8 Start Menu Replacements For Windows 8

Apps To Help You Start It Up

Old habits die hard, and that's why Microsoft's Windows 8 missing Start menu even has the die-hard Windows fans up in arms. Fortunately, there are more than several ways to work around Microsoft's omission. Here we look at eight Windows 8 Start Menu replacements, some of which have key features that include running a Metro app in a desktop window, bringing a Start menu to the Metro screen and having a shutdown option, right on the Start menu. Read on to find out the CRN Test Center's eight recommendations for Start menu replacement apps for Windows 8.

Start Menu 8

With a similar style and function to the classic Windows 7 Start menu, Start Menu 8 is a superb Start menu replacement for Windows 8. Developed by IOBit, a creator of system utilities and security software products, Start Menu 8 has the option to skip the tiled Metro start page upon launch and go straight to the Windows 8 desktop. Free and easy to install, Start Menu 8 has customizable general settings. Folders, programs and applications can be displayed or removed from the Start menu. The right side of the menu is organized by documents, pictures, administrative tools, control panel and the option to switch to Metro. On the left side is access to pinned and recent programs, and on the bottom right are the power options (sleep, restart, log off, switch user, lock) and shut down button. This free app is one of the better Start menu replacements.


Start8 is another fantastic Start menu replacement app by Stardock. Start8 comes with several styles and can be configured to control what's on the Start menu. Its font, icon size and color are customizable as well. The Start menu can be either the classic Windows 7 style or the Windows 8 style, which incorporates the Metro apps into the menu. A custom image can even be uploaded for the Start button. Besides folders for documents and pictures, shortcuts and recently used applications can be chosen to appear on the menu's bottom, right-hand side. Through settings, options for desktop and Metro UI apps can be adjusted. If there is no Windows key on the left of your keyboard, there are alternative key mappings. Unlike other Start menu replacements, Start8 is conveniently pinned to the Metro Start page. There is also the option to automatically start up to the desktop when starting Windows. It would be more preferable if the Start menu didn't automatically import all programs onto the left side. Manual organization for the miscellaneous programs is necessary to pick and choose what to pin/unpin. Start8 costs $4.99 after the 30-day free trial period.


This Start menu replacement isn't an exact replica of Microsoft's Start menu. Instead, it looks more similar to a smartphone's home screen filled with apps. Developed by PC app developers Sweet Labs, Pokki is a sleek Start menu replacement app that has access to all the files, folders and applications.

Once downloaded, an acorn-shaped Start menu button reveals the Start menu and a search bar located on the right bottom side of the menu. Applications, documents, downloads and picture folders can also be added or removed from the Start menu. Like the settings menu, the Start menu is customizable as well. Pokki can be set to either a light or dark theme; there are options to boot directly to desktop and disable hot corners. What makes Pokki different is that it has a variety of free popular apps such as Facebook, Gmail and Instagrille presented at the bottom of the Start menu. These apps can be downloaded and pinned to the menu. No need to open up Facebook on a Web browser; Pokki is equipped to display notifications, right on the menu.

ViStart 8

Inspired by the indexing engine for Windows Vista back in 2007, software engineer Lee Matthey Chantry of Lee-Soft decided to create his own free Start menu, ViStart. This updated version for Windows 8 is called ViStart 8, equipped with a custom indexing engine to find documents in seconds. Besides the quick search feature, this app restores the classic Windows Start menu for Windows 8. Clicking the Windows 7 Start button brings up the Start menu with control panel, documents, photos and shortcuts on the left pane. On the right pane are all files and folders on the PC. Customizable, there are three Start menu skins and four Start menu buttons from which to choose. Metro apps aren't forgotten either; they can be searched and pinned to the Start Menu. This proficient app harkens back to the easy-to-use and classic menu features for Windows 8.

Start Menu X

Start Menu X only works when it's needed. This alternative Start menu app brings no changes to Windows itself, and when shutting down, it's gone. By simply pressing the Windows key, the Start menu is brought back. From independent developer Ordinary Soft, this free app offers Start menus in Windows 7, Vista or XP styles. Start Menu X automatically alphabetizes menus and custom lists, and it offers a power button and a Run button. When installing, there is the option to skip the Metro UI at start up, so it brings you directly to the Start menu. This app is customizable, from choosing a variety of skins to changing the size and font of the menu and apps, as well as scaling it vertically or horizontally. Folders, files, documents and programs can be added to the Start menu. What's so great about Start Menu X is that there are no changes to Windows itself, and when shutting down, it's gone. By pressing the Windows key, the Start menu is easily brought back.


This one's name says it all, because with a single click, StartIsBack. Developed by StartIsBack, this app features an identical Windows 7 Start menu and Start button. Although this app is available for $5, it is free to try for 30 days. After its quick download, a handy tutorial pops up about how to bring up the Start menu, by simply pressing the Windows key on the keyboard or clicking the Start button. Desktop navigation is improved with its ability to search, jump lists and drag and drop files, folders and apps. Clicking the button to configure gives the option to pick and choose which items can be added to the Start menu, such as control panel, default programs and documents. A single preferences pane offers more customizable options such as setting the amount of recent programs to add to the Start menu and launching the Start screen for only Metro apps. While other Start menu replacements bring you to the Metro Start screen first, StartIsBack has the preference to be taken directly to the desktop with the Start menu.


With RetroUI, there's no need to go from Metro to Desktop to access the Start menu; it's always available in both. The Start menu is on the taskbar and is visible even when running the Metro Start page at the same time. Created by software developer Thinix, RetroUI is a Start menu replacement app that brings us back to yesteryear. After choosing from a 32- or 64-bit download, right-click the taskbar, select toolbars and click the RetroUI Start button to place it in the left corner. On the left column of the Start menu, Metro apps, news, Google and Facebook are pinned to the list, and on the right column are documents, pictures, downloads and control panel folders. There is also the option to opt out of the Metro Start page for Windows 8 and go straight to RetroUI's Start menu to remove hot corners. What's also interesting about RetroUI is its ability to run Windows 8 apps in a resizable window rather than taking up the entire screen. It can easily be closed out. RetroUI costs $4.99 a year for up to three hosts per license. There's also a 7-day free trial.

Classic Shell

Classic Shell lives up to its name. Developed by independent programmer Ivo Beltchev, Classic Shell is a free Start menu app for Windows 7 or Windows 8. It was first publicly released in November 2009 as a Vista enhancement, and now as a Windows 8 Start menu substitute, it isn't disappointing. For the style of the Start menu, choose from Windows Classic, XP and Vista/7. There are also seven different skins to choose from and preview. The Start menu will pop up with just the hit of the Windows key on the keyboard, while pressing the shift key and clicking the Start button will bring it back to Metro start. Similar to other Start menu apps, organizing applications is easy; files can be dragged and pinned to the Start Menu. In two separate menus, Windows 8 apps and other programs are divided. The left pane includes documents, pictures, recent items, control panel and shutdown options. Once again, this Start menu replacement has the option to skip Metro screen upon start up. This is one solution to help get used to Windows 8 while maintaining the fluidity and ease of a Start menu.