Windows 10 Start menu secrets every desktop pro should know

We dig deep into the Windows Technical Preview Start menu to fine-tune it so that you don’t have to

Windows 10 Start menu secrets every desktop pro should know

Windows 10 promises to bring back the Windows 7 Start menu for those of us who still slavishly utilize a keyboard and mouse -- you know, the people who try to get "real work" done with Windows.

Windows Technical Preview build 9860 shows a Start menu that's familiar on the left and Metro-esque on the right. While Microsoft is likely to change the Start menu substantially before the final version of Windows 10 ships in the second half of 2015, the plumbing's in and working, and it holds a lot of new possibilities.

Here's a guided tour the Win10 Start menu and how to make the most of it. It’s light on the easy stuff -- pinning, resizing, and so on -- and heavy on the deeper fare you probably haven't seen yet.

I also point out some of the obvious Start menu shortcomings and bugs as we step through the details. If you encounter other bugs, report them to Microsoft via the Windows Feedback app -- which you’ll find in the Windows Start menu, of all places!

Basic actions on the left side

If you've played with the Win10 Start menu at all, you probably know you can drag and drop items in the pinned part, at the top of the left side. You can't drag and drop items in the lower part, though. As with Windows 7, that lower list is supposed to be your most frequently used programs, although also like in Win7, Windows manipulates the list, favoring some programs over others.

You can remove items from either the top or the bottom of the left side: Right-click and choose “Remove from this list.”

If you right-click on an item on the left side and choose Pin to Start, Windows creates a new tile and sticks it on the Metro-tiled right side of the Start menu. Usually you can drag the item from the left side to the right and accomplish the same thing.

The only way I've found to add items to the top of the left side is to drag and drop them. It's easy to drag from Explorer, the desktop, the right Metro side of the Start menu, or nearly anywhere else. In Win7, you could Pin to Start, and the chosen entry would end up in the top list. Not so in Win10: Pin to Start means "Make a tile and Pin it to the Metro tile list."

Independent control over the top of the Start menu

While you can drag and drop items to the top of the left side of the Start menu, you can also independently tell Windows what you'd like to see up there. To do so, right-click on any empty part of the taskbar, choose Properties, pick the Start Menu tab, and click Customize at the bottom.

There you'll see listed the items that, if checked, will always appear at the top of the Start menu. If you accidentally right-clicked and unpinned an item from the Start menu list, this is where you go to get it back. If you lament the passing of Control Panel, Music, Network, or the others, you can bring them back to the top of the Start menu with a couple of clicks.

The Start Menu tab of the Taskbar Properties dialog is also where you go if you want to kill the Start menu entirely and revert to the Windows 8-style Metro Start screen. I think of that as the Windows 10 equivalent of going feral.

Get rid of apps on the All Apps pane

When you click on All Apps at the bottom of the left side of the Start menu, you'll be overwhelmed by the huge number of Metro apps (and possibly desktop programs) that appear in a large, alphabetized list, with folder names at the bottom and all other items at the top.

If you find any third-party Metro apps (that is, Metro apps not originating from Microsoft) on the list, it's easy to uninstall them and thus take them off the All Apps list. To do so, right-click on the All Apps item and choose Uninstall. Windows will terminate with extreme prejudice, as shown in the screenshot.

While it's possible -- even easy -- to eliminate built-in Metro programs with a right-click and Uninstall, I'd avoid doing that, at least for "important" Metro apps. You can shoot Sound Recorder that way and nobody will know the difference, but it isn't advisable to uninstall, say, Store or Windows Feedback. If you accidentally uninstall a built-in Metro app that you later discover you need, the only recourse I know at this point is to perform a System Refresh (Start, PC Settings, Update and Recovery, Recovery, Refresh).

You may find some links in the All Apps list don't have a right-click Uninstall option. If you want to get rid of one of those, look in the folder C:Users<username>AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuPrograms or in the folder C:ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuPrograms. Shortcuts there (other than Documents and Pictures, which appear for every user) can be deleted with impunity: Delete the shortcut, and the associated entry disappears from All Apps.

Custom folders on the All Apps list -- not yet working correctly

Microsoft has yet to bring full Windows 7-level support to customizing the All Apps list, but most of the meat is there and operational.

In the screenshot shown here, I created a folder called AskWoody in C:ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuPrograms, and put four more folders inside the AskWoody folder. (…Start MenuPrograms is the location used in Windows 7 for All Users additions to the All Programs list.) I then logged out and logged back in; as you can see, the folder structure is faithfully replicated in Windows 10's All Apps list, as any Win7 guru would expect.

The same procedure works with C:Users<username>AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuPrograms, which is the Win7 "this user only" location.

Programs, shortcuts to programs, and shortcuts to folders placed inside the homegrown folders appear on the All Apps list, and they function exactly as they do in Win7.

Unfortunately, files placed inside the homegrown folders don't appear on the Win10 All Apps list -- at least, not in Build 9860. Files in that location appear in the All Programs list in Win7. My guess is we'll see the functionality restored in a later build.

For those of you who have asked, I tried and tried but couldn't figure out how to stuff all of those Metro app icons into different folders. (Ping me in the comments if you've figured it out!) Microsoft will certainly give us tools to manage all of those All Apps entries by the time Win10 ships, I assume.

Basic actions on the right side

In many ways, the Metro tiles on the right side of the Start menu behave much like their counterparts on the Metro Start screen we've all come to love and admire in Windows 8 and 8.1. You can drag them around, and they'll bump other tiles to line up in a rather strict formation: Small tiles go next to each other, new columns show up automatically, you can't create your own new columns unless the other columns are full. Any -- but not all -- of the tiles can be resized, to one of four sizes. (The screenshot shows four Small, six Medium, one Wide, and one Large tile.)

Some of the apps change what's displayed on the tile, and if that activity bothers you, then you can right-click and choose “Turn live tile off.”

Don't want to see any tiles? Easy: Right-click on each, one at a time, and choose Unpin from Start. Right-click and choose Uninstall, and the app is uninstalled. Want to pin an app that appears in the Metro tile portion of the Start menu to the left side of the Start menu? No sweat: Drag it from right to left.

You can drag a Metro tile from the right side of the Start menu to the desktop and create a shortcut. The shortcut is like any other shortcut; right-click and choose Properties to change the name or the icon -- the default icons look like ghostly apparitions, if you can see them at all. It's not as cool as a Win7 gadget, but we're getting there.

To date we haven't seen any intelligent tiles -- ones with interactive controls on the face, like a Play button on the Audio tile -- but many people figure that will come when the Win10 consumer beta version hits early next year.

Make the Start menu taller or shorter

You can drag the top bar on the Start menu and make the entire menu taller or shorter, within the confines of your screen. But you can't adjust the size left to right. The Start menu gets wider and narrower to accommodate the tiles you've pinned in it. If you have too many tiles, they flop over to the right, and you can scroll to see them.

Make File Explorer open to This PC

Many of you have complained to me (and to Microsoft) that you don't want File Explorer to open to the new, made-up Home. In Windows 7, Explorer opened to the Libraries folder. In Win8/8.1 it opens to This PC, which shows your main folders (Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures Videos), drives and devices, and network locations.

Here's how to create a Metro tile on the Win10 Start menu that opens to This PC and how to pin that tile to the desktop's taskbar. (I believe this trick is previously undocumented.)

1. In the Start menu's “Search everywhere” box, type This PC (note the space). This PC appears as the first item on the search results list.

2. Click and drag that This PC item to your desktop. You get a shortcut to This PC.

3. Right-click the new icon and choose Pin to Start. That puts a tile on the right, Metro side of the start menu.

4. Left-click the new Metro tile and drag it to the taskbar.

You end up with a This PC Metro tile on the right side of the Start menu and a This PC icon on the taskbar.

You can use that new Metro tile, or the new icon in the taskbar, to open File Explorer at This PC. Removing it is as easy as right-clicking and choosing either Unpin from Start and/or Unpin this program from taskbar.

Make a shortcut to show your printers

Here's another tune to the same theme, using an old Control Panel hack.

Do you remember the Windows 7 Devices and Printers list? It's still around in Windows 10, but you have to dig for it. There's an easy way to stick a link to the Devices and Printers list on your desktop, and from there move it into the Start menu. Try this:

1. Right-click the Start button and choose Control Panel.

2. In the Hardware and Sound section, left-click the line marked View Devices and Printers and drag it onto your desktop.

3. Drop it on your desktop, and you have a new shortcut into the Devices and Printers list. Right-click on the icon and choose Pin to Start. It'll show up as a tile on the right (Metro) side of the Start menu.

4. From there you can click and drag the tile over to the left side of the Start menu, and/or right-click and choose Pin to Taskbar.

Many of the old Control Panel applets can be pinned in a similar fashion.

Create a Start menu entry for any drive or folder

Generally, pinning a drive or folder to the left side of the Start menu is pretty easy. I say "generally" because I've hit situations with network drives where the general approach doesn't work.

Most of the time, you can left-click and drag the folder or drive to the Start icon, then place it on the Start menu.

If that doesn't work, navigate to the drive or folder, right-click on it, and choose Pin to Start. That puts a tile on the right side of the Start menu. Click and drag that tile to the top of the left side of the Start menu; the resulting pinned item will sweep you directly to the chosen drive or folder.

In either case, you can right-click on the tile or the Start menu item and choose "Pin to taskbar" if you'd like to see it down at the bottom.

If you ever want to remove the Start menu item, right-click on it and choose "Remove from this list."

Make File Explorer open to any location

There's another way to skin this cat -- an approach with additional options. Nothing like an old trick with a new twist. Windows shortcuts have the power to launch File Explorer and have it start off in the directory of your choice. Here's how:

1. Right-click any open spot on the desktop and choose New, Shortcut. You’ll get a properties dialog like the one in the screenshot.

2. In the Target box, type explorer.exe followed by the switches that tell Explorer to open the right way, in the right place. There's a full list of valid switches in Microsoft's KB 152457. In this case, I want Explorer to start "rooted" at the location C:UsersWoodyDocumentsInvoices. I type: explorer.exe /root,C:UsersWoodyDocumentsInvoices

Note there is no space to the right of the comma. (Use quotes around the folder name, if it has spaces.)

3. Click the General tab and give the shortcut a name. You can also click the Change Icon button on the Shortcut tab and pick a different icon. (Tech Republic has a good overview of files with icons.) When you're done, click OK.

4. Click on the icon and drag it to the Start button. When the Start menu unfolds, drop the icon onto the top of the left side of the Start menu.

5. If you want a Metro tile on the right side of the Start menu, drag the new Start menu item over to the right. If you want a taskbar icon to match, right-click the Start menu item and choose “Pin to taskbar.”

I believe that trick's previously undocumented in Windows 10, too.

Change the Start menu's background color

You can change the background color on the Start menu, but in doing so, you change the background color on the taskbar and the title bar of all of your windows. Knock yourself out: Right-click on an empty spot in the Start menu (either side) and choose Personalize.

By default, Windows adapts the background color to make it stand out -- that's the default setting, in the upper-left corner. You can choose from the offered colors or mix one of your own, manually adjusting intensity, hue, saturation, and brightness.

Pin the Recycle Bin to the Start menu and the taskbar

Probably more effort than it's worth, but you can (finally!) pin the Recycle Bin to the taskbar and/or the right (Metro) side of the Start menu. That way you can avoid digging all the way down to your desktop to empty the Recycle Bin. I figure I do that once every six months.

Right-click the Recycle Bin on the desktop and choose Pin to Start. Then in the Start menu, right-click on the new Recycle Bin tile on the right and choose “Pin to taskbar.”

Keyboard shortcuts for Start menu apps

Several people have complained that they can't set up keyboard shortcuts for their programs. In Windows 7, you could right-click on any entry in the Start menu, choose Properties, and assign a shortcut key to the program. Typing the shortcut would invoke the program.

In Win10, you have to be a little more devious. Here's how.

1. Left-click on any program anywhere in the Start menu, and drag it to the desktop. Windows creates a shortcut to the program.

2. Right-click on the new shortcut and choose Properties.

3. Assign a shortcut key combination, exactly as you would in Windows 7.

You have to keep track of your own shortcut keys. Win10 inherits Win7's inability to warn you about duplicated shortcut keys, and if you assign the same key combination to two different shortcuts, heaven only knows which one will respond first. Caveat emptor.

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