I am using Windows 8 on my laptop and i decided to search for the best Windows 8 Start Menu replacement applications. I was impressed that there are so many of them. Apparently some companies decided that this could be good free publicity as these kind of apps are in high demand. Having one free and very popular app, can boost sales of other apps which are not free. Clever move! Most of the apps that i tested are completely free, one exists in two variants (free and pro), one is only available as freeware.
Start8 application from Stardock was one one of the first of its kind on the market. At first it was for free, then they have started to charge a few dollars for it. I think this app is worth these few bucks. It offers quite extensive list of configuration options but i guess that most interesting part is »Style«. Here you can toggle between two styles, Windows 7 and Windows 8. I prefer good old Windows 7 style which is very good, almost the same as original one. I can easily say that W7 look is the best among all tested apps. I was not able to find any flaws really. You can also choose between 5 different themes. I just use default one. Start8 does not have Windows 7 orb for start menu button. It does however have nice looking flag which resembles Windows 8 design and their own design called »Start8«. I prefer using Flag but having Windows 7 orb wouldn’t hurt. Start8 also supports skipping metro screen and disabling of hot corners which are basically must have features for start menu replacement applications.
- Nice amount of settings which are smartly arranged and noob friendly
- Amazing W7 start menu imitation
- Option to disable all hot corners
- Its not free
- Only two start menu buttons (Flag and Start8)
StartMenu8 from iObit is free alternative to Start8. Its looks is almost exactly the same as start menu in Windows 7. I find this to be good decision and will appeal to many users of Windows 8. This app also has extensive list of features. You can for example deactivate metro sidebar which can be annoying sometimes, configure hotkeys, etc. Under “StartButton” we can choose between six different buttons. My preferred ones are “Classic” and “Win8”. I do find two problem with this start menu. There is no setting for changing color of start menu. Default color is too bright in my opinion. Adding transparency setting for start menu wouldn’t hurt too. Default transparency setting is a bit high and doesn’t look good on my Lenovo x121e screen. There is also red Send feedback button at the top which is annoying but apparently they want to collect as much feedback as possible as this app is still in beta phase of developments.
- Good W7 start menu imitation
- HotKey support
- Able to disable metro sidebar
- Choice of start menu buttons
- Not possible to change color and transparency of start menu (default color is slightly to bright in my opinion)
- Big red Send feedback button can be annoying
ClassicShell is another free alternative which can be found on Sourceforge. When you click on Settings, you are presented with three style choices, Windows Classic, Windows XP and Windows Vista/7. I prefer Windows 7 look. Compared to StartMenu8 I find its colors more appealing to my eyes and to LCD screen of my laptop. Even though this style is called Windows Vista/7, it does not look the same as the one in W7. This might be a problem for some users. Apparently they decided to have some degree of differentiation from their competition. Bellow style selection we can find option to toggle between Basic Settings and All Settings. I find Basic setting a bit too basic. You cannot disable hot corners if you select Basic Settings for example. This setting can however be found under All Settings option. Because there are so many settings , it is hard to find desired one. I also find them to be too cluttered and their placement is confusing. Oh I almost forgot. Start menu button can be changed and we can choose between four different ones. Neither of them is exactly the same as W7 orb. Aero button is the one with almost the same look and therefore preferred choice for many and myself too. Metro button sadly does not look that well. It’s a bit too dark for taskbar.
- Many different settings
- Windows XP and Classic styles for all “oldtimers”
- You can disable all hot corners
- Sometimes settings changes do not work
- W7 look could be better
- Basic Setting option is too limited
StartButton8 is freeware application from OrdinarySoft. This one also work on Windows 7 and it is not only for Windows 8. First impression is … there are almost no additional settings! We are stuck with one style which is kinda large as it shows all installed programs at once. Larger selection is imperative in my opinion. We do have a choice of few skins which only change color of start menu background. Button selection is quite large, we can choose between 6 buttons. There are even Angry Bird icons which actually looks amazing and are perfect for children. As I wrote earlier, there are not many settings, so we cannot for example disable hot corners, we can only skip metro screen. On the other hand we can choose between 21 languages and this is nice addition.
- Interesting start menu buttons
- Support for 21 languages
- Lack of settings (cannot disable hot corners for example)
- Lack of styles and they do not offer exact copy of W7 start menu
- Freeware (one free and one paid version)
Start Menu (Wentutu)
Start Menu from Wentutu is yet another free start menu replacement. It does have almost 0 settings but it is great with imitating W7 style. Strangely there is no administrator avatar at the top of start menu. I don’t know if this is a bug or a feature. It looks kinda strange without it. This app does not support disabling of hot corners and that is a big disadvantage in my opinion. There is also no alternative styles, skins or buttons to choose from. Its actually pretty basic start menu replacement with plenty of room for improvements.
- Nice W7 style
- Support for 14 languages
- Almost no settings
- Cannot disable hot corners
- No other styles, buttons or skins
Pokki Menu is free application which tries to be very different. Its not just start menu replacement but it brings some interesting features like real-time notifications from Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, etc. They also have their own App store from where you can install various apps which can be the accessed from start menu (favorites section). It does not have many settings, you cannot change style, skin or button for example. You can disable hot corners and this is great. This application is so different from the others that it belongs in different category and therefore is not directly comparable.
Best freeware application is Start8 from StarDock. Best free application is ClassicShell.