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Posted on March 19th, 2012 by Darien Graham-Smith

Bringing the Start button back to Windows 8

MainMenuRelations here at PC Pro have been a little strained these past few weeks, the main bone of contention being the merits (or otherwise) of Windows 8’s new approach to finding and launching desktop applications. There’s no dispute that, for touch devices, Metro is a workable and even likeable system. But there’s plenty of frustration over the way Microsoft seems determined to force it on desktop users too, to the extent of replacing the Start menu with a full-screen Metro page.

So I’m indebted to reader Neale Killick for bringing to my attention a free little tool called Start8, by Stardock software, which promises to “bring back the Windows Start menu”. Install it within the Windows 8 Consumer Preview and a comfortingly familiar Start orb appears at the left end of your primary taskbar. Click it, though, and what opens isn’t the much missed Windows 7 Start menu – but a miniature Metro Start screen.

Seeing this page overlaid onto the regular desktop is a strange experience. Immediately it brings home just how visually incoherent Windows 8 is, bolting together as it does two quite different interface models and graphical styles.

It makes clear that the old menu was a more efficient means of launching applications

It also makes clear that the old menu was a more efficient means of launching applications. Start8 opens helpfully at Metro’s Apps search page, but settings and files remain split into separate categories, which must be navigated manually. Compared to Vista and Windows 7, which searched everything and returned categorised results, it’s pointlessly pedantic, and serves only to bog the user down.

Space for improvement

Things are slowed further by the wide (and non-customisable) spacing of the returned results. Such a layout might make sense for touch devices, but it’s tiresome for mouse users, and it frequently causes content to spill off the side of the window. Bafflingly, the mouse wheel doesn’t scroll across the grid (though it does elsewhere in Metro). Instead there’s a hidden scroll-bar at the bottom of the menu that becomes visible only once you move the mouse over the area – a characteristic expression of Microsoft’s new-found contempt for discoverability.

In fairness, Start8’s shrunk-down Start pane is less distracting than the full-screen incarnation. But it takes up around four times as much screen space as the Windows 7 Start menu, while exposing significantly less content. Where before we had direct access to user folders, system settings and power options, now all we get is options to search within Metro apps. It remains to be seen whether this ability will prove in any way useful.

The eye of the beholder

In a way it’s admirable that, in bringing back the Windows Start menu, Stardock has tried to work with Microsoft’s new interface, rather than seeking to turn back the clock. It’s also thoughtfully provided one feature Windows 8 testers have been crying out for – a convenient Shutdown shortcut, accessible by right-clicking the Start button. But because Start8 mostly repackages Metro, it ultimately does very little to improve the Windows 8 experience.

In fact, Start8 serves as a useful illustration that Windows 8 critics aren’t merely resisting change. By allowing us to try using Metro in the same context as the Windows 7 Start menu, Start8 brings into clear relief some real usability compromises – compromises that affect everyone but Microsoft’s airily hoped-for market of tablet users.


If you want to give Windows 8 CP a true Windows 7-style Start menu, try VIStart from LeeSoft – but  proceed with caution as this is a tweak for a pre-release operating system!

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35 Responses to “ Bringing the Start button back to Windows 8 ”

  1. Ryan Thomas Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    I tweeted this to you and Barry last Monday… Barry said you were probably already aware of it, but if you only found this recently it could have saved you days of anguish :-)

  2. Damian Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Imagine a world where we actually embrace change and work with it.

  3. Austin Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I will pass judgement when I get my copy of Windows 8… Personally I find the Start button/menu at times to be a faff (for want of a better word) and is certainly not perfect so I want to see the new offering before making any call on it.

  4. Craig Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 4:24 pm


    Embracing change is one thing, but only if that change makes sense should we embrace it.

    I feel they have comprimised their core market while chasing a market share they have missed. A Windows tablet interface sounds like a great idea, but I would much rather see it in a Windows Media Center style interface…

  5. Podsnap Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    @Austin couldn’t agree more. The old Start button/orb thing was pure faff.

    Got the consumer preview installed on a partition… but to early to pass judgement.

    Also will probably seem very different on Windows 8 specific hardware.

  6. Bill Maslen Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    The Windows start menu started to go downhill from Vista onwards. Even in Windows 7 I use a very nice piece of freeware that gives me back my full XP-style menu (without compromising the ‘quick find’ function). I’m really not impressed by Windows 8’s lack of direct access to applications – the same weakness has been apparent in the Mac Finder since MacOS was first developed in all its GUI glory. It’s ironic that iOS has moved back to an entirely app-centric user experience, whereas Microsoft (who’ve always been app-centric) now appear to be trying – strenuously – to avoid direct contact with those nasty, dirty applications. Weird. Do they actually do any real-world user testing? Surely decades of experience should be paving the way to a genuinely friendly user interface? Instead we seem to be plagued by a plethora of increasingly wacky ideas (cf. Canonical). Back to basics, people. I mean, blimey, does anybody remember Windows 3? And the utterly app-centric interface – not a million miles removed from iOS – we used back then?

  7. Lee Grant Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 7:14 pm

    My business is (mainly) building & selling PCs to domestic/home users. We’re playing with Windows 8 at the moment and my opinions about it are very mixed.

    If MS would just allow Metro to be turned on or off then I think it will be easy to sell W8 – forcing metro on users will make it very difficult.

  8. Charles Marsh Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    I don’t think the problem is Microsoft forcing Metro on desktop users. I think the exact opposite: Microsoft hasn’t been radical enough.
    Almost everybody describes Windows 8 as an operating system cut-and-shut. To me, it feels like an operating system that might be called Windows Metro, with a tile that takes you to a broken version of Windows 7 running in a virtual machine. I know it’s not. I can see it’s not – Metro applications show up in the desktop Task Manager. But, as someone who does use virtual machines each and every day, that’s the way it feels.
    There should be no separate desktop. Take the Metro Start screen, replace the word ‘Start’ with the word ‘Metro’, and make that the new desktop. All the functionality of the Task Bar can be replaced by tiles on the Metro screen. Traditional desktop windows can then appear in front of this. You could think of it as being like an Active Desktop. The original Active Desktop failed because, at the time, it was a solution looking for a problem.
    I understand the commercial imperative of making an operating system that is as consistent as possible across all form factors. I like the Metro interface. Despite its current rough edges, the fundamentals have clearly been designed by people who know what they’re doing. This is unlike Ubuntu’s Unity, which is pointless and irritating. I say this as someone who uses Linux much more than Windows.

  9. Wavey Davey Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 9:31 pm

    As an office-based user, doing dull day-to-day prductivity tasks, I hardly touch the Start button. IE, Word, Excel & Outlook are all pinned as quick launches on the taskbar. Even if MS are as successful as Apple in tablet-land, 90% of users will still be desktop users. Can I still have my quick launches to go straight into my applications?

  10. Nick Tuson Says:
    March 19th, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Tried W8 CP: Terrible. No faster than XP but much messier. For non-tablets, the Metro interface is a clunky and pointless addition to W7 and we need a way to disable these features. This is not because we fail to embrace change (jump off a cliff, Damian, and embrace the change.. oh, gee, maybe it is negative change we don’t want). It is because we are not all gullible. I shall either wait until whichever W8 SP sets things right or, more likely, emigrate to Linux and whatever feline Apple are rearing. That will hurt MS not one bit because most OS sales are with new machines.

  11. SirRoderickSpode Says:
    March 20th, 2012 at 1:20 am

    @Wavey Davey – in short, yes. You can pin stuff to the taskbar as with Windows7 and all the jump list type stuff is perfectly functional.

    The big question for me is why is Windows search STILL nowhere near as good as Spotlight on OS X??? Spotlight was introduced in 2005, but here we are 7 years on with a search facility that cannot look inside PDF files without third party addons. Also, why can Windows Explorer not show you previews of camera RAW or DNG files without installing additional codecs? I want to like it (Windows in general) and it certainly has its merits but there are so many basic tasks which it needlessly makes a complete pain in the ass.

  12. David Wright Says:
    March 20th, 2012 at 7:19 am

    @Wavey Davey, I agree. I use the start menu probably once or twice a week on average. The apps I use every day are pinned to the taskbar.

    The same goes for Windows 8 CP, I have all the apps I use pinned to the desktop.

  13. Andy Says:
    March 20th, 2012 at 7:53 am

    It all smacks of trying to chase the tablet market – on a desktop and it all seems a bit rushed I’ve also got this sneaking suspicion that Win8 might turn into the next Vista.

  14. Jimbob Says:
    March 20th, 2012 at 9:02 am

    I used Windows 8 on an Acer tablet the other day and was staggered how good it was. I then used it on a desktop and was staggered how bad it was.

    There are too many silly errors, no mouse wheel on Metro, nor can you drag it along. It really needs more polishing. I took me 5 mins to think how to get to the old control pannel. Hardly intuative.

  15. fingerbob69 Says:
    March 20th, 2012 at 10:33 am

    So M$ want to foist a touchscreen interface onto millions of computer users… who don’t have a touchscreen interface.

    Anyone spot the flaw in this plan?

  16. David Wright Says:
    March 20th, 2012 at 10:47 am

    @SirRoderick MS have released an update for Windows 7 (summer 2011), which allows Explorer to natively preview RAW images.

  17. BornOnTheCusp Says:
    March 20th, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Windows Hate? That will be it’s new name from now on for a lot of people.

  18. Tridus Says:
    March 20th, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    @Damian – Sure, embrace change! In fact I’m going to go out to your car now, rip out the gas pedal and steering wheel, and put a shiny new interface in.

    Will you have the slightest idea how to use it? Probably not. Will it be better then old one? Not by a long shot!

    But who cares? You should “embrace change.”

    That’s the absurdity here in a nutshell. Microsoft is sabotaging the desktop experience to try and chase the tablet market wit ha unified product, and they’ve got defenders blindly chanting the mantra that change is good when it clearly isn’t.

    Touchscreen tablets and mouse driven desktops are not the same, and the UI has to reflect that.

  19. Turd Ferguson Says:
    March 21st, 2012 at 3:25 am

    We don’t want a third-party application to do that.

    We want the Start button and traditional Start menu back as official features of Windows 8.

    That means Consumer Preview and Final Release, Microsoft digs into Windows 8’s code and adds the relevant code from Windows 7.

    Shouldn’t be hard to do.

    A touch UI is not for a desktop, and most users sure as hell do not want to touchy-feely their desktop’s monitor and get fingerprint smudges all over it.

    Hey Ballmer and Sinofsky, stop drinking the ‘Metro Metro Metro’ Kool-Aid, and for once in your life show some sensibility. Thank you.

  20. Andy Says:
    March 21st, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Couldn’t agree more regarding the Start menu, used the OS on both an Acer Iconia tablet (loved it), and a regular laptop (very indifferent). Sure we should embrace change, when that change is for the better but all I hear is people asking what the reason for removing it was. If MS have any sense they will bring it back before final release otherwise they will have many users staying with Win 7 which is pretty much what 8 is if you remove the Metro Interface.
    On a more serious note,the new os seems to have dedcimated my battery life, I quite quickly ended up with 7 apps runing constantly as there is no easy way to kill them, indeed it seems that they have actively tried to stop you doing it. This resulted in my CPU constantly running at 50 – 60% and for the first time in ages my CPU cooling fan became audible.
    This is a good enough reason by itself for me to swap back to 7.

  21. Tony40 Says:
    March 22nd, 2012 at 3:56 am

    A few months ago, when the first leaked versions of Win 8 first came out, the Metro UI was disabled by default and it reguired a “red/blue pill” to enable it. Having briefly used Win 8 Developer Preview and abandoned it due to Metro. I personally would love it if MS released a way of disabling Metro entirely. So that it just leaves a Win 7++ style interface.

    Quite simply Metro doesn’t work on non-touchscreen lappies and desktops.

    And for reference Win 7 beta 1 became my main OS (rather than Vista).

    March 22nd, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I would like to Right Mouse/Click on the Desktop and have a function from the list to take me to a Short Cut or Favourites list; like wise give me a Shut Down from the Right Mouse Button.

  23. Gindylow Says:
    March 22nd, 2012 at 10:35 am

    Change for changes sake is pointless. It is also ENTIRELY CONTRARY to Microsoft’s justifications for modifications made to the Start menu in Vista and 7.

    MS claimed to have invested millions into testing and optimising the Start menu in Vista and 7. Apparently now that was all a lie? -No I don’t think so.

    SOme base user’s probably dont need a start menu, is that a reason to chop it out and limit the power and usability of WIndows 8?

    If I wanted to embrace something big, bumbling and stupid from Microsoft I would walk up and hug Ballmer! Happily it’s not something I feel compelled to act upon.

  24. MarkH Says:
    March 22nd, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    There was, and is, absolutely nothing wrong with the Start button. For those chumps who used to grin ruefully and chuckle at Start being used to shut down the machine, I always used to say, imagine it as starting the shutdown procedure – now go back to your crayons. Change for the sake of change is pointless, but it seems to be about all Microsoft have got left as they flounder about, helpless in the searing light of Apple’s ‘innovations’.

  25. jbm1997 Says:
    March 22nd, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, if it is try to fix/improve before throwing the whole thing out.
    For desktops I can see businesses avoiding Metro like the plague as it’s not anything like intuitive so is likely to have a huge hit on productivity while users try to find where things are and nail them to the desktop or somewhere they can be found.
    Can just imagine IT helpdesks being plagued with “my machine has slowed to a crawl” why? no-one has discovered how to close an application down!

    Linux Mint is looking good on the Win 8 experience thus far.

  26. Chris Says:
    March 22nd, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Heh, bring back Program Manager I say. They already knackered usability on Win7: I use Classic Start Menu to give me back the functional pop-up menu that works from XP and Taskbar Hider to, um, hide the taskbar, a function they decided you no longer need because, um, apps never have controls you need to go to the bottom of the screen for. Don’t even get me started on Explorer.

    M$ evidently gave up useability years ago. Come back Bill, all is forgiven!

    If you have to get hold of third party apps to patch the system just to be able to poke your apps and files, what is the point of the operating system in the first place?

  27. Metro'd Out Says:
    April 7th, 2012 at 12:39 am

    Been using Metro on Windows Phone 7 and I have to say it sucks big time.

    Taking a new, unproven UI from a new unproven platform and applying it to your core product seems pretty damn stupid to me.

  28. Graham Smout Says:
    April 9th, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Has anyone done research to find out if computer users really want a touch screen interface? Ask some of people you know and see. I have yet to find anyone, who actually prefers using a touch screen anything: (including smart phones) you are not then obscuring the screen with your grubby fingers! Also, touch screen is so inaccurate it slows your productivity right down anyway. For me it seems to work the wrong way round too, I expect the response to be in the opposite direction to what actually happens & I have big clumsy hands! Give me a solid keyboard and a mouse anytime.

  29. Steve Hancock Says:
    May 10th, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    This really reals like a Jekyll and Hyde product at the moment. Whilst I’m looking forward to using windows 8 on a tablet, my conclusion at this time is that Windows 8 is not going anywhere near my core desktop pcs. I think MS have really got this badly wrong.

  30. Dylan Says:
    May 10th, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    My Experience testing

    With Metro on a table brillian

    On Desktop when your a heavy user totaly usless

    I would not buy windows 8 for Desktop for a heavy user expect for 3rd party apps to remove metro

    now for light users metro may well be just fine

  31. Jo Buckley Says:
    May 31st, 2012 at 10:52 am

    In total agreement with comment 12.
    Having had 5 differing versions of Windows,from Millenium Edition to 7 Premium & Professional, I shall be avoiding 8 simply because I won’t have a Touch-Screen PC.

  32. Jo Buckley Says:
    May 31st, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Nice desktop wallpaper!

  33. Barry Says:
    June 9th, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    An operating system that requires a hack to activate the most used feature that the manufacturers deliberately removed, is clearly going to have much bigger problems than the lack of one button. i think we are witnessing the final stages of the demise of a once great company.

  34. Adrian Says:
    August 21st, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    I’ve come across a customizable start button that works with the ‘modern windows interface’.
    I’ve installed it on RP Build 8400.
    Regards, ardow

  35. Gerko Says:
    May 24th, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    Really stupid to have to buy a mouse. If you use a keyboard you only need to press the Windows key and you get the same as pressing the start button. Who is kidding who? And touch screen if you use a mouse and keyboard, how stupid is that? Basically you only want touch screen for a tablet or smart phone but not for a desk top.


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