How to Bring Back the Old Start Menu in Windows 8

Windows 8 has received a lot of press surrounding the “missing” Start button and its replacement with the Metro UI. Over the past week, tutorials and third-party software developers have been working hard to remedy this problem. Today, we can recreate much of what the Start menu once was through the use of third-party software or a little tweaking of a couple integrated features that currently exist on the Consumer Preview.

Did you know that there is a menu built right in to the desktop that mimics some of the functionality of the original Start menu? I’m not talking about the Start menu from Windows 7, Vista, or even XP. I’m talking about the original Start menu that was introduced in Windows 95 so many years ago.

Currently, you can manipulate this menu to a slight degree (instructions below) though you can’t presently add your own additional shortcuts to the list. For whatever reason, Microsoft decided that this menu would only contain a specific set of shortcuts, giving the user the power to delete or reorganize them within the WinX folder.

When searching for a proper solution, few current projects stand out quite as boldly as Start8. We’ll explain how this open source application restores the Start Orb and brings back a little of the Aero UI we’ve come to know and love over the years.

Here are some methods in which you can enjoy Start menu functionality within Windows 8.

Power User Menu

All you need to do to access this somewhat hidden Power User menu is right-click the Start screen thumbnail as it appears on the lower-left corner of the screen. By default, this menu gives you instant access to a number of features that would appeal to the Windows power user including: Network Connections, Control Panel, Device Manager, Command Prompt, Task Manager, Windows Explorer, Search, Run (old-school style), Event Viewer, System Properties, and more.

What’s even more impressive about this menu is just how easy it is to customize. You can add your own programs to this list to recreate some semblance of a traditional Start button menu.

Here are some tips to help you use and customize the Windows Power User menu on Windows 8.

Using the Menu
By right-clicking the Start thumbnail that appears when you drag your mouse down to the lower-left corner of the Windows 8 desktop, you gain access to what has been referred to as the Windows 8 Power User menu. This feature has been considered a hidden Easter Egg by some, though it’s really just one of those features that Microsoft put in there to make life for power users a little easier.

The menu itself works like just about any menu throughout the history of Windows. Links are broken up into three sections, with the first being a standard Desktop button, the second containing common tasks previously associated with the Start menu in Windows XP/Vista/7, and the third contains power user applications and tools including both standard and administrative links to the Command Prompt.

Customizing the Menu
Customizing this menu can give you immediate access to your favorite programs and tools without having to use the Metro interface hardly at all. The only real tool you need to get this done is the File Manager, which can be accessed through this menu, or by opening it via Search or the Start screen.

Within File Manager, left-click on the bar at the top of the window and type the following:

C:\Users\Username\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows\WinX

In this string, replace Username with your user name on Windows 8. If you don’t know what this is, you can navigate to C:\Users\ and click on your folder before entering the rest of the string.

In this folder, you should see three folders, each labeled with a number. You can add additional folders and call them Group4, Group5, Group6, etc. This will add sections to the Power User menu which can be filled with shortcuts. Unfortunately, this currently only works with existing shortcuts within the WinX subfolders. That said, you are able to copy and paste, delete, and shift them around as you see fit.

Why Microsoft chose to make this potentially powerful tool limited is beyond me, though hopefully someone out there finds a way to manipulate this menu to make it a bit more customizable.

Build Your Own

This method doesn’t exactly create a Start orb or anything fancy like that, but it does give you a classic method of quickly accessing your programs without having to deal with Windows 8’s Metro UI.

WinX
The steps listed above regarding managing the Power User menu will come in handy here.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Right-click on the Taskbar on the Aero Windows desktop.
  • Navigate to Toolbars > New Toolbar and give it a click.
  • In the Choose a Folder window, navigate to the WinX folder using the steps listed above.
  • Once you’re in the WinX folder, hit Select Folder.
  • You should see a little WinX toolbar with a chevron to the right. Clicking this chevron will open a list of directories and shortcuts that carry over from the Power User Menu.

Any shortcuts you add to this directory, including subfolders, should appear in this toolbar. That means shortcuts to programs, files, and other essentials could be added here and easily accessed in a way that is not entirely unlike the Start menu from the days of old.

Alternatives
Alternatively, you can add opt not to add this preset directory and instead add your Programs directory which is filled with various Windows programs, or create a brand new directory filled with shortcuts to software and files, and point the toolbar there. This is a very limited approach to the problem, but it may be just the thing you’re looking for.

Based on Existing Start Menu
There are several folders within Windows that contain information that is added to the Start menu. While this toolbar method doesn’t work to bring them all together in a single menu, you can create multiple tools or simply pick the one that has the most bang for your buck.

Instead of choosing WinX has your toolbar folder, you can navigate your File Manager here:

C:\Users\Username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu

Just replace Username with your user ID in Windows. This will give you a somewhat functional Start menu option, but again it does little to replace what Microsoft took away.

Start8

Start8 is a free download offered by Stardock, a prominent Windows development house that specializes in space games and Windows UI customization.

Star8 brings back the Start orb along with a Metro-styled Start menu that may or may not be your cup of tea. While it does feature much of the functionality of the Windows 7 Start menu, you’ll have a hard time escaping the Metro UI. Granted, you won’t have to deal with a full-screen version of the interface, rather you can enjoy the experience from a much more compact point of view.

You don’t get the benefits of the classic Start menu, though much of your power user features are still available with a right-click in the lower-left corner of the screen.

Personally, I feel that Start8 is the closest thing to giving you the best of both worlds. You get the modern advantages of Windows 8 without the hassle of having to work around older solutions that may or may not be broken through upcoming updates, or confused by changes in internal file management within Windows.

Vista Start Menu

Vista may be a name that draws panic in the hearts of many Windows users out there, however desperate times call for desperate measures. Vista Start menu has been in development since the days when Windows XP users desperately wanted to enjoy one of the more positive changes of the then-upcoming Windows Vista operating environment.

Vista Start menu isn’t a true representation of the menu that shipped with Windows Vista. It does, however, offer much of the original function, look, and feel that users are searching for in the Start orb.

There are some beneficial advantages to Vista Start menu for some users. For example, Quick Start and Autorun tabs make it easier to get to the programs you need to access very quickly. Additionally, you can use your keyboard to navigate through various operations in a very quick and easy way, allowing groups of applications to be assigned a letter key for fast and easy navigation.

Transparent Aero graphics aren’t available on the free version, but a $19.99 registration fee gets you that, plus one-click application launching which sorts through program folders automatically to find the most commonly used executables, enhanced menu customization, and access to the Classic Start menu, a little less Vista-like alternative to Vista Start menu, which looks and feels like the Windows XP menu.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • Matthew Cheung

    Cool! This would help for people using Window 8 on a Mac with no Window Key or with users who are unfamiliar with the operating system.

  • iAmSoNoble

    There is a start button, it’s called the Windows Key. Also, you can bring up the “start menu” by hovering over the lower left portion of the desktop.

  • johnwerneken

    startmenu 7 beats start8 I am not sure about startmenu toggle as I haven’t rebooted yet. that new task bar is a cool idea thank you.

  • http://mrvulcan.myopenid.com/ MrVulcan

    Broken up into three…seconds? :-s

  • Jonathan Wakeman

    Awesome, this really helped.

  • BeloSol

    Surprised no one has mentioned ‘Classic Shell’?
    classicshell.sourceforge.net/

  • BeloSol

     Please delete the comment about Classic Shell.  It’s for Windows 7, this is Windows 8.

  • Grammar

    “Alterantives”?

  • http://www.facebook.com/andreabormanlb Andrea Borman

    Yes Vista Start Menu will give you the Windows Vista and 7 start Menu in Windows 8 Consumer Preview. But if you want both the start orb and the start menu then install Start Menu 7. Start Menu 7 works on Windows 8,and will give you both the start orb and the start menu. Start Menu 7 is made by the same people who make Vista Start Menu. I like both programs,so I have installed both and am using both on my Windows 8.

    Other programs that work on Windows 8 CP are Vi Start that also gives you the Windows 7 start orb and start menu. Another option is Taskbar Classic which does not give you the start menu, but puts the Classic Start menu in the taskbar notification area. But it works on Windows 8 CP and is still another option.

    When I am on Windows 7 or Windows Vista I use Classic Shell because I like the Windows XP start menu and Classic Toolbar buttons in Windows Explorer. But Classic Shell does not work in Windows 8 CP at the moment,although it worked in the Developers Preview. Andrea Borman.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mark.webster25 Mark Webster

      ummm wasn’t there a registry hack in windows 8 to disable metro and bring back the old start menu

  • http://www.facebook.com/andreabormanlb Andrea Borman

    Classic Shell has just been updated on 31st March which was yesterday. And the new version now works on Windows 8 Consumer Preview. Also the new version of Classic Shell also includes the start orb for Windows 8.As well as the Classic and Windows XP start menu. And like the start menu, you can change the start orb to either the Metro,Windows 7 or Classic start orb.

    Classic Shell also works with the Windows key on Windows 8 CP. Which brings up the Windows XP start menu. So you don’t get taken back to the start screen every time you press the Windows key,like you do with some of the other programs.Which means that now, I do not have to deal with the Metro start screen quite so much as before.

    So now there is yet another option to get both the start orb and start menu back on Windows 8 CP. Andrea Borman.

  • xpclient

    Here’s a Classic Shell skin: http://www.askvg.com/download-classic-shell-skin-to-get-windows-7-look-like-start-menu-and-start-button-in-windows-8/ to make it look like the Windows 7 Start Menu.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rennee.bks.liers Rennee Liers

    i am using classic shell , http://classicshell.sourceforge.net , works fine and its free :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/John-Werneken/1428284599 John Werneken

    Using startmenuX and startbuttonX, for my pirposes they maske Win8 just great. Both free.

  • Rick

    The best so far is this:
    http://www.msfn.org/board/topic/157302-windows-7-explorer-for-windows-8/

    It patches some files to directly use an explorer.exe from Windows 7.