How to Recapture the Start Menu in Windows 8.1

Lance Whitney

You can choose to use a third-party utility that adds a Start menu to Windows 8.1.

If you’re running Windows 8.1 and you miss the good ol’ classic Start menu, you’re not stuck. You can recapture the goodness of the traditional Windows 7 Start menu through a Start menu program. Such software as Classic Shell, Pokki’s Windows 8 Start Menu, Start 8, and Start Menu X bring back or approximate the look and feel of the classic Windows Start menu. And they offer other advantages. You can typically customize the Start menu in these programs to alter their layout and appearance. And you can usually create, move, and delete folders and shortcuts to organize and manage your Start menu. Let’s see how you can use and tweak these programs to evoke the traditional Start menu.

Classic Shell

Created by developer Ivaylo Beltchev, this free Start menu replacement is one of my personal favorites. After you install the software in Windows 8.1, click on the Start button. The program asks you what type of Start menu you want to see. Choose your option, such as the classic Windows 7 style with the familiar two column layout. In the left column, you can switch between a view of your most-used programs and all programs. And in the right column, you’ll spot the familiar Windows locations and features, such as Documents, Pictures, Music, Control Panel, and the Run command. From the menu, you can also search for programs, files, and other items. A Shut Down option provides links to restart your PC, put it to sleep, go into hibernate mode, and log off.

Classic Shell also offers a host of settings you can tweak. Right-click on the Start button and click on Settings. Here, you can change the layout to a classic style with one column or one with two columns. You can choose which features and commands appear on the menu. You can select a different skin for the menu and a different look for the Start button.

You can also edit the Start menu. Just click on the Start button, right-click on Open or Open All Users, and a File Explorer window pops up, giving you the ability to create, rename, and delete your Start menu folders and shortcuts. For those of you yearning for the traditional Start menu, Classic Shell is nicely-designed, easy to use, and full of options.

Pokki Windows 8 Start Menu

The free Pokki Start menu is a bit different than its brethren. Instead of replacing your existing Windows 8.1 Start button, it adds a new button on the taskbar. Click on the Pokki button, and up pops a two-paned menu. On the left are links to All Programs, Control Panel, Documents, Music, and Pictures. At the bottom is the Shut Down option with links to restart, hibernate, sleep, and log off. And the right pane changes depending on which feature you select. Click on My Favorites, and your favorite apps appear. Click on All Programs, and all your installed programs appear, organized by category. Click on Control Panel, and all the items in Control Panel appear. At the top is a search field so you can track down apps and files by name. Right-click on an application, and you can add it to your Favorites list, pin it to the taskbar, open it as an administrator, or uninstall it.

The down arrow at the top of the menu leads you to a Settings screen. Here, you can alter the look of the menu by choosing a specific theme, change the Start button, determine whether you want to see recently-used apps, and control which items you see on the left pane of the menu. Pokki Menu doesn’t look or act like the classic Start menu, so it may not be for everyone. But it uses a unique style and design that offers its own benefits.

Start 8

This is another one of my favorite Start menu programs. Cooked up by the folks at Stardock, Start 8 is designed for Windows 8 and 8.1. After installing the program, click on the Start button, and you’ll see the traditional two-column Start menu. On the left pane you can switch between All Programs and recently-used applications, and on the right pane you can access various Windows features and places, such as Documents, Pictures, Music, Settings, and Control Panel. You can also tap into a Shut Down feature with the usual options and a link to bring up the regular Windows 10 Start menu.

Start 8 offers a variety options to tweak. Right-click on the Start button and click on Configure. From the settings window, you opt for a Windows 7 style menu or the Windows 8 style. You can choose a specific theme for the menu and image for the Start button. You can also determine which items appear on the menu. And if you want to edit the menu, simply click on the Start button, right-click on All Programs and click on Open All Users. That brings you to a File Explorer window where you can edit and rearrange all your folders and shortcuts.

You can take Start 8 for a spin with a 30-day trial. After that, the software will cost you $4.99 if you want to keep it. Yes, you can snag other Start menu programs, such as Classic Shell, for free. But Start 8 is well-designed and well worth the price.

Start Menu X

Install and configure Start Menu X, and up pops a Start menu that resembles the old Windows XP menu with its cascading list of folders and shortcuts. On the left pane are links to your documents, pictures, music, and programs. Click on a particular folder or feature, and the right pane displays its subfolders and individual shortcuts. A Run button at the top provides access to the Run command as well as quick access to all your Windows folders and features. And a Search field rests at the bottom along with Power Control button with links to shut down, restart, lock your PC, and log off.

Start Menu X offers one cool and unique feature – the ability to create virtual groups. You can organize similar programs into a single group without having to mess around with their folders and shortcuts. You can then click on a virtual group’s folder from the Start menu to easily access any of the programs within. To customize Start Menu X, click on the Options button. In the Options screen, you can then tweak the layout and color theme of the menu, change the look of the Start button, and control your virtual groups. The basic version of Start Menu X is free, or you can opt for a $9.99 pro version that offers more features.

Of the programs highlighted here, my top picks are Classic Shell and Start 8, though the others are worth checking out as well. And what about those of you running Windows 10? Of course, Microsoft decided to bring back the Start menu in the newest flavor of Windows, though it’s not the same Start menu we know from Windows 7 days. If you want to recapture the look and feel of the classic Start menu, check out my article on “Should You Replace Your Windows 10 Start Menu? And With What?” Many of the same Start menu programs that work with Windows 8.1 also work with Windows 10 or are available in versions designed for Windows 10.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2017-10-04: