According to market research firm Brandwatch, the start menu in Windows 10 is one of the most loved features by users. It comes in third after new additions to the Windows family like the personal assistant, Cortana, and the successor of the much-maligned Internet Explorer, the Edge browser.
The absence of the start menu as we know it in Windows 8 was one of the operating system’s main undoing. Many long-time users of Microsoft’s Windows operating system found themselves staring at an unfamiliar Start Screen, the feature that had been hurriedly fronted as a replacement of the start menu of old. Many resented it. Not because it was bad but because it just didn’t make sense on machines that did not have touch displays. In Windows 10, Microsoft sought to make everyone feel at home. The start menu is back (sort of) and the Start Screen is buried deep in the Settings application and only surfaces when Tablet Mode is on or in the case of convertibles, it kicks in when the keyboard is detached.
As you may have noticed, the start menu in Windows 10 is not exactly what we had in Windows 7. Not by any chance. It’s something else. Close but still far away. Many will say that it is better and I agree with them but there are those of us who just want the simplicity of the Windows start menu like we’ve known it over the years. With custom cascading lists and the ability to have apps/programs in folders and not the bells and whistles of Live Tiles and Cortana for all our local search needs. Yes you can just go ahead and unpin all the Live Tiles but what do you have left then? The start menu you knew from Windows 7? No! You get an undesirable blank strip that you can’t do away.
Gladly, there are options if you want to maintain the classic Windows start menu. These options even have a Modern touch so it’s not all vintage stuff. I have been testing a number of Windows 10 start menu replacements for the last one month and here are a couple of them:
Start10 is from the same guys that offered a similar application in Windows 8 and 8.1 but now geared specifically for the Windows 10 user. It has a lot of customization options and users can configure it to suit their taste but at the core is the start menu you’ve always known and loved with all the functionality of yesteryear. Users can choose to go with the Windows 7 look and feel or opt for a more “Modern” look. Programs/apps can still be grouped into folders (done by default unless you choose otherwise) and everything is where you’d expect it to be.
The only downside to Start10 is the price. It starts at $4.99 for just the start menu bit or you can pay 10 times more for a bundle with other things like docks that you obviously don’t need. There’s a 30-day trial though so you can test it before making that final decision. Or, like I would advise, take a look at the next two start menu replacement apps on this list.
Like Start10, StartIsBack has already been catering to the start menu needs of Windows 8 and 8.1 users and just updated to include the Windows 10 user as well. By default, it offers a flat “Modern”-looking interface with more customization options still possible. It does everything that Start10 does but at $2.99 for a single PC, it is a much better deal than the former. At the price of Start10, you can get a StartIsBack++ license for two PCs while doubling that amount will get you a 5 PC license. That is still not cheap but it is the price you have to pay for being so clingy to your Windows 7 past. Or you could throw all that modesty out of the Window and go for Classic Shell. Even then, I doubt you’ll get the various awesome skins that are available for StartIsBack there. Also, unlike Start10, StartIsBack++ allows you to disable the stock Windows 10 start menu hence saving your resources.
3. Classic Shell
Unlike the other two Windows 10 start menu replacements, Classic Shell is free. You are only given an option to donate to the amazing developers behind the open source project who keep the app alive but you can simply grab it and forget Live Tiles and their ilk ever existed. Customization options include the ability to change the start orb, switching between old start menu styles like Windows 7 Basic and Windows XP Luna and even skins (well if you can build them yourself or stumble on good ones on the web).
I have used the three extensively and I really love what Start10 and StartIsBack++ have to offer. Classic Shell is not a bad choice either and since it is free, you can never go wrong with it, but it is neither here nor there. The former two may be pricey at $5 and $3 a piece, respectively, but they enjoy good developer support right from their Windows 8 days and you won’t be overwhelmed with complex options to just get something so simple going. Or you could just try to be normal and live with the Windows 10 start menu. There is nothing wrong with it really and all it needs is some getting used to. From a personal experience that’s not as easy as it sounds so I’ll be keeping my alternatives while going back occasionally after every update to see what’s new. What about you?