In the article, Benefits of the Tools menu and Windows Key shortcuts in Windows 8, I extolled the benefits of using what I was calling the Tools menu, which you can access by right clicking on the Start Screen button. It has since been dubbed the WinX menu due to the fact that you can also bring up the menu by pressing [Windows] + X. In any case, when the WinX menu appears, as shown in Figure A, you can see that it contains fifteen items that provide you with quick access to perform frequently used operations. For example, from the WinX menu you can quickly and easily access such things as Device Manager, Event Viewer, and Command Prompt, just to name a few.

Figure A

The WinX menu provides you with access to fifteen tools.

Ever since I began experimenting with the technique that I showed you last week about adding a custom Shut Down menu into Windows 8’s Desktop context menu, I have been looking at the WinX menu and wondering whether it could be similarly customized via a registry hack. Unfortunately, it turns out that customizing the WinX menu isn’t that easy. In fact, it appears that Microsoft went out of their way to make it difficult to customize the WinX menu in order to force users to rely only on the Start Screen.

Fortunately, I discovered that there are some equally crafty developers out there who have been attacking the defenses that Microsoft built to prevent us from being able to customize the WinX menu. The result of these developers’ combined work is the Win+X Menu Editor for Windows 8. Using this great tool, you can easily create your own customized WinX menu like the one shown in Figure B.

Figure B

After using the Win+X Menu Editor for Windows 8, you can create your own customized WinX menu.

In this blog post, I’ll discuss the work that went on behind the development of this nifty tool. I’ll then show you how to install and use the Win+X Menu Editor for Windows 8 to create your own customized WinX menu.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

The research

When I first began investigating the possibility of customizing the WinX menu, a developer friend whom I was interviewing about this topic, pointed me to an article on the Tweaking with Vishal site. After pouring over the research presented on this site, I learned much more about the structure of the WinX menu, it has its origins not in the registry but in a set of Hidden folders containing special shortcuts, and I began to see that the potential for customizing the WinX menu existed.

For instance, you could remove, rename, and move items on the WinX menu, by altering the existing shortcuts and modifying a data file. However, there were problems when it came to adding new items to the WinX menu. (i.e. New items could be added to the WinX menu by creating shortcuts in the Hidden folders, but they only were temporarily available.) Once you restarted the system, the operating system would remove any items that you added.

Continuing to plug away at the problem of not being able to add new items, the fellow that runs the site figured out how to work around the problem and wrote a follow-up article. Apparently, Windows 8 contained code that performed what is known as a hash check against all the items on the WinX menu and any items that didn’t match the original hash code value were automatically removed. The solution at this point was to use a Hex Editor to modify one of Windows 8’s system files. Definitely, not something to be undertaken lightly!

I later found article on the Within Windows site where the author took the research from the Tweaking with Vishal one step further. The article describes how hash codes were being implemented by Windows 8 and then introduces a command line tool created by the author that when run creates authentic hash codes for any shortcuts that you have added the Hidden folders. So rather than modifying a system file to alter the hash codes, this technique fools the operating system into accepting the newly created hash codes.

While the combination of the techniques developed by the Tweaking with Vishal and the Within Windows sites offered a viable solution for customizing the WinX menu, the process involved a lot of manual steps that could easily lead to frustrating missteps. With that in mind the author at the Winaero site developed Win+X Menu Editor for Windows 8, which puts a very nice looking and easy to use GUI front end on the entire process of customizing the WinX menu. Let’s take a closer look.

Getting the editor

To begin with, there are 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Win+X Menu Editor for Windows 8, but they are both included in the ZIP file that you download from this page on the Winaero site. The program is free of charge but donations are accepted. When you download and extract the files, access the appropriate version and just run the executable file, as shown in Figure C. While there are two support files, there is no installation routine.

Figure C

The Win+X Menu Editor doesn’t have an installation routine.

The editor

When you launch the editor you’ll see that it has a very simple user interface that displays a tree view of the menu. As you can see in Figure D, I have opened the WinX menu along side of the menu editor. The menu editor displays the items in three groups which correspond with the sections in the actual menu.

Figure D

The groups in the menu editor correspond to the sections on the actual menu.

To add items to a group, you first select the group and then pull down the Add a program menu. As you can see in Figure E, there are four ways that you can add items to the WinX menu. Selecting Add a program displays an Open dialog box that allows you to browse to any folder containing your program’s executable files. The Add preset displays a menu containing a selection of some of Windows native applications as well as an item called Shutdown options, which adds all the related options to the WinX menu.

When you choose Add a Control Panel item or Add an Administrative Tools item, you’ll see a dialog box that display scrolling lists of items that you can add to your WinX menu. As you use these two lists, exam the contents thoroughly as not all the items in each one fall under the implied heading category. For instance, I found Computer and My Documents in the Add a Control Panel item dialog box.

Figure E

There are four ways that you can add items to the WinX menu.

If you want to create additional groups/menu sections, you just click the Create a group button. When you do a new group will be added to the top of the menu tree, as shown in Figure F. Keep in mind that new groups always appear at the top of the tree and there is no way to move groups to a different location on the tree. If you want to get rid of an item or group, just select it and click the Remove button.

Figure F

You can add groups to the menu tree to create new sections on the WinX menu.

If you right click on an item in the tree, you’ll see a context menu that allows you to perform a number of different operations, as shown in Figure G. At the top of this menu, you’ll see that you can rename menu items. The next four items allow you to move items to different locations within their respective group. (Unfortunately, there is no drag and drop in the Win+X Menu Editor for Windows 8.)

Figure G

The context menu allows you to perform a number of different operations.

The Move to group command opens a submenu showing all of the other groups, as shown in Figure H, and allows you to move items to any of the other groups. The Add, Create a group, and Remove commands simply duplicate the commands on the main menu bar at the top of the window.

Figure H

The Move to group command allows you to move items to any of the other groups.

Once you finish making changes, you must click the Restart Explorer button at the bottom of the window, as shown in Figure I, in order for the changes to be seen on your WinX menu. When you click this button, Windows 8 will be momentarily unavailable and any File Explorer windows that you have open will close.

Figure I

Once you finish making changes, you must click the Restart Explorer button.

If at any time you feel like you want to return the WinX menu to its default settings, you can click the Restore defaults button on the main menu bar at the top of the window, as shown in Figure J.

Figure J

If you want to return the WinX menu to its default settings, just click the Restore defaults button.

What is your take?

Are you using the WinX menu in Windows 8? Will you use the Win+X Menu Editor for Windows 8? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.