How To Build A Desktop Start Menu Replacement In Windows 8.1

Are you tired of the Modern interface? Windows 8.1 allows you to boot to the desktop. If only the restored Start Button would launch a proper Start Menu! Well, it sort of can.

Step 1: Boot To Desktop

This is the thing Microsoft got right in Windows 8.1: you can finally boot to the desktop natively.

To enable this feature, go to the desktop, right-click the taskbar and select Properties. In the Taskbar and Navigation properties window, switch to the Navigation tab and under Start screen, select the option “When I sign in or close all applications on a screen, go to the desktop instead of Start“. And before you hit OK, also complete the next step…

Boot To Desktop In Windows 8.1

Step 2: Make Start Button Open Apps View

While you’re at it, also check the option “She the Apps view automatically when I go to Start“. This way, your desktop Start button will not open the Start screen, but the Apps view. Again, don’t hit OK just yet, but move on to the third step…

Enable Start Menu Replacement In Windows 8.1

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Step 3: Turn Apps View Into A Start Menu Replacement

Assuming your goal is to avoid the Modern UI (formerly known as Metro) and the Start screen, you might also want to avoid Modern apps. In that case, also check the option “List desktop apps first in the Apps view when it’s sorted by category“.

List Desktop Apps First In Windows 8.1

Now you can hit OK and the next time you log into Windows, you should land at the desktop.

Meanwhile, here is what your Start Menu replacement might look like right now.

Windows 8.1 Start Menu Replacement

Not exactly perfect, yet. The first thing you’ll notice is how cluttered it is.

Bonus: Fix Up Your Apps Menu

Whenever you install a new program, Windows dumps shortcuts for all of the added files onto your Apps screen, including Help files and other nonsense. This was essentially the same in previous versions of Windows, only that the All Programs view contained folders that were collapsed by default. In Apps view, everything is kept in plain sight with no way to hide it.

To clean up this cluttered mess and build a useful Start Menu replacement, you’ll need to invest some effort. Right-click an item you would like to remove and select “Open file location from the menu at the bottom“.

Clean Up All Apps View

This will send you back to the desktop and open the respective shortcut in its folder (Windows Accessories in the example shown above). Windows Explorer reveals the locations where all those shortcuts are stored:

All Users: C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs
Current User: C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

Customize Windows 8.1 Start Menu

Now you can raid those folders and delete all the items you do not wish to see in your new Start Menu, otherwise known as Apps view. Better yet, you can create new folders, add your own shortcuts, and customize your Windows 8.1 Start Menu to your liking.

You can even place a shutdown or restart shortcut onto the Apps screen, by creating a new shortcut and adding one of the lines below (after the colon). A full list of options can be seen by running the shutdown.exe /? command in a Command Prompt window.

Shutdown: shutdown.exe /s /t 0
Restart: shutdown.exe /r /t 0
Hibernate: shutdown.exe /h
Fast Startup: shutdown.exe /hybrid

This shutdown workaround is not as good as the respective options in the old Windows Start Menu, but it’s a start. Or is it a means to an end?

Note that many changes don’t become visible immediately and sometimes you may only see partial changes. Especially new folders don’t show up until you rename a shortcut inside the folder or reboot the system. A Disk Cleanup of the Thumbnails cache supposedly helps, although it didn’t for me. Restarting Windows Explorer helped sometimes. Rebooting Windows always helped.

Disk Cleanup

Whether or not the result is worth the effort is up to you. Here is my custom Windows 8.1 Start Menu.

Custom Windows 8.1 Start Menu

One Last Trick: Right-Click The Start Button

Admittedly, this Start Menu replacement isn’t perfect, particularly on smaller screens. Moreover, seasoned Windows users will miss the option to shut down from the Start button. Although that’s not the most intuitive location, it’s what we’ve been trained to use. And you can still use the Start button to shut down your computer.

The trick is to right-click the Start button. In Windows 8.1, this will launch a very useful power user menu that contains shortcuts to advanced system tools. Many of these system shortcuts could be found in or at added to the traditional Start Menu, including “Shut down or sign out“. Chris has previously explained how you can edit the quick access menu in Windows 8.

Shut Down With Start Button In Windows 8.1

Windows 8.1 Just Became More Useful

Even if this alternative Start Menu leaves a lot to be desired, I hope some of these tips will help you work more efficiently with Windows 8.1.

How did you customize your Apps screen?

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