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The Five Best Free Start Menu Replacements for Windows 8

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By now, everyone who cares will likely know that Windows 8 doesn't have a Start menu. It's undoubtedly the number one talking point since the operating system's release in 2012. If you aren't interested in learning the ins and outs of the new Start screen, you have options.

Bringing a Start menu back into Windows 8 isn't difficult. You can make one of your own which has most of the functionality of Windows 7's Start menu, but it won't look very good and it takes a bit of time to set up. If you're willing to part with a small amount of system resources, you can download one of many free applications available to do the job for you.

With the number of consumers clamoring for this missing feature, there is a huge number of applications available looking to offer a solution. Some are innovative, including interesting new features and interface elements; others stay as close as they can to the look and feel of Windows 7 Start menu. I've taken the time to test out the available options and I've come up with a list of the best free Start menu replacements available.

While the most obvious boon offered by these programs is their Start menu, they all also offer the optional ability to turn off other annoyances. Every option here allows you to bypass the Start screen and boot directly to the desktop. You'll also be able to disable the hot corners including the App Switcher in the top left and the Charms bar hint in the top or bottom right.

1. ViStart

ViStart Start Menu replacement.
Robert Kingsley

The first option on the list is about as close as you’re likely to get to putting the Windows 7 Start menu in Windows 8. The interface is almost perfect and you won’t need even a moment to figure out how to use it once it’s installed. You’ll be pinning and launching programs in no time.

While many users will consider the similarity to its subject a great feature, that’s about the only feature it offers. While it does have a couple of skins to choose from and the option to change what your Start button looks like, you’ll find nothing of value above and beyond what the Windows 7 Start menu offered.

2. Start Menu 8

StartMenu8 Start Menu Replacement
Robert Kingsley

This next option is also very close to the Start menu from Windows 7. All of the interface elements you'd expect are there. You'll have quick access to your programs and the ability to pin apps like you could in Windows 7.

One major difference that you'll find with Start Menu 8 is a subtle nod to Windows 8. There is a MetroApps menu that you can click to access all of the Windows Store apps on your computer. This allows you to seamlessly launch these apps right from the desktop as easily as you could any other program. Unfortunately though, you can't pin modern apps to the Start menu.

Start Menu 8 is highly customizable. There are multiple themes you can choose, you can change the Start button style, change the font and even the size of the menu itself.

3. Classic Shell

Classic Shell Windows 8 Start Menu Replacer
Robert Kingsley

Classic Shell is a program that certainly gives you your start menu, but it doesn't stop there. The menu offered here, like those in the previously covered offerings, is close enough to the Windows 7 Start menu that you won't likely skip a beat. All of the links and buttons are there, perhaps the only discernible difference is that you have to drag applications from the Programs menu to the Start menu to pin them rather than right-clicking as you're used to.

Like Start Menu 8, Classic Shell offers you a second menu to access your Windows Store apps. It also allows you to pin these apps to the menu as you can desktop programs. This is a small feature but it certainly is useful.

While the menu is certainly the star of the show, Classic Shell has a lot more to offer. It comes with a very detailed settings page that allows you to change almost every aspect of the menu to suit your preferences. It also allows you to tweak the File Explorer and Internet Explorer 9 to make their interfaces more comfortable for you.

4. Pokki

Pokki Windows 8 Start Menu replacer
Robert Kingsley

This next option, unlike the first three, looks nothing like the classic Start menu you're used to. While that may sound like a negative, it isn't. Pokki strives to give you the simple access to your programs that you miss, while also improving the interface and offering new features.

Pokki is much larger than most Start menu replacements. It consists of a pane on the left side of the window that contains most of the links you'd expect in a Start menu including Computer, Libraries and Devices and Printers. Above those links, you'll find options for what displays on the larger right pane.

The all apps button shows you your programs. While there is no separate menu for Windows Store apps, they are buried in a folder inside this view, so they're still accessible from the desktop environment.

The next option is a Control Panel view. This places all of the computer configuration and settings tools right in the Start menu for easy access. This makes life much easier for system admins and power users.

Finally, you have the My Favorites view. This view offers a series of tiles you can configure to link to any programs or apps you have on your computer. Here is where Pokki really shines because you can also link to apps you download from Pokki's own app store.

Pokki's apps aren't highly sophisticated; in fact, many are simply web sites or web apps contained within their own window. Having stand-alone apps for Gmail, Pandora, Google Calendar and others may seem simple, but they're really useful to have around.

5. Start Menu Reviver

Start Menu Reviver
Robert Kingsley

The Start Menu Reviver, like Pokki, doesn’t try to recreate a classic Start menu; instead it reinvents the idea and updates it to fit in with Windows 8. This application combines the tiles of the Start screen with the ease of the Start menu to create something that feels right at home in this modern operating system.

Start Menu Reviver is comprised of a bar of links and a series of customizable tiles. You can drag any desktop or Windows store app into the menu to customize the tiles to your liking. This is just like pinning a program to the Start menu of old.

The link bar on the left provides easy access to commonly used tools like Network, Search and Run. You’ll also find the Apps button in this bar.

When you click the Apps button, a new pane opens to the right to display your desktop applications. At the top of this pane you’ll find a drop-down list that you can use to change the view to show Windows Store apps, Documents, all Applications or any other folder you choose. This feature gives you easy and organized access to anything you want.

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