Excerpted from ExtremeTech Ezine
In a previous blog, I talked about Windows 8 and how there is no longer a “Start” button in Desktop Mode. I have also read
a few tech articles on how people are complaining about it. Well don’t fret, I also mentioned in my blog that there are a
few very good “Start Button” replacements some even better than Microsofts own Windows 7 Start menu, that bring back the
Start button and make your PC look and feel just like Windows 7 did.
Here are a few Start Button replacement apps:
StartIsBack – ($3 or a free 30 daytrial)
If you want a Start menu replacement that looks exactly like Windows 7, StartIsBack is for you. You get the same Start menu
orb icon, the same search box, the same jump lists, and — for better or worse — even the same Aero transparency!
StartIsBack even detects if your system needs to restart to apply some patches; it really is just like the Windows 7 Start
Where StartIsBack diverges from the Windows 7 Start menu, though, is configurability: StartIsBack is fully customizable,
and includes a handful of useful Windows 8-specific features, too. You can configure which hot corners are enabled, make
your PC jump straight to the Desktop when it first boots up, and configure a key combo to show the Windows 8 Start screen
(Win+Ctrl by default). If Start menu and taskbar transparency aren’t your thing, StartIsBack lets you disable it — and you
can change the Start button orb icon, too.
Pokki – (Free)
Where StartIsBack tries to replicate the Windows of yesteryear, Pokki (free) is very much its own beast — and as much as I
love the Windows 7 Start menu, I have to admit that Pokki is probably even better. It utilizes a neat “pinning” system that
isn’t unlike the home screen of your smartphone or tablet (though I would argue that the Windows taskbar/superbar still
does a better job). You can also add widgets to Pokki, such as Gmail or Facebook, which display your latest email or status
By default, Pokki will configure your Windows 8 system to boot straight to the Desktop — and there is an option that will
just completely disable the hot corners, if you so desire. (Remember, Win+C pops open the Charms menu, if you need.)
If you want the Windows 7 Start menu look-and-feel, but you’re not prepared to fork out a few dollars for StartIsBack or
Start8, StartMenu8 is a solid alternative. While the interface won’t win any prizes — it feels a lot like the early Linux
apps that ruthlessly ripped off Windows — you get a fair amount of configurability, and a handful of Windows 8-specific
toggles that are very useful.
By default, StartMenu8 will skip the Windows 8 Start screen and go straight to the Desktop, and disable Windows 8′s hot
corners. There’s also the option to disable the sidebar, if you really don’t ever want to see Windows 8 ever again. The
StartMenu8 button icon can be altered, and you can add and remove which links appear up the right side of the Start menu.
Overall, StartMenu8 looks and feels a bit clunky — and, incidentally, watch out for some “bundleware” during the
Classic Shell (free, Open Source)
Classic Shell is free, open-source donationware that gives you the option of a classic (Windows 98ish), Windows XP, or
Vista/7 Start menu. At its most basic, it puts a Start button back on your taskbar — but as always with third-party
utilities, it has a ton of other features and settings that you can tweak to your heart’s content (in Classic Shell’s case,
there’s probably too many tweakable settings). There is apparently an option for Classic Shell to boot straight to Desktop,
but I couldn’t find it.
One strong point of Classic Shell is that it successfully rebinds your Start key, so that the Start menu pops up instead of
the new Metro Start screen. Hitting the Start key from Metro pops up Classic Shell, too. Other Start menu replacements
don’t usually cope quite so well.
Start8 ($5, free 30 day trial)
Finally, a commercial offering that will set you back $5: Start8. Start8 is very similar to Classic Shell or StartMenu8,
but it’s just a little bit smoother. Start8′s configuration interface is much easier to use (and easier on the eyes), and
the actual Start menu feels much more like a contiguous part of Windows.
Start8 has a curious option where you can actually have the Metro Start screen pop up as a menu, rather than full-screen.
This is kinda neat, though you’re probably better off sticking to the normal Windows 7-style Start menu replacement.
Like Pokki, Start8 can disable your hot corners and boot directly to Desktop. Start8 also has a bunch of configuration
options for how the Start key interacts with Desktop and Metro, which can be useful if you’re looking for a very specific
Personally, I have tried all these (there are many more out there, but this is a good start) and I find both Classic Shell
and Pokki have plenty of options to satisfy me and of course they are free.
So if you are ready to give up on Windows 8, give one of these a try, it just might change your mind!!