The Hidden Windows 8 Start Menu Replacement

The Hidden Windows 8 Start Menu Replacement

One of the more controversial aspects of Windows 8 is that the Start button has disappeared altogether — a conscious choice by Microsoft to encourage people to adopt and use the Metro interface. There’s not much chance of it officially returning, but there is a minor replacement of sorts built into Windows 8.

With most of the code that generated the old Start menu deliberately stripped from Windows 8, third-party developers are going to have more work to do to migrate replacements (such as my own favourite Classic Shell) to the new platform. In the meantime, the nearest equivalent is the ‘advanced context menu’, a simple grey list of options which appears in the same area of the screen as the old Start menu.

You can access this by hovering in the bottom left corner on the desktop and right-clicking on the shrunken Start screen or desktop image, or my easily by typing Windows-X. From here, you can access a bunch of system-level features (such as Device Manager and Power Options), as well as load a command prompt or the Run command, access Explorer and perform searches. Many of those features can also be accessed via keyboard shortcuts, but it’s handy to have them in one place if you don’t have the shortcuts memorised.

This doesn’t directly fix my own personal preferred use of the Start menu as a means of quickly launching applications with the Windows key followed by a single letter. You can partially customise what appears on the list, but it’s a really fiddly process and I’m not going to consider it unless it becomes clear there won’t be other alternative launchers available.

However, if you’ve been used to the Start menu as a way to access the Control Panel or other options, this is a reasonable fill-in of sorts.


    • Why? The current Start Menu sucks compared to what Win8 does. It was much better in WinXP, they wrecked it in Vista/Win7 but the new iteration is better than anything that has gone before, simply because it is completely customisable.

  • “This doesn’t directly fix my own personal preferred use of the Start menu as a means of quickly launching applications with the Windows key followed by a single letter.”
    You can do that with the start screen, Win brings up the screen, start typing to search. Total change to workflow: none.

  • As much as I think Metro is a brilliant thing for touch screens, it really isn’t the best solution for regular PC’s. I’ve been using W8 RC since it was released and the previous one too and I find myself falling back to the desktop for pretty much everything. The reason is, there are no real must use features in Metro that are useful for a PC. I’ll buy a W8 touch screen laptop when an appropriate one is released but until then I’ll stick to the desktop. Is there any real difference between the W8 desktop and W7, power and kernel wise..? I’d be interested in knowing that in order to decide weather to stick with W7 on my PC, or is W8 better there too.?

    • But that is exactly how it is supposed to work. I think the email app is very useful, certainly much better than using web access, which is what I was doing in Win7. The music app is rubbish compared to Zune but Zune is very Metro-like anyway.

      Yes, there have been significant improvements in the Win8 kernel. It supposedly had half the number of processes running compared to XP, which equates to one third less than Win7, IIRC. The very first thing I noticed with the Dev Preview was how it turned by krappy netbook into a useful computer.

      • I did install it on one of my little netbooks (no touch screen) and it does indeed run faster than I expected, It does have a SSD so I suspect that has a big influence on the quick boot time. All in all though, I was surprised at the power my netbook has compared to the crapwear version of 7 home that was on it. Think I’ll stick with 8 but I think there needs to be a lot more useful apps on Metro to make it worth using for me. An option to choose whether it boots to the desktop or Metro would suit me better.

  • “or my easily by typing” -> “or more easily by typing”
    or one of the other hundred hidden features: just start typing – the search box automatically opens

  • “choice by Microsoft to encourage people to adopt and use the Metro interface.”

    Encourage? How about force? Encourage would have been including both the Start Menu and the Metro interface in Windows 8.

    Is Metro going to be a requirement for business machines as well? I can’t see many businesses going for that.

    • “The Metro interface” is not the Start Screen. It is a UX design language used with new apps and even some desktop applications like Zune (sort of). The Start Screen works perfectly well with a mouse and keyboard and is a big step up from the awful Win7 Start Menu. Realistically, the biggest difference is that you get a horizontal scroll bar instead of a vertical one, which is hardly the end of the world, especially as you generally don’t need to scroll at all. Even Metro style apps work just as well with a mouse and keyboard as any desktop application does. Admittedly, most apps are just like they are on a smartphone or tablet – things you can do just as easily in a browser – but at least in a full size screen the apps are often better than the web page, although just as often they waste a lot of screen space. So you just use the ones that work and don’t bother with those that don’t, just as you have always done.

      • I’m sorry, I have to disagree. The MetroUI wastes so much space. There are no folders, no proper sorting. My computer isn’t a phone, each app doesn’t have a single icon. Just look at what happens when you add Administrative tools, random tiles EVERYWHERE!
        The Win7 start menu gives access to important folders, regular programs and all programs in a compact, sorted manner.

        Also as soon as you make something easily usable on touchscreens, it becomes less efficient for use with a mouse.

        • Of course your computer isn’t a phone, that’s why Win8 has the same desktop Windows has always had. But it ALSO has the Metro stuff. You’re not paying extra for it (quite the opposite, in fact) and you don’t have to use it if you would rather continue to work from the desktop like you do now. Its all about choice and I can’t see how anyone can see it as a bad thing. Initially I had no intention of using any of the Metro apps but, being a little more open minded than you, I decided to at least give ’em a shot. And you know what? Some of them are pretty good, others not so much. e.g. The Metro IE has some really nice touches to it but it makes you navigate back and forth one page at a time. I regularly like to back-track half-a-dozen pages in one hit so I tend to use the desktop IE, although I do regularly use both.
          I have no idea what you are talking about with Administrative Tools. If you have random tiles, then tidy them up. It is the easiest thing in the world to do. If you are talking about the All Apps view, it is very similar to the All Programs view in Win7, except you get headings instead of folders and nothing is nested inside 3 or 4 levels of folders. It is very well organised and easy to find whatever it is you are looking for, much easier than the Win7 Start Menu.

        • Exactly. The more you try to create a hybrid OS the worse it will be. MS needs to just release a version for Phones/Tablets and a version for PCs like they have always done. Trying to make PCs run on an interface written for touch screens with be the death of the PC. But maybe that’s what MS wants…

  • I think Windows 8 will be the release my mother could use without panicking. And that’s a good thing. As for myself, looking over the way I use a computer, I realise that I’m not really that reliant on the start menu, instead using programs like Orbit (a great circular app launcher — check it out!) and Alt+Tab to get where I need to go.

    At the end of the day, I wouldn’t really use Windows 8 on my workplace PC, but for my home business, who knows?

  • Just start typing? What if you can’t remember the name of the program you want to use, or you want to browse though your program list, or have them sorted into different categories? Well? How does W8 enable these things?

    • If you want to browse through your program list, just right click and click “all apps”. If you just want your apps sorted into different catagories, you can group together tiles and give those groups names. I’ve got a group set up for games, and another one for programming tools.

    • You press the Windows key and you get the Start Screen. If the application/app you want is not there, you press the “all apps” button (there is a shortcut for it, too) and get a list of everything installed on your machine, which is pretty much exactly what you’d do with Vista/Win7, except things aren’t hidden behind masses of sub-menus.

  • What about the recently used programs list? I use it to start most programs, as it always has what I want without me having to waste time putting it there.
    The start screen is just a mess of icons unless it is sorted through manually, and even at best it still doesn’t have any proper grouping, and the icons are much larger than necessary.

    • You’re talking WinXP. They took that out in Vista and Win7 and replaced with “pinned” icons. In any event, I’d hardly call right-clicking and choosing “Pin to Start Screen” or “Pin to Taskbar” a waste of anyone’s time. In the case of the latter, it pays for itself the second time you use it to launch the application, saving you time from that point on.
      Icons on the Start Screen can have any “grouping” you like. e.g. Mine are sorted functionally. I have one group headed “Grafiks”, where I have Adobe CS, Xara and Autodesk app icons, as well as the Desktop and Explorer icons. Under “Music” I have SoundForge, Orion, CoolEdit, etc., as well as Zune and a couple of Metro music apps. You make your own groups with your own headings and you put whatever apps/applications you want in them. Its more customisable than Windows has ever been and its dead easy – just drag them to where you want them.

  • Don’t forget the distraction of the constant context switching. Select an application and it drops to the desktop mode, then to bring up another application, the entire screen switches to the start screen and then flips back again. Freaking annoying. Just like the first time I tried the Metro IE. Selecting the address bar blacks out the entire screen?! What if I wanted to search for something I was just reading about? I’m sorry but Win 8 is a definite miss from a usability P.o.V.

    • That’s not what happens at all. If you are on the desktop and you start another application, it just starts like it would in any other version of Windows. What is the difference between seeing the Start Screen and the Start Menu? Very little, apart from the fact that the Win7 Start Menu is too small to make it easy to find anything that isn’t pinned to it, whereas the Start Screen has plenty of space to allow you to get to things more easily.

      • MotorMouth, do you work for Microsoft?
        I know you view Windows 8 as a great future OS but I doubt many people share that view. You keep talking about how the Start Screen is much better than the “small” current Start menu that “sucks” but the reality is that most people like an unobtrusive start menu that does not take up the whole screen. IMO, Windows 7 is great in terms of UI and Microsoft does not need force their metro UI upon us.

        • Precisely. I don’t WANT something that takes up more space, i like the fact that it is small and compact and does exactly what i need it to. I don’t need (nor do i want) anything different.

          I am all for innovation and new things, however, why make it an either/or thing. Why make it “you HAVE to do it this way” why can’t we have both? Why not make that metro THING an opinion, and the classic start button another option? Why do we all have to be shoehorned into what microsoft thinks as “most popular” and thus “most profitable” why can’t we all get what we want?

  • Gosh, just think how well Ford Motor Company would do, if in 2013 all new cars were released with no steering wheel, only a joystick! Wow.

    Win 8 – makes my Toshiba laptop much better, faster, and more enjoyable to use, but without the substitute “start button” it would have already been changed back to Win-7, or perhaps Linux.

  • I have been using the Win8 preview for about a week now. So far I underwhelmed. I will admit to really hating not having the start menu. I use an immense amount of different software and the start menu is a much faster way to access things for me. The whole metro look just kinda repulses me, so that’s part of it too. I have hated the style on my Xbox 360 since they put it on the dashboard and I don’t like it a bit better on my computer.
    I’m not sure how the main start screen is suppose to work, but every time I log into Win8 the start screen is different. The tiles aren’t static and there is more of them every time I sign in. The metro app tiles are ugly and generally don’t display any useful information. I’m going to continue to try it for a while because I’m not the type to shoot things down without actually using it first. It is very difficult to have much optimism though so far.

  • You need RetroUI Pro in a bad way….
    + start menu/button (actually looks cool, not a copy of Windows 7 one)
    + taskbar in metro start screen
    + run metro apps in a window
    + skip metro at login
    These other ones listed here don’t come close to doing all this…

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