The solutions range from plug-ins to full applications both free and for pay and can prove useful for those who personally prefer the Start Menu as well as for IT pros trying to make Windows 8 less painful for their end users to learn.
INNOVATION: 6 of the very coolest new Microsoft lab projects ]
Alternatively, it's easy enough to create a custom Start Menu workaround. Create shortcuts to all or frequently sought applications and place them in a folder, then pin that folder to the Windows 8 start screen or desktop. One click and you're inside the folder. This lacks search and other conveniences of an actual Start Menu, but it may serve the purpose adequately.
Third-party apps have some advantages. Besides being more familiar, a fully functioning Start Menu on end-user machines in a professional support environment can help cut down on help desk calls from users who can't figure out where to find Control Panel in Windows 8 or how to turn off the machine, for example.
Instead, they just have to know how to click or tap from the Windows 8 Start Screen to call up the Windows 8 desktop where they can find the third-party Start Button. Some of these Start Button/Start Menu apps can boot up Windows 8 machines directly to the desktop rather than the Start Screen, making the process even simpler.
Here is a sampling of some of the Windows 8 apps, some free, some free for trial, some for pay.
Classic Shell is a free collection of enhancements for Windows that includes a Windows 8 Start Button and a customizable Start Menu. It also creates a toolbar and status bar for Windows Explorer and a caption and status bar for Internet Explorer.
Classic Start 8 is a free app that adds a traditional-style Start Button that leads to the search box as well as Control Panel, All Documents and Documents.
Pokki doesn't try to look exactly like the classic Windows Start Menu but does bring back its functionality. Its search feature not only calls up results from applications on the computer but also from the Web and the Pokki application store. Pokki is a free download.
Start8 ($4.99 from Stardock) brings back the Start Menu and enables booting directly to the Windows 8 desktop rather than the Windows 8 start screen. It lists the Windows 8 start screen as an item on the Start Menu so it's just a click away. So is shutdown, something that takes four steps with the Windows 8 interface.
StartFinity installs a Start Button and a Start Menu. A free version suitable for trialing doesn't allow customizing the menu and has a command, WinAbility, that leads to WinAbility's store. It's not for commercial use. One commercial-use license costs $4.95; 10 cost $29.95.
StartIsBack creates a full-featured Start Button and Menu that behaves just like the ones in Windows 7, the company says. It requires no privileges. Free 30-day trial; $3 to buy.
Start Menu 8 restores the Start Button and Start Menu, and offers the option to skip Windows 8 start page, booting instead to the Windows 8 desktop directly. It's free.
Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.
Read more about software in Network World's Software section.
This story, "How to Solve the Windows 8 Start Button Dilemma" was originally published by Network World.