Should Microsoft add the start menu back to Windows 8?

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 13, 2013
Windows, Windows 8

The missing start menu is without doubt one of the most controversial topics when it comes to the Windows 8 operating system.

Only a few issues have caused this much controversy. If you ask me, only the two interfaces and the touch centric Start Screen are as controversial as it.

Third-party companies started to create solutions to bring back the start menu to Windows 8, and from what little information have been released, rather successfully.

Start Menu applications such as Classic Shell, Start8 or Pokki have been downloaded by millions of users.

Microsoft took note and added a basic start menu back to the Windows 8.1 update. This was nothing more than a visual representation of the Windows-X menu though, and not sufficient for most users as it did not link to programs at all.

A rumor spread a couple of days ago that Microsoft was thinking about restoring the start menu functionality to the next version of Windows 8.

My colleagues over at Betanews are in disagreement, with Brian believing that Microsoft should not restore the start menu functionality and Mark thinking that Microsoft should add it to the next version of Windows.

It is clear that a start menu alone won't save Windows 8. The operating system has a bad reputation much like Vista had one back when it was released. It took Microsoft two service packs to turn Vista around, and while it is too early to tell, it could take two updates to turn around Windows 8 as well.

Again, it is my opinion that a start menu alone does not change user perception of the operating system a lot. I have several explanations for that, but the main one is this:

It is easy enough to add a start menu back to the operating system. If you miss it, install a free or paid start menu software and you have it back up and running in a matter of minutes.

It should not keep anyone from using the operating system, especially since it introduces several new technologies and features that Windows 7 does not offer.

Changes to the two interface system on the other hand might.

I never really understood why Microsoft pushed the focus on desktop systems that much towards touch and the start screen interface. The first lacks a wider distribution of touch-supporting hardware, the second features that would improve how desktop users work with the system.

The one thing that could save Windows 8 in my opinion is either the merging of those two interfaces into one, or to make the Start Screen an optional component on desktop systems. I would not really care if it would be enabled by default and needed to be disabled during setup, or if it would be the other way around.

It is highly unlikely that Microsoft will remove the store from the operating system. What I'd like to see would be a unified interface at the very least that you could run apps and legacy software on.

So, one interface only that is optimized based on the type of hardware that you use.


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  1. Owen L. said on December 27, 2013 at 7:44 pm

    I agree with smaragdus, I have been using Classic Shell on my main PC running Win7 for a few years now and I also use Classic Shell on my Win8 laptop that I bought for school. Without Classic Shell, Windows 8 would be unusable, in my opinion. Friends who have seen my workspace have asked me to duplicate my efforts on their PCs.

  2. Dave said on December 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    The start menu has to return. Windows is unusable like that. The only thing that has to be removed are the square tiles.

  3. SteveSi said on December 16, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    No – please MS, don’t bring back the Start Menu to Win8 – then I will feel that I have to upgrade from Win7 and it will cost me money!

  4. PJGU said on December 16, 2013 at 5:15 am

    I am one of the users who was not loving the start screen at all, and still find no real use for it. I never use it. That being said, if MS wants to insist that it remain, then fine….whatever. I actually like Windows 8, but there are some issues that MS needs to address. The average user knows nothing about hybrid shutdown….but since W8 uses it, and since it can cause problems, some sort of notice to all users needs to be made available ASAP that describes hybrid shutdown, what it is, and how to perform a regular, true shutdown in the event of problems. Also, the number of error messages that I (and apparently many others) encounter in my event viewer is just shocking and basic BS. According to some MS posters in their support forums, the response most often likely heard from MS about event viewer errors is to ignore them. Umm…no. Those errors are occurring for a reason, and they are not errors that I ever saw in Windows XP, Vista, or 7. These errors are not unique to me or my system. If I search the Internet for most of my error messages, many have already gone before me trying to fix said errors. Things like the Windows Store causing repeated errors, and permissions issues that have to be hand edited by the user after standing on one’s head and rubbing a rabbit’s foot are simply ridiculous. The errors that are being experienced repeatedly by a large and diverse group of users should not be ok, nor should MS be advising anyone to just ignore them. Another oddity that makes zero sense is MS’s silent insistence that users with a mobile AMD CPU/GPU have to use a Microsoft WDDM video driver if they want to play MS games from the Store like Adera. mS support will not directly address the issue, but users who attempt to update their video driver to one written by AMD then get to experience repeated game crashes and a complete inability to load or play the game. Once the driver is restored to the older MS driver, all is well. .???? Just not ok.
    As far as the start menu….well, I do like it, but I can adapt and work without it too. I think it should be an option.

  5. mikebravo said on December 15, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    Bought a laptop with win 8.1 because the price was right. Won’t do that again. Seriously thinking about buying a full retail version of win 7 to have on hand in case the next release is no better. Looks like when Microsoft loses it still wins.

  6. pappanoodles said on December 15, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Retired systems guy here. So far this December have tweaked 4 brand new (Xmas presents) laptops to boot to desktop. Next week have 3 more to do and 3 home visits. Thanks Microsoft! You act like a bully, expect people to follow you like obedient sheep but you have given an old wrinkly techy a truly worthwhile past time! My users range from housewives to teenagers to company director. They all want rid of the nursery/ kindergarten start tiles. Most opted for Classic Shell. Its nice to see a new laptop user with a grin rather than a frown!

  7. Paul A. said on December 15, 2013 at 5:36 am

    Reports that the Start Menu is coming back would be more interesting if Microsoft weren’t’t making users wait until 2015 before it happens. I’ll just keep using Start8 until then, but I will pity the non-tech savy people who won’t know how to do this before then.

  8. Tom said on December 15, 2013 at 12:42 am

    Having the old Start Menu back as an optional feature is the right choice so everyone able to use or avoid it as they wish.

  9. doe said on December 14, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Do DTP and use XP and 7. I have been using computers full time since 1987 and have seen Microsoft take what was a decent operating system as it developed and not only add bloat but alienate users with their “innovations” along the way. Then there’s the appearance. Who wants to view those garish icons, by default big, that cover much of the screen…unless one knows how to customize with third party programs which the general population doesn’t. Microsoft unfortunately has not listened to the geeks who blog and give wonderful insight into their problems. Much of this could have been avoided or even solved if they had. When I need a computer upgrade is needed it will, in all likelihood, be a Macintosh…not Windows 8!

  10. kalmly said on December 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    I don’t understand Microsoft continuing to ignore the complaints of its customers. Myself, I wouldn’t miss the Start Menu since I don’t use it. I use a launcher and I use Explorer. However, if I were trying to sell a product, I would listen to my client base.

    I have other reasons for avoiding Win8 that have to do with the dumbing down, the Windows store, and the plain old ugliness.

    This is what I would like to see: CHOICES. Let me buy the OS that works for me, either Win9 for Idiots, Win9 for Smarties, Win9 for Brainies. When I install, give me some more options: Metro or Classic, Social Media or Productivity or Both, Customizable Interface or Ugly, Windows (of every imaginable size placed wherever you want) or Full Screen only, etc., etc., etc.

    People use their computers in different ways, and as things continue to change the gap widens. Maybe it’s time to split the OS, or should I say go back to splitting the OS? Do you watch movies or television shows on your computer? I don’t. Do a kazillion photos reside on your hard drive? There are twenty-eight on mine. Do you Facebook? Tweet? I don’t. Do you text and phone and chat with friends online? I don’t. Do you use cloud apps? Not me. Is your browser the most important application on your system? It isn’t mine. Do you spend most of your computer time online? I don’t.

    So, why are we trying to use the same OS? Well, ’cause that’s all there is.

    1. Sonny said on December 16, 2013 at 7:38 am

      I generally hate “I agree…” responses but, in this case I’ll have to say that I thought I was the only person on the planet who actually uses his HOME computer to get real work done. Thanx kalmly. It’s nice to know I’m not really alone in this solar system.

  11. Dave said on December 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Not only they should return the start menu but also remove the squares. I hate them . So ugly and inefficient.

  12. jimmyjamesjimmy said on December 14, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    i remember when win7 came out everyone in the forums liked it and approved of it as a valid upgrade from vista. the same thing didn’t occur with win8, everyone hated it even before it hit retail. that’s a bad sign and something ms should have noticed. surprised they didn’t or didn’t care enough.

  13. Karl J. Gephart said on December 14, 2013 at 7:18 am

    Start Menu X is my personal favorite. Martin, I’m with you, there’s no reason MS can’t have one GUI (call it desktop, start menu, whatever) with their ugly-looking flat tiles and program icons or all of one type of shortcut on the desktop, and native start menu, and taskbar. Since the time I was first reading about Win 8’s split-personality interface, I thought, “What?!” It’s completely asinine!

  14. sumt said on December 14, 2013 at 7:11 am

    It will be too late for me, already gave up on it. Windows isn’t giving me anything to support my productivity, it is only making it worse. There is nothing why should I follow the path of Microsoft’s decisions of making a bad OS for the desktop.

    I feel like I opened my eyes and were then able to look for alternatives. I should thank Microsoft for this, because I’m really happy for the one I found.

    Answer; they should forget windows 8 and move on to separating the OS for different platforms.

    1. InterestedBystander said on December 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm

      I feel much the same; Win 8 made me move definitively out of the Windows microcosm. (That’s not completely true. Windows had become aggravating for other reasons as well.) But now OS have become a little like web browsers for me. While I stay with Ubuntu for most work, I bounce to a couple of other OS sometimes. And of course at work I’m on Win 7 and, deities help me, XP. So I’m curious, sumt — what alternative(s) do you use?

  15. Wayfarer said on December 14, 2013 at 3:16 am

    I use Classic Shell and wouldn’t be without it. I operate entirely from the desktop and haven’t used the apps side of Win8 in a year. I WOULD be without Win8 in a New York Minute if I could exchange it for Win7 for free.

  16. Gonzo said on December 14, 2013 at 2:52 am

    The uninitiated fail to recognize that Win 8 isn’t just about a UX design. It’s about the API. Why do you think all the file extensions default to Metro apps???

    Accepting Windows 8 is the first step to accepting the death of Win32. That’s the real issue. It’s what has Enterprise and Gov’t so nervous. It’s what has publishers like Valve so upset (the thought of a neutered WinRT API and giving 30% of each sale to MS via the store).

    With Balmer out and no replacement named it’s too early to speculate which way they’ll go. Julie Larson-Green is a good one to watch. If she’s promoted or still in charge of the UX then expect Metro to live on. If not, then there’s hope.

    One thing is for certain, MS knows users want a classic Start Menu.

  17. jimmyjamesjimmy said on December 14, 2013 at 2:12 am

    if ms brings back the full start menu win8 will work. same goes for server 2012.
    i use win8.1 with classic shell. pretty much makes it useable.

  18. InterestedBystander said on December 14, 2013 at 1:17 am

    It’s interesting (to navel-gazing idiots like me, anyway) to think about Win 8 in evolutionary terms. For instance, iOS and Android are competing for the same phone-and-tablet niche, so they are co-evolving with neither taking huge risks. In the PC niche Apple is a 10-to-1 underdog, and has survived by maintaining a very solid, very user-centric OS. (Linux is an underdog-to-underdogs! And without corporate DNA, it seems to evolve greater variability than the other main OS: think of Puppy, Qubes, TAIL, Yellowdog, Bhodi). But in the PC niche Microsoft is so dominant that, like the only gorilla on an island of monkeys, it can grow a mutant hand that’s all thumbs if it wants to. (And it did.)

    The Win 8 desktop is a “hand that’s all thumbs”, perhaps, but the real dysfunction is the way Microsoft views innovation: as an exercise driven by theory and market guesswork. It should be a process of incremental improvement guided by user feedback. Will enough pain now be inflicted on Microsoft to make it really evolve, instead of indulging itself in corporate-driven mutation? Dunno! But since I’ve stepped away from Windows I sure enjoy watching the show.

    1. mousie said on December 15, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      Hahaaa. Well written my friend!

  19. JohnMWhite said on December 14, 2013 at 1:02 am

    Just look at that jumble of colours and icons in the main picture of this article. I do not understand how any panel of experts or focus group of cluster of testers could come to the conclusion that such an absolute schmozz is more efficient and user-friendly than an alphabetised and categorised menu of folders and shortcuts.

    It is a baffling mistake from Microsoft. Under the hood, Windows 8 ticks along fine even on aging hardware, but this bolted on pot-pourri offers nothing but irritation. It’s easily dealt with by installing a third-party Start Menu as so many here have already said, but it leaves a terrible taste in the mouth that somebody thought it was such a good idea they had to force it on Windows 8 adopters. Fans of the new Start Screen tend to simply dismiss critics as whining about change, but I never really see anybody offer reasons why this change is, to be specific, better than what came before.

  20. smaragdus said on December 13, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    If Classic Shell didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have been using Windows 8. For me Classic Shell is far better than the original Start Menu. Using Classic Shell I have disabled many of the Windows 8 nuisances like the Start Screen and the Charms. In my opinion not the Start Menu but the Start Screen should be optional- I really don’t know a single person who likes or uses the Start Screen, which is absolutely terrible. It is no surprise that there are so many Start Menu replacements- both commercial and free. These replacements become more and more popular which clearly indicates that Start Screen is widely disliked.

  21. Henk van Setten said on December 13, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    To me, the whole start menu discussion is fairly irrelevant. After all, with a few tweaks anyone can set things right. The touch-centric design of some hard-to-avoid UI elements is in my view a much bigger problem.
    I think a Windows 9 should auto-adapt to the hardware it detects, so it should default to a fully touch-centric UI on tablets, and to a fully mouse-friendly UI on desktops.
    One more thing: people tend to overlook that there are so many other things that made Win8 unpopular with customers. Just one example? My bedroom TV is a DVB tuner coupled to a Win7 pc, using the WMC (Windows Media Center) that was an integral part of Win7. Microsoft removed WMC from Win8 and now requires you to pay some $100 extra for it: you also need to upgrade your Win8 version to be able to install it.
    Things like this make Win8 not just customer-unfriendly, but (feature-wise) more like a downgrade.
    I have some friends who still use XP. I keep advising them to get their hands on a legal Win7 box, before it’s too late.

  22. KK said on December 13, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Win 8.1 with Classic Shell

    Game over. Works PERFECT.

    I fail to see what the complaining is all about.
    Windows 8.1 is rock solid and works great.

    Those (new to 8.1) STUPID tile colors are horrible though.
    Microsoft, go back to the non colored tiles of Win 8!!!!

    1. BBurke33609 said on December 14, 2013 at 7:58 pm

      I was personally surprise that they haven’t given the ability to change the standard tiles to the accent color so they all are the same color like WIndows Phone. That should be real easy to allow. I personally think that the updates they do between the bigger release like 8.1 and 8.2 should just pick all of the low hanging fruit like that and maybe add some kind of basic tool to make your own panoramic backgrounds.

    2. imu said on December 13, 2013 at 11:13 pm

      You couldn’t be more right,I agree 120 %.

  23. Tim said on December 13, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    For me personally, I don’t use metro apps or even live tiles, however I prefer the new Start Screen to the old Start Menu. Afterall, I only use it to launch programs.

    But, I can understand why some people prefer use the old start menu. So to me it’s a no brainer really, there’s no reason why Microsoft couldn’t allow both and let the users choose which one they prefer to use.

    It’s not beyond the realms of possibility because there used to be an option to use the ‘classic’ start menu in older versions of Windows, which I always used to use. At the end of the day, the main part is just a different way to display C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs, so it’s not exactly going to break anything to allow two different styles of menu.

  24. Redgrave said on December 13, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    It’s… debatable.

    I’m using 8.1 for almost a month now, working at my home laptop sometimes more than half a day. I don’t mind it’s not there, it’s not really needed… I don’t feel its absence and the productivity is the same without even using workarounds.

    In the same time… it’s kinda ugly now. All it does is giving you a text based menu. If they got it back they should have made it like before, the same desktop interface, animations, icons, etc.

    What I got used to was that in the Start menu I’ve kept some programs rarely used (ironically) but used now and then. Now I’m keeping a few of them as shortcuts on desktop, mainly because I’m too lazy to go all the way in Program Files after them when/if I need them.

    Also… I’m not a fan of the Modern interface, but hitting the Windows key kinda makes sense to take you in the Modern interface when you need it.

    1. BBB said on December 16, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      Ow wait I forgot to mention something in the New layout style in MicroHARD PROGRAMS! IT’S MADE FOR HEARING IMPAIRED PEOPLE DUE TO ALL THE YELLING.
      (sorry if i offended someone not MSFT)

      We all learned through the ages accept the proper netiquette that capitals means yelling and is not done.
      Now MSFT use it as a standard font :(

    2. BBurke33609 said on December 14, 2013 at 7:50 pm

      This is generally what the generally opinion is once someone really uses windows 8.1 for a week or so. MS really needs to evolve Metro and the desktop to play to the strengths of both.

  25. Ben said on December 13, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    I put a hammer through my Windows 8 surface Pro tablet after an update forced me to log on with Windows Live making it possible for Microsoft to track every thing I did. I then bought a top notch Linux notebook from ThinkPenguin and it boots up just as fast as fast as Windows 8 Pro. Microsoft has lost one more customer as the start menu was the least of my beefs.

    1. BBurke33609 said on December 14, 2013 at 7:44 pm

      You’re an idiot if you destroyed a $1000 tablet like that. Of course everyone knows you never actually did own one.

  26. Kneyfield said on December 13, 2013 at 6:24 pm

    I believe the option is needed and would have preferred to see this introduced in 8.1 already!

    Since running Windows 7 on my new laptop isn’t possible without major issues – thanks to some missing but essential drivers for the older operating system – I have taken on the task of recreating my well-known 7 desktop in Windows 8.1. With tools such as StartIsBack+ – which is totally worth the small amount of money – and some other experimental software to get the old transparency/alpha blending feature back, I’ve come a long way.

    What I’ve learned in the process is easy to summarize: Windows 8(.1) is not a bad piece of software and actually has quite a bit of potential, much of which is sadly well hidden all too often, but the new operating system was severely harmed by Microsoft’s obstinate behavior.

    A number of small developers have created interesting and helpful tools and they have hopefully earned a well-deserved nest-egg with their software. If Microsoft keeps driving their customers to these third party developers, some people will sooner or later look for alternatives, where they don’t have to fork over additional money for (once included and since) removed functions. With the globalized shift of gaming away from the PC, there’s less and less of an obligation to run a Windows operating system anyway, because a lot of software has an alternative which is open source.

    Maybe Microsoft has seen that, or maybe there’s a different reason for this shift, who knows?! As long as there’s an option to give users back their choice, all is well.

    1. BBB said on December 16, 2013 at 12:06 pm

      You’re absolutely right, if they don’t fix this, this will be the end of windows desktops. i repeat .

      As more and more things are as easily done on a tablet the need for desktop demish.
      As they drive away gamers to PS4 ;) the need for desktop demish.
      As they haras normal desktop users like you say , one will look for alteratives.
      The touch interface and window-key commands are not suitable for easy work in a virtual environment, also business users will be searching for better ways.

      Another things that drives me mad are:
      * “W8 uses less mouse clicks to do somethings” is completely wrong as mouse clicks are replaced by mouse hovering = more time then 1 click.
      * the need for a live account is so pushed, I know you can try to do without , but for each additional thing it’s there again.
      * The Charmbar popping up above your scrollbars, = yeah it now also takes more time to start scrolling, as you have to wait for the charm to disappear.
      This saddens me a lot coz W8-kernel is so much better than the Win7-kernel.
      Only you don’t see that, and don’t work/interact with the kernel but with the GUI, and this more than negates the benefits.

  27. ilev said on December 13, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    I don’t use and won’t use Windows 8.. until there will be a option to not install/remove those dancing-fisher-price-tiles.
    It seems that in addition to bringing back the Start Menu Microsoft is considering to get rid of the Metro tiles as well, which will be a great move.

    As Microsoft is dumping 450 million XP users, dumped Windows Mobile 6.5 users in favour of WP7, dump WP7 users for WP8, it will in a heartbeat dump a couple of millions WP8 and WinRT users for new WP9 .

    1. BBurke33609 said on December 14, 2013 at 7:43 pm

      This rumor from Eldar about MS going to an Android inspired UI for Windows9 is just a rumor from a guy that gets more wrong than right. Also they haven’t picked the new CEO yet. No one can say that they will change everything when that person who will control the decision making at the corp is still unchosen. So also think about this guy using the phrase “Android Inspired”. Android is basically a bunch of icons on a desktop-like space with some widgets. You’re basically saying that a rumor saying MS is going to go back to Vista style interface with better gadgets is actually believable? You also think MS is going to break the current app structure so they go back to a store with no apps? The guy who ran windows phone for the past few years is now running all OS development now. It sounds much more like they will be trying to push out Windows XP because WIndows 8 isn’t going to do that.

      MS will probably step back and integrate the desktop and start screen and probably adding control elements directly into tiles, like opening the app directly to the content that is being displayed on the tile and play pause fast forward audio. All they need to do is tie all the current UI elements together in an intuitive way.

    2. Martin Brinkmann said on December 13, 2013 at 6:12 pm

      I hope they do, but they may be a year too late for that. If they would release 8.2 shortly before April 2014, and run a promo to update to the system again, they would be able to catch quite some XP users this way.

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