The best free Start Menus you'll find for Microsoft Windows 8.1

With Windows 10, Microsoft will finally restore the missing Start menu to its tiled operating system. That’s great news for anyone who isn’t a fan of the Start screen and Modern UI. But Windows 10 is still a good six months away (probably longer), so until it arrives, the only options for users of Windows 8.x is to either accept the Start screen, or install a third party Start button and menu.

The good news is there are plenty of excellent free options available. Here are our top 12 recommendations.

Classic Shell

classic start2

Last updated in April to make the program more compatible with Windows 8.1 Update, while also introducing the ability to pin and unpin apps to the taskbar, this is the Start menu recommended by most users. It offers a choice of three different menu styles - Classic, Two Columns and Windows 7 - which can be skinned to suit your tastes.

It is packed with options, including a dedicated shutdown button, the ability to pin programs directly from Explorer and an enhanced Windows Search function. In addition to the classic Start Menu there's a Classic Explorer and Classic IE, although you can choose which elements you want during installation.

Anvi OneStart

Anvi OneStart1

As well as offering the standard Windows 7-style Start button and menu, Anvi OneStart can also display a windowed version of your Start screen. Just right-click the new Start button, launch Settings and select Windows 8 mode in the menu. You can choose the size the menu should display at -- Small, Medium, Big, Maximized, or Full Screen. It can also display just the Apps screen.

8StartButton

There are free and paid versions of this Start button/menu. The free edition will suffice for most users' needs and offers a choice of new designs. You can customise the Start button with your own images, and choose what it should display when clicked - the Start menu, Start screen or a radial menu.

A customisable menu offers tabs that let you quickly switch between Start menu, Start tiles and Recent Documents, and there’s a "Search for programs and documents" box.

IObit Start Menu 8

IObit’s menu offers a choice of styles. You can opt for the usual Windows 7 look, or go for the Windows 8 design which places the Start (or Apps) screen inside a window on the desktop. It offers a selection of different Start button choices too including a love heart, an acorn, and a coffee cup.

Start Menu Reviver

The Windows 10 Start menu has folders on the left, and Modern UI tiles on the right. Start Menu Reviver has a similar design and is touchscreen-friendly. It will even let you turn websites and documents into tiles.

ViStart

A free Start menu from the developer who has previously created alternative menus for Windows Vista and Windows 7. It comes with three Start menus and four Start buttons pre-installed, and a skin manager and control panel you can use to configure settings.

Start Menu X

Fully compatible with Windows 8.1 this Start menu comes in free and professional editions. The latter costs $9.99 and adds extra features, such as one-click launch, and tabs.

StartW8

If you want a straightforward, Windows 7-style Start menu, then this is the perfect solution. The last update, in July, added an automatic refresh to the All Programs menu.

Classic Start 8

Adds a traditional Windows 7 style menu to the tiled OS and gives users quick access to the search box, control panel, documents, and all programs. It hasn’t been updated in a while.

Handy Start Menu

A rather basic Start menu, but it does the job and lets you launch programs without having to leave the desktop. You can automatically group and reduce useless items.

StartForDesktop

Offers a Start menu and “Classic” Start menu, as well as the ability to pin desktop apps, and launch Modern apps.

Power8

Not the most polished looking of Start menus, it lets you access frequently used applications and pin items. It doesn’t require installation, so you can try it out without risk and even use the Modern UI alongside it.