How to Customize Windows 10 Start Menu

Expanded Windows 10 Start Menu
When Microsoft dropped the Start Menu from Windows 8, the chorus of protests was so loud that the company had to backtrack. In Windows 8.1 a very small beginning was made on reinstating the old favorite and now in Window 10 the Start Menu is back. However, it is still not the Start Menu we all were accustomed to. Since this feature is one that will be important to many people in deciding whether to upgrade, here are some details about what the new version of the Start Menu does and how to customize and use it.

Through its Insider Program, Microsoft has made a series of preliminary versions of Windows 10 available and I have been looking at them as they have come out. As the development of Windows 10 proceeded, the Start Menu underwent numerous changes.  Some future changes are still possible but we have now reached a point where the Start Menu is probably in a more or less finished stage. The description here is from Windows 10 Build 10130 and is oriented to non-touch users. If new builds with changes appear, I will update this article.

To open the Start Menu, left-click the flag in the lower left corner of a Windows screen.  (A right-click will open the much smaller but also useful Power Users menu, which is basically the same as in Windows 8.x.) The first image shown below is an example of a Windows 10 desktop with the Start Menu opened. The menu does not look much like the versions in Windows 7 and earlier and may require some getting used to. Here is how it works.

Start Menu on Windows 10 desktop

Resizing the Windows 10 Start Menu

The menu is resizable and can be changed either up and down or right and left by placing the mouse pointer on the top or right edge. A double-headed arrow will appear. Hold down the mouse button and drag to expand or decrease the menu in the desired direction. This function has undergone numerous changes as Windows 10 evolved so the Internet contains a variety of instructions about resizing the Start Menu that no longer work. The graphic below shows an example of a fully-expanded menu. It is not quite full-screen but takes up a majority of the space.

Expanded Windows 10 Start Menu

If for some reason you want a full-screen view that is something like the Start Screen in Windows 8.x, there is a setting for this that is illustrated in the section below called "More Ways to Personalize the Windows 10 Start Menu". Or you can go to Settings- Personalization- Start and enable the option “Use full-screen Start when in the desktop.”

Structure and configuration of the Windows 10 Start Menu

Like the older versions, the new Start Menu is divided into separate left and right sections.  The left section has various useful links while the right section contains tiles.  The image on the left shows a partially expanded view. There are various options available for configuring menu entries by using context menus that can be opened by right-clicking the entries.

Contents of the left side of the Windows 10 Start Menu

Looking at the left section of the menu, there are six different areas or sub-sections. However, when the Start Menu is collapsed to its minimum size, all of the left sections may not be displayed.

1. The top area contains a user account link. (For privacy reasons, I have partially blocked the name out in the graphics.) Clicking this link opens a context menu that provides easy access to user settings.

Windows 10 Start Menu context menu for link2. The next section down is a list of the most used programs. There does not seem to be an easy way to add programs here but a program can be removed by right-clicking its link and choosing “Don’t show in this list” from the menu that opens. The menu contains other useful options as shown in the image on the right.

3. The third section contains a link to the most recently added program or app. This entry can be removed by right-clicking and choosing “Remove from this list” in the context menu. Then the program added previously will be shown. This category can be removed entirely as shown in the section below called “More Ways to Personalize the Windows 10 Start Menu”.

4. The fourth group of links is sometimes called the “Start list” or “Quick links”. It contains links to a selection of certain often-used folders and functions such as File Explorer, Downloads, Documents, Settings, and Network. Only limited customization seems available for this area and the details are given below.

5. Right under the Start list is the Power button with the usual functions. It is interesting that Microsoft has tried putting the Power button in a variety of locations in different builds of Windows 10. Maybe this is where it will finally end up.

6. The bottom section is one that many have been asking for - a way to easily access installed programs.  It is called “All apps”. When this link is clicked, the left side of the Start Menu becomes a scrollable alphabetical list of programs and apps. The image below shows an example. This feature is the new version of the old “All Programs” but I don’t know an easy way to edit it. There is a hidden shell folder AllApps where the links used there can be seen but this folder does not seem to be intended to be edited in normal use. For the curious (and careful) it can be viewed by using the Run box and entering “shell:AppsFolder” (without quotes). There is also a hidden folder called Application Shortcuts that can be opened from the Run box by entering “shell:Application Shortcuts” (without quotes). This folder also does not seem to be intended for editing in normal use.

All Apps section of Windows 10 Start Menu

More Ways to Personalize the Windows 10 Start Menu

In addition to the settings that are available by right-clicking a link on the left side of the Start Menu, there is a personalization applet where various features can be toggled on or off. The applet can be reached in several ways. One way is to right-click an open spot on the desktop and select “Personalize” in the context menu that opens. In the left pane of the window that opens, click “Start”.  The image below shows an example of the settings that are displayed.

Settings for Windows 10 Start Menu

Windows 10 Start List settings
The settings include displaying or not displaying two areas of the Start Menu- recently used programs and recently added programs. These settings are circled in the graphic above. Also, there is a setting for limited customization of the contents of the Start List. To open the dialog window for this setting, click “Customize list” (highlighted in yellow in the graphic shown above). To see the settings that are available, click the thumbnail image on the right.

There is also a setting to provide the full-screen version of the Start Menu. If you change this setting, you will need to restart for it to take effect. Toggle the entry "Use full-screen Start when in the desktop".

The righthand side of the Windows 10 Start Menu

This side is reminiscent of Windows 8 and contains a collection of tiles. The default group of tiles consists of various standard Windows apps such as Calendar, Mail, People, News, Weather and others of the type that used to be called “Windows store apps”. Some of these are “live tiles”. In other words, they are connected to the Internet and periodically update.

Right-click functions for Windows 10 tile in the Start menu
Although Windows initially populates this area with default tiles, the right side of the Start Menu is highly configurable. All the default tiles can be removed and you can pin your own selection of applications and folders here as tiles. Tiles can be customized in several ways by right-clicking and using the context menu. An example of a tile context menu is shown on the left.

To remove a tile, right-click it and select "Unpin from Start" in the context menu. There are four possible sizes for tiles and these can also be set in a tile's right-click context menu. If you do not want the live tiles to be updating, click "Turn live tile off".

To pin an application file or a folder, right-click it and use the context menu entry "Pin to Start". For example, you could pin programs and folders here that you regularly use.

Tiles can be dragged around the righthand side of the Start Menu to rearrange them in groups or however you prefer.

Change the colors of the Start Menu

If you prefer different colors for your Start Menu (and taskbar) there is a color setting. Right-click an open spot on the desktop and select “Personalize” from the context menu. In the left pane of the window that opens, click “Colors”.  The image below shows an example of the settings that are displayed. The setting "Automatically pick an accent color from my background" has to be toggled off if you want to see alternate color selections. Also, the setting "Show color on Start, taskbar, and action center" must be toggled on. (This setting is below the display of color alternatives and is cut off in the graphic below.)
Configuring Windows 10 Start Menu colors

And there you have it - the Windows 10 Start Menu. It may not be like the one in Windows 7 but at least it is something Windows 8 doesn't have. (Tech Support Alert)