Microsoft’s decision to eliminate the traditional Windows Start menu in Windows 8 was either an act of brilliance or fatally flawed.
So say some longtime Win8 users. If your attitude is somewhere in the middle, there are numerous free and paid apps that will put a Start menu back onto the Win8 Desktop.
The crew in Redmond might have thought their new touch screen–enabled OS would make the familiar Windows Start menu obsolete, but some 15 — and counting — third-party software companies have brought the Start button back from its digital grave.
As a Windows user of long standing, I work mostly in the Win8 Desktop — and truly miss the convenience of the desktop Start menu. So I tested a quartet of Start add-ons, judging each on its ability to meet the expectations of a typical upgrading Windows 7 user. For example, how similar is the add-on to Win7′s Start menu? Can you drag and drop shortcuts to or from the add-on’s Start menus? How easy is it to add or remove icons from the menu? Does the add-on’s search box work as well as Windows 7′s? Does it list Windows 8 apps as well as desktop apps? Finally, might it actually improve upon Win7′s Start?
Classic Shell: Giving the full Win7 experience
Classic Shell (free; site) was developed originally as a much-needed Vista enhancement. It comes to its full and feature-rich fruition as a Windows 8 Start menu app.
Installable in 30 seconds or less, the basic program (for either 32- or 64-bit systems) is a relatively light 1,500KB, with another 7,280KB of optional features such as File Explorer and IE 9 customization. These extras give it the look and feel of Vista/Win 7. By default, the CS Start menu looks much like Win7′s, but you can quickly switch to an XP or Vista look as well. You can even hide the Metro/Win 8 Start screen completely, giving you a nearly total Win7 experience (see Figure 1). (But one might wonder why you’d upgrade to Win 8 at all, if what you want is a Windows 7 UI.)
You can drag and drop application icons into the menu fluidly; removing them is a simple, two-click process. The menu intelligently sorts Win8 apps and other programs into two separate menu listings. You can find apps not listed by entering their names into the agile, Win7-like Start search box. You can also display and launch Windows 8 Store apps and create custom jump lists for recently used documents or apps.