Windows 8 Tip – Restoring the old style Start Menu


Windows 8 has shown a dramatic change to the Windows Start Menu, in fact, it has been renamed to the Start Screen and it is the first thing you see when you log on to Windows.

The basic idea of this is to a) improve the touch experience on Windows Tablets/Slates and b) merge the usefulness of Windows Vista-era gadgets with the low resource usage of Windows Phone Live Tiles. You can read loads more about the changes on Microsoft’s official Building Windows 8 blog.

Unfortunately, this is slightly jarring for everybody used to the old way of working. Many people have blogged ways to hack the OS to bring back the old Start menu or install new software to provide an equivalent menu. I personally love the changes and certainly don’t want to hack or install unnecessary apps on a my operating system. The problem is, due to the lack of “metro” style immersive apps, or problems with the Start Screen loading on unsupported hardware (e.g. graphics cards), it can be handy to have something similar to the Start Menu present.

A very simple way to do this is by using a feature available since the taskbar debuted in Windows 95!

  • Right-click the taskbar
  • Select Toolbars > New Toolbar…
  • Point it to “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”

There you have it, a zero maintenance, familiar Start Menu sitting happily side by side with the Start Screen.

You may want to check out my related article Windows 8 will be Great on a Slate but is it too Late?

Update

You may notice that the solution above only shows the main (All Users) Start Menu. However, thanks to the comment from Michael below, there is a couple of ways to include your personal Start Menu as well.

Option 1 (via Michael)  is to create a custom library that includes both Start Menu locations and then point your custom toolbar to the location of that library.

Open up This PC (i.e. Windows Explorer) and create a new library called Start. The Library needs to include the following two folders

  • Personal Start Menu > “%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”
  • All Users Start Menu > “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”

As above create a custom toolbar on the taskbar. The custom toolbar should point to the following location %UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Libraries\Start.library-ms

This gives you a “Start” toolbar that shows 2 “Programs” subfolders that will expand out to the relevant folders. One small issue is that there is no way to differentiate which folder is which so this can be a bit confusing

Dual Folder Start Menu

Option 2 is a slightly neater way. Open of the following locations in Windows Explorer

  • Personal Start Menu > “%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”
  • All Users Start Menu > “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”

On the window with the All Users start menu, drag the “folder” icon in the address bar over to the window with the Personal start menu and drop it below the other shortcuts. This effectively creates a new shortcut in the personal start menu. Rename the shortcut to something more descriptive, like “.All Users”. Renaming the shortcut with a ‘.’ [period] at the front allows it to jump to the top of the menu.

Now,  when you add the custom toolbar, point it to “%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”. As you can see from the screenshot, you get one menu with the All Users shortcut opening up like any other folder.

Single Programs folder Start Menu

Ultimatley the preference is yours, whether you want one menu, two or maybe none at all!

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14 thoughts on “Windows 8 Tip – Restoring the old style Start Menu

  1. nice work around man, thanks for the info, i got rid of my metro ui using a reg hack:

    HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer

    change value of RPEnabled from “1” to “0”

    this is a lot easier

    1. Thanks for sharing.
      However, I don’t think you could ever say editing the registry is easier than adding a toolbar?!?
      Regardless of that fact, the whole point of this “tweak” is to KEEP the metro Start screen but also have an alternative, more traditional way to access your apps too.

  2. I tested this in windows 7. The typical start menu combines both “C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs” and “C:\Users\\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs”. So it seems like your trick would leave out the shortcuts in the second path. I’ll admit that your trick picks up most everything, but a few things do get left out (such as Notepad). All in all though, it still seems useful.

    1. Yes, this is true, I probably should’ve made that clearer in my post. The second location is for anything that gets installed under only your user account, rather than all users. You can just move the shortcuts over.
      Dragging a shortcut from the personal start menu to the all users one may make it appear as a menu when views on the toolbar?

      1. I played around with this some more. Try this: (a) Create a new library in File Explorer named “Programs” and include in it both of the above “Program” paths. (b) Then use your method you described in this article, but use THIS path: “%UserProfile%\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Libraries\Programs.library-ms”. Then when you click on the toolbar on the taskbar, it will open up both Programs folders and clicking on either one will open it up. Just copying over the icons as you suggest “looks” cleaner. But for anyone who doesn’t want to copy the icons over, this provides the next best way to pop open the two different sets of Program icons. Neither is a perfect solution, but at least this is another alternative…

      1. Actually I want to thank you. I really hate modifying windows behavior with 3rd party solutions, but I don’t mind using what’s already built-in. You came up with something that reproduces a very useful function and was very simple and elegant. So I really appreciated your article.

  3. I can see you have the new “Programs” toolbar at the left of the program icons. How have you achieved this? On Win8.1?
    I can only get the toolbar at the right, next to the Notification area. Moving it will not*move* it but expand it bringing the sub-folders etc contents visible as the toolbar expands

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