When Windows 8.1 ships tomorrow, the Start button returns with it—but if it's the Start menu you miss, you'll still need one of these utilities. They bring back the classic pop-up menu that Windows 8 summarily removed, and they add extra features and customization that Microsoft never thought of. Most are free, and the only one that costs anything is well worth its extremely low price. Whether you make the jump to Windows 8.1 immediately or wait a bit, there's really no point in waiting to enjoy these enhancements to your Windows experience.
Just give me the Start menu
Clicking the Start button just puts you into the Windows 8.1 Start page—but fortunately, programs that bring back the classic Start menu still work. The simplest of the programs I tested are Stardock's $5 Start8, IOBit's free Start Menu 8, and ReviverSoft's free Start Menu Reviver.
All three produce decent facsimiles of the Start menu, but Stardock's Start8 does the most accurate job of reproducing it. Start8 is still very useful under 8.1, offering a choice of the Windows 7 look-alike Start menu or the new Windows 8 Start page.
It's easy to switch between the two approaches. You don't get the same amount of control that you get with other menu programs, though. You can't configure the look and feel of the menu very much, and you can't create custom shortcuts.
Start Menu 8 performs similarly to Start8, producing a decent reproduction of the Windows 7 Start menu. It lacks some of the design polish of Start8, but its nice extra touches include the Switch to Metro' button that takes you to the Microsoft Start page, and the MetroApps option, which provides direct access to apps that use only the Windows 8 Metro interface. These make it a little more useful for those who want to bridge the gap between the two versions.
Start Menu Reviver, as the name suggests, also brings back the Start menu, but it dispenses with the past and instead adopts a look that's in line with the Modern design style of Windows 8 itself. It doesn't take over the desktop—the Microsoft Start page is still accessible as one of the tiles.
The most interesting feature in Start Menu Reviver is the ability to create and tweak tiles. You can create a tile for any installed program by dragging and dropping its icon onto the menu itself. You can also easily move, resize, or delete existing tiles, making this new style menu very easy to customize.
For anyone looking simply to replicate the Windows 7 Start menu, Start Menu 8 is the simplest and most flexible option. But Start Menu Reviver impressed me: It feels more like a Windows 8 program, and it provides a lot of flexibility. And it's fair to say that all of these programs do a better job than Microsoft itself of making Windows 8.1 easier to use.
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