Restore The Start Menu To Windows 8

Restore The Start Menu To Windows 8

One of the most controversial aspects of the Windows 8 interface is the elimination of the Start menu, even when you’re in desktop mode. Microsoft maintains that the relevant code has been removed so it’s impossible to access, but with one simple free utility you can restore the Start menu to your Windows 8 system.

We’ve looked at partial workarounds such as the advanced context menu, but there’s a much better solution: Classic Shell, which was originally designed to replace the Windows 7 start menu with the version included in XP.

I’ve long been a fan of Classic Shell as it makes it easier to launch applications with a single key from the Start menu, and it was one of the first things I tried to install on my Windows 8 test builds. Previous releases failed to work at all, but the recently updated version 3.61 runs beautifully on the RTM version of Windows 8 I’m running now.

As installed, when you hit the Windows key you’ll get a stripped-back ‘classic’ Start menu, complete with search box, Programs folder and other familiar Windows elements. You can drag shortcuts onto the top of the menu, and then launch them by hitting the Start key and then hitting their initial letter.

That’s great if you like minimalism, but many people prefer the richer Windows 7/Vista Start menu. Access the settings by right-clicking the button, and you can choose between the Classic, XP and Vista/7 menus. You can also customise many of the included elements.

That change doesn’t mean you can’t access the Windows 8 Start Screen; just use Shift-Windows instead of the Windows key alone. It’s the best of both worlds. Classic Shell also includes options to restore earlier versions of Windows Explorer and IE, but I haven’t installed those; right now, the Start menu is enough to keep me smiling.

I’m not saying everyone will want to use this. There’s lots to enjoy in the Windows 8 interface, and if you’re working on a tablet or only run newer apps that utilise the Windows 8/Metro style, you arguably don’t need a Start menu.

However, if you’d like the choice or (like me) enjoy the better keyboard shortcuts this affords for launching desktop apps, Classic Shell solves the missing Start Menu problem while not stopping you using the newer interface when that suits. It will also be ideal for PC owners who are confused by the absence of a Start button and just want things “the way they were” on a new machine.

Classic Shell


  • I don’t give a crap about the start menu, I just want to be able to bypass Metro, or whatever the hell it’s called now and be able to use Windows 8 the easiest way it can be used on a PC with a regular monitor. When I get a touch Laptop I’ll be happy to use Metro. Until then, someone please build a way to let me run the OS the way ‘I’ want to use it. I’m not talking about a hack or work around either. And before all you people that want to jump on me for not accepting Metro on my PC, This is how I want to use it, if you want to stick with Metro, fill yer boots…

    • Vista was slow & buggy. I used Windows 8 for a few hours when the developer version was released a year ago and it was pretty slick. Fast boot up on a 5 year old MacBook was pretty awesome, apart from Metro being a pain in the arse to use, it was great.

    • +1

      Windows 8 is like Office 2007’s release all over again. I can see the large UI overhal will cause frustration for the non tech-savvy, as well as stubborn people like my parents who have been used to the previous UI and start menu for over a decade and won’t like adapting to such a major change.

      Then again, I’m glad that Windows 7 is supported until around 2020. By then, hopefully, Microsoft will have something better than 8.

      • But there hasn’t been a “large UI overhaul”. It’s more like they’ve changed the way you log-in, but once you’re in, it’s pretty much exactly like it’s been for ages. It is much easier to get used to than the jump from WinXP was, because the changes are all on the surface where you can work them out more easily.

  • People that keep saying “people should learn to accept change” annoy me so much.
    I love change. I really do, only if the change is good. In this case, on a regular desktop pc, metro does not work well at all. The whole jumping back and forth between two completely different interfaces does not work at all.

    • Of course it does, it works just as well as it does on a touchscreen device and it requires only the tiniest adjustment. e.g. Where you are completely used to scrolling vertically to read a web page like this, for example, Metro tends to use horizontal scrolling, which makes far better use of a widescreen monitor. And you don’t even have to think about it, you just use your scroll wheel like you always have and Windows scrolls horizontally or vertically, as required.

  • What’s the point? OK, the shortcuts are a decent boon but no more so than pinning things to the Taskbar. Beyond that it just shows a fear of change because it doesn’t actually make anything easier. e.g. Booting to the Start Screen means that the first thing you need to do is just a single click away, whereas booting to the desktop takes longer and then requires you to open the Start Menu to launch your first application.

    • Ever since Vista, I’ve basically used the Start menu by hitting “Windows” and typing my desired program or destination, so I agree that there is zero functional benefit here. However retraining a workforce out of inefficient-but-comfortable habits is costly and time-consuming so there may be a reason for this to exist 🙂

  • I’m hoping there will be better keyboards that have touchpads on the side but I haven’t come across a decent one yet that is good for typing and has good support for gestures, edge detection and whatever else is good in a toch pad.

    MacBooks generally have this down pack in their touch pads and if hardware manufactures could get something that works as well as the Mac Touchpad on a general keyboard it could make using Windows 8 a bit more user friendly.

    I’ve setup my Lenovo Y570 (multi touch-touchpad) for two finger gestures and three finger taps but it still sucks. I like Windows 8, took a month or so to learn most of the shortcuts and what not, it offers a good performance gain on my desktop so hopefully it does well.

  • While the new interface needs some tweaking and evolution, who really uses the Start Menu? One thing Windows 8 made me realise is I haven’t liked using the Start Menu for years. I press the win key then type to find my shortcut, not delve into the mess of expanding folders. Most people use desktop and taskbar shortcuts to run their commonly used applications now.
    (and you can search the Start Screen by typing too).
    Start Screen is not ideal for desktop users but neither is the Start Menu. The issue here is resistance to change.

    • Agreed, everything in the start menu I get to via typing, but 95% of what I use I just have pinned to the start bar (and a few more scripts with AutoHotkey shortcuts) so the start screen will make no difference to my work flow.
      The start menu isn’t good, people should be looking to find any replacement they can.

  • I’ve been using the new UI on my tablet as well as my desktop for months. I think it’s fantastic on both. Working in I.T. I use it for everything I do, Visual Studio, Visio, Word, Enterprise Manager, One Note, Excel, Internet, etc
    The tiles present information in a dashboard which has proved to be very handy.
    You can use the mouse to do EVERYTHING you do with touch.
    Want an app but can’t be bothered scrolling, just type it. Same as Win 7 only you don’t even have to press the windows key.
    Put your pointer in one of the 4 corners of the screen to get the hotspots
    Right click in a “Modern UI Style” (the name is rubbish) app to bring up the charms
    If I was to make one criticism (other than the garbage name), I would prefer it kicks back to “Modern UI Style” when I close the last desktop app.

    I seriously don’t understand what is not to like. How does having a start bar help you in any way vs. what is offered in the new UI?

  • Good to see that there are usable workarounds for those dissatisfied with the new direction before the OS is even released. Personally I like Win 8, Metro and all, but Stardock et al have a lot of experience giving their customers the Windows experience they want.

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