Classic Shell: Regain your Start menu in Windows 8 and much more.

The single biggest complaint about Windows 8 is the startlingly new tiled Start menu. Don't like it? There's an app for that.

By far, Windows 8′s new Start screen is its most strikingly different feature as compared to Windows 7 and prior versions.

Unfortunately, that new tiled Start screen leaves many with a very negative first impression of Windows 8 – a first impression that then goes on to color their entire Windows 8 experience.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Classic Shell is a free set of software that gives you your favorite Start menu back, as well as restoring and adding functionality to both Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer.

It’s a great way to make Windows 8 more useful to those who dislike what I’ve come to refer to as the “tablet-ification” of the user interface.

Start is Start is…

This is what most people react to:

Windows 8 Start Menu

What most people don’t realize is that this is the Windows 8 Start menu. No, it doesn’t look like a menu, and yes, it takes up the entire screen, but functionally, it’s very close to doing all the same things that the more traditional Start menus did.

It’s very functional, works well with a mouse1, and is very customizable. If you look closely, you’ll see that there’s a tile for “Ask Leo!” that your installation probably doesn’t have - naturally, you can customize exactly what you want to see there. That’s not to say it’s identical in function to the old Start menu – I couldn’t, for example, quickly figure out how to change the icon for my shortcut – but realizing that it is a fully customizable Start menu may be enough to help many people adjust.

Here’s the other thing people react to:
Windows 8 Desktop
The reaction to this, the Windows 8 desktop, is typically: “Where’s the Start button?!” and “How do I do anything?!”

This is what people are looking for:
Windows 8 with Classic Start Menu
And that is just one thing that Classic Shell provides.

Installing Classic Shell

Classic Shell is free and open source software. Simply download it from the Classic Shell website and install it.

After agreeing to a license, there’s one option selection that’s worth understanding:
Classic Shell Setup

Classic Shell actually includes three separate components:

  • Classic Explorer Adds a toolbar and a status bar to Windows Explorer (now referred to as the File Explorer in Windows 8).
  • Classic Start Menu Adds a Start button and a very customizable, more traditional Start menu.
  • Classic IE9 Adds a caption bar and status bar for Internet Explorer.

Each of these can be selected or not at installation time. The default is to install all and so far, I’ve seen no harm in doing exactly that.

That being said, I’ll be focusing on the Start menu for the rest of this article.

Classic Start

As the example above showed, after installing Windows Classic Shell (and making a choice or two, which I’ll cover in a moment), Windows 8 now has a Windows 7 style Start menu:
Windows 8 with a Windows 7 style Start Menu
But, in fact, if you didn’t like Windows 7′s approach to Start menus and perhaps preferred Windows XP, we can do that too:
Windows 8 with a Windows XP style Start Menu

We can go back even further with the so-called “Windows Classic” menu style:
Windows 8 with a Windows Classic style Start Menu
Which of these three styles you want is a choice that you’re requested to make the first time you click on the Start button:
Classic Start Menu Options dialog

Using Classic Start

The Classic Start menu has been integrated into Windows 8 very well. It feels very natural and familiar in almost every circumstance.

Of particular note, however, is that Classic Start hasn’t removed anything. In fact, if you want to re-visit your tiled Start menu, by default you can just hold down Shift as you click on the Start button. Want to return to your desktop with Classic Shell? Just hold down the CTRL key and press ESC, or press the Windows key on your keyboard.

Pretty much what you might expect.

And, of course, if you decide that you’d rather not use Classic Shell and want to run with the new, native Windows 8 interface, you can simply uninstall it as well.

Options, we have Options!

To be honest I’ve really only scratched the surface on Classic Start’s capabilities. If you notice in the Options box displayed above, there’s a little selection for “Basic Settings” versus “All Settings”. Click on All and you’ll see no less than 13 tabs of available options to customize Classic Start. (You can get at the Options dialog by right-clicking on the Start button and choosing “Settings”.)
Classic Start Menu Options dialog - All options
The options available allow you to customize just about every aspect of the Start menu, including most all options that the older versions of Windows allowed you to customize and many more.

You can even control whether or not the Windows 8 “hot corners” should be disabled. (By default, only the lower left or Start menu hot corner is disabled.)

And, yes, after rebooting, you’ll bypass the tiled Start menu and go directly to your desktop.

Classic.

It’s not just for Windows 8

While Classic Shell is likely experiencing a surge in popularity with the release of Windows 8, it’ll actually work in Windows Vista and Windows 7, in both 32 and 64-bit versions2 (the same installer works for all). In fact, its origins come from issues that the original developers had with functionality that had changed in those operating systems. It simply became a very fortunate and powerful alternative for folks now struggling with Windows 8.

If you’re struggling with Windows 8, I strongly recommend you give Classic Shell a try before you give up. It might well change your mind and allow you to avoid the time and possible expense of a system reinstall.

In fact, I recommend it.

Footnotes and references

1: It does. Honest. But that raises an interesting point – many of people’s reactions to various Windows 8 features are often matters of taste and personal preference. What I think works well with a mouse many people might agree with, and others might disagree with. It’s always been so. That’s why this article exists – to provide alternatives for various points of view. But the mouse works well and you don’t need a touch screen. Honest.
2: In fact, as part of my testing, I first installed it on my Windows 7 64-bit desktop, fully expecting to remove it when done. Instead it returned a feature that I’d long missed – multi-column sub menus off the Start menu, rather than scrolling. As a result, it’s staying.

There are 38 comments:

  1. Tony Reply

    Hi leo i don’t even miss the start button on my desktop i rather like the change. but this looks like a awesome program might be worth me looking at. Thanks for the write up :).

  2. Paul Shivers Reply

    Leo, thanks for the confirmation on my feelings about Windows 8! Once I realized the opening Metro screen was nothing more than a full screen “START” button, everything started to make sense! I have installed “Classic Shell” on my new Desktop and find Windows 8 to feel much more at home. My Sister-in-Law just got a new Laptop with Windows 8 and appreciates Classic Shell because she now has a Shutdown button immediately available from the “Desktop”!

  3. Mark J Reply

    I’ve been using Classic Shell since Vista. I’ve always preferred a start menu that shows all of my programs on one screen. I find it much easier than having to click on the top or bottom of the list to get it to scroll. I’ve never understood why MS didn’t allow scrolling the programs list with the mouse wheel.

  4. Daniel Lauber Reply

    I’ve done half a dozen Windows 8 upgrades now — actually did all as fresh installs — and have found that Classic Shell can be a bit kinky and sometimes really slow down a computer. We’ve been using Start8 from StarDock.com instead. Even though it costs all of $4.99, it has worked flawlessly with no hit on performance. While Classic Menu sometimes takes some time to get to the desktop, it’s instantaneous with Start8. There are lots of additional choices out there for restoring the “Start” button and menus, and booting directly into the desktop including Startw8, Retro UI, Pokkie_Start_Menu, StarMenuX, and Power8. We’ve tried them all and Start8 has worked the best for us.

  5. Joe B. Reply

    My (relatively computer illiterate) sister bought a new laptop with Win8 and asked me to set it up for her…my first experience with it. I don’t have too much trouble with the start menu structure (don’t particularly like it, but no trouble), but when I start an application from it, there doesn’t seem to be a way to ‘exit’ from it or shut it down (no “X” button), and it appears to keep running even if you go back to the start tiles and open something else. Is this correct? Am I missing something in closing or stopping an application in Win 8, and will the Classic Shell app return that functionality when running programs? Please advise, and thanks.

  6. pat Reply

    Sure needed Classic Shell when I first installed Win 7. By the way, I’m in IE10, so I skipped the IE9 part of the installation. Still, something installed. Also, bootup to Win 8 seemed to run a little slower, but I think my computer is learning. I spent hours struggling to do some of this customization of Win 8. Microsoft needs to make this readily available.

  7. Aijaz Reply

    Its too good, but can I use both the start menus at the same time? I mean the classic one and win 8′s menu.

  8. Bill Chubb Reply

    I’ve installed Windows 8 on my laptop and like it!
    Hitting the “Windows” button takes me to my old W7 desktop where all my old programs remain. Hitting the same button takes me back to the W8 desktop. Perhaps, in time, I’ll look for traditional “Start” button but, for now, I don’t miss it.
    I’ll give it another few weeks and then probably bite the bullet and install on my main PC.

  9. Murray Snudge Reply

    After starting I always click ‘desktop’ and then Win 8 is not much different to Win 7. The desktop version of IE is ok.

  10. BrianL Reply

    If I had been offered this in mid-December – when I first upgraded to Windows 8 Pro – I would have jumped at it.
    Now that I have been using Win 8 for 4 weeks, with standard keyboard & mouse, I find it as easy as the old Start Menu and in most cases much quicker. I will save the article just in case but do not see myself changing back.

  11. Harry Broom Reply

    There’s a feeling of Deja Vu here. I can remember when Windows 3.1 came out. The reception was Ok better than 3.0 but not good until Norton came out with their Desktop product – although you had to have a poky computer to run it properly, and you could only generally upgrade to 2Mb of RAM (no that’s not a typo) remember Win3.xx was a DOS application! And there were other shells too one earlier than Norton although I can’t remember it’s name but it was the first one I saw with right click context menus & that ran under most 3.xx variations – and it was faster than Program Manager (not hard). Not too much changes…

  12. Marty W Reply

    You sum up the disappointments with the newer OS nicely with this example above:

    ” The reaction to this, the Windows 8 desktop, is typically: “Where’s the Start button?!” and “How do I do anything?!” “

    My complaint with the newest operating systems (and web sites) is that they now seem to diminish a more intuitive user interface in favor of cleaner, fewer and more austere graphics. I find that even Apple’s newer OS systems are also much harder to navigate intuitively (or obviously).

    I don’t get it — Why wouldn’t Win 8 include an obvious “Start” (or similar) button to click on so we can find the features we are looking for?

  13. Sue Reply

    I am slowing getting used to Windows 8 after calling Microsoft twice (free under warranty). I now can log on without a password – hooray. (The W8 password also opened my hotmail & I hated that.) I learned a trick to shut off quickly – hit the windows key plus C and all the right-side settings appear so I don’t have to hover my mouse to try to get it to appear. It does seem extremely fast compared to my old Vista. Hate the new IE, so use Firefox in desktop.

  14. Chris Reply

    It’s worth knowing that the old Alt+F4 key combo still works in Win8. It will shut down Metro or desktop apps and on the desktop with no programs running brings up an option box to shutdown, sleep etc. Just use your up and down arrow keys to select and then press enter.

  15. Steve Reply

    Not sure I’ll ever need Classic Shell. I confess I am a keyboard bigot… Ever since Windows 3.11, I keep a desktop icon for every program I use, with keyboard shortcuts for each of the 2 dozen I use most. That includes the six Windows Explorer shortcuts that open the most-used directories (uh, folders). When my boss decides to convert us to W8, I’ll be looking for how to clear the tiles off the desktop and go back to keyboard shortcuts.

  16. Ron Reply

    I’ve been using Win8 (on and off) since it went GA. Fortunately for me most of my interaction is with “old” desktop apps so I rarely have to deal with the Win8 Start Screen. I haven’t found many useful Metro apps that I’m willing to pay for.

    One of my main objections to the “Start Screen” concept is I’m working on a non-touch laptop/desktop, so tiles are a HUGE waste of my screen real-estate. And using the mouse vertical scroll wheel to scroll the metro screen and metro apps HORIZONTALLY is totally counter-intuitive.

    In one place you say ” if you want to re-visit your tiled Start menu”. Does that mean the shell app removes all tiles from the Metro start screen?

    I would LIKE that!

  17. ron Reply

    Joe b :
    there doesn’t seem to be a way to ‘exit’ from it or shut it down (no “X” button), and it appears to keep running even if you go back to the start tiles and open something else. Is this correct? Am I missing something in closing or stopping an application in Win 8,

    No you are not missing anything, except the change in concept. Win8 turns your laptop into a phat smartphone. You are right, apps don’t close when you leave them, they just lurk in the background. MS encourages that. If you wish to stop a Metro app, you have to click-hold- the very top of the screen AND drag it down toward the bottom of the screen.

    Marty W:
    Nothing is “intuitive” without some sort of predecessor to provide a user base of experience to provide the context for “intuition”. Actually, there is an intuitive basis for Win8 / Metro, Windows Phones and even other smartphones. They taught people thumb swipes, horizontal scroll instead of vertical scroll and other metro design points. Unfortunately for desktop users, a (large) majority of Windows current users (?), those elements are not intuitive.

    When I tried the Win8 Preview in Feb, I lasted about 5 hours before I wiped it in frustration. (Yes bob, one of those frustration points was not being able to close or exit metro apps) After that, I had time to read and learn about the changes in conventions and the other minimal tips that made a difference. The biggest convention I learned was think of the Metro desktop as a really PHAT start menu (and the horizontal scroll).

  18. hoppy Reply

    So can someone remind me why i need a 3rd party program to make 8 work, why don’t i have the option to do this through Windows.
    Why am i forced to use Metro when its crap on a desktop, why can’t i switch it off.
    Could it be that 8 is another bloated, mixed up mess, the end result of desktop crashing into touch and like all crashes its very messy.
    It really shocks me that so called experts recommend this “one size fits all” pile of bloat before its first service pack.
    8 is a half ready crippled OS that will compromise any hardware its ported to,, avoid like the plague…

  19. Mark J Reply

    @Hoppy
    I agree that Microsoft made a mistake by not putting a Start Menu option in Windows 8, but that’s the reality, and Classic Shell is a simple fix which doesn’t slow down your system. As for bloat, it seems to run a little lighter than Windows 7.

  20. Dean Bower Reply

    I had problems migrating from IE6 to IE7 and problems migrating from Office 2003 to Office 2007. Took a couple weeks each time but the migrations happened and I found the new way an improvement. Same with Windows 8. I simply believe software works best when I go with its flow. If I do not like the flow, then I go back “across the waters” to the original. And spend no time bad-mouthing the new stuff. New software is generally better than the old cuz developers overcome the old problems.

  21. Nick Reply

    I have just been looking at a website (http://dottech.org) showing screen shots of Windows 1 through 8, where the author comments: “.. has Windows 8 gone back to the block/tile style of Windows 1 except with higher quality graphics? Yeah, yeah, I think it has.” Interesting thought, that Windows might have gone full circle. Makes 8 a more attractive proposition for me (I am now with XP)

  22. Hans Reply

    Excellent news! When my XP laptop dies, I may consider W8 after all. Thanks!

  23. Engineer10388 Reply

    Bought a new HP hot rod with Win8 (great deal, no choice). Instead of wiping the HD and reverting back to Win7, I installed *Classic Shell* to restore the features Microsoft left off (or hid) on Win8. Love it, love it, love it. If Classic Shell has a down side I haven’t discovered it. Thanks, Leo.

  24. David Reply

    Another option, and possibly Leo could do an article on this, is to provide more information about how the new Start screen works. In just two clicks one can get to a screen that shows All Apps, arranged in program groups just the way the old start menu does. One there, I can find the program I want much faster than I ever could by drilling down through the layers after clicking the old start button. In addition, the new Start screen is highly configurable. The default Metro apps can be quickly deleted (or completely uninstalled) if they aren’t helpful. Any other applications, as well as Videos, Pictures, Documents, can be pinned to the Start screen, an organized into groups as well. After decided to stop pining for the old days and decided to learn more about what I had, I found that I can access my files and programs at least as easy as I could with the old start button.

  25. Reverend Jim Reply

    A recent addition to the Stardock Software is ModernMix which allows you to run Metro (full screen only) apps in windows. You can even pin the apps to the taskbar and start them directly from the desktop. Currently in beta.

  26. Ralph C. Reply

    Joe B mentioned that he could not close apps in Win 8. Simply press ALT F4 and it will close. Not my super knowledge of Win 8, someone else told me about this.

  27. Jagadish Reply

    Windows 8 came bundled with my new H P desktop that I bought a month ago. Though I had not much difficulty in wading through the new start menu, I still missed my old start menu of Vista. Now that you explained about Classic Shell, I feel it is worthwhile giving it a try. Thanks, Leo. You are lucid to a fault, as always.

  28. Andrea Borman Reply

    I have installed Windows 8 Pro 32 bit which I have also installed Classic shell. I would not consider using Windows 8 without it.As I cannot use it with the Metro start menu as it’s just not functional like the old Windows start menu. there are also other start menu software’s that work on 8 Start Menu 7,and Vi start but I find Classic shell is the best one.
    Andrea Borman.

  29. Diya Reply

    I installed the Classic shell as advised. But when I am working on the internet and need to snip form the images, I cant get the tool. I have windows 8. My task bar does not show up when I am using the internet. Can you please help

  30. James Wong Reply

    Classic Shell is good software. I much prefer the classic start menu over the XP and Vista/7 start menus, and I installed it in my computers running Windows 7 to get back the classic start menu.

    When one of my relatives purchased a cheap laptop with Windows 8 (despite my reservations) and asked me to help set it up for use, the first thing I did was to install Classic Shell on it.

    Personally I shall avoid Windows 8 / 8.1 and anything with that “Metro” interface like the plague. If that’s the direction Microsoft wants to go I certainly won’t go with them.

  31. Anthony Bensley Reply

    OK, I decided to uninstall Classic Shell 4.02 and give Windows Classic shell a chance. So far, I’m not too pleased with it on two counts: 1. This new function almost immediately caused freeze up on my Laptop. 2. Upon restarting to complete the full installation, I was greeted with an annoying Pop Up on my Desktop (Which I was only able to eventually close after my initial attempt caused further freeze up!), something that has never occurred with ANY previous Start up that I’ve ever done previously with ANY OS!

    If this continues, it won’t be long before I return to the previous Classic Shell Program!

    CHEERS!

    • Anthony Bensley Reply

      Apparently in my case, the cause of the Start Menu 8 Freeze Up is whenever I highlighted a specific Folder in the “Show As A Menu Item” setting. Therefore, I changed the relevant Menu Items to “Show As A Link.” That appears to be one problem solved! Hopefully, the annoying Desktop Pop Up that occurred upon my Restart to complete the Start Menu 8 installation was a one time thing, as I found that rather unsettling.

  32. 31428571J Reply

    ‘StartIsBack’ is much better than ‘Classic Shell’ I think.
    It might cost around a couple of dollars for the licence, but its much closer to the original Win 7 Start menu.

  33. Cat Tilley Reply

    I realize this is a slightly older topic now, however many Windows 8/8.1 users still relies on Classic Shell. It’s a great piece of software for that OS & even Windows 7.

    However, the last supported version of the app for Windows Vista SP2 (3.8) made my notebook act as though a zombie. Being that I installed several apps on the same day, plus security, it took me 2 months to figure what kept causing the screen the freeze after opening an app. Had to hard shutdown many times because the only thing that would work was that silly neon circle.

    Out of curiosity, after trying other things, I thought I’d uninstall Classic Shell, though I though it was a long shot. In seconds, I regained my Vista SP2 install back!!!!

    Now, it very may well have been that earlier versions were fine on Vista, but the last supported one wasn’t. So if you’re having freezing issues on Vista & Classic Shell is installed, it may be worth removing to see.

    However, please let me make this perfectly clear, I’m not knocking Leo on this. I’ve learned many, many things on this site & Leo is one of the few who calls it down the middle. Nor did I get the idea of trying it from this article.

    I’m just saying, it may cause issues with Vista SP2 computers. Beware.

    Cat

    Cat

  34. Boossy Reply

    I have used ClassicShell as well in the past, mainly to overcome the problems with the jumping folders in the navigation pane of Windows Explorer in Windows 7, but now that I’m using Windows 8.1, I’ve switched to Stardock Start8. You can try it for free for 30 days, but it’s worth its $4.99 (or €3.73). The look and feel is like it’s a 100% integrated into Windows!

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