Microsoft originally announced that they’d add a Start menu to Windows 8 as part of Windows 8.1 Update 2 back in August. This would have been another great leap forward for Windows 8.1 after Windows 8.1 Update 1, which made computers without touch screens boot to the desktop by default — yes, it took Microsoft about two years to figure out that’s what they should do.
That Start menu is now scheduled to appear in Windows “Threshold,” which will probably be called Windows 9. But you don’t have to wait until April of next year to get a Start menu. You can get it today.
Classic Shell (free) – Classic Shell is completely free and open-source. It offers both Windows 7-style and older, Windows XP or “classic-style” Start menu designs. It’s packed with options. Watch out when installing it, as you probably just want the “Classic Start Menu” feature and not the “Classic IE” and “Classic Explorer” options that make Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer function more like their older versions.
Start8 ($4.99, 30-day trial) – Stardock’s Start8 is one of the first polished options, but many of the free Start menus have caught up with it. Still, if you don’t mind spending five bucks on a Start menu — and who would have thought we’d be buying Start menus one day? — it’s still a good choice. It even has a unique mode that displays a small Windows 8-style Start screen as a pop-up instead of a traditional Start menu, but you’ll probably prefer the traditional Start menu design.
StartIsBack ($2.99, 30-day trial) – StartIsBack is different from other options. It can look exactly like Windows 7’s Start menu, down to the Windows Aero-style glass transparency effects. It even tells you if your computer needs to restart to install Windows Updates, just as Windows 7’s Start menu did — this notification is now found on Windows 8’s login screen.
IOBit Start Menu 8 (free) – IOBit’s Start Menu 8 is another free Start menu option. It’s a bit clunky compared to options like Start8 and StartIsBack, but it is free. If you don’t like ClassicShell, and you don’t want to spend any money, give Start Menu 8 a try. Watch out for the “Advanced System Care” program the installer wants to put onto your system — you probably don’t want it.
Pokki (free) – Pokki is the oddball option here. It functions as a pop-up Start menu complete with a list of your installed applications and shortcuts to system settings, which is what people really want from a Start menu. However, it looks nothing like the traditional Windows Start menu and also includes some sort of desktop app store. Most people prefer a different Start menu, but Pokki is nice if you’re looking for something new.
A third-party Start menu is far from mandatory, of course. On Windows 8.1, you can right-click your taskbar, select Properties, then click the Navigation tab. The options here let you configure the Start screen to automatically open the “All Apps” view when you open it and show desktop apps first. You’ll get a full-screen list of your desktop applications without any of those live tiles if you configure Windows 8.1 properly.
This is what I do — combined with pinning applications to the taskbar and using Windows search to launch programs, it works okay. But I’ve been forcing myself to use Windows 8 as it was intended so I can write about if it. If you just want to use your computer and you’re craving a Start menu, install one and bend Windows 8 to your needs instead of bending yourself to fit Windows 8’s bizarre way of doing things. There’s a reason Microsoft is restoring a Start menu — it just makes more sense.
Image Credit: Microsoft, StartIsBack, Classic Shell