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Beyond all of the colorful tiles; the bolted-on Modern user interface; the giant, full-screen apps and panels; and the inability to boot to the desktop—to name just a few of our gripes—there’s one issue above all others that’s guaranteed to universally frustrate Windows 8 desktop users: the Start Menu.
Specifically, Microsoft’s decision to remove the Start Menu entirely from Windows 8, giving users no recourse for adding it back as an optional alternative or supplement to the Modern UI’s tiled application shortcuts and search tool, which are Windows 8’s means of navigation.
We can fix that.
Perform a simple search for “Windows 8 Start Menu” and you’ll find a smorgasbord of apps with one purpose in mind: bringing back the button at any cost. The last thing you want to do is muck up your Windows 8 installation with a junky program, however—worse, to have wasted your time installing numerous Start Menu apps in an effort to find out which one is best (or prettiest).
Worry not. Your Start Menu is coming back. And with 11 different apps in our Start Menu roundup, we’re going to show you the best free and paid-for ways to get it.
It’s a Start Buffet, not a Start Menu
We appreciate what ReviverSoft is trying to do with its free Start Menu Reviver app. In many ways, the Start Menu that the app creates is like a miniature hybrid of Windows Modern and a conventional Start Menu. Big, bulky boxes give you access to your computer’s contents, your Internet browser of choice, the Modern dashboard, and what can only be described as a semi-shrunken version of Modern itself for quick app access.
With some tweaking of Start Menu Reviver’s limited configuration options you can create a vague resemblance to the conventional Start Menu. But even then, the app feels like it wastes space—we’d rather see more of our folders and shortcuts at once.
To balance out that annoyance, however, the app features a ton of links to various parts of the OS—and the ability to bypass Modern completely when Windows 8 boots.
We give it a Power 1
Sorry, Power 8 just doesn’t do it for us. First, we hate that there’s no way to assign your keyboard’s Windows Key to pull up this app’s Start Menu instead of Modern. The app is also a bit too thorough when it comes to disabling Modern’s Hot Corners—useful if you want to try and click its tiny Start button without accidentally activating a Windows 8 hot corner, but poor if you want to access any of the hot-corner options.
About that Start button—we wish that Power 8 came preconfigured with a larger button than the wee sliver the app stashes on the lower-left corner of your screen. The app’s glowing shortcut text is a bit tough on the eyes, and you’re forced to click a giant “Start Menu” button within the, er, Start Menu, just to access your standard Programs folder. No, thanks.
A Swiss Army knife of Start Menu approaches
The freeware app Classic Shell is a bit like using a bazooka to kill a fly. In this case, we commend the carnage. Once installed, the app allows you to slap a Start Menu button directly within Windows 8’s Desktop Mode that can be configured to operate in one of three ways: Windows Classic, Windows XP, or Windows 7.
And, yes, Classic Shell comes with illustrated examples for those who don’t quite remember the differences between the three Start Menu setups.
Other fun tweaks the app enables are the much-longed-for ability to bypass Windows 8’s Modern UI entirely in favor of a direct boot to Desktop Mode, a sea of configuration options that you can use to tweak your Start Menu to your liking, and Classic Explorer, which adds some creative visual tweaks to File Explorer itself!
Not too shabby, minus its weird name
It might feel a bit jarring at first when ViStart asks you to create a new Toolbar that it’ll use as your Start button, but don’t be scared off by the app’s treatment. You can still tap your Windows Key to launch the new menu—or at least, we could until the Windows Key started loading Modern again (a quick reset fixed that).
ViStart’s scrolling programs menu mimics the conventional Windows 7 Start Menu, and its left-most shortcuts are convenient and customizable—you can even add brand-new ones if you’re down for a little bit of text-file editing. The app lets you bypass Modern upon booting and lets you customize which of Windows 8’s hot corners you’d like to flip on and off—a lovely touch. The app’s search leaves a little to be desired, as you can’t Ctrl-A all of your text and delete it en masse when you want to search for new things.
Simple, easy, could be a bit more customizable
The no-frills freeware app StartW8 throws up a fairly simplified iteration of Windows 7’s Start Menu within your Windows 8 installation, up to and including the familiar scrollable list of folders and shortcuts buried within its “All Programs” link.
It’s a bit of a bummer that StartW8 doesn’t come with a way to pin most-used shortcuts to the Start Menu itself, or even change the order in which your shortcuts appear on StartW8’s “recent” section.
Nestled within Start8’s settings menu is a useful option that lets Windows 8 skip away from Modern and pull up your Windows Desktop when the OS loads. You’re also allowed to disable Modern’s hot corners in various configurations—we appreciate that Start8 resists an “all or nothing” approach. StartW8 lets you edit the menu items that the app tosses on the rightmost part of the Start Menu, but you can’t customize your own shortcuts.
A lovely looking Start Menu… if it installs
Pokki isn’t so much a Start Menu replacement as it is a kitchen sink of utilities for the social enthusiast. In theory, the app gives you a brand-new Start Menu in Windows 8 that’s packed full of far more than you probably need on your Start Menu, including hooks to an app store that you can use to supplement your Pokki Start Menu with social networking tie-ins, games, and other web-themed fare.
The problem? It doesn’t work. We had a great deal of trouble getting Pokki installed on our 64-bit system; either the app would install “correctly” and just not do anything (or even give the appearance that it was installed on our system), or the installation program would just hang, and hang, and hang. Trying to uninstall Pokki after an unsuccessful installation informed us that we didn’t have sufficient rights to do so. Argh.
Click the next page to read about Start Menu 7 and more.