The Windows 8 Start Button Blues

The Windows 8 Start Button is obsolete. That is what the software engineers at Microsoft must have been thinking. A lot of Windows 8 users, on the other hand, seem to be thinking something else.

Judging by the number of posts in computer user forums on the internet and the number of help desk tickets, there are far too many people who have a hard time getting used to the missing Start Button and the Windows 8 Start Menu.

I know you’ve heard this a million times before, but if you know how to properly operate the Windows 8 Start Screen, it will really make your computer experience so much more enjoyable.

So let’s see what options we have.

First option: get your Windows 8 Start Button back. Ok, so Microsoft has been conditioning us for many years to look in the lower left corner for the Windows Start Button, and you firmly believe that changing this now all of a sudden is simply not very polite. Put differently: you want your Windows 8 Start Button back!

Here’s how you get it back: head over to, download "Classic Shell" and install it. It’s an excellent open source program that’s been around for a while. Don’t forget to right-click the downloaded setup file and select “Run As Administrator”.

A setup wizard will appear and guide you through the simple installation steps (accept the defaults when going through the screens of the setup wizard).

Windows 8 Classic Shell

A few clicks later you’ll be happy to see that your Windows 8 Start Button has returned.

Windows 8 Start Button

And this Windows 8 Start Button comes with a few nice extra’s:

First of all, it also gives you the Windows 8 shutdown button exactly where you want it!

Windows 8 Shutdown Button

No more pulling up the Windows 8 Charms Bar, selecting “settings”, clicking “power” and then finally “Shut Down” to power off your computer!

Furthermore, you can fully customize your new Windows 8 Start Button and have items that you frequently use on your Windows 8 Start Menu, like for instance your “recent documents”.

Windows 8 Start Button Options

And if you do want to allow yourself to gradually get used to the new, native Windows 8 Start Button, you’ll still have the option to explore how the native Windows 8 interface behaves. In the illustration below, you’ll see that using the shift-key will allow you to experience the native Windows 8 actions.

Windows 8 Start Button Native

And that brings us to the other option you have when dealing with the new Windows 8 Start Menu: exploring the new possibilities and familiarizing yourself with the interface.

The Windows 8 Start Menu

You probably know what the Windows 8 Start Screen looks like:

Windows 8 Start Screen

This is the Windows 8 Metro interface.

If your screen currently isn’t showing the Windows 8 Start Screen, you’re probably looking at an active application window in Windows 8 Desktop mode. To bring up the Windows 8 Start Menu, move your mouse pointer all the way to the bottom-left corner of your screen. A rectangle with the word “Start” will appear and if you click there, your computer will show the Windows 8 Start Screen, as shown in the image just above. Some people think of the hidden "Start" function in the bottom-left corner of the screen as the new Windows 8 Start Button.

One of the first things that you might notice is the presence of “live tiles”, where information is dynamically refreshed with news and updates.

At the bottom of the Windows 8 Start Screen is a horizontal scroll bar that will allow you to scroll through all the apps that are installed on your computer.

You can think of the Start Screen as the Start Menu from Windows 7 or earlier versions: a collection of all the programs that live on your hard disk.

Launching a Specific Application in Windows 8

Many people report that they find it cumbersome to comb through all the tiles in order to find the application that they’re looking for, but there’s a very useful trick that can make this a lot easier: just start typing! That’s right, if you know the name of the application that you’re looking for (and, let’s be honest, wouldn’t that be the case most of the time?), just start typing the name. This will immediately bring up the Windows 8 Search function on the right-hand side of the screen and a selection of matching applications will appear on the left. Many people don't know this, simply because the Windows 8 Start Screen doesn't display any input field whatsoever that would suggest any typed user input.

For instance, if you would like to launch Microsoft Word, simply start typing the letters W-O-R-D and you’ll quickly find the icon to launch MS Word.

Windows 8 Search Function

You can then simply click the icon of the application to launch the program. This will take you to the launched program in the more familiar looking desktop environment with its taskbar (see image below). Notice, however that the Windows 8 Start Button is still missing from this taskbar. (Unless, of course, you’ve installed the Classic Shell mentioned in the first part of this article).

Windows 8 Desktop Mode

Please note: some of the Windows 8 components might not be visible right away in the Windows 8 Search function. For instance, if you would start typing “parental controls”, you wouldn’t see the Windows 8 parental controls directly in the application list. That’s because, in Windows 8, “Parental Controls” isn’t called “Parental Controls”. It’s called “Family Safety”. Windows 8 is smart enough to recognize that you are trying to find Family Safety and subtly hints the presence of the parental control component in the “Settings” group by showing the number “1” (see image below).

Windows 8 Search Function

In this case, you need to click “Settings” first and then you’ll be able to launch Family Safety from the application list.

Now, to further explain the Windows 8 Start Screen with its tiles, go back to the Start Screen by moving your mouse pointer to the bottom-left corner of the screen and clicking Start (you can leave the running Word application from this example open, so we’ll be able to show you how to go back to the active application further on).

Windows 8 Start Button

Another way to get back to the Windows 8 Start Screen is to move your mouse pointer to the top-right or bottom-right of the screen, which will call out a special bar on the right-hand side of the screen. This is called the Windows 8 Charms Bar. Your Windows 8 Charms bar also contains a Windows 8 Start Button, which will take you to the Windows 8 Start Screen. The Windows 8 Charms Bar also hosts buttons to activate the Windows 8 Search Function, manage your Shares, Devices and Settings. But for now, we just go back to the Windows 8 Start Screen.

All the way at the right hand side of the horizontal scroll bar at the bottom of the Start Screen, you’ll find a minus sign that you can click to get a minimized representation of the Windows 8 Start Screen.

The image below shows the minimized Start Screen.

Windows 8 Start Screen Minimized

In the minimized Start Screen, you can drag and re-arrange application tile groups. You’ll see the tiles of your applications organized together in groups that light up as soon as you hover over them with the mouse pointer. You can drag and drop the highlighted groups in any order you want. To go back to the normal Windows 8 Start Screen, simply click anywhere in the minimized Start Screen. Very much the same like re-arranging application groups in the minimized Start Screen, you can drag and drop your application tiles in the main Windows 8 Start Screen.

To go back from the Start Screen to the active application in Windows 8 desktop mode, simply move your mouse pointer to the top-left of the screen, where you’ll get a tile preview image of your current desktop status. Clicking in the top-left corner of the screen will take you back to your Windows 8 desktop mode with active applications.

Windows 8 Start Screen

Another way to go back to the Windows 8 Desktop mode is of course by using the Desktop tile in the Metro interface.

Windows 8 Start Screen Desktop Tile

One of the many little changes that illustrate how we are gently pushed into using the Metro interface is the default behavior of programs and applications. You might find yourself clicking a photo attachment in an e-mail message and ending up in the Metro-ized photo viewer without the familiar controls to minimize, restore or close the active window.

If you ever get caught in this situation and don’t know how to get out of there: simply move your mouse pointer to the top of the screen until it changes into a small hand-icon, then click and drag all the way down to the bottom of your screen to close the application.

While many people don’t like the new Metro interface, there have been speculations that Microsoft might completely abandon the Desktop interface in future versions of Windows. With Windows 8, you can already feel how Microsoft tries to “motivate” us into using the Metro interface and signing up for a Microsoft account to sync favorites and settings between devices.

From "Windows 8 Start Button" to other Windows tips & tricks.


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