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How to Get the Classic Start Menu Back in Windows 8

Both the Start button and classic Start menu are gone in Windows 8. If you don’t like the full-screen, Metro-style “Start screen,” there are a few ways to get a classic-style Start menu back.

In the Developer Preview of Windows 8, you could remove Metro by deleting the shsxs.dll file, but you can’t do this in the Consumer Preview. Metro is now baked into Explorer.exe itself.

Create a Start Menu Toolbar

It’s not a well-known feature, but Windows can create toolbars that show the contents of a folder on its taskbar. This means that you can create a pseudo-Start menu without installing any other software on Windows 8. Just create a new toolbar that points at the Start menu’s Programs folder.

From the desktop, right-click the taskbar, point to Toolbars and select “New toolbar.”

Type or copy and paste the following path into the Choose a folder window:

%ProgramData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

Click the “Select Folder” button and you’ll get a Programs menu on your taskbar.

Right-click the taskbar and uncheck “Lock the taskbar” if you want to move the new Programs menu around.

Drag and drop the grip at the left side of the toolbar to place it somewhere else on the taskbar, like at its left side — the Start menu’s traditional location.

Right-click the “Programs” text if you want to change or hide its name. After you’re finished, right-click the taskbar again and select “Lock the taskbar.”

There’s one catch with this method — it won’t actually show all your programs. The Start menu actually grabs shortcuts from two different places. In addition to the system-wide ProgramData location, there’s a per-user Programs folder at the following location:

%AppData%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs

As you can see from the screenshots, the Windows Defender shortcut — and other shortcuts — don’t appear in our toolbar menu.

You could create a second toolbar to list programs from this folder, or perhaps move shortcuts from the %AppData% location to the %ProgramData% location.

Another option is creating a custom folder full of program shortcuts and using a toolbar that points at that folder instead.

Install ViStart, a Third-Party Start Button

ViStart is making the rounds as a third-party Start button replacement. It was originally designed to add a Windows 7-style Start button to Windows XP, so it’s basically a re-implementation of the Windows 7 Start button. And it works on Windows 8.

ViStart wants to install other software when you install it – click the Decline button.

After it’s installed, you’ll see the Windows 7-style Start orb back at the left side of your taskbar.

Click it and you’ll see the familiar Start menu. Almost everything works as you’d expect, although I couldn’t find a way to pin apps to the Start menu. It still shows your most frequently used apps.

Right-click the ViStart system tray icon and select Options if you want to configure it.

You’ll find options for changing the default Web browser, email client and other program settings.

One bonus is that ViStart takes over your Windows key. Pressing the Windows key opens the ViStart Start menu, not the Metro-style Start screen.

You can still open the Start screen by moving your cursor to the very bottom-left corner of the screen, or from the Charms menu that appears when you hover your cursor over either the upper or lower-right corners of your screen.


If you prefer a different Start menu replacement, leave a comment and let us know about it.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 03/6/12

Comments (58)

  1. oktboer

    These ‘workarounds’ remind me of Gnome 3. Rediculous…

  2. Ty Margheim

    Make sure to download the version from

    http://lee-soft.com/news/windows-8-start-menu/

    and not an older version.

  3. Chris Hoffman

    @Ty Margheim

    Thanks. It should go to the same place, but i updated the link in the article anyway.

  4. Lantec

    Stardock (Windowblinds, ObjectDock, etc.) has already put out a program to add the Start Button to Windows 8. It’s free and available at http://www.stardock.com/products/start8/

  5. Lantec

    Sorry, jumped the gun a bit. It’s going thru internal testing and will be available later this week at that link.

  6. Bob

    Thanks for making this how-to-guide
    Too bad you had to make it in the 1st place

    Someone forward this to Microsoft’s Windows 8 department

  7. Rob

    You can create a Start Menu library in Explorer and pin that library as a toolbar… the upside is that it combines both the user and computer Start Menus in one place. The downside is that they still do show up separately on the Start Menu toolbar (each shows up as a “Programs” entry, but you can then click through to your desired shortcuts)…

  8. Scott

    I installed vistart on Saturday but that only solves one of the problems with windows 8. The worst part of windows hate is the metro touch interface getting in the way of using my DESKTOP. I have a 24″ LCD so when I dive my mouse into the corner and hit start I’m dragged away from my beautiful organized workspace and bombarded with a bunch of 6×6 tiles that I could punch with my fist just to launch a program.
    If MS wants me or any of my friends and family who come to me for tech advice to buy anything with windows 8 on it, they better give us an option to run a classic shell with no sign of metro getting in the way unless I launch it myself. /rant

  9. smoaky

    I too am waiting on the Stardock Start Button.
    Until then I am using this. http://www.vistastartmenu.com/
    Works fine on Windows 8, but to get the transparency effect you have to get the paid version.

  10. Me

    The More articles I read about 8, the more it’s being turned back into 7….. here’s a tip: Just stay with 7 seems like alot less work, huh?

  11. Michael

    :-( I’m a Microsoft fanboi but I can’t defend metro. This is a sad day for my relationship with windows. I’ve always looked forward to the latest version of windows and the shiny new trinkets it brings but after a few minutes with the developer preview I vowed not to install windows 8 until the start bar was back :-( No shiny new windows for me. What I find most tragic is that I can forgive the ribbon at the top of the windows, It was actually really nice to work with! But metro and desktops where never meant to be. Maybe it’s time to try Linux, HAHA not that desperate yet.

  12. Scott

    That’s a great plan until you need to buy a laptop and have all the Metro crap forced on you.

  13. beergas

    Thanks a bunch. Ditto sending to MS WIndows 8 Works In Progress department (s)..

  14. Randolph McGhee

    Been running the latest Xubuntu in a VM in anticipation of the new Windows ME (Metro Edition). I ran Linux almost exclusively for many years but Windows 7 was so nice I’ve been running it for the last couple of years. If Microsoft releases with no option to revert to the ‘classic UI’ they’re going to lose my small business (~50 desktops) – I’m not going to saddle my IT guys with supporting this crap.

  15. alkolkin

    First of all thank you for this program; it is a fantastic improvement. Thank you for publishing this in the HTG!

    With regard to Windows 8, there are many things I value. They are:
    Improved speed on many common functions (though third party add-ons to Window 7 and prior exceed what Windows 8 offers)
    Greatly improved security
    Improved Windows Explorer
    Improved Internet Explorer though I prefer Chrome Dev and Canary

    I do not use Windows portable devices (except for a laptop) or touched-enabled Windows so I find being forced into Metro to be similar to the experiences I first had with Vista; totally unacceptable.

    I hope that MS offers an easy way for my client base to ease into Metro rather than force them to use it. I like Google’s and others approach which offers easy ways to allow people to try the “new look” but to be able to switch back and forth easily.

  16. Bud Berry

    Why go through all this trouble? XP has it already. Just keep XP

  17. Adam

    This is considered classic? Oh god im getting old :(

  18. Matt

    I have to believe Microsoft knows better than to release a Windows without Start Menu, especially after Windows 7 was so well received

    I truly believe though that this is not the Windows 8 Microsoft plans to release. It says right in the name it is a “Consumer Preview”, but apparently that was not enough to keep people from getting upset and throwing temper tantrums. Definitely share your opinion. Definitely email Microsoft feedback. But complaining over a beta/preview release like it is a release client or official release.

    Microsoft wants people to use Metro and give them feedback on that because that is new. They have the Start Menu down. If they included everything, most people would immediately switch back to “classic mode” and never use Metro.

    If you don’t like Metro, wait until Windows 8 is released or they come out with a release client to start moaning. The people getting so upset have no business downloading preview releases because they do not understand what they are about.

  19. Nathan

    I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned this yet.
    Classic Start Menu. (not tested with Windows 8 though, but it works on 7)

    http://classicshell.sourceforge.net/

  20. Scott

    Matt you would be right if they had left the option to disable metro like the developer preview had. Clearly they know nobody wants metro so they plan on forcing us to get used to it so they can push the app store and get us used to their phone OS.
    I love MS products as many do 360 over PS3 windows over Mac etc. but this latest push of the cartoon like metro interface on my high resolution LCD us making me look for other alternatives for my and my friends/family future tech purchases.

  21. Andacar

    I really can’t believe that Microsoft is getting rid of any way to disable Metro. Who are they listening to? The only people I can think of that would want this on a desktop would be a few hipsters. Have they just caved in to the Mackie Krishnas at last?

  22. Matt

    @Scott

    I am going to stick with this not being the finished product until Microsoft says otherwise. If this is it, God help Microsoft. Even Apple has had enough sense not to force an iOS style interface on the Mac crowd. Businesses will rip Microsoft to shreds if this is what they intend to release.

    Now since this is the “consumer preview” and the option to turn off Metro is missing, it is possible, that only Windows 8 Professional will include that option. That would sort of make sense. As a consumer OS, Windows 8 isn’t terrible. They will need to do something about the learning curve though.

  23. David

    This process did not work for me. I tried it on two different Windows Hate machines. I did install Vistart and it lacks much. I think I may close my doors to business and find a new job for the next 10 years to retirement since all the crap that has been coming out of M$ in Redmond.

  24. Andacar

    Matt, this isn’t moaning or temper tantrums. A lot of us actually use our Windows computers for something other than just dinking around on the web or updating our Facebook profile. I don’t think people are upset about Metro as such as there being no other option. For a lot of people this would be a deal breaker. If the reaction to this preview is any clue, I suspect Microsoft had better think twice if this is their real plan.

  25. Matt

    @Andacar

    It would be a deal breaker for me as well. If you actually read what I said, I was saying that this is a “consumer preview” and that people should withhold judgement. Has it occurred that Microsoft did this to see how people would react? I am all for people offering feedback and please, PLEASE give Microsoft feedback.

    I just think the attacks and ranting are out of line at this stage. It isn’t an official release. If Windows 8 comes out and this is what we’re stuck with, then by all means, rant away. I’ll join in at that point.

  26. Lantec

    Stardock’s Start8 is now available http://www.stardock.com/products/start8/

  27. ace

    @ Michael

    I completely agree with you, the metro style is not exactly a selling point if you ask me.
    With win7 you can hire a guy who’s last windows OS was win95, put him in front of win7 and he could get around and some work done. With win8 they are taking everything out that we have come to associate with the windows OS’s. I’m hoping that they will allow the option to switch between the two; metro one day, and the original the next. Have a happy medium the people who like the new look and the people who like the original interface.

  28. GaryJ

    This is wonderful! You have to learn a whole new interface to figure out where they hid everything this time before you can start working on the new set of bugs that you’ll need to fix before you can actually make it useful.

    Microsoft’s idea of an upgrade seems to be just hiding as many things as they can that your already used to. They must have played a lot of hide and seek as kids, but I didn’t think they were that old.

  29. DOES NOT WORK

    ViStart does not work! “Runtime Error ’13′: Type Mismatch”
    After uninstall I have ability to start installation again, but we get this error again on the finish installation. After reboot nothing happen. The same error! I am using x64. There is no solution for Start Menu and Desktop.

  30. Jimmy

    Why is it that every time something new comes out, people want to make it look OLD?! Heaven forbid if you learned something new! If it were up to these Metro haters, we’d still be hammering out stick figures on cave walls!!

  31. Scott

    Yes Jimmy that’s why I had launch day xbox and xbox 360s, n95 phone n770 n800 internet tablets, launch zune plus a gears of war zune and I run CM9 on my HP touchpad.
    I’m just an old fuddy duddy who doesn’t like new tech, no I know garbage when I see it.all metro manages to do on a desktop/laptop is get in my way. I won’t be running apps on anything but a mobile device and I don’t need to see live Facebook tiles everyone I want to launch a program.

    If metro is not optional on the final release of window 8 for desktops not only will I not buy any computer running it, I’ll skip on the windows 8 tablet I was planning on picking up.

  32. crab

    @scott: That’s why I plan to buy a new laptop before Win8 is released.

    @Matt: I wouldn’t count on that, this is Microsoft we’re talking about. Metro is crap on anything but a tablet or phone, and they need to be reminded of that vociferously and often.

  33. crab

    Jimmy, we don’t want to make it look old, we want to keep it functional on desktops and big screens.

    I’ve used every Windows since 95 (though I skipped ME and Vista on my own machines), OSX, and a bunch of different Linux window managers. I like Windows 8. I’m hardly stuck on the start button or averse to learning weird interfaces if it offers some benefit: I used to use Windowmaker and Fluxbox as my regular desktop. But I think that also gives me enough experience to say that I really don’t like Metro.

  34. Mike

    It would seem that its time to get a one button solution for a classic shift. In XP you had to only make a couple of adustments to get the shift, maybe it is time for someone to do this for Win7,8, Vista.
    Start button
    Menu shift
    Desktop shift
    Folder display shift

    If we only had a credible alternative to Microsoft windows we could beat the to death for messing with the GUI. WE want to get work done, the computer is a tool, nothing more. Forcing the users to waste time with every iteration of windows rediscovering the GUI changes really pisses off a lot of people.

  35. Scott

    BestBuy better hire extra return counter staff when laptops and desktops with windows 8 first launch.

  36. kenedy123

    thanks for giving more information How to Get the Classic Start Menu Back in Windows 8

  37. AB

    if you’re going to install a start menu in W8 you might as well go back and use Win95. Time, and OSs, move on, folks! All you flat-earthers crying out over the new UI need to realise it’s looked the same way for almost 20 years and it’s DONE!

  38. Mark

    You can download from here:
    storage.stardock.com/files/Start8_setup.exe

  39. bernard parisius

    The only reason why I keep using win 8 CP is its “SPEED”! ; my downloads finish lightning fast!

  40. bernard parisius

    start menu in Win 8 ??????????? go back and stay with Win 7… not me baby…. all that matters for me is SPEED!!!

  41. Chris

    Classic Start Menu from http://classicshell.sourceforge.net doesn’t work yet in Windows 8 CP

  42. TsarNikky

    Pity that Microsoft has pandered so much to the casual tablet user and their need for a touch-screen interface to run numerous applets, and as a result has abandoned the serious laptop and desktop user who needs a computer for their day-to-day office work. The fact that third-party vendors are needed to do what MS should have done in the first place does not speak highly of MS. Unless there is a major “aha” moment in Redmond, Windows-7 will be around for a very long time.

  43. Scott

    Everyone keep in mind part of the “speed” you’re witnessing is due to a fresh OS install along with Windows 8 being optimized to run on tablets. So your desktop hardware has lots if extra horsepower now.
    I’m all in if they give us a classic desktop shell so I can avoid metro.

  44. kenedy123

    Good to know about the How to Get the Classic Start Menu Back in Windows 8

  45. pbug56

    Lee did a nice job with VISTART. Now maybe MS will get the point. We’re not asking for a lot, just the ability to keep using a GUI we like and are comfortable with, and which many people have learned how to use already. And one that doesn’t require a touch screen.

    I’ve written to one of the people at MS who is involved in Win 8. I’m hoping that MS will finally listen to perhaps avoid another Windows ME and VISTA mess.

  46. Mike

    I think Windows 8 with Metro is going to send sales through the roof – for iMacs.

  47. Adam

    MS should have the decency to provide an option inside the OS, instead of having clients look for ways to make Win8 work in a more sensible way (www.lee-soft.com has a great one). Those Windows that take up the whole monitor are a crime. Not to mention that it is almost impossible to work with 2 programs or more at the same time without having to spend 5 minutes trying to shift from one to another on the screen. IE is a joke. My phone has a better browser – and it was manufactured in 2005.
    Alternately, they could create a tablet version for kids and enthusiasts with the Metro look and a PC version with the regular Start features for people who actually need to do something with their computers at work, or at home, or both.
    They must keep in mind that 48% of users still use a desktop, and 35 % a laptop. Not to mention that a lot of us have both, a desktop and a laptop.

  48. Adam

    And, of course, on the PC version, Metro would not even be mentioned.

  49. Adam

    @AB Going back 20 years is not the point. People use cell phones for communication, tablets for e-mail, movies, music, all one app at a time. I understand that the tiles of Metro are easier to touch than icions on a small screen. In my job, though, I need to open several screens at the same time: I talk to students via Skype, distribute the material for the day, correct their homework via Team Viewer or GoToMyMeeting or Webex, check info on the Internet – I repeat, all at the same time. I only have 45 minutes to finish the program. I don’t have time to fight sticky screens, tabs that disappear, hover the mouse here and there to see what comes up – and they change sometimes. You don’t always have the same outcome when you hover the mouse here or there. Sometimes, even, nothing shows up, which happens to my Win 7 tablet too. Sorry, but the Metro look is for play and entertainment – as you can easily see when you browse the apps on Metro start.

  50. Twol

    you can run start7 from http://www.startmenu7.com with a start button that provides full program lists and an icon that can be tailored (right click on icon).
    There is free and pro (paid) version that works on all (recent) versions of windows

  51. Binky

    @Matt

    Why is it you think that Microsoft released this consumer preview?
    Charity? No
    To boast? Maybe a little
    To get feedback? DING DING DING we have a winner!
    If not that then what is the point of the preview? Regardless why should we wait until they release to complain about this so I then buy a new PC which harms my productivity until they release SP1?

    They want to know what people think of their work in progress. This page is all feedback to them.
    There was already a developers preview, for which people set about reactivating the start menu. Microsoft took note of that and disable it more fully for the consumer preview. The result? A huge amount of criticism. Message understood? We’ll see.

    Perhaps they plan to release two versions, one for touchscreens and one for everything else but we don’t know that yet, so if we want it, we need to tell them what we think now, not at release so it will hopefully happen.

    Anyway this will cause them to lose business unless they not only make it possible but also easy to switch. Any business they lose is business they might not regain. The bigger other platform market shares get the more commercial support they get, the fewer tie ins to the windows platform there are.

    /rant

  52. Miss.Andrea Borman.

    Classic Shell now works on Windows 8 Consumer Preview. It was updated on 31st march 2012 and the updated version now puts the start orb on Windows 8 CP as well as giving you the Windows XP,Windows 7 and Classic start menu on Windows 8 CP. There is also Start Menu 7 which also gives you the start orb and start menu and Vista start menu that gives you just the start menu. There two programs also work on Windows 8 CP. so there are options to get back both the start orb and start menu in Windows 8 CP. Andrea Borman.

  53. Asok Asus

    Just wanted to note that Classic Shell 3.5.0 has just been updated to function beautifully on Windows 8 Consumer Preview, providing a highly functional and highly customizable Start Menu, as well as allowing one to substantially augment the Explorer ribbon, providing the ability to add a whole row of traditional Explorer function icons. I think Classic Shell is a much better alternative than ViStart. In fact, I like Classic Shell better than than the Vista and Windows 7 Start Menus anyway. Classic Shell can be downloaded at:

    https://sourceforge.net/projects/classicshell/files/latest/download

    (BTW, go to the Settings item in the Start Menu to see were you go to customize Classic Shell Start Menu.)

  54. xpclient

    In case you want to add the original Windows orb back instead of the Classic Shell orb, use this image: i.imgur.com/9tAAy.png in the Start Menu settings -> Start button tab. :)

  55. joshua

    windows 8 needs vistart being windows 8 is bad becouse it does not have the old win 7 start menu thats why i got windows 8 ultimate linux edition being the consumer preview is bad and the preview gos black and then comes back and flashs

  56. joshua

    windows 8 flashs win i download cursor attention and i dont know how to fix it can you create a tip of how to do it

  57. joshua

    windows 8 is a consumer preview but win they come out with the real windows 8 i will use it but it will maybe have the start screen if it does i will do this

  58. Born28

    Best way to put the windows start button back is stay on 7 if you handle the concept of the entire screen transforming in to the start menu no work arounds needed as for me i love the metro interface. Windows 8 is best used with multiple monitor setups it was made for them.

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