Delicious tidbits not on the usual menu
The free Classic Shell and Pokki go beyond adding a Start menu, offering extra features that actually improve the Windows experience. In fact, both of them predate Windows 8, making them the only programs here that you can test-drive on an earlier operating system.
Classic Shell 4.0 adds a number of new features to Windows 8.1, including a customizable Start menu, enhancements to Windows Explorer, and tweaks for Internet Explorer.
Classic Shell's Start menu offers three designs: a classic, Windows-XP-type design; a two-column, Vista-like design; and a Windows-7-style Start menu. The Start Screen of Windows 8.1 isn't completely replaced, though: Instead, Classic Shell pins the Start Screen at the top of the Start menu and lists all of the programs from that screen as menu items under All Programs > Apps.
If you would prefer to add to rather than replace the new Start button, Pokki creates an alternative way to start programs. In Windows 8.1, Pokki works alongside the returning Microsoft Start button, adding a button called Home. This brings up the Pokki menu, which offers a customizable list of program shortcuts, as well as a few familiar options from the pre-Windows 8 Start menu.
Pokki also offers a range of free programs (such as Angry Birds and Instagram client Instagrille) that you can install with a single click. You can pin any installed program to a spot on the home menu, which can hold up to 25 program shortcuts per page (there are four additional pages available, for a total of 125 shortcuts). If you don't want to scroll between pages, a text window at the top of the menu allows you to search by name: Just type the first letter, and the list of shortcuts that begin with that letter show up.
Overall, Pokki still provides an excellent accompaniment to the Microsoft Start menu and Start page, allowing you to start programs faster and more efficiently, and install new ones quicker and easier than you could via Microsoft's own App Store.
These apps smarten the Start in Windows 8.1
When Windows 8.1 was first announced, we thought these apps might be finished. But that's not happening: Microsoft's poor compromise of linking the Start button and the Start page still leaves a features gap that these utilities address.
These five apps offer a solution that Microsoft itself seems to not understand: Give the users what they want, and the power to tweak it to their requirements.
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