Add a Windows XP style Start Menu to Windows 8

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 6, 2014

Microsoft changed things around quite a bit in Windows 8 in comparison to previous systems the company released.  One of the major changes on the desktop part of the system was the removal of the start menu.

Seen by many as a foolish move and an attempt to force users to work with the Start Screen interface, it surely did not help convince users to upgrade to the new operating system.

The company tried to undo some of the damage that it has done with the release of the Windows 8.1 update, but many users felt that they were not sufficient.

While Microsoft did add a start menu to Windows 8, it is basic at best when compared to regular start menus of Windows 7 or even Windows XP.

Third-party start menu apps like Start8, Start Menu Reviver, or Classic Shell are downloaded in record numbers to bring back the feature to the desktop part of Windows 8.

If you are switching from Windows XP to Windows 8, you may prefer to install a start menu that resembles the XP menu instead of one that resembles that of Windows 7.

Windows XP Start Menu for Windows 8

The free portable app Spencer does that. It does work different from other start menu apps though, as you need to pin it manually to the taskbar to make it available there.

windows xp start menu windows8

While you can also just run the program from any other location on the system, it makes more sense to pin it to the taskbar so that it is available there at all times.

You do that with a right-click after you have downloaded and unpacked the archive, and the selection of pin to taskbar from the context menu that opens up.

When you run the application, it displays all folders and files of the start menu to you. This includes system folder such as Accessories, the run command, shut down or a link to the control panel.

Depending on how many programs you have installed, you may notice that the start menu exceeds the visible screen area so that you need to scroll to look at all items listed there.

You can customize the start menu to organize it better. To do so, open the folder C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs in File Explorer and delete program links and folders that you do not need, or create new folder categories and move multiple programs and folders into them.

Probably the biggest issue besides that is that there is no option to manipulate the layout or design in any way.  Plus, the icon does not replace the original start menu of Windows 8.1.


If you prefer to use a compact start menu like the one from Windows XP, then you may want to try out Spencer as it delivers exactly that.

If you ask me, I'd say it is too limiting as it does not offer customization options or options to remove, move or add items to the start menu this way.


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  1. Swarup said on March 12, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    If you want to use third party app then IObit Start Menu 8 for Windows 8 – is a good choice.

  2. theMike said on March 6, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    seriously, McAfee?

    1. Gregg DesElms said on March 7, 2014 at 12:32 am

      McAfee Site Advisor is the hands-down best WOT-like tool out there. You can hate everything else about McAfee (as I, in fact, do), but for what Site Advisor does, it’s best-of-breed. And, unlike WOT, which is crowd sourced, and so is just a big popularity contest wherein everyone argues with one another about how things should be rated…

      …McAfee uses its 30 years of anti-malware expertise and malware signature databases, loaded on its servers, to get out there and find websites and scan them for bad stuff. And since it’s not crowd-sourced, it’s legitimate bad stuff, measured against a valid standard, not just any knucklehead’s opinion, like with WOT.

      McAfee has scanned most of the Internet; and so nearly all Google search results shown in all the common browsers on computers with Site Advisor installed have little colored dots next to them: a green dot means the site’s safe; a yellow dot means go to the site with caution; and a red dot mean that the site should probably be stayed away from (though in all cases, even if Site Advisor pops-open a web page blocking and warning of either a yellow or red condition, you can easily just bypass it and go to the site anyway). If you first want to know what McAfee thinks is wrong with the site, then you can first go to McAfee’s page for said site and see what it says…

      …as I did with The SZ site, in my previous post.

      And it’s all free; though there’s a commercial, fee-based version that has more features.

      SEE |

      Then scroll to the bottom of the page for both a free-vs-paid comparison chart, and also the download link for the free version.

      No other tool — not WOT, not COMODO’s kinda’ sorta’ similar tool, not TrendMicro’s similar tool (actually, I’m not even sure that either COMODO or TrendMicro even offer them anymore, but they used to) — none of them can touch what Site Advisor does; and only Site Advisor has scanned as many websites out there.

      No, Site Advisor is not perfect; it has… well… it doesn’t have a lot of false positives, but when it gets one, it can be a pain in the rear to get the company to change it. It used to be nightmarish, but it’s better now; though, still, the company can be slow to review and change.

      Back when it was nightmarish, I had a talk with a director, there, about it; and it was right after that that McAfee added the “request a review” button on each web page’s Site Advisor report to make it super-easy and fast to get McAfee to do a manual scan and review to remove all false positives. I explained that a false positive will keep nearly every McAfee Site Advisor user from visiting a site; and it’s not fair to punish a site that’s not done anything wrong, like that. I cited this site…

      …as an example of one I happened to know once had a false positive, and it took me (working on behalf of the site owner) a day and a half to even get to the right people to take a second look, determine what was the problem, and then give the site a “green” rating. I told the McAfee director how much revenue the site earned per day; and based on the percentage of all Internet users who use Site Advisor, we could guesstimate the possible sales loss for that day and a half — and the however many weeks before that that the site had a “red” rating before the site owner even KNEW about it — and I asked him where my client should send the bill for that.

      The “request a review” button showed-up on all site report pages within a month.

      Again, hate McAfee, generally, all you want. Again, I certainly do. But Site Advisor, for what it does, has no rival… not even — especially not, in fact — the good-for-nothing (in my opinion), monster popularity contest and general jerk fest WOT.

      Does that help, theMike? Or was there some other problem you had with it?

      Gregg L. DesElms
      Napa, California USA
      gregg at greggdeselms dot com

      Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
      Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

  3. Gregg DesElms said on March 6, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    Oy. McAfee Site Advisor gave the Spencer site a red warning. When I went and looked at its report…

    SEE |

    …McAfee’s own servers say all software on it is safe, but it appears the site may link, somewhere, to a site that McAfee either has or hasn’t yet scanned, and so doesn’t know if it’s safe…

    …something that should earn the site a “yellow” warning, at best, if any at all. I say none at all. Sadly, though McAfee Site Advisor is superior to WOT (mostly because WOT is crowd-sourced, and so is just a big freakin’ popularity contest; whereas Site Advisor dispassionately scans with its anti-malware servers, and either finds bad things or doesn’t), Site Advisor occasionally gets it wrong: thinks something’s bad that actually isn’t, and so sometimes needs to be asked to manually check. I’ve had to report, over the years, probably about a hundred sites as likely not worth of either a yellow or read warning; and every single time McAfee’s manual scans confirmed that I was right. Until that happens, though, a false yellow or red warning, like I’m thinking is happening here, can drive site visitors away in droves; and so I wish Site Advisor’s system wasn’t so sensitive sometimes.

    Anyway, now I digress. Sorry.

    So I clicked (on the Site Advisor report on Spencer’s page) on “request a review” and wrote basically what I just wrote, here about how I think it’s a false positive; and asked that they manual look at it because it is my belief the site’s actually safe. Others, here — especially the site’s owner — should do the same.

    And, further, I echo the comment of “GK,” here about Classic Shell. The only thing is, though, that Classic Shell’s not portable like this Spencer thing is. But, honestly, what start menu replacement *SHOULD* be portable. In a way, I see that as a possible impediment in the case of a start menu replacement… that is, if you exclude the two that I talk about further down, herein.

    I’m also unimpressed, exactly as Martin is, with how the Spencer menu works… the whole pinning to the task bar thing… ugh. If it’s a start menu replacement, then it needs to replace the start menu. Period. That probably means that it needs to be installed, and write to the registry, like the other start menu replacements.

    Finally, not being able to easily configure it… no way. Martin’s dead-on (as usual) about that one!

    I’ll give the Spencer dev credit for being responsive, though: note in the comments beneath the tool on his site, that someone made a mouse wheel scrolling complaint, and the dev interrogated him about it. So he’s on top of things. He just needs to make the menu better.

    Here are some alternatives…

    One interesting little thing that’s been going on with me, lately, is that I’ve gotten more serious than ever about portable apps; in largest measure because I upgraded the USB flash drive on my keychain to 128GB, and got deadly serious about getting onto it every last thing — and I mean *EVERY* one — that I could possibly need if ever away from my regular Windows machine; everything I’d need to not only do whatever work I’d need to do while borrowing someone else’s machine, but also everything I could possibly need to fix another’s machine (including even boot from the flash drive into a recovery CD; I use my own slight modification of the “Falcon Four Ultimate Boot CD”; plus I can boot into a WinPE recovery environment if I need to; and on the portable 750GB hard drive that I’ve had lying around for a long time for which I just bought a cool portable case, I’ll be able to boot into every NeoWin windows-version-specific advanced recovery CD, and a couple others).

    My point is that once you go portable, you quickly learn that you must find apps from all different places… the “Portable Apps” site, the “Liberkey” site, and about five (seriously… that many) others. And so you can’t afford to have yourself tied to any of their menuing/launch systems. Oh, you may end-up with them installed onto your portable drive, as part of installing one or more of its apps, but you’d be smart to never use them. Instead, you should use a decent portable menuing system that’s generic and not only highly configurable, but which also ignores drive letters and “finds” and launches its various portable apps via relative (using “.\” and “\..” etc.) locations. After all, the portable drive will be one letter on one machine, and another on another, and so you can’t afford to have the menuing system “looking” for the apps via discreet drive letters.

    Going out and finding all the various portable menuing systems is an interesting adventure; and what I’ve learned is that once you narrow it down to a couple of the best ones, they’re not only good for portable app use, but they can easily become an alternative menuing system, just generally. And, particularly relevant for our purposes, here, most of them are already XP-like in their appearance and behavior. Trust me when I tell you, then, that either of these, for example…


    Portable Start Menu

    …are better, by a “fair piece,” as my ol’ man used to say, then Spencer’s little menu, here. They’re far from the only ones, mind you; but they’re so good that I can safely mention them off the top of my head, and either of them is good enough for the reader, here, to not feel like s/he needs to look any further.

    SyMenu’s only potential impediment is that it relies on the Microsoft .NET framework… specifically version 2.0, but the maker has updated things so that any 2.0 or higher version will do. One could argue that any allegedly-portable app which relies on a library permanently installed onto the machine on which it’s running from a flash drive isn’t really portable. That said, there’s virtually no Windows machine on the planet that doesn’t have at least version 2 of the .NET framework installed on it, so SyMenu’s dev was taking a reasonable risk. However, it all falls apart if one boots into a Windows recovery environment which may or may not (and probably doesn’t) have any .NET framework running…

    …and so, for that reason, almostly solely, even though SyMenu is far more fine-grained configurable, I prefer Aignes’s “Portable Start Menu” because it requires nothing other than itself. Either of them, though, is capable of grouping the apps, having sub-menus, re-ordering things, linking to not only programs but also files/folders, and, of course, ignoring drive letters… gotta’ love *THAT* one!

    And here’s the thing: if one is just trying to add a decent XP-style start menu to Windows 8 (and doesn’t mind that it doesn’t actually replace the one Microsoft put there (which Classic Shell and the others like it do so well), and that’s like this Spencer thing, then one simply could not do better than SyMenu; and one would not, in that case, even need to worry about the .NET framework because it would, of course, both already and always be there; and none of the portability issues would matter, either, in that case. So, instead of this Spencer thing, I’m sorry, but I simply could not more strongly recommend SyMenu…

    …that is, unless, again, you want the start menu to actually replace the actual Windows one, in which case, yes, you must use something like Classic Shell or one of the others which bill themselves as start menu replacements. Personally, I want the Microsoft-created Win8 start menu gone; completely replaced by the new one; and so Classic Shell (or any of the others which do the same) *SERIOUSLY* appeals to me.

    But if one is seriously considering the Spencer thing, then I say go with SyMenu (or the other one to which I linked, depending on one’s personal preference).

    Another little-known freeware one that’s both simple and good is…

    Advanced Launcher by Alentum

    …which really surprised me. It’s coolness is deceiving, at first. But once I really started tinkering with it, I began to see its serious power. Yikes! By creating a folder somewhere, and putting into it links to other folders, you can create an item on its bar that just opens folders in Windows Explorer. Very cool.

    Using it, I created a simple four-button bar with an XP-style menu via the leftmost button on said bar that groups all apps on the whole machine into my classic half-dozen or so groups, with sub-menu’d sub-groups.

    Then, on the next button to the right, I can get to every single thing on the desktop in a pop-up menu that reads the desktop in real-time, and so always reflects what’s actually on it, and never needs manual configuring.

    Then, on the next button to the right are my links to my collection of most-used folders (it’s just so, so cool; I use that more than anything).

    And, finally, on the last of the four buttons, I’ve created what, for most people, would be what they’d have on their “Quick Launch” bar (thereby allowing me to now even have a “Quick Launch” bar, thereby giving me more task bar real estate for the buttons of open apps).

    I then “docked” the four-button bar immediately above the actual Windows Start Button (in Vista, when I used it, then, later, in Win7); making it “always on top” so that nothing could ever cover it. Eventually, though, I got tired of the above-the-taskbar screen real estate that that took-up, so I moved the four-button bar to a system tray (notification area) icon which, if clicked on, displays the four-button bar as a rise-up menu. It can also be docked to the sides or top of the desktop. I’m telling you, it’s surprisingly SERIOUSLY cool… at least once you figure it out. I don’t know if it’s cooler than SyMenu, but it’s not portable, so there’s a potential impediment, right there, for my increasing portability purposes… hence the reason that either SyMenu or the Portable Start Menu or one of the others will likely soon replace Advanced Launcher. Still, if portability isn’t an issue, Advanced Launcher needs to be seriously considered…

    …especially compared with this lame-by-comparison Spencer thing.

    The bottom line, for my purposes, here, is that I had no idea, when I went looking for a decent menuing system I could use for my portable drives, that I’d stumble onto such capable freeware menuing systems out there that could be used for *ANY* purpose, portable or otherwise.

    Or so it is my two cents worth…

    …which, it’s worthy of note, my ex-wife will happily attest tends to be about *ALL* it’s ever worth! (Just kidding; she’s actually a peach, and we get along fine; I just like making ex-wife jokes.)

    Gregg L. DesElms
    Napa, California USA
    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

    Veritas nihil veretur nisi abscondi.
    Veritas nimium altercando amittitur.

  4. GK said on March 6, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Classic Shell began as the Windows XP style menu and then also added the Windows 7 style menu. :) The “Classic with two columns” is the XP style menu still available in Classic Shell. You can use it with any skin – Aero or Luna from the Skin tab of its settings.

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