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Opening Windows 8: A Tale of 2 Start menus

Written by Rich Fiscus (Google+) @ 10 Nov 2012 13:11 User comments (16)

Opening Windows 8: A Tale of 2 Start menus So you've decided to use Windows 8. Maybe you wanted to take advantage of the unusually low upgrade price, maybe you just bought a new computer, or perhaps you're just trying it out to see if you like it. Whatever your reasons there's a very good chance either you have already added a Start menu of some kind, are considering adding a Start menu, or are in the process of evaluating your options for adding a Start menu.
Strictly speaking a Start menu isn't necessary in Windows 8. Everything that was available on the Start menu in Windows 7 can be found elsewhere in Windows 8. Sometimes it's even much more convenient aside from a moderate learning curve. On the other hand even people (like me) who already saw the Start menu as dated & in need of an overhaul may find Microsoft's alternatives unacceptably weak & poorly designed. In fact while Microsoft changes the Start menu with each new version of Windows if anything it seems to have gone downhill in Windows 7 before disappearing entirely in Windows 8.

For whatever weaknesses it may have, the Start menu has been arguably one of just three or four elements which have defined the Windows desktop interface since 1995. In fact you can usually identify the exact version of Windows a computer is running by simply examining the Start menu's appearance. For more than a decade it expanded both figuratively and literally to the point where you could access nearly every setting or feature in Windows from its confines. That expansion had all but stopped in Windows 7, and in fact some people would argue that Start menu was a step backwards.

If Microsoft's history tells us anything it's that they design every product to sell another product. For many years that meant Windows was designed as a host for Office, not surprising since those product lines were their biggest money makers. In Windows 8 the focus has shifted to the Windows Store which by extension means the Modern UI. Moving almost everything from the Start menu serves two purposes. First it pushes desktop users to the Modern UI regularly to reach the missing Start menu items. It also ensures tablet users won't have to leave the Modern UI unless they're actually running a desktop program.

Of course every version of Windows over at least the last decade and a half has taken away popular features which could easily have coexisted with whatever replaced them. This time, though, they have taken out the Start menu but haven't really replaced it with anything - at least not in the same UI. Now anyone, from power users all the way down to complete novices, can take control of their own Windows experience by installing your own Start menu software. You can choose a Start menu that emulates a specific version of Windows, offers features from multiple versions, or even adds features never available from Microsoft.

Classic Shell & Start8


A thorough review of every possible Start menu replacement for Windows 8 would take at least a week to write and possibly just as long to read. Instead I'll be focusing on just two programs, Classic Shell and Start8 should work. Some are focused on replicating the Start menu exactly as it was in one previous version of Windows or another while others are full of options never seen in any Start menu created by Microsoft.

I chose Classic Shell & Start8 primarily for two reasons. The first was price. Classic Shell is free, obviously the best possible price, but for a commercial program Start8's $4.99 pricetag is extremely reasonable. Next was maturity. Classic Shell is one of the oldest of the Start menu replacements, having originally been designed for customizing the Windows Vista Start menu to restore the Windows XP interface. While Start8 was developed specifically for Windows 8, it comes from Stardock, a company already known for their UI customization tools like WindowBlinds, ObjectDock & Fences.

Finally I wanted to make sure to include both a free & a commercial option. While a lot of people naturally gravitate to free software for obvious reasons, others feel just as compelled to stick with payware. Some people just expect commercial software is going to be more stable or better supported. For others it's simply an issue of trusting an established vendor. I won't address any those issues but will attempt to explain why a commercial product may (or may not) be worth choosing over a free alternative.

Classic Shell


Before I talk about Classic Shell a disclaimer is probably in order. I'm a compulsive interface tweaker, & I've been making extensive use of Start menu customization options for more than a decade. That's partly a reflection of the amount of time I spend on my computer & the wide array of programs I use. I manually organize my program shortcuts into folders, set the Control panel option to display as a sub-menu rather than opening in a window & remove unwanted options like recently opened documents.

Of all the UI enhancements I've ever used, which is more than I can remember, Classic Shell is far & away the most impressive. Using just the basic settings you can quickly configure a Start menu that looks & feels almost exactly like those found in Windows Vista or Windows XP. You can even revert to the older single column style interface. In fact aside from its unique Start button most people would have to look pretty hard to notice it's not an actual Microsoft Start menu.

Basic Start menu replacement using Classic Shell


At the same time it offers a level of customization far exceeding anything Microsoft has offered in any version of Windows. You can quickly & easily customize everything from the delay before opening a submenu when your mouse pointer hovers over it to the sounds you hear for various Start menu related events. In fact there are so many customization options (in the Advanced configuration view only) that it could take hours to figure out what each one does if not for the extremely helpful tooltips included for each & every one.

Most significant for me (keep in mind my previous disclaimer) was the ability to completely rearrange the order various items appear on the toolbar, completely remove literally anything I want, & even add completely custom menu entries. The interface is similar to those used for building custom toolbars in many Windows programs for more than a decade. In fact it reminded me a lot of creating custom toolbars in the pre-Ribbon versions of Microsoft Office. You can put pretty much every item on the Start menu in any position in the menu.

That feature alone was enough to convince me not only that Classic Shell should be a baseline to compare all other Start menu replacements against, but also that it would be ideal in Windows 7. If you have ever looked at the Start menu & thought how much better it could be if you could just add or remove one or two particular items this should be a dream come true. You can even add custom commands for functionality above & beyond what even the developer considers essential.

Some of Classic Shell's advanced Start menu configuration options


Don't get the wrong idea. For all its features Classic Shell's interface is consistently simple & straight forward. It's not quite perfect. From time to time you may find yourself customizing a feature only to find that it doesn't apply because some other setting removes it entirely. It would be nice if there were better intelligence built into the interface to avoid that. On the other hand that's really my only complaint so it's hard to complain.

In addition to its Start menu related features Classic Shell also includes enhancements for the File Explorer (actually its original purpose) as well as Internet Explorer 9 & 10. For Windows 8 it also adds options like bypassing the Start Screen during login & disabling corner hot spots so you don't accidentally open the Charms Bar or Modern UI task switching interface. Of course those are pretty much standard features for all Start menu replacements.

Start8


With the bar set so high by a free program like Classic Shell, it's hard to imagine what Start8 could offer to justify being payware. Maybe you just feel more comfortable with commercial software or perhaps you already own other Stardock UI enhancement programs & feel loyal to, or even just comfortable with, the brand. In fact if you have an Object Desktop subscription it doesn't even cost you any extra.

Setting those considerations aside & comparing Start8 to Classic Shell purely on the basis of what (and how much) they can do there really is no contest. Start8 is easy to configure & offers more or less the same functionality for disabling Windows 8 hot corners if they get in your way. In terms of customization, however, it's simply not in the same league as Classic Shell. In its basic Windows 7 style Start8 simply restores the Start menu interface from Windows 7. Options for customizing it, beyond what Microsoft offered in Windows 7, are pretty much limited to cosmetic changes, & even those are extremely limited.

Basic Start menu replacement using Start8


That's perhaps a little strange considering how many tools Stardock sells to customize just about every other element of the desktop UI. It seems like they were so afraid of devaluing their other tools, most of which cost twice as much, that they didn't even bother to check on anyone else's products. If history is any indication that's exactly the wrong move. The market for Windows 8 Start menu replacements isn't the same one that programs like WindowBlinds & ObjectDock dominate. It's an entirely new market where Classic Shell seems to have already taken a commanding lead.

In fact there's really only one feature in Start8 I found particularly interesting & that's an option to use the Windows 8 Start Screen as an alternate Start menu. It was literally the last Start8 option I tested & also the most original. This could be the feature which potentially makes Start8 worth the money, at least for a very specific (and probably very small) group of Windows 8 users.

If you are using Windows 8 on a tablet & happen to use a lot of desktop applications via the touch interface you might find what Stardock calls the Windows 8 style Start menu useful. When you click the Start button with this option enabled the Start Screen, or rather a portion of the Start Screen is appears rather than the traditional Start menu.

Using the Start Screen as a Start menu


To be honest I really don't know what I think of this interface because I don't have a tablet to test it on just yet. If you are paying for a tool like Start8 to get your Start menu back I can pretty much guarantee you won't want to use it with a keyboard & mouse. Then again if you're using a tablet I'm not sure it offers any real advantage over the default option of switching to the full Start Screen to run a program.

The beginning of an era?


Last week I suggested we were on the verge of a revolution in the Windows desktop UI now that Microsoft has turned their focus to the Modern UI. The more popular Classic Shell gets, the more confident I am we're already seeing it happen. Regardless of how people feel about it now I think the anguish will pass as people come to realize the advantages of separating the user interface from Windows.

Changes to the UI, especially the Start menu, are nothing new. In recent years, though, the changes from one version to the next haven't really served any practical purpose. Considering they lifespan of a modern computer is significantly longer than the Windows release cycle it would make a lot more sense for UI to change as little as possible with each new release. Likewise it makes less & less sense for interface improvements to be limited to new OS versions.

Is there really any legitimate justification for forcing you to learn a new Start menu interface to do the exact same things you did with the old one? Do you want to be forced to upgrade the OS on multiple computers just to keep the UI consistent? Most importantly do you really need Microsoft telling you how you should interact with your computer?

I, for one, would rather put my trust in someone like Classic Shell developer Ivo Beltchev. Classic Shell's Start menu isn't just a fantastic option for Windows 8. As far as I'm concerned it's better than any Start menu Microsoft has ever produced.

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16 user comments

110.11.2012 13:23

You know what's really funny? Spending $15 on Windows 8 then reading someone calling spending $5 on a start menu, "reasonable".

210.11.2012 16:49

Originally posted by KSib:
You know what's really funny? Spending $15 on Windows 8 then reading someone calling spending $5 on a start menu, "reasonable".
Well reasonable is all relative isn't it? ;)

For example I donated $5 to the Classic Shell developer and for the features and overall value I'd call that a steal.

But I get your point. I don't necessarily think $5 is a reasonable price for Start8, which is purely based on Classic Shell being both free and far superior. $5 is cheap compared to Stardock's other software but now that Windows 8 has created a whole new market for UI enhancements and so many of them, ranging from the useless to the brilliant, are free all of Stardock's other tools have become over priced because it's a whole new market with entirely new competition.

I would point out, however, that the price of Windows has no direct relationship with the value of any other program. Value is determined by the market (ie customers) and generally heavily influenced by the competition. Windows is neither the market for Start8 nor is it competition. It may influence the actual value of Start8 but that's an indirect relationship decided by the entire potential customer base.
This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 10 Nov 2012 @ 16:55

Rich Fiscus
@Vurbal on Twitter
AfterDawn Staff Writer

310.11.2012 16:59

Whats even more funny is a comment on getting win 8 for 15.00 when you need to have a bought a new pc between what months again,there's another two catches as well ain't there pffft


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410.11.2012 19:42

If I install both of these programs. Do you think I'll have problems?

510.11.2012 21:54

Ah the old shell changers are back again.

The problem with these is they are screw up programs or even screw up windows itself causing more problems.

Winblinds is ok but causes memory hog problems for each window open then sucks up extra memory on top of any program memory used as the GFX themselves chew up GFX card memory and windows memory.

This was a problem for winblinds etc

Also 9 times out of 10 you get left with a basic shell setup and need to alter the shell cfg to be able to add what you want to the shell.

They become problems in their own right really.

MS should have pushed for touch screens and then released win8 rather than release win8 into a non touch screen world and say it's the way forward when 99% of the PC userbase can't use win8 properly.

I really like how they dump win8 on to brand new non touch screen laptops and than leave it to the seller to show how great win8 is when they can't use win8 or show how to use it properly themselves in the shop.

Had 1 guy trying to show off the different ways you can show up a stock ticker (share prices) to a chick who couldn't careless about share prices.

611.11.2012 1:06

Originally posted by xtago:
Ah the old shell changers are back again.

The problem with these is they are screw up programs or even screw up windows itself causing more problems.

Winblinds is ok but causes memory hog problems for each window open then sucks up extra memory on top of any program memory used as the GFX themselves chew up GFX card memory and windows memory.

This was a problem for winblinds etc



*rolls eyes*





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711.11.2012 1:19

Pushing 3rd-party start applications to make Windows 8 behave like Windows 7, on a desktop PC, speaks tremendously of Microsoft's failure to provide progressive improvement with their product.
This is not a good thing. As the industry abandons old technology to adopt the new, we all must follow along, eventually. I hope Microsoft can see to it to fix this oversight with the interface on a PC.


--pcdtv--

811.11.2012 11:32

Originally posted by rking_ad:
Pushing 3rd-party start applications to make Windows 8 behave like Windows 7, on a desktop PC, speaks tremendously of Microsoft's failure to provide progressive improvement with their product.
This is not a good thing. As the industry abandons old technology to adopt the new, we all must follow along, eventually. I hope Microsoft can see to it to fix this oversight with the interface on a PC.
Microsoft isn't pushing them...they think the new way is better...for their bottom line anyway.


911.11.2012 15:22

Originally posted by rking_ad:
Pushing 3rd-party start applications to make Windows 8 behave like Windows 7, on a desktop PC, speaks tremendously of Microsoft's failure to provide progressive improvement with their product.
This is not a good thing. As the industry abandons old technology to adopt the new, we all must follow along, eventually. I hope Microsoft can see to it to fix this oversight with the interface on a PC.
Gee it must be all those GUI customizations that is holding Linux back too.

Trying to back a version of Windows is nothing new. It has happened with every version of Windows so why would it stop now?

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1011.11.2012 19:50

I found Windows 8 to be problematic and i am not even talking about the start screen. I had it for a week and realized that I had a much better interface and better performance with Windows 7.

I am not against change, I am opposed to change for the worse.

But, Microsoft has influence. They have promised not to provide a much needed Service Pack 2 for Windows 7. They have removed Windows Widgets for two reasons, a suspected security threat, and to nudge you towards Windows 8. Although, this pertains to the legacy OS, aka 7, it is, nonetheless, a change in Microsoft's product support, as in less support. I suppose we can anticipate that Microsoft will provide even less support with Windows 8, i.e. no service packs. Perhaps, the developers will package all those updates and provide those for $5 a whack.

I am not against "backing an operating system". I just don't feel like letting Microsoft off the hook for what is an obviously inferior product where I am concerned.

This message has been edited since its posting. Latest edit was made on 11 Nov 2012 @ 19:51

--pcdtv--

1111.11.2012 21:20

Originally posted by xtago:
Ah the old shell changers are back again.

The problem with these is they are screw up programs or even screw up windows itself causing more problems.

Winblinds is ok but causes memory hog problems for each window open then sucks up extra memory on top of any program memory used as the GFX themselves chew up GFX card memory and windows memory.

This was a problem for winblinds etc

Also 9 times out of 10 you get left with a basic shell setup and need to alter the shell cfg to be able to add what you want to the shell.

They become problems in their own right really.

MS should have pushed for touch screens and then released win8 rather than release win8 into a non touch screen world and say it's the way forward when 99% of the PC userbase can't use win8 properly.

I really like how they dump win8 on to brand new non touch screen laptops and than leave it to the seller to show how great win8 is when they can't use win8 or show how to use it properly themselves in the shop.

Had 1 guy trying to show off the different ways you can show up a stock ticker (share prices) to a chick who couldn't careless about share prices.

Don't bash it till you have tried it. Classic Shell has been around since 2009, is extremely stable and adds back valuable features to Windows 7/8/Vista.

1212.11.2012 0:28

Originally posted by anonymuos:
Originally posted by xtago:
Ah the old shell changers are back again.

The problem with these is they are screw up programs or even screw up windows itself causing more problems.

Winblinds is ok but causes memory hog problems for each window open then sucks up extra memory on top of any program memory used as the GFX themselves chew up GFX card memory and windows memory.

This was a problem for winblinds etc

Also 9 times out of 10 you get left with a basic shell setup and need to alter the shell cfg to be able to add what you want to the shell.

They become problems in their own right really.

MS should have pushed for touch screens and then released win8 rather than release win8 into a non touch screen world and say it's the way forward when 99% of the PC userbase can't use win8 properly.

I really like how they dump win8 on to brand new non touch screen laptops and than leave it to the seller to show how great win8 is when they can't use win8 or show how to use it properly themselves in the shop.

Had 1 guy trying to show off the different ways you can show up a stock ticker (share prices) to a chick who couldn't careless about share prices.

Don't bash it till you have tried it. Classic Shell has been around since 2009, is extremely stable and adds back valuable features to Windows 7/8/Vista.
Member neglects to mention windows itself skins also so doesn't that mean windows would be a memory hog also perhaps some enlightenment yes?

read on

http://www.wincustomize.com/article/77493

for the record wb uses 3-5mb on xp or w7 machine respectively hardly memory hogging & yep that's what my task manager reads can't argue with that it's in black n white..lol..


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1316.11.2012 13:56

What happened to this article: Opening Windows 8: A customer born every minute


Oh, Im sorry... Did the middle of my sentence interrupt the beginning of yours?

1416.11.2012 14:12

The start menu is there. It is the Metro screen. When you mouse over the lower-left corner hotspot the start window appears. When you click on it (or press the windows keyboard key) it brings you to the Metro screen (which is also called the "Start" screen). Perhaps a little confusing, but it really is all there. They pretty much just made the win7's start orb a full screen window. There are a lot of really good improvements in win8 that overshadow the different start menu. + the fact that is only $39, and they are giving WMC free if you have Win8 Pro.

My only gripe so far is that for people with multiple monitors, corner hotspots don't really work. It is hard to get to the start menu and the charms menu because my mouse continues on to the other monitor!

1516.11.2012 17:39

Just want to say, I was not aware of Classic Shell. So I purchased Start8; having some of the programs from Stardock previously installed. I have upgraded to Windows 8, other than having minor program compatibility issues it is fine. Still working with it exploring the pros and cons.

1617.11.2012 12:18

I thought I should add "Classic Start" to this list for anyone looking for an alternative. It's available through ninite.com

I think it's free and seems to have a lot of options.

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