When Microsoft released Windows 10 last summer, one of the biggest headlines was the return of the Start Menu. It was designed to meld the most-loved features of Windows 7’s Start Menu with the new live tiles of Windows 8.
On the whole, it has been well-received, but that doesn’t mean everyone is happy. Microsoft has included some native tools that let you customize the menus and layout, but if you want a major overhaul, you’ll need to turn to the modding community.
Their tools will let you tweak everything from the overall appearance to the tile iconography. Here are some of the best to get you started.
StartIsBack shot to prominence along with the release of Windows 8, and the developers have now released an updated version for Windows 10. Its core premise is to make your Start Menu both resemble and function like the Start Menu in Windows 7, though it offers additional options that’ll let it match Windows 10’s user interface (UI) more closely.
New features include live badges for modern Windows apps, larger taskbar icons, lower CPU usage, blur, drop shadow, and immersive context menus.
Note that this is a paid app! After the 30-day free trial, you need to shell out $3.
2. TileCreator [No Longer Available]
One of the biggest criticisms that’s leveled at the Windows 10 Start Menu is the inability to customize the tiles. Apps that you “Pin to Start” are merely the program’s .exe image overlaid on a blue background; this applies to both Windows native apps and anything you’ve installed from elsewhere.
TileCreator lets you modify these tiles to an image of your choosing. The installation process is a bit finicky as a result of some Windows restrictions, but once you have it set up, you can use tiles of various size, images, and background colors. The developer has stated he wants to add support for circular tiles in the near future.
Start10 is developed by Stardock, the same company which produced the highly-popular skinning software of the 1990s. In more modern times, they developed a well-received app for Windows 8, which restored a more traditional function and feel to the ill-fated Start screen, as well as allowing modern apps to be windowed.
Their latest release – Start 10 – is similar in style to the previously mentioned StartIsBack++. It uses Windows 7 as it’s starting point, restoring search to the Start Menu, removing the “All Apps” menu item, and reintroducing quick links. Newer services such as Cortana and modern apps continue to function.
Its option menu allows you to tweak the color scheme, menu background, and specific menu items.
Like StartIsBack++, it also has a cost – $5 for a lifetime license. A 30-day trial is available.
If you’re feeling seriously retro and want to roll back to the pre-Windows 7 era, Classic Shell is the answer. It does have a Windows 7 setup available, but it also comes complete with a Windows XP-style layout (two columns) or even a Windows 98 overlay (a single “classic” column).
These layouts can be further customized with various skins. For example, the XP Luna skin makes it extremely close to the original Windows XP color scheme, using Blue, Olive, and Silver. As you’d expect, you can also choose which buttons appear on the main menu and how the file trees work.
The developer also makes “Classic Explorer” and “Classic IE”. While they may not be necessary for people who only want to reenergize their Start Menu, they are great additions if you’re going for a computer-wide retro look.
Instead of trying to make your Start Menu look like older versions, Start Menu Reviver reimagines it in a whole new way.
The left-hand column gives you one-click access to your most common destinations (such as Search, Run, Recent Documents, etc.), while the right-hand column allows you to pin apps, folders, websites, documents, music files, video files, and just about anything else you want.
It’s also touchscreen-friendly – a big plus for people who have touch-enabled laptops or frequently use one of Microsoft’s Surface tablets.
6. Radial Menu
We finish the list with a Start Menu alternative.
Sometimes you might find that you spend too long scrolling up and down to find the apps you need. If you pin lots of apps the problem can be somewhat alleviated, but another solution is to forget about the Start Menu altogether and instead use a launcher. It might take a bit of getting used to, but over time you’ll probably find yourself becoming more productive.
One option is Radial Menu. It’ll let you create unlimited groups, subgroups, and items that can launch applications, documents, websites, or any other files. It’s easy to set up, thanks to its drag-and-drop functionality, and has lots color and layout customizations options to get it looking exactly how you want it.
What Start Menu Alternatives Do You Use?
The bottom line is that there is something out there to suit everyone’s tastes. Whether you want to bask in the glory of Windows 7, reawaken the ghost of Windows 98, or maintain the Windows 10 functionality in a different format.
Remember, if you love the native Windows 10 Start Menu, but just want to tweak it to make it perfect for you, it’s easy to do – just follow our guide.
What tools do you rely on to make the Windows Start Menu work for you? Have you tried any of our suggestions, or do you have you own hidden gems to share with our readers?
As ever, you can leave your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions in the comments box below.