Although Windows 8’s Start menu is still MIA in Windows ‘Blue,’ a smorgasbord of replacements can fill the void

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Seems Microsoft really has put its Windows Start menu out to pasture, alongside Bob, Clippy, and Rover. Sure, the forthcoming 8.1 update to Windows 8 has a shiny new Start button, but clicking it doesn’t cause a familiar menu to pop up, providing users quick access to their preferred apps and files. Why’d Microsoft retire the menu in the first place? It was a design choice made by Steven Sinofsky, former head of Microsoft’s Windows division.

If you fall into the category of users who don’t share Sinofsky’s vision of a menu-less Windows 8, take heart. Several third-party developers have built menus for the operating systems — and some are arguably superior to any that Microsoft has ever made.

Classic Shell
Classic Shell was originally designed to replace the Windows 7 Start menu with the XP-style Start menu. Now it brings a Windows 7 Start experience to Windows 8 users. Apps can be pinned to the menu area via drag and drop. A pair of flyout menus provides access to classic Desktop programs and Metro apps, respectively. The program also supports starting directly in the Desktop and disabling Windows 8 hot corners.

Classic Shell adds changes to File Explorer, too, such as an icon ribbon populated with commonly used file commands (cut, copy, paste, and so on) and the ability to shut off the “breadcrumb” trail in the address bar and replace it with the full folder path.

Author: Ivo Beltchev
Cost: Free (open source)

Pokki Menu
Pokki Menu is a more ambitious program than many of the others shown here. SweetLabs hasn’t so much restored the original Start menu as provided an enhanced replacement for it. Beyond delivering familiar Start menu functionality, for example, it also serves as a source for notifications. It does this via various apps available in Pokki’s own app store, which include clients for common social networks.

The Pokki Menu has undergone a significant facelift since InfoWorld looked at it last year. Aside from such aesthetic changes as new colors and layout, the app has improved search and the ability to set files and apps as favorites from File Explorer.

Author: SweetLabs
Cost: Free

Another open source option, Power8 provides a self-sorting menu of commonly used applications, a set of flyouts for the main Start menu app hierarchy, and flyouts for Computer, Libraries, Control Panel, Administrative Tools, and Network shortcuts. The old search functionality is also replicated, Metro features (charms, hot corners, etc.) are disabled, and — one very nice touch — Windows 7 taskbar jump lists are retained. Among the drawbacks, Power8 is short on configurable features.

Since InfoWorld last dabbled with Power8, its developers have made several upgrades and fixes, including boosting the file-system event watching and a more flexible updater.

Author: Power8 Team
Cost: Free (open source)

RetroUI Pro
RetroUI isn’t designed to be more than a strict replacement for the traditional Start menu. Clicking the RetroUI Taskbar icon brings up a tile grid that’s reminiscent of the Windows 8 Start screen, but outfitted with flyouts that borrow from the original Start menu (Libraries, Computer, Control Panel). Also included are handy shortcuts to the Metro task switcher and Charms bar. Another taskbar icon opens an icon-grid view that displays Metro apps and major system locations.

Thinix has continually updated RetroUI since InfoWorld’s last review, adding features such as optimized file searches, the ability to set default shutdown actions, and caching technology to speed up the Start menu.

Author: Thinix
Cost: Starts at $5 per seat

Stardock Software has created a Start menu replacement that behaves uncannily like the original. From its accordion-style opening of folders to its subcategorized type-to-search results, Start8 delivers all the familiar functionality, alongside considerable configurability.

Apps can be pinned to the Start8 menu via a right-click contextual menu option in File Explorer. Even the system shortcuts (Control Panel, Computer, etc.) can be toggled as needed. Better yet, the bottom-left hot corner can take you straight to Start8, even from within a Metro app. Hot keys can bring up Windows 8’s own Start screen, hot corners can be selectively disabled, and Metro apps can be hidden from Start8 if you don’t want them there.

Author: Stardock Software
Cost: $5 for a single-user license

StartIsBack is a startlingly precise recreation of the Windows 7 Start menu, orb and all, although a good deal more tweakable than the original. Each Windows 8 hot corner can be selectively toggled. The Start screen can be skipped on login, invoked with a dedicated hot key, and reserved only for Metro programs. Just right-click a program in Explorer to pin it to the StartIsBack menu.

Since InfoWorld last tested StartIsBack, developer Tihiy has made numerous upgrades. For instance, you’ll find a new shortcut to the Start screen in the Start menu, the option to display all programs in a multicolumn flyout menu, and the option to enable the Start screen hot corner on the Desktop.

Author: Tihiy
Cost: $3 for two-PC license

Launch StartMenu8 and you’re greeted with the familiar Windows 7 Start menu orb, along with a fairly spot-on reconstruction of the rest of the classic Start menu. The StartMenu8 interface wasn’t as customizable as its competitors when InfoWorld tried it out last December. There was no way to toggle things like the links to the games folder or the Control Panel, and most of the program’s behaviors appear to be hard-wired. Users can log in directly to the Desktop, and StartMenu8 can deactivate the Windows 8 hot corners and the Metro Charms bar. The latest version includes a key for opening Metro, a new Settings interface, and some aesthetic improvements.

Author: IObit
Cost: Free

Start Menu Reviver
Start Menu Reviver brings the Metro look, fat-finger friendliness, and lots of customizability to a Start menu for either Windows 8 or Windows 7. Like a mini Windows 8 Start screen, Reviver presents buttons and tiles (large or small, as you like) that give you direct access to literally anything on your PC — documents, folders, desktop apps, Metro apps, favorite URLs, you name it. A flyout menu provides speedy access to everything else. Along with the tiles, menus, colors, text, and tile icons, a few other settings are configurable. You can boot directly to the Desktop or have the Windows key open the Start menu.

Author: Reviversoft
Cost: Free

StartW8 is a good classic Start menu recreation, though it lacks much in the way of customization options, and pinning programs to the Start menu isn’t as straightforward as it could be. Options include the ability to switch to the desktop immediately after signing in; the ability to activate the menu with the Windows key; buttons for logging off, locking the system, and powering off; a traditional search field; and the ability to designate favorite apps. The latest update adds the option to ignore Hot corners, along with an automatic update feature.

Author: SodatSW
Cost: Free

ViStart is a free Windows Start menu app that boasts a high level of customizability. The latest version comes with three Start Menu skins and four Start menu buttons, alongside a renewed skin manager. You can download 25 additional skins and 20 buttons from the developer’s site. A new control lets you configure Windows 8 to skip the Metro screen and boot directly to the Windows 8 Desktop. You can also disable features such as the Charms bar and start corners. ViStart even indexes the Start menu to speed up searches for files and programs.

Author: Lee-Soft
Cost: Free

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