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.

Note: You can get the Windows 7 style Start Menu back on Windows 10 easily.

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
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