How to get the classic Start menu back in Windows 8 RTM

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Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.

Windows users who still miss the good old Start menu in Windows 8 can revive it, courtesy of three handy utilities.

(Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET)

Okay, we confess: after all these months of testing and using Windows 8, we still miss the classic Start menu. Microsoft has attempted to lure us to the new Start screen, and we can see some clear benefits to it. But for us, the Start menu is still the easiest way to organise, locate and launch our vast array of desktop applications.

If you're in the same boat, fear not. ViStart, Classic Shell and StartMenu7 all do a good job of duplicating the classic Start menu with its folders, shortcuts and easy access to common Windows locations.

Concerns surfaced that Microsoft would disable the functionality of such Start menu apps in the final version of Windows. But we tested all three utilities, and all worked just fine in the Windows 8 release to manufacturing (RTM) edition that was unveiled last week.


(Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET)

Published by Lee-Soft, ViStart displays the familiar Windows 7 orb. Click on the orb, and up pops ViStart's Start menu, with your folders and shortcuts on the left pane and links to popular Windows features and locations on the right.

The search field lets you find the name of any application or file. A dedicated shut-down button offers access to Shutdown, Restart, Log off and Hibernate commands. And ViStart plays nicely with the new hot corner — you can still access the lower-right thumbnail to switch between your last two opened Windows 8 apps.

ViStart presents one obstacle, though. We couldn't find a way to organise our Start menu. Right-clicking on a folder or other item had no effect. And we couldn't locate a folder where ViStart stores its menu shortcuts, so there seems no way to customise the menu. The ViStart FAQ confirms that no right-click support is available, but that the feature is on the drawing board for a future version.

ViStart is a simple and quick way to get back the Start menu, as long as you don't mind the inability to customise the menu. Just pay attention when you install ViStart. The installation includes options to change your search engine and install a browser add-on, and they're checked on by default.

Classic Shell

Classic Shell.
(Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET)

Classic Shell is a collection of features from prior versions of Windows, including a new, but familiar take on the classic Start menu. Clicking on the Windows orb after installation lets you choose between displaying all settings in the Start menu or just the basics. You can also select between a simple single-paned menu or the more modern dual-paned menu.

The Classic Shell menu displays your programs, documents and settings. The familiar Run command and Search field are visible. Clicking on the shut-down icon brings up choices for Shutdown, Restart, Hibernate, Lock and Switch User. The Help command even calls up the new Windows 8 Help and Support page.

Unlike ViStart, Classic Shell lends itself to customization. The program offers an array of settings and options that you can tweak all you want. You can learn more about the utility through its detailed FAQ page.


(Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET)

Also known as StartMenuX, this utility lets you customise the look, feel and functionality of its flexible Start menu.

You can resize the menu to take up as much or as little room as you want. You can right click on any folder or shortcut to access a pop-up menu of commands. You can change the Windows orb between the classic Windows 7 look and the newer Windows 8 logo. There's even an option to set up virtual groups to organize your shortcuts.

The traditional Run and Search commands are available. A Power Control panel displays options to Shut Down, Restart, Hibernate, Sleep and even Undock. StartMenu7 is available as both a free version and a US$20 Pro edition that offers even more features and customisations.

Our only gripe with StartMenu7 is that it cuts you off from easy access back to the Windows 8 Start screen. After installing the utility, we could no longer trigger the Start screen thumbnail in the lower right corner. Even pressing the Windows key simply opened the program's start menu. The Charms bar still worked, however, so we were able to click on the Start charm to return to the Start screen.

Each of the three utilities has its pros and cons. But all of them are helpful options for those of us who can't quite seem to work without the classic Start menu.

Bonus: Start8

Stardock's application is just a little nifty, allowing you to load straight to desktop, custom logos and "Run" and "Shutdown" options with a right click menu. Interestingly, it chooses not to implement the old Windows 7-style Start menu, but instead limits the new Start screen to the bottom left corner, in a user definable size.


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