13. February 2013
As most people who have installed Windows 8 have realized by now, this new version of Windows is missing something... something very important: a real Start Menu. In their efforts to make Windows more tablet-friendly, the people in charge of the Windows 8 design decided to abandon the user interface which revolutionized the desktop experience upon its inclusion with Windows 95, NT4, 98, ME, 2000, XP, 2003, Vista, 2008, and Windows 7, and have opted for the following layout:
This design was so clunky and so confusing for users that it resulted in the following actual advertisement outside a local computer repair shop:
The Windows 8 user experience was so bad that none of the older members of my family were able to use it, so I set out to find a replacement for the missing start menu; something which would make Windows 8 look and feel like using Windows 7. With that in mind, I tried out several Windows 8 Start Menu applications with mixed results. I did all of my testing on a desktop version of Windows 8, but all of these will work on the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet, although they will not on the original ARM-based Microsoft Surface tablet. (See my notes below about that.)
All that being said, here are some of the better Start Menu replacements that I tested:
- URL: http://www.stardock.com/products/start8/
- Pricing: $4.99
- Rating: GREAT
- Feedback: I really liked this start menu; it worked well and it had lots of options - not as many options as some of the menus for which I only gave a GOOD rating, but it was still pretty darn cool. Once you install this start menu system and have it boot into desktop mode, Windows 8 is almost exactly like using Windows 7. (Note that you can buy a license for this application that is bundled together with their ModernMix application which allows you to run Windows Store applications in a window.)
- URL: http://www.classicshell.net/
- Pricing: FREE
- Rating: GOOD
- Feedback: This start menu has lots of configurable options so it's very customizable, but its "Windows 7" start menu is basically the same as its Windows XP start menu with a Windows 7 theme, whereas Start8's Windows 7 start menu is the actual menu style that you expect. That said, since it's open-source you could modify it yourself. ;-)
Start Menu X aka Start Button 8:
- URL: http://www.startmenux.com/ or http://www.startbutton8.com/
- Pricing: FREE, although there is a pro version for $19.99
- Rating: GOOD
- Feedback: This start menu has a smattering of options, and it is definitely its own beast in terms of what you get for a start menu. But that being said, it does give you a start menu, just not one that you are used to or expecting.
Classic Start 8:
- URL: http://www.classicstart8.com/
- Pricing: FREE
- Rating: ACCEPTABLE
- Feedback: This start menu has no configurable options, so it cannot be customized. But that being said, its start menu is basically the same as a "Windows 7" start menu. Still, if you need a great freeware approach to getting the start menu back, you can't beat this.
UPDATE: This start menu also adds some spamware links to the start menu, so I'm not a big fan of this offering.
- URL: http://retroui.com/
- Pricing: Starts at $4.95 for 1 Consumer Activation and goes up from there
- Rating: TERRIBLE
- Feedback: I did not like this start menu at all - it was cumbersome and confusing and it looked awful. (They were trying to go with a Metro-styled start menu, and it just didn't work).
By the way, I wrote two companies that make Start Menus for Windows 8, and neither will make their product available for Windows 8 RT; they say that the sandboxing features in Windows RT prevent a start menu replacement from working properly. So if you have an original Microsoft Surface RT tablet, not the Microsoft Surface Pro, you’re out of luck. :-(
FWIW - here are some URLs that I looked at with discussions about this topic: