September 07, 2012, 12:38 PM — I'm not looking forward to Windows 8--and with good reason. If you don't have a touchscreen, there's not much to like about the Interface Formerly Known as Metro. The fact that this hobbled version of the old, familiar desktop user interface lacks the beloved Start menu doesn't help.
But have no fear; the Start menu is here. Two separate utilities add a Windows 7-style Start menu to Windows 8. Since both allow you to boot directly into the desktop, either one can protect you from even looking at "Metro" unless you absolutely have to.
Of the two, Stardock's Start8 most closely resembles the Windows 7 Start menu. You have to dig pretty deeply into the program to find where it falls short--its configurability. Stardock currently offers Start8 as a free beta, and has not yet set the final price.
The open-source Classic Shell is free and will remain so. While it falls far short of Start8 in its Windows 7 mimicry, it's far more configurable.
Each utility has its limits, but either one can make Windows 8 a far friendlier environment for experienced users.
Start8: Stepping up from 8 to 7
Once you install Stardock's utility, Windows 8 will look comfortably familiar. You'll see the old Windows 7 Start menu--with the same look and functionality. You'll discover the shortcomings later.
The final version of Start8 won't come out until October. I tested a beta version that, while available to the public, is not yet ready for general use.
The Start menu looks and behaves remarkably like the real thing. Click the Start orb, and you get the same two panels with the same options. The left panel shows the list of recently used programs, and a right-click gives you the option to pin a program permanently to the top of this list. As with Windows 7, many of the programs have their own recent-files list.
But the resemblance isn't complete. Right-click one of those recent files, and you'll find the appropriate option to pin the file on the Start menu. But--at least with this beta--that option does nothing.
Start8 protects you from "Metro's" Start screen. When you boot, the program brings you immediately to the desktop (you can turn this feature off). You can even launch the new "Metro" apps from Start8's Start menu.
Of course, when you launch one of these apps, it opens in the boxy, two-dimensional style of Windows 8. You can't have everything.