Windows 8

Start8: Put the Start Menu back in Windows 8

Stardock has created a quick utility called Start8 that sort of puts the Start Menu back on the desktop with a program bar tweak.

Love it or hate it, Microsoft Windows 8 will be pushing the Metro UI heavily on its users once it reaches gold master release. Not everyone is a fan of the Metro UI, including myself, and I had to wonder if the rather gimped desktop mode could ever be improved upon, either by Microsoft or by the hacker community at large.

Enter Stardock, the company behind the award-winning WindowBlinds application for GUI customization. Having heard the cries near and far about the lack of a proper Start button on Windows 8's desktop mode, they created a quick utility called Start8 that attempts to solve this conundrum with a program bar tweak. Best of all, it is freeware.

Start8

With my copy of Windows 8 Consumer Preview fired up, I decided to give Stardock's band-aid solution a spin. After installing Start8, the Windows 8 desktop mode graced itself with a now-visible Windows Start orb button. With it, I am able to pull up a Start menu of sorts, albeit a Metro-ized version of it.

The menu is not really customizable at all, and it really lacks the options that one would normally find on the Start Menu. Thankfully, the search functionality is quite fast, and I can get to almost anything, all the while remaining in the desktop mode, simply by typing the name of a program, file, or setting and then pressing the Enter key. Think of it as a Windows equivalent to OS X's Spotlight feature that eats up a bit more screen real estate.

There are also a few hidden options that can be found within Start8. Simply right-click the Windows orb to reveal a pop-up menu that contains options for shutting down your PC, running commands, changing the look of the Start button, and toggling the full-screen Metro UI menu mode. For the Start button customization feature, you can use the graphic files provided with the Start8 application, or you can supply your own.

Bottom line

All in all, Start8 does a pretty nice job filling in the void left by Microsoft over the lack of a Start button. However, despite the utility's well-intentioned step in the right direction, you will be disappointed if you were expecting something along the lines of a standard Windows 7 style Start Menu. Still, I immediately adopted this add-on for Windows 8, since it does wonders for working within the new interface and it makes Windows 8 a good bit more tolerable to use. Who knows, perhaps Microsoft may pay heed to Stardock's tweak and officially reincorporate the Start button back in before Windows 8 releases to the masses. Of course, only time will tell.

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An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

52 comments
Lightning Joe
Lightning Joe

Users' memories COULD be working in their favor, if they simply took what people LIKE, and added to it. Instead, we see a total overhaul of what MICROSOFT WANTS US TO GET USED TO (for the limited span until their NEXT release, that is, when they will change the whole thing AGAIN). People get used to something, like the normal menu system, and then MS comes out with the "new, improved" version, like the so-called "easier" ribbon system that keeps changing the location of everything. You simply can't learn FAST ENOUGH to follow these schenanigans -- not without GIVING UP ON THE PRODUCTIVITY we have our computers FOR. It's as if they think the whole world of users simply LIVES for the new learning experience they dole out to us every other year or so. Now the geeks at Redmond are fascinated by Metro, and their users are instead lost in it, not even knowing where to start LOOKING for the guts and settings that might let them carry on using the machine! If MS were forward looking, they could at least include the old interface as an option, but no -- it's obvious, in MS-land, who the computer is REALLY for, and its NOT the users.

ccjrmills
ccjrmills

I use Start Menu 7 (www.startmenu7.com) and it works very well. You have a start button and start menu. You can change the start button skin from Angry Birds, Apple, Windows 7 and Windows 8 and Windows 8 color. I find this to be better than Stardock's Start Button for Consumer Preview.

ocotay
ocotay

Aston Menu adds a start menu icon on the desktop of Windows 8; which, you can then pin to the task bar and slide to the left corner of the task bar. When you boot up Windows 8, it will bring you to the Metro screen; which, will continue to function as usual. When you click on the desktop icon; you will enter the desktop as usual. In the desktop; whenever you click on the Aston Menu icon on the task bar, it will will display a skin-able version of the Windows Classic Menu showing all previously installed applications, windows utilities, etc. You can even customize it to suite your preferences. Now you can have the best of both worlds; the Classic Menu and the Metro. Note: unlike Start8, Aston Menu is not a free software; however, you can download a trial version by navigating to the Aston webpage listed bellow: http://www.astonshell.com/aston2/

robbiejfergusson
robbiejfergusson

Well I tried the start program and it worked pretty well for getting rid of the issue of no start button it did however make W8 features when in Metro area not work correctly as well the charms feature and a few other did not seem to work so back to the old W8. Even though I do not really like some features others are quite nice and I use them in the background. I do hope we get some more choices on the final for the display of tiles though, it is hard on the eyes.

Gary Ouellet
Gary Ouellet

After Win 8 was downloaded and installed, my wifi network disappeared totally without much of a trace. Are there drivers available to recover the network driver(s)? All attempts have been unsuccessful. Casablanca7703

timebandit22
timebandit22

I think windows 8 sucks I hate it and would never buy that piece of crap they call an operating system. I had to change my hard drive just to get rid of it. It is worthless as far as I am concerned. Never will buy it and never will use it after I tried the preview version.

eye4bear
eye4bear

In the Developer's preview last year there was still a start orb which when you clicked on it you were sent immediately to the start screen from the desktop, more or less exactly what we want. Then the morons at MS decided to make Win 8 less easy to use and removed it for the Customer Preview. Who the hell decided that I should use a keyborad shortcut to get to the start screen instead of just having an easy orb to click?

Hal Taback
Hal Taback

Why all the fuss? After the initial shock and dismay, then familiarizing myself with the newness of the Metro UI, we conclude that in time we will work well with this version of Windows. We have our old desktop and the popup menu replacing the "Start" button gives us the functionality for both developer and casual user. Give it time, folks! One suggestion, if it hasn't already been addressed, is to make the menu for the search, start, etc. popup optionally fixed on the desktop.

Scott McCoy
Scott McCoy

I think the tiles are a good interface for touch screen PC's/tablets but for a standard desktop/laptop I wanted to get to the desktop to do "real" work. It's bad news for Microsoft when I had to resort to Googling to find out how to launch an app in the Windows 8 desktop interface. Not very intutive at all that you need to hover in a hot-corner. Did the Start button really take up THAT much real estate? Funny that MS claimed space by removing the Start button but the IE icon and Explorer remain in the task bar. In typical fashion of a company trying to get their foothold back, Microsoft seems to be changing things for the sake of change in hopes of bringing people back to Windows. What they need to do is keep what works well and only make changes to make the product more usable. Apple's recent success has been largely due to the fact you can sit down and figure most of iOS and Mac OS without reading the manual.

spawnywhippet
spawnywhippet

After several weeks persistently trying to live with Metro and Win8, I finally gave up and went back to Win7. I *never* want to see live tiles, gadgets etc taking up valuable real estate and performance from my desktop. Just give me the minimal Win2k style interface, as little boot-time junk as possible and let me decide which apps I want to fill my monitors with. Metro is clunky, ugly, gets in the way, hinders multi-tasking, slower, counter-intuitive and generally looks like it is a toy designed for a 2 year old child to use. I have never before had to google how to shut down a computer, not even the very first time I used a computer.

hrlngrv?
hrlngrv?

One obvious question to ask: does removing the Start button from the desktop make Windows 8 easier or harder for most users? I'd be skeptical if MSFT claims to have user data showing either indifference or wide-spread support for removing it. For myself, I don't use Explorer as my desktop shell. As long as Windows 8 still allows me to choose another shell, I won't much care what MSFT does with the default UI. If I'm stuck with the default UI, then I most definitely would install a replacement Start button/menu. If there's value to live updating tiles in Metro's start screen while users are selecting applications to run, there may also be value to live updating in visible open application windows on the desktop when the Start menu is open. It'd be nice to be able to choose which background updates I see when I'm launching other applications. Users should have some choice about the UI they use.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Is the Start Button so important to you that you will install a third-party version?

Gary Ouellet
Gary Ouellet

How to you proceed to install the Win 7 Start Menu in Win 8? I still do not have the WiFi on they system... just working on it. Tks Gary

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Impressive. I will need to try this out for myself and see.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Thanks for the suggestion. I'll give this a spin soon and see how well it integrates with Windows 8.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

remember that this is still a beta version. It's supposed to have problems, and not intended for normal use.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Surely, Windows 8 is here to stay whether we like it or not. On the topic of your hard drive, Instead of swapping it out, have you considered erasing it or using Darik's Boot & Nuke? :p

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Microsoft is really trying to push consumers along a path that relies less on the desktop and more on Metro. They wager that, by making the desktop less familiar and somehow making Metro stand out more, the average consumer will just adapt to the new interface accordingly because the powers it be want it that way. Don't get me wrong, Windows 8 also offers some nice features, but Metro for x86/x64 desktop PCs is going to need a good bit more baking in the oven for it to come off as successful. In the end tho, considering that Windows 8 is going to be a more experimental OS, Windows 9 may end up righting the wrongs just in time to prevent Microsoft from completely blowing it, just like they did when Windows 7 replaced Vista.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I think a special pop-up menu like you mentioned would be a nice idea. Granted, this is only the consumer preview, so who knows if Microsoft has an ace up its sleeve for the final release of Windows 8.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Will users see increased bandwidth usage with live tiles? Or are so many already running assorted desktop gadgets that they won't notice any difference? Just wondering. I have my apps tiled to cover most or all of the desktop and haven't found any gadgets I want, so I don't have anything running on the desktop and don't know what it would do to my bandwidth numbers.

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

With the major ISPs now incorporating monthly download limits into their plans, it makes no sense to have constant updates to your desktop. Granted, those updates don't take up a great deal of bandwidth, but it all contributes to Internet congestion, not to mention valuable computer resources for what is mostly useless information or info I can get when I need it. Plus, I don't care to be updated on who just blew their nose.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

If only the Cairo Desktop project was still being actively developed, I wouldn't mind having that as a GUI replacement for Windows.

jfuller05
jfuller05

1) I buy Windows 8 and 2) if the final, released, on the shelf (virtual and physical) version of Windows 8 doesn't include the start button and menu.

Hazydave
Hazydave

I don't care about the Start Button at all... but the Start Menu? Yes, that's evolved, over more than a decade, into a very efficient way to find and launch programs. Mine isn't left flat, I have it sorted into categories. I have hundreds of programs on my PC, some of which I use only rarely. I might not remember the name of that video morphing program I bought for a project last fall, but I can find it in seconds, navigating the Start Menu: Multimedia/Video/Effects/... there it is. The Start Screen is dramatically less efficient, not hierarchical, and suited only to a fairly small set of applications... even fewer than I have on my Android devices at this point in time. So yeah, having used the Windows 8 Preview for several weeks now, I would absolutely use a third-party replacement for the Start Menu (with or without button), were I forced to run Windows 8 on a desktop PC. Aside from being forced, I will not run Windows 8.

PoppaTab
PoppaTab

Why not create a new tool bar, navigate to the Start Menu folder, and choose it. The same can be done with Quick Launch still. If you must see a shut down, there are gadgets for that. Also, Windows Key plus i puts you on the screen from the right to shut down, restart, etc. Just putting how I did things on W8 CP.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Right now that doesn't look likely, but I'll wait until the final release before deciding. If I can't live with Metro and don't have to have W8, I'll stay on W7 as long as possible (except for testing and support purposes, loading it on a virtual machine). If forced to W8, hopefully a more full-featured 'Start Button Replacement' will be available.

Lightning Joe
Lightning Joe

Companies put out Betas of their OS's to get the feedback. NOW, they are getting the feedback, and if I were a betting man, I'd bet that there are LOTS of unhappy execs at MS right now. Beta responses run the gamut from "Oh My God! This is SOOOO much better and easier to use! I'm getting SOOO much work done now!" to "OMG this piece of crap suuuuucks!" The company has a problem, when the Betas run to the latter, as the W8 Betas are doing. Not only that, but I'd bet that the "normal" purpose of a Beta -- getting feedback on the technicals -- is now completely lost, in the noise of the rampant "OMG, this thing suuuucks!" response. If they ever DO issue this "Vista-Come-Lately," it will likely have so many tech problems because of that, that they will probably go directly to W9.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Now here's hoping MS adds whatever polish is necessary to stave away the complaints. ;)

Keith Hailey
Keith Hailey

Consumer demand still drives the market.

techrepublic
techrepublic

If Win8 turns out to be another Vista (and I think it will on the desktop), Microsoft-In-The-Head will have to realease Win9. I bet they already have it ready - just in case.

Lightning Joe
Lightning Joe

MS took the menu out of the Beta because they didn't want people to just use it as they were used to, which would invalidate their whole "new UI" rationale. They have this fantasy, because they themselves get PAID to learn the "new" (means less obvious) things, that all of their users are likewise fascinated to be thrown on their own with google for a tutorial, while their basic work goes wanting until they are finally up to speed -- just in time for the NEXT update and the NEXT totally new way of interacting with the machine.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I think though that MS will have a way to turn off live updates in Windows 8 Metro UI mode, because yes... not everyone has a decent mobile data plan and conservation of our bits and bytes should be at the highest order of magnitude. It's amazing how even the little things like live updating tiles can actually cause those "Oops!" moments with billing.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Thanks for your input Mr. Haynie! Of course, the superior desktop experience should be modeled more after AmigaOS Intuition. ;) But yes, Windows 7 will be with us for the foreseeable future, so I see sticking with that version as a better way to avoid this slight mess for now, unless Microsoft gets their act together.

blarman
blarman

just to recreate something Microsoft never should have removed? And don't get me started on maintaining it...

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I'm very certain that many geeks will be clutching to their copies of Windows 7 for as long as they are supported (which will be for awhile). I suspect that Windows 8 is going to be another risky gamble for Microsoft.

velvetz11
velvetz11

What is up Internet Explorer?

velvetz11
velvetz11

It has not met my demands as of yet. Albeit, I am a patient consumer.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Just turn the tiles off.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

They still exist, you know. They may have a flat rate, but what's the impact on other traffic when the OS is constantly updating those tiles?

blarman
blarman

I know that most US users get unlimited data plans (except on phones), but that isn't the case in the rest of the world. Is Microsoft really so deaf to these consumers that it doesn't care about all the extra network traffic?

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Definitely let me know if the classic desktop solution does anything to change the Start Menu. It could just simply change the look and feel of just the desktop only, giving the windows a more Windows 2000 style.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

but I'm not optimistic. The article discusses booting to the 'classic' desktop instead of booting to Metro, but it doesn't say what happens AFTER you boot. I suspect I'm going to see Metro the first time I try to start an app.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I think that registry fix was removed between the Developer's release and the recent Consumer release.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

The old style Windows 7 start menu can actually still be brought back in Windows 8 with a simple registry hack. However, caveat emptor, you lose all the nifty desktop mode features such as the vastly improved task manager and file move/copy dialog. Then, at that point, why bother switching to Windows 8 in the first place?

Gisabun
Gisabun

Microsoft may have created one big turkey. Us "geeks" may be able to handle Win 8 with this Metro face - although barely. But I can't see the typical novice understanding what to do with this interface on a desktop or laptop [with no touch screen]. At least this looks better than the crapware [and possibly spyware or maleware] infested ViStart. That is a piece of junk. Why on earth did Microsoft disable the option to use the old Start menu. It's probably still there [as it was in the developer preview]. Hopefully this app improves over time. Direct link to download: http://storage.stardock.com/files/Start8_setup.exe"

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