As Windows 8 is now out in the consumer market, there’s a new, emerging market designed specifically for Windows 8 users: Start Menu Replacements.
I’ve dug out a handful of these applications, and there have been good sides and bad sides to them all. It also needs to be noted that all of these replacement applications are separate processes from the Windows 8 Kernel, so you see them on the Task Manager process list, and I’ll show you the processor usage with the Start Menu open.
Pokki (Free) – https://www.pokki.com/
Great design, the most unusual of the lot. It’s currently under development, and still having the bugs worked out, but it’s quickly rising to the top of the pile (see: Google Search).
It also has the unique ability to add shortcuts to your favorite web applications, via it’s own App Store. This may be the point of contention and confusion for college campuses that limit user profiles. Pokki is built off of Chromium, the Google Chrome project. This is good, as it promotes interoperability with Google Apps. This is bad, as some apps require Flash Player to run, and that’s not included.
Installation is done via a One-Click-Install method from the website. This also means that any updates are easily handled just by the virtue of the computer being on. There’s another problem with it: It’s a per-user install. It installs to C:\Users\\AppData\Local\Pokki. That’s no good for multi-user environments.
There’s also a couple more nit-picking items I feel I need to share with you. First is, Pokki has no configuration option. No way to go in and make certain features your own. Secondly, Pokki fails to acquire full control of the Windows key on your keyboard. If you’re in a native Windows 8 application, pressing the Windows key will bring you the Windows 8 Start Menu, not the Desktop with the Pokki menu. Once to the desktop, however, Pokki has the key completely.
Power8 - http://code.google.com/p/power8/
A take off the Windows 7 Start Menu, Power8 is marketed towards power users.
The ability to pin apps is there, however the Windows 7 style Jump Lists are not. It’s got the quick functions for shutting down, but it takes up more real estate than needed. The Start Menu itself acts like a sub-menu, with the folder expansion style.
While I understand that Power8 is still under development, the graphic button for the menu is noticeably bugged. It was very unhappy with any setting I chose.
The settings can be found by right-clicking on the menu button, and choosing the settings area. Processor usage, Power8 runs on a single threaded executable, but said process uses ~27mb of memory; opening the Start Menu however, yields next to nothing for CPU time.
Start8 (Pay – $4.99) – http://www.stardock.com/products/start8/
I’m going to show a little bias here. Anyone who’s read anything about Stardock should know that they are the most awesome, customer service, anti-run-of-the-mill company out there. And they produce good, clean software.
That being said, Start8 is customizable only to a point, but still flexible and appears to be dependable. It can be configured to look like the Windows 7 Start Menu, or like the Windows 8 UI (only smaller).
While being a paid for application, it has more than just a lot of promise; support comes with it too. Process time is minimal, and menus fly out smoothly. The only slowness I met was in the Virtual Machine (VM) when I resumed the session.
ViStart (Free) – http://lee-soft.com/vistart/
This is one of those “good enough” applications. They’ve replicated the Windows 7 Start Menu to the letter, with a couple of extras (something they call Ultra Blur, and custom Start button icons). While simple, it’s too simple, and does not match the Windows 8 experience.
ViStart also attempts to install with a Search Bar for IE, so just be wary of that.
There are bugs with this. The print screen function is locked out when the Start Menu is opened, the button itself has a graphical bug to it (bad transparency, I think).
Processor wise, ViStart does some good, with a single thread process, but also has a secondary process called ViUpdater, which appears to be an auto-updater application.
Start Menu X (Free, Pro $19.99) – http://www.startmenux.com/
Start Menu X is one of the “branches” of a line of an existing Start Menu replacements; Start Menu 7, Start Button 8, and Start Menu X. But don’t let the lineup confuse you. X is the latest version.
This app starts as a freeware application, but can be upgraded to the Pro version. The benefits of the Pro version are minimal, but if you use them, they can be very powerful; specifically the tab function. Cost wise, if you have no need for the Pro features, the free version is probably good enough.
Playing with the application, it’s smooth and is easy on the eyes (matches the current theme). It takes up a lot of the screen area (but less intrusive than the native Windows 8 menu), and generally works as intended, with a nice, clean operation. A simple interface will make this a good option for many.
It includes a Power Control Panel, where you can decide to shutdown, lock, etc.. and have a timer for such an event (like when you’re downloading a big file, but it’ll be done in an hour, you can tell the computer to shutdown in two hours or so).
The downside is that clicking any part of the app that is a Pro feature, it will prompt you to buy it. Otherwise, the process usage is good, and is nice and speedy!
Classic Shell (Open Source) – http://classicshell.sourceforge.net/
Personal favorite of the free grouping, Classic Shell is probably the most customizable, flexible, and hassle free of the lot.
Configuring it is easy enough, though you will have to open the Advanced option to get the rest of the goodies. It has a Windows 8 option for skin and button, and a plethora of other options.
As the lightest wight of the bunch, it has a great number of things going for it. The latest release adds an Apps menu for all of your native Windows 8 applications, but still keeps a great number of the original Windows Start Menu options intact. For enterprise users, the settings can be made, and exported for your mass deployments.
If you’ve made it this far, here’s to you! And here are my suggestions and top pick!
Classic Shell is great for the most users. The processor usage is light, and the options are great (if not a little too much). Unfortunately being Open Source makes support a bit more difficult, since it’s a job for only one person.
Start8 is a great choice for just about the rest, as it’s a paid for, highly supported application. The Windows 8 configuration is a great bonus to get people used to the feel of the native Start Menu.
Start Menu X is, however, perfect for the power users out there (so long as you go Pro). The price tag is a little too high for my opinion, and I personally will stay with the freeware version unless the price comes down to meet or beat Start8.