Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

How can I control the size of my Start menu?

My Start Menu contains 2-1/2 columns of folders (52) and direct shortcuts
(32), but when I right-click on the Start button and then click on Open,
nowhere near all of them appear there. I can only see 21 folders and 14 direct
shortcuts. I’d like to organize them all into folders and sub-folders like I
did on my previous WinME machine. How do I get it to let me see the full
contents of the Start menu? Where (and why) are they hiding?

The Start Menu is an interesting beast. It seems to grow forever sometimes
as you install new software. There are even situations where it can grow to be
bigger than your screen, which can make it difficult to get to all the items on
it.

Fully wrangling the Start Menu is fairly straightforward, but requires just
a teensy bit of obscure knowledge, and an awareness of a couple of
pitfalls.

Oh, and administrative privileges.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

That obscure knowledge is actually at the root of the specific question. The
Start Menu is created, on-the-fly, from a Start Menu that is specific to the
account you’re logged in as, merged with a Start Menu defined for “All Users”.
When you right click on the Start button and select Open,
you’re only looking at the settings for your login account. If you want to see
the rest of your start menu, you’ll need to click on Open All
Users
instead.

It might be more instructive to click on Explore All Users.
This way you’ll not only see the contents of the folder, but on the left you’ll
see the directory tree that will show you where everything is, in relationship
to everything else.

For example, here’s Windows Explorer after I right-clicked on
Start, and then clicked on Explore All
Users
:

Start Menu directory for All Users

Windows Explorer opens up on the following directory:

c:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu

That’s the directory that is the “All Users” component of the Start
Menu. You can see the “Programs” subdirectory, which corresponds to the
“Programs” or “All Programs” item on the Start Menu.

Any folders you create underneath this “Start Menu” directory will appear as
new branches within your actual Start Menu. Any shortcuts you create will
appear as menu selections within whatever branch corresponds to the
subdirectory you create it in.

And since this is the “All Users” branch, then anything you create or change
here will affect anyone who logs into this machine on any user account.

If you look closely at the bottom of that image, you’ll see there’s another
directory at the same level as “All Users” called “LeoN” – that’s the directory
that corresponds to my login account. If we click on it, we see something like
this:

Start Menu directory for LeoN

You can see that there’s a bunch more stuff within that directory, but that
there’s also a Start Menu item. Any changes you make within a
user-specific Start Menu folder take effect only for that login account.

In my case, you’ll see, I have a couple of non-standard sub-folders: “xfer”
and “books”.

Here’s what my start menu looks like:

Start Menu for LeoN

(I use “Classic” start menu style, but the principals apply to both classic
and new.)

So when click on Start to open that menu, here’s what
happens:

  • The items, both subfolders and shortcuts from the “All Users” start menu
    (from c:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu) are collected.

  • The items, from my “LeoN” start menu (from c:\Documents and
    Settings\LeoN\Start Menu) are merged in.

  • The resulting combination is display as the menu. “Books” and “Xfer” appear
    as the result of the settings in my user account’s Start Menu, and “Programs”
    shows up because it’s included in both “All Users” and “LeoN”.

(At the topmost level, items such as “Documents”, “Settings” and so on are
not handled this way. They’re controlled by other features and settings
elsewhere.)

Now, knowing all this, you can manipulate and re-arrange your Start Menu
almost to your hearts content by creating or moving the subdirectories and
shortcuts within these two folder trees. For example if your start menu is too
large, you can simply create a subfolder within it, and then move some of the
items into that subfolder. That subfolder and its contents will appear as an
additional level within the start menu tree.

The choice of whether to put things in “All Users” or in a specific login
account depends on how you use your computer. If, like me, your computers are
pretty much single user, then it doesn’t matter much which you choose. (As a
side note, this is also one of the same choices made when installing a program
and it asks if you want it installed for “All Users”, or just the current
user.)

A couple of caveats:

  • You must have administrative privileges to modify the “All Users” items.

  • Some programs will not uninstall their start menu items properly if you move
    them within the Start Menu after the program has been installed. In cases like
    this you may have to remove those items manually.

There are, naturally, other tricks one can play with the start menu, but
this first principal of how it’s create is both fundamental, and quite
powerful.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips with a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my FREE special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

No strings. No email. Here's the direct download. (Just right-click and "Save As...".)

3 comments on “How can I control the size of my Start menu?”

  1. Leo:

    This article is very timely for me. I’ve spent the last month or more gradually reorganising my ‘Start menu >All Programs’ popup menu. Like you, I am using folders to organise my programs and placing them ‘above the line’ (the equivalent from your example in mine is folders Books and Xfers).

    My question is, do you know why it may take an extraordinary long time to edit the ‘above the line’ folders in Windows Explorer?

    When I’m adding or rearranging programs in my ‘above the the line’ folder system in Windows Explorer, deleting, renaming and moving files just takes so long. I do have a lot of programs and a lot of folders. I choose to use Windows Explorer in preference to drag and drop and the right-click context menu when I have a lot of editing to do. You’d think it would be faster than drag and drop but it’s not.

    Any ideas?

    Reply
  2. General Question/Comment:
    I’d like to PRINT some of your items (like this one).
    Maybe I’m missing seeing it, but why isn’t there a ‘Print’ option on your pages so’s to be able to print JUST the tech info without the
    extraneous info on the page.
    I appreciate some of your info – hence the desire to print.
    Thanks for your consideration here.

    Reply
  3. Good point. It takes a little bit of work, but I’ll add it to my to-do list to set something like that up :-).

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.