previously covered alternatives and here’s a summary of what’s out there.
If all you want is the old school Windows Start Menu, possibly with a retro skin, Classic Shell is the way to go. With Classic Shell installed, Windows 8 will automatically boot to the desktop and display a functional Start button. Right-click the Start Menu to get into the app’s Settings, where you can change the skin, among other things.
Classic Shell can also fix odd new behaviours in Windows Explorer; just find the new menu button and right-click it for Settings.
What IObit has done really well here is the onboarding process. Right after installing Start Menu 8 (be sure to opt out of the Advanced System Care install), it launches the Settings screen where you can choose a style for the Start Menu and button, define the app’s behavior, and populate its content.
Start Menu 8 allows you to disable hot corners and set hotkeys under General Settings.
Try this Start Menu, if you’d like to see something fresh.
If you are trying to install Pokki on Windows 8.1, note that you have to apply a little trick to make it work. When hovering over the Windows 8.1 Start button, notice the tiny black bar. Right-click it and uncheck Show Windows logo button to reveal Pokki’s Home button.
Pokki sports three tabs: My Favorites, All Apps, and Control Panel. By clicking and activating the star next to items listed in the latter two, you populate your favorites grid. You can then drag and drop them into your preferred order.
To change what else you see in the menu sidebar, the theme, and advanced settings, right-click the Pokki Home button and choose Settings. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to get rid of the ads displayed below your favorites (hidden in screenshot above).
This utility has been around for a long time. It’s available for Windows XP through 8.1 and we have reviewed it in a previous incarnation, when it was called Start Menu 7. In Windows 8, it adds a Start button and a customizable Start Menu.
The free version adds a Start button and Menu, it supports shut-down timers, internal document search, and up to five virtual groups. On top of that, the Pro version ($9.99) offers unlimited virtual groups, one-click launch, and tabs.
Start8 is Stardock’s answer to the Start Menu challenge. It’s the only app in this list that doesn’t offer a free version, but you can try it for 30 days before having to make a purchase. In his article on alternative Start Menus, Matt found that Start8’s main benefit was it’s ease of use. In terms of features it doesn’t compete with the other options in this list, although it offers some nice styling options.
If you’re a fan of Stardock and care much about first impressions and sleek interfaces, try Start8.
What Else Is There to Say About Third Party Tools
Note that the native Start button might still pop up when you trigger the bottom left hot corner. You can use it to switch to the Start screen. If you find it’s nothing but an eyesore, however, you can hide the Start button.
By the way, one tool I wouldn’t recommend is ViStart because it doesn’t offer anything special and the Start Search doesn’t include results from the Control Panel.
Do It Yourself Workarounds & Native Options
Would you prefer to avoid additional software that consumes precious resources? We have come up with three simple workarounds that will get you what you want without sacrificing performance.
Windows Toolbars can contain any shortcuts you want. Why not make them link to the items you used to keep in your Start Menu? It might not be as pretty, but it’s practical.
In his article (see header link above), Christian takes you through the process of booting to the desktop, setting up a custom toolbar, and adding shortcuts. This method is suitable for Windows 8 and 8.1 alike.
In case this made you wonder what else Windows Toolbars are good for, we have some suggestions.
Unless you were a frequent user of the Windows Mobility Center in earlier versions of Windows, you probably didn’t know this menu existed. The keyboard shortcut Win+X now opens a power user menu, also known as quick access menu. Alternatively, you can right-click the bottom left corner of your screen. This menu is pretty useful the way it is, but you can get a lot more out of it by adding the shortcuts you really need.
Chris demonstrates what you can do with Win+X Menu Editor, including adding shortcuts to shut down or restart, system tools, programs, and more. Click the header link above for the full article.
In Windows 8.1, the Start button made its return and users were quite disappointed when they found out it only re-directed them to the Start screen. Microsoft really knows how to tease, don’t they?
If you’re trying to avoid the Modern interface, the Start screen is not what you want to see. The Apps view on the other hand can be quite useful, particularly after you customized it to show the shortcuts you frequently use.
In my article (see link in header above), I’ve outlined how you can boot to the desktop, make the Start button open the Apps screen, edit what’s already there, and add additional shortcuts.
Are you satisfied with your new Windows 8 Start Menu? What else do you think is missing from Windows 8.1 Update that should be delivered with Update 2?
Share your thoughts in the comments and maybe we can recommend more workarounds and ways you can customize Windows to your needs.