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Three free utilities can replicate the classic Start button and menu in the RTM (release-to-manufacturing) version of Windows 8.Windows users who still miss the good old Start menu in Windows 8 can revive it, courtesy of three handy utilities.Okay, I confess. After all these months of testing and using Windows 8, I still miss the classic Start menu. Microsoft has attempted to lure me to the new Start screen, and I can see some clear benefits to it.
But for me, the Start menu is still the easiest way to organize, locate, and launch my vast array of desktop applications.

If you’re in the same boat, fear not. ViStart, Classic Shell, and StartMenu7 all do a good job of duplicating the classic Start menu with its folders, shortcuts, and easy access to common Windows locations.Concerns surfaced that Microsoft would disable the functionality of such Start menu apps in the final version of Windows. But I tested all three utilities, and all worked just fine in the Windows 8 RTM edition unveiled last week.
Published by Lee-Soft, ViStart displays the familiar Windows 7 orb. Click on the orb, and up pops ViStart’s Start menu with your folders and shortcuts on the left pane and links to popular Windows features and locations on the right.
The search field lets you find the name of any application or file. A dedicated shut-down button offers access to Shutdown, Restart, Log off, and Hibernate commands. And ViStart plays nicely with the new hot corner — you can still access the lower-right thumbnail to switch between your last two open Windows 8 apps.
ViStart presents one obstacle, though. I couldn’t find a way to organize my Start menu. Right-clicking on a folder or other item had no effect. And I couldn’t locate a folder where ViStart stores its menu shortcuts. So there seems no way to customize the menu. The ViStart FAQ confirms that no right-click support is available, but that the feature is on the drawing board for a future version.
ViStart is a simple and quick way to get back the Start menu as long as you don’t mind the inability to customize the menu. Just pay attention when you install ViStart. The installation includes options to change your search engine and install a browser add-on, and they’re checked on by default.
Classic Shell is a collection of features from prior versions of Windows, including a new but familiar take on the classic Start menu. Clicking on the Windows orb after installation lets you choose between displaying all settings in the Start menu, or just the basics. You can also select between a simple single-paned menu or the more modern dual-paned menu.
The Classic Shell menu displays your programs, documents, and settings. The familiar Run command and Search field are visible. Clicking on the Shut Down icon brings up choices for Shutdown, Restart, Hibernate, Lock, and Switch User. The Help command even calls up the new Windows 8 Help and Support page.
Unlike ViStart, Classic Shell lends itself to customization. The program offers an array of settings and options that you can tweak all you want. You can learn more about the utility through its detailed FAQ page.
Also known as StartMenuX, this utility lets you customize the look, feel, and functionality of its flexible Start Menu.
You can resize the menu to take up as much or as little room as you want. You can right click on any folder or shortcut to access a pop-up menu of commands. You can change the Windows orb between the classic Windows 7 look and the newer Windows 8 logo. There’s even an option to set up virtual groups to organize your shortcuts.
The traditional Run and Search commands are available. And a Power Control panel displays options to Shut Down, Restart, Hibernate, Sleep, and even Undock. StartMenu7 is is available as both a free version and a $20 Pro edition that offers even more features and customizations.
My only gripe with StartMenu7 is that it cuts you off from easy access back to the Windows 8 Start screen. After installing the utility, I could no longer trigger the Start screen thumbnail in the lower right corner. Even pressing the Windows key simply opens the program’s start menu. The Charms bar still worked, however, so I was able to click on the Start charm to return to the Start screen.
Each of the three utilities has its pros and cons. But all of them are helpful options for those of us who can’t quite seem to work without the classic Start menu.

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