Free Start Menus for Windows 8
Start Menu Software/Replacements for Windows 8
Free Start Menu Replacements/Software for Windows 8
With Microsoft's attempt to move Windows away from being a desktop operating system into one focused on tablet users (or so it seems to me), it removed the Start Menu from Windows 8, replacing it with something that is more suitable for the tablet. This is turn spawned an entirely new software industry overnight, with a multitude of software developers, both commercial vendors and hobbyist programmers, writing Start Menu replacements to fill one of the usability holes vacated by Microsoft.
The freeware and/or open source software listed below will add a Start button and its associated menu to your Windows 8 system. You can then invoke the menu to see a list of programs installed on your system, run them, customise (or "customize" in US English) the list, pin programs to the menu, or even search for a program by using the built-in search field. Depending on the program you download, the start menu may take on the appearance of the built-in ones that come with previous Windows version or have its own unique design. There is even one that looks very Windows-8-ish (in terms of visual appearance).
A side benefit of using the Start Menu is that most (if not all) of the software will also allow you to boot directly to the Windows 8 desktop, instead of letting you be forced into the tablet interface (or the "Metro" interface, as it is commonly referred to) and then having to waste time manually switching to the desktop. Another benefit is that some of them also place a "Shut down" button on the menu, so that you can actually turn off your Windows 8 computer without jumping through hoops.
Incidentally, if you are using a computer bought from one of the well-known computer brands, you also may want to explore the free start menu software that those companies provide their customers. (Yes, the big-name computer manufacturers provide their own start menu replacements too! As I said, it's now an industry. Before Windows 8, there were probably only two or so programs that replaced your start menu. Now, we have zillions.) Unfortunately, the start menus from the hardware companies tend to work only on their computers, and are thus not listed below. They also have varying levels of capability (and not all of them can skip to the desktop).
Note: I know there are lots of other free start menu software around that are not listed here. It takes a while for me to weed out those that are just scams/fakes that put some malware on your system, crippleware (of a commercial version where the free version is crippled so much that it's really useless for the normal user), and repackaging of an open source menu under another name. If I wait until I sort everything out, this page will never be published, since there are so many, with probably a lot more on the way. However, if you know of any not listed, don't let that stop you from letting me know, just in case I really don't know about that program. And, as usual, if you spot any listed software that have turned bad (eg, now contains malware, or the website now redirects to some irrelevant site), please let me know too (urgently, in this case).
On a separate note, since you are using Windows 8, you may also be interested in free DVD player software, since the bundled Windows Media Player no longer handles DVDs.
Free Start Menus for Windows 8
ClassicShell is a veteran among all the start menus listed here. It was born even before Windows 8, and can be used to replace the start menu on Windows 8 and 7. The menu is customisable ("customizable" in certain variants of English), has the search box of Windows 7 in addition to the usual menu items, is able to skip the Metro (tablet interface) screen, can be used to disable the Metro hot corners, supports jump lists, shut down the computer, etc. It has been translated into some 35 languages (at the time this review was written). ClassicShell has other optional features for Windows 7 (which you can elect not to install when setting up the software).
The start menu produced by StartW8 is activated with the Windows key and has a style reminiscent of Windows 8 (sharp corners for buttons and menus). The menu itself has the usual functionality of the start menus of Windows 7. That is, it has a search field; "All programs" menu; "Control panel"; "Documents"; a "Shut down" button that expands to a submenu that lets you shut down, restart, lock the computer, sign out (ie, log off), switch user and sleep, and so on. It lets you configure which menus you want on the Start menu (for example, you can allow or disallow the Music folder, Video folder, Devices and printer, etc). It apparently also has an option where you can disable the hot corner. The program is available in 25 languages.
Power8 creates a sort of start window when you press the Alt+Z key, displaying it in the desktop corner nearest your mouse cursor. From this start window, you can access the start menu, the control panel, the network neighbourhood, jump lists, list of recently launched applications, search, shut down the system, etc. The site boasts that the software does not modify your system by patching system files, hook system objects, add rubbish to your registry, add services or drivers, etc. This software requires .NET Framework 4, and while it is meant for Windows 8, will apparently also work on Windows 7 SP 1 and even XP SP 3. There also appears to be localisations for a number of languages, for those of you who don't use an English version of Windows. This program is released under the GNU General Public License, and is open source.
- Windows 8 Start Menu Application
This software provides a resizable start menu for Windows 8. At the time this is written, it displays the usual list of programs without any search field, although it has a button which you can click to get the run prompt. It is resizable in that you can switch it to one of 2 sizes. This software requires .NET Framework 4.5.
(Note the site is in German, but according to the description, the button can be used on English and German systems.) This start button puts a button on the task bar that activates a start menu that has the Windows 8 aesthetic style. You can then search from the menu, launch applications or control panel applets, shut down the computer, etc.
- Spesoft Windows 8 Start Menu
This start menu appears to add a Windows 7-style menu to Windows 8, including a search field, the ability to pin items to the menu, a recently launched program list and a shut down button.
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