How (and why) to customize the Windows 10 Start menu

The Windows 10 Start menu is a blend of navigation from Windows Phone and Windows 7, and it's highly customizable. We’ll walk you through it.

Opening Windows 8 for the first time and, gulp, not finding a Start menu had a lot of us tech-types sweating; ordinary users were dismayed and annoyed. We thank you so very much, Microsoft, for bringing it back in Windows 10 -- and making even better.

The new Start icon has a dual function: One click opens the Start menu and a right-click displays the Quick Access menu for advanced system tools, such as Event Viewer, Device Manager and Command Prompt. What more could you want? Plenty! Let's look at why an administrator might want to customize the Start menu and the steps for making changes that stick.

Why to change the Win 10 Start menu

Not everyone wants all the items that appear on the Start menu by default. Many of us can live without the Suggested section, for example, and seeing different photos displayed on the Photos tile and ever-changing news items flipping up on the News tile can be distracting.

Customize Windows 10 Start menu 1 Ed Tittel & Kim Lindros

A network administrator might want to limit which tiles appear on the Start menu, or at least turn off live tile updates, to make it less busy. Also, paring down the All apps menu and/or grouping apps can make it easier for users to find programs.

Tip: Before you slice and dice the Start menu, make a backup so you can restore the settings if needed. The Windows Bulletin has step-by-step instructions for backing up the Windows 10 Start menu.

The basics

Most changes that you can make to the Start menu involve right-clicking and selecting an option; some changes require a few more actions. Here's a list of basic modifications that are often made to the Start menu:

  • Pin and unpin (remove) tiles: Right-click a tile and select Unpin from Start. To add a tile, find an app on the left side of the menu (in Most used or All apps, for example), right-click it and select Pin to Start.
  • Rearrange tiles: Left-click and hold a tile, and then drag it to a new location.
  • Turn off live tile updates: Right-click a tile and select More > Turn live tile off. The live tile is replaced with a static one. To reverse this, right-click the static tile and select More > Turn live tile on.
  • Change the Start menu color: Right-click any empty space on the desktop and choose Personalize > Colors. Choose a color swatch to change the color of the Start menu.

Resizing the entire menu is easy, too. Just grab and pull down on the upper edge until the size is right for your users.

Grouping apps in the All apps list

When you install Microsoft Office in Windows 10 and then use the All apps list to open a program, Access shows up in the A section, Excel in the E section, Word in the W section and so on. Users would probably benefit from having all of the Office programs in one spot, perhaps under the folder "Microsoft Office." You can accomplish this by right-clicking any desktop application in the All apps list, and then selecting More > Open file location. In the File Explorer window that appears, right-click any empty space in the right-hand pane, select New > Folder and name it Microsoft Office. Then drag and drop the application shortcuts into the new folder.

Removing unwanted items

To remove an item from the Most used section on the left side of the menu, right-click the item and select More > Don't show in this list. Note that removing an item doesn't uninstall the associated software. A user can still type the name of the program in the Search field to find and run it.

Tip: To uninstall an app from any location on the Start menu, right-click it and select Uninstall.

If you don't want the Suggested section to appear at all, right-click it and select Turn off all suggestions. In the Personalization screen that appears, move the Occasionally show suggestions in Start to off. This leaves a blank space in the Start menu, which you can close up by resizing the entire menu.

Customize Windows 10 Start menu 2 Ed Tittel and Kim Lindros

The All apps list contains entries for both traditional desktop applications and universal apps from the Windows Store. To remove a desktop application, right-click the application in the All apps list and then select More > Open file location. In the File Explorer window that appears, find the application's shortcut and delete it. Microsoft doesn't provide an easy way to remove a universal app from the Start menu. You must explicitly uninstall it.

Exporting the modified Start menu

If you run Windows 10 Enterprise or Windows 10 Education, you can re-use a custom Start menu layout by exporting it using Windows PowerShell and then applying it to other Windows 10 devices. Exporting a layout creates an .xml file, which you can deploy to devices using Group Policy, Windows Imaging and Configuration Designer provisioning package or mobile device management (MDM).

One decision you need to make for such an export is whether to apply a full or partial Start layout. With a full Start layout, users can open and use apps but they can't pin, unpin or uninstall apps from the Start menu. A partial Start layout protects tile groups from being modified while allowing users to modify other aspects of the Start menu layout.

Windows Start menu alternatives

The Windows 10 Start menu isn't your only menuing option, either. Start10 ($5) and Classic Shell (free) are customizable replacements for Start. In fact, when we experienced Windows 10 Start menu problems in the fall of 2015, due to a then-unknown compatibility issue between Windows 10 and Dropbox, we installed and used Start10. We still use it on some computers because it mimics the Windows 7 Start menu, which is a comfort zone for some users (including your humbled authors).

Related video: How to uninstall Windows 10 apps and programs

This story, "How (and why) to customize the Windows 10 Start menu" was originally published by CIO.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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