How to bypass the Windows 10 Start menu with virtual program groups

Start menu haters, take note: This simple technique can turn your desktop into an efficient, organized application launcher.


Image: iStock/bugphai

Lots of Windows 10 users out there simply despise the new Start menu as well as the full Start screen. You may be one of them.

If so, you may have chosen to save shortcuts to your applications right on the desktop. Of course, having the icons appear on the desktop can make launching applications a snap. However, I've often encountered desktops that are so cluttered with icons that it's nearly impossible for the user to locate the one they're looking for.

The idea of placing icons on the desktop is not a new one. Back in the days of Windows 3.x, the main application launching platform, Program Manager, was basically a bunch of icons on the desktop. Program Manager did have its drawbacks, but it offered a nice organizational structure, called Program Groups, for organizing icons (Figure A).

Figure A

Figure A
Even with all its faults, Program Manager provided a nice desktop-based organizational structure.

To give you with the best of both worlds—that is, the ability to use the desktop as an application launching system and still keep your icons as organized as they are on the Start menu—I've devised a technique I call virtual program groups.

Essentially, this technique is an organizational system in which you use a graphics application, such as Paint, to create a wallpaper image that displays a grouping structure on the desktop. You can then arrange icons on the desktop according to the structure displayed by the wallpaper. Let's take a closer look.

SEE: Introduction to Windows 10 Bundle (TechRepublic Academy)

Getting started

The first step in implementing the virtual program groups technique is to plan the desktop layout. To begin, you'll want to remove any existing wallpaper and set the background to a solid color. Next, you'll simply drag the icons around on the desktop and arrange them into categories. As you do so, jot down some names that you can assign to each of the categories.

Once you've settled on a layout, you'll need to align the icons horizontally and vertically according to the desktop's internal spacing grid. To do so, right-click on the desktop, access the View submenu, and make sure that the Align To Grid option is enabled, as shown in Figure B. Then select the Refresh command.

Figure B

Figure B
Make sure that the Align To Grid option is enabled.

On my example system, I had 42 icons on the desktop, which I was able to arrange into seven logical categories, as shown in Figure C. You'll notice that I decided to leave the Recycle Bin outside the virtual program groups.

Figure C

Figure C
In this example system I arranged the 42 desktop icons into seven logical categories.

After arranging the desktop icons, I came up with the seven names to use as the titles for my virtual program groups:

  • Utilities
  • Internet
  • Office
  • News
  • Entertainment
  • Graphics
  • Games

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free TechRepublic PDF)

Creating a template

Once you've organized the icons on your desktop, you'll need to create a template for your virtual program groups wallpaper. Begin by taking a screen shot of your desktop and pasting the image into your graphics program. You can then use this image as the foundation on which to create the template. While you can use any graphics program you want, Windows' native Paint program will do just fine.

To take a screen shot of your desktop, close all open applications and press the [Print Screen] key to place an image of your desktop in the clipboard. Next, launch Paint, maximize the window, and then press Ctrl + V to paste the image of your desktop in Paint's workspace. Before you begin editing the image, I suggest that you save the image file twice—once as a backup and once as a working template. That way, you can edit the working template and keep the backup in case you mess up and want to start all over.

Now, select an appropriate color, choose the Rectangle or Rounded Rectangle tool, and frame the first group of icons. Then, use the Text tool to add a title to the top of the group. Just repeat these steps for each of your icon groups, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Figure D
You can use either the Rectangle or Rounded Rectangle tool to frame in your virtual program groups.

Once you've created your virtual program groups, you need to remove the shortcut icons and the Taskbar from the image. To do so, select the Pick Color tool and use it to add the background color of your image to Paint's color box. Next, select the Eraser tool and carefully erase the icons and the Taskbar from the image. When you finish, your image will contain only your virtual program group frames, as shown in Figure E. At this point, save the image file.

Figure E

Figure E
Once you erase the icons and the Taskbar, you'll end up with an image that contains only your virtual program group frames.

Enabling the virtual program groups

Once you've created your template, enabling the virtual program groups technique is a snap. To do so from within Paint, pull down the File menu and select the Set As Desktop Background - Center command. After that, just close Paint. Your desktop will now look like the one shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Figure F
Once you set the image as wallpaper, your virtual program groups are enabled.

Also see

What's your take?

Do you hate Windows 10's Start menu, opting instead to use shortcut icons on your desktop to launch your applications? If you give virtual program groups a try, share your thoughts about it with fellow TechRepublic members.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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