Bring Order To Start Menu Mayhem

Dear Fred, Thanks for a great newsletter. I wonder if you can suggest an answer to this problem which I think many people must have. When I go to Start-Programs (I am running XP SP2) the programs are displayed but as I have quite a lot of programs many of them are out of sight to the right of the screen. I’m sure there must be a way to overcome this but I have been unable to find it. There does not seem to be a way to scroll through the programs to see the ones out of sight. I have searched the Help and looked on the Internet and on the Microsoft site but no success. Can you please tell us how to overcome this problem which I think must affect many people? Thanks and kind regards, —Mark Digby

We’ve covered this before, but it comes up often enough in reader mail that it bears a fresh take. Let’s start by referring you to two of the most recent LangaList items that directly address what you’re trying to do:

The root cause of this problem is the inconsistent way Microsoft and other companies design software install programs, and the near-universal result is that we all end up with Start menus that are disorganized and bloated. Rather than— or in addition to— configuring the menu to scroll through all this stuff, why not clean house?

A typical Start menu is a nightmare of inconsistent categorization and needless bloat. Looking at just the Start/Programs menu, some items are organized by software type— "Accessories," "Administrative Tools," "Games," etc. Most are listed by software company name, often with submenus organized around specific products. Some installation programs place the executable right there on the Programs menu.

Installation programs are also inconsistent about what kinds of files they place on the Start menu. Some add only, say, the main program executable, while others include uninstall programs, read-me files, Help files or others.

Some installation routines place items on the Start menu of the user account active during installation, while others place them on the Start menu for all users.

Rather than accepting the disorganized mess that Windows and third-party software has created on your Start menu, it makes sense to choose an organizational schema meaningful to you, and impose order on your Start menu. For example, you could organize according to application type. You might simply place links to all the executables you use right there on the Programs menu. The important thing is to customize and streamline the Start menu for maximum speed and ease of use.

Each Start/Programs menu is nothing more than a collection of shortcuts. You can access these shortcuts through the Windows Explorer.

To get started, find your Documents and Settings folder. Inside, you’ll likely find a folder for each user, plus an "All Users" folder and an "admin" folder. Each of these has a Start Menu folder inside and each of those has a Programs folder. By changing the nested folders and shortcuts in the Programs folders, you’ll change the Start/Programs menu.

Note that the Start/Programs menu you see is probably a combination of the Start menus in the "All Users" folder and the specific user you’re currently logged in as. If you’re the only user of a specific PC, you might choose to centralize Start menu items in the "All Users" Start menu to keep future Start menu maintenance simpler.

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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.