How To Build A Desktop Start Menu Replacement In Windows 8.1

Tina Sieber 03-12-2013

Are you tired of the Modern interface? Windows 8.1 allows you to boot to the desktop. If only the restored Start Button would launch a proper Start Menu Start Menu, How I Miss Thee: 4 Ways To Make A Start Menu On Windows 8 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... Read More ! Well, it sort of can.


Step 1: Boot To Desktop

This is the thing Microsoft got right in Windows 8.1: you can finally boot to the desktop natively.

To enable this feature, go to the desktop, right-click the taskbar and select Properties. In the Taskbar and Navigation properties window, switch to the Navigation tab and under Start screen, select the option “When I sign in or close all applications on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start“. And before you hit OK, also complete the next step…

Boot To Desktop In Windows 8.1

Step 2: Make Start Button Open Apps View

While you’re at it, also check the option “She the Apps view automatically when I go to Start“. This way, your desktop Start button will not open the Start screen, but the Apps view. Again, don’t hit OK just yet, but move on to the third step…

Enable Start Menu Replacement In Windows 8.1


Step 3: Turn Apps View Into A Start Menu Replacement

Assuming your goal is to avoid the Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) and the Start screen, you might also want to avoid Modern apps. In that case, also check the option “List desktop apps first in the Apps view when it’s sorted by category“.

List Desktop Apps First In Windows 8.1

Now you can hit OK and the next time you log into Windows, you should land at the desktop.

Meanwhile, here is what your Start Menu replacement might look like right now.


Windows 8.1 Start Menu Replacement

Not exactly perfect, yet. The first thing you’ll notice is how cluttered it is.

Bonus: Fix Up Your Apps Menu

Whenever you install a new program, Windows dumps shortcuts for all of the added files onto your Apps screen, including Help files and other nonsense. This was essentially the same in previous versions of Windows, only that the All Programs view contained folders that were collapsed by default. In Apps view, everything is kept in plain sight with no way to hide it.

To clean up this cluttered mess and build a useful Start Menu replacement, you’ll need to invest some effort. Right-click an item you would like to remove and select “Open file location from the menu at the bottom“.


Clean Up All Apps View

This will send you back to the desktop and open the respective shortcut in its folder (Windows Accessories in the example shown above). Windows Explorer reveals the locations where all those shortcuts are stored:

All Users: C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs
Current User: C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

Customize Windows 8.1 Start Menu

Now you can raid those folders and delete all the items you do not wish to see in your new Start Menu, otherwise known as Apps view. Better yet, you can create new folders, add your own shortcuts, and customize your Windows 8.1 Start Menu to your liking.


You can even place a shutdown or restart shortcut How To Shut Down Windows 8 Windows 8 brings the biggest changes to the familiar Windows interface since Windows 95. The Shut Down option isn’t where you’d expect to find it – in fact, the entire classic Start menu and Start... Read More onto the Apps screen, by creating a new shortcut and adding one of the lines below (after the colon). A full list of options can be seen by running the shutdown.exe /? command in a Command Prompt window A Beginner's Guide To The Windows Command Line The command line lets you communicate directly with your computer and instruct it to perform various tasks. Read More .

Shutdown: shutdown.exe /s /t 0
Restart: shutdown.exe /r /t 0
Hibernate: shutdown.exe /h
Fast Startup: shutdown.exe /hybrid

This shutdown workaround is not as good as the respective options in the old Windows Start Menu, but it’s a start. Or is it a means to an end?

Note that many changes don’t become visible immediately and sometimes you may only see partial changes. Especially new folders don’t show up until you rename a shortcut inside the folder or reboot the system. A Disk Cleanup of the Thumbnails cache supposedly helps, although it didn’t for me. Restarting Windows Explorer helped sometimes. Rebooting Windows always helped.

Disk Cleanup

Whether or not the result is worth the effort is up to you. Here is my custom Windows 8.1 Start Menu.

Custom Windows 8.1 Start Menu

One Last Trick: Right-Click The Start Button

Admittedly, this Start Menu replacement isn’t perfect, particularly on smaller screens. Moreover, seasoned Windows users will miss the option to shut down from the Start button. Although that’s not the most intuitive location, it’s what we’ve been trained to use. And you can still use the Start button to shut down your computer.

The trick is to right-click the Start button. In Windows 8.1, this will launch a very useful power user menu that contains shortcuts to advanced system tools. Many of these system shortcuts could be found in or at added to the traditional Start Menu, including “Shut down or sign out“. Chris has previously explained how you can edit the quick access menu in Windows 8 8 Ways To Improve Windows 8 With Win+X Menu Editor Windows 8 contains an almost hidden feature you need to know about! Press Windows Key + X or right-click at the bottom-left corner of your screen to open a menu you can now customize. Read More .

Shut Down With Start Button In Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 Just Became More Useful

Even if this alternative Start Menu leaves a lot to be desired, I hope some of these tips will help you work more efficiently with Windows 8.1.

How did you customize your Apps screen?

Related topics: Start Menu, Windows 8.

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  1. paul1957
    January 11, 2017 at 1:26 am

    ekhhemm ... google "classic shell" and job done

  2. vaga
    December 12, 2014 at 3:01 am

    I think change is a good thing,I dont think forcing change on people without choice is a good thing! as far as windows 8.1..aside from being the most UGLY
    OS I ever seen,so throughout my workday I have to stop and try and figure out
    where is this,how to acccess that,so all in all it's makes things harder on a desktop.I have already installed linux as an alternative so If the next Os is like thisI can Continue to work in a simple manner.

    also installed linux for my parents who can't figure out's too much for them they just want to check emails and look at the web,it's simply too complicated for them.

    Choice is good!!!!! forced choices makes people grumpy!!!

  3. Ray
    May 15, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    XP XP XP
    This 8.1 system sucks. After 1 week of using it this is the impression I get. Microsoft needs a lot more money and fast. So they said, "Let's make another system and end support for the 95% of the world that uses XP." So he took these ideas that were in development, some hits and mostly misses, threw them together and that's it. I read somewhere that on the first release they forgot the start button. Names are changed to silly words like, "Apps." The Task Manager is impressive but first it's a task and then a process then a task and process again. Hmmm! Search was simple in XP but here I'm baffled. Type, "Windows" returns a folder and, ".exe" goes to the internet. Search by Size: "tiny, huge, gigantic" sounds very silly and unprofessional. Not a very serious approach. The registry contains stuff that is not used anymore like the active desktop keys. They through away things because it consumes to much battery power. My computer plugs into the wall. But it works like a phone. To sum it up. I can accept new things but they don't have to take away that which was already there. I like the XP Start Menu period.

  4. Rock
    April 2, 2014 at 1:09 am

    Many persons including myself lament the loss of the windows Start Menu in windows 8 and 8.1. There are several Programs which have been written to return the Start Menu. I have tried a couple of them and they might work for you. They didn't for me. I however did find a simple work around and now have a fully functional start menu. The files used to create the Start Menu are still around and by simply locating them and creating a Taskbar Toolbar you can completely reinvent Your Start Menu. The new location will be on the right end of the taskbar. But every thing is there. You will still need to rightclick on the original location at the left end of the taskbar for those functions. The location of the start menu file is as follows: C:/ProgramData/Microsoft/Windows/StartMenu. To create the toolbar rightclick on the taskbar, and select Toolbars and then New toolbar... Browse to the StartMenu File, select it and then click Select Folder. The new Toolbar Start Menu will appear on your Taskbar at the right end. Clicking on the double arrow will produce a satisfying replacement for the original Start Menu. It is Free and easy Enjoy!!

    • Dan
      January 10, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      Thanks for your tip about adding a Programs list to the task bar. I did go one step further:

  5. Steve
    February 13, 2014 at 7:24 am

    I use a start menu by it's free and gives you a choice of win classic, win XP and win 7 start button, and a bunch of settings to play with.
    Hi from Canada.

  6. Willie
    February 13, 2014 at 12:00 am

    How about an XP emulator? I am one of the very, very fast users. Every time Phil N makes a click, I've hit 4 keystrokes/shortcuts. So it's not "perfectly fine" for highly productive uses. The point is,in each and every case - did I stutter? in each and every case - Win 7 takes an equal amount or more strokes than XP.

    So is there an XP interface emulator? (Ya, I know, VirtualBox...)

    And even more if anyone knows an Office '03 interface emulator that truly works, that would advance civilization galactically. UbitMenu is dogspit. It does not let you go alt-D, then F, and visually choose which one to run from that point.

  7. Vic
    February 1, 2014 at 11:40 pm

    Great article. I hate that new search, as with a big widescreen, you have to roll your pointer across a vast area to type in the app name - very dumb design. I don't want to install more things as some commenters suggest. So this method suits me well. Thanks.

  8. Philip
    January 26, 2014 at 9:43 am

    Thank You very much! This is exactly what I've been looking for. I really love Your articles, thank You! :)

  9. Bubsy
    January 5, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    The only reason there are 831 alternatives to the missing start menu in Win8 is because people want it, and everyone is scrambling to fill the void. It was certainly better for how I use Windows than metro is. I have zero use for Metro, but I realize that I am not every user. I don't and won't use "apps" on my PC, if and when I do that, I have a tablet. I took the time to learn and use Metro and found that for the things I do, it can't be made to be as functional and efficient as "desktop" mode. I am taking the time to see if I can remove Metro and Charms from the UI, and if I am lucky, I will be able to automate that on a fresh Win8 image.

  10. Phillip H
    January 2, 2014 at 2:55 pm

    I have 2 elderly users who use XP quite happily. They dont want to change; they dont want to need to learn a new UI to do the things they already do. They use XP. They cannot continue using XP because many of the sites they use need HTML5 without fallback to IE8. They are forced to upgrade to Windows 8.1. This means that they have to re-learn the way their computer works just to keep using the same PC to do the same tasks they did last week; and they need to pay for the privilege of "upgrading" to a new OS that doesn't work the way they expect and does not provide a capability of running the way it used to.

    All the neophiles commenting "improved" "we like change" "move on" are just commenting on their own preferences, and need to understand they dont represent the experiences of a whole large segment of society and PC users.

  11. Phillip H
    January 2, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    I have 2 elderly users who use XP quite happily. They dont want to change; they dont want to need to learn a new UI to do the things they already do. They use XP. They cannot continue using XP because many of the sites they use need HTML5 without fallback to IE8. They are forced to upgrade to Windows 8.1. This means that they have to re-learn the way their computer works just to keep using the same PC to do the same tasks they did last week; and they need to pay for the privilege of "upgrading" to a new OS that doesn't work the way they expect and does not provide a capability of running the way it used to.

    All the neophiles commenting "improved" "we like change" "move on" are just commenting on their own preferences, and need to understand they dont represent the experiences of a whole large segment of society and PC users.

  12. john
    December 26, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    get back to XP

  13. Rutul Parikh
    December 12, 2013 at 5:17 am

    The Start Screen is far better IF you know how to use it. If you just want to run a 'start menu' then what's the purpose of having Windows 8/8.1? Just install/buy Windows 7.

    One more thing! Microsoft is adding more 'Modern' features to its OS step by step. I mean, now you can officially browse your files/drives by using SkyDrive app, they're providing more and more options on PC Settings (you can also view system info!). I guess Microsoft's goal is to shift to new interface entirely in different steps.

    First came Windows 8, which had drastic changes, but limited 'modern' usability. Then came Windows 8.1 eliminating Windows 8's some flaws.

    So, give it a try, put your faith they'll do better in next versions of Windows (Windows 8.xx till Windows 9? IMHO, Which makes Windows 9 will be completely based on Modern interface).

    People love new techs and UIs but don't want to accept it? That's rude, sure power users will still need Windows 7, but it's time we move on!

    • Just me
      December 19, 2013 at 11:43 pm

      This kind of "moving on" is as valuable as shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. Move UP with advances that make the interface more productive.

    • cliff
      December 21, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      I agree time to move on & leave the dinosaurs behind

  14. Steven G
    December 4, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    I just wish there was a way to turn off the Right Side slideout when my mouse gets over to that side of the screen. ANNOYING

    • Tim
      December 4, 2013 at 7:03 pm

      You can try this app for doing that:

      It's called Charms Bar Killer and it's portable. Simply set it to kill and run automatically on startup and boom... no more Charms.

      P.S. Should you ever want them back, simply disable the "auto-start" and then log off and back on. The Charms will be back until you reverse the process again.

    • Andrew
      January 28, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      You can in Windows 8.1 . Right click Taskbar, Navigation tab. Uncheck "When I point to the upper-right corner, show the charms". Done, and without having to install 3rd party software.

  15. Gde S
    December 4, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Stardock has fixed everything for me. Start8 and ModernMix aren't free but are very inexpensive. And for the folks who miss Aero there is WindowBlinds (not as nice but it gives back some of the eye-candy). The sad part is having to spend $20 to replace what was part of the last version of Windows. Microsoft could have saved themselves a lot of bad press if they would have invited users to transition instead of forcing this new, non-intuitive change on everyone. The idea that because it's new it's better is silly. Apple understands that mobile-touch devices and desktop computers are different experiences. And don't get me started on the all CAPS menus in Office...
    Argh! I need some sleep.

  16. Bryant
    December 4, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Advanced system care 7 adds the start menu like how it was like in Win7.

    nuff said

  17. Phil N
    December 3, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    The Start page is perfectly fine. I have no idea why anyone would want to limit themselves to the clumsy old menu. You're better off taking two minutes to learn how the Start page works.

    • likefunbutnot
      December 4, 2013 at 3:48 am

      They're BOTH fine, for differing definitions of fine. Customization is good, as long as users are savvy enough to know how to use or get back to the standard thing, which in Windows 8.x is the Start Screen.

      The start menu was standard for 18 years and having a persistent "home base" on screen is still common across pretty much every other desktop OS with a graphical interface. Windows 8, lacking an obvious way to start some traditional applications, is mystifying to a lot of very smart people. Even the Modern UI version of IE is confusing because common on-screen elements like browser tabs don't remain on-screen.

      I'm glad Classic Start exists. It's relatively easy to install or even deploy to multiple computers. I think the decision of user interface preference really should be left to each user rather than having one or the other forced on anyone.

    • Phil N
      December 4, 2013 at 3:59 am

      18 years means people have been dealing with 18 year old technology. Imagine using an 18 year old web browser. How is "press Start " any less obvious than "Press Start"?

  18. Angel Yanagi
    December 3, 2013 at 7:09 pm

    Why not just download Classic Shell?

    Then all your problems are solved, back to a perfect start menu. :)

    • Tim
      December 3, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      Exactly... this doesn't do anything other than make garbage, slightly more useful. Replacing the old start menu by simply installing Classic Shell, is far and away the best solution to the Windows 8 and 8.1 debacle. Nobody is going to get the time back that it took them to read this article, when all it needed to say was... Download Classic Shell here!....

    • geoff
      December 4, 2013 at 7:20 am

      yep, classic shell for me, too. You still have full access to the windows 8 page if you want it, and it hides away when you don't, which for me, is most of the time.

    • Proximo
      December 4, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      Just buy Start8 from Stardock for $4.99. You now have Windows 8 running exactly like Windows 7. It takes about 2 minutes to install and setup with the true results most of us want.

    • Alan
      December 6, 2013 at 8:11 pm

      Why not just accept that Windows 8/8.1 are very logical i.e. the Windows 8 Start button bottom left or the 'flag' in Windows 8.1 are the equivalent of the ancient start buttons and that either takes you to a prettier interface which is the Start menu. neither the Start button or Start screen have disappeared - it is just that you Luddites can't accept change.

      PS very good article - all the Luddites should read it - I won't hold my breATHE THOUGH!

    • Ed
      February 24, 2014 at 10:52 pm

      Thank you; thank you so much!