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How to Get the Real Start Menu Back in Windows 8 or 8.1

April 14, 2014

Continued support for Windows XP was discontinued by Microsoft recently, so many PC people may now be migrating over to Windows 8. One thing newcomers will notice missing in the latest version of Windows: the Start menu!

If you’re feeling instantly lost without the old Start menu, don’t worry; you’re not alone. Thousands of PC fans would argue that the Start menu offers a more compact, concise, customizable listing of programs and files than the tile-filled Start screen.

Microsoft scoffs at that idea. It points out that every time there’s a new version of Windows, there’s an instant spike in popularity of shareware programs that make it work like the previous version of Windows. Eventually, the public stops panicking and learns to trust the new design.

(Note: The company has backpedaled a touch on this and announced that a Start menu resembling your old beloved will be coming back to Windows 8.1 in a future update. Until then, however, enjoy these tips on living with a Start menu-less version of Windows.) 

The Start button
Still, much has changed in this department since Windows 8. First, in Windows 8.1, the Start button (Windows button) is back. It’s there in the lower-left corner of the desktop, right where it always was. (It even appears in TileWorld if you point your mouse to that corner.)

The Start button does not open the traditional Start menu, however. It’s another way to open the Start screen. If you tap or click it, you just go back to TileWorld.

The secret Start menu
Windows 8.1’s new (old) Start button may not be the same thing as the old Start menu, but it does harbor a secret: It can sprout a tiny utility menu, as shown below.

The trick to making it appear depends on where you’re starting:

At the desktop. Right-click the Windows button, or hold your finger down on it. At the desktop, that’s easy; the Windows button is always in the lower-left corner of the screen.

In TileWorld. The Windows button appears only when you move the mouse to the lower-left corner. If you don’t have a mouse, swipe in from the left edge of the screen.

There, in all its majesty, is the secret Start menu. What it doesn’t do is list your own programs and documents, like the old Start menu; that’s what the Start screen is for. But it is seething with shortcuts to toys for the technically inclined.

Some of these items are especially useful to have at your mousetip:

• System opens a window that provides every possible detail about your machine.

• Control Panel. This is the quickest known method to get to the desktop Control Panel.

• Search. Having the option to choose Search here saves you a trip into TileWorld and its Charms menu.

• Shut down or sign out. Huge. This is huge. Now shutting down, signing out, or restarting is a single step — and it doesn’t require leaving the desktop. This submenu offers commands for “Sign out,” “Sleep,” “Shut down,” and “Restart.” No longer must you go to the effort of installing a Shut Down tile on your Start screen just to avoid red tape.

Restoring the real Start menu

If you want the full, traditional Start menu back during your transitional learning time, that’s easy to do. All kinds of free or cheap programs are available to restore the Start menu to its rightful place at the desktop, bearing names, like StartIsBack, Start8, Power8, Pokki, StartW8, and Classic Shell.

Excerpted with permission from David Pogue’s “Windows 8.1: The Missing Manual” from O’Reilly Media.