Skip to main content

How to Replace the Start Menu in Windows 11

Start10 Menu
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Windows 11 has some interesting new features, but its UI is polarizing. If you're like me, you downloaded a Windows 11 ISO and did a clean install on a test machine, but don't like the new version of the Start menu because it takes much more screen real estate.  In the first preview build of Windows 11, you were able to tweak a registry setting and get back Windows 10's Start menu, but Microsoft killed that option with the first major update.

Fortunately, with a third-party app and possibly a registry tweak, you can get a different style of Start menu that's closer to the look and feel of Windows 7 than Windows 10 and gives you lots of options. There are a few different utilities out there but I tested with the three most popular: Open-Shell (formerly Classic Shell), a free open-source app, StartIsBack++ and Stardock's Start10, which cost $4 and $5 and have more polished and Windows 10-like looks. All three worked, though Start10 and StartIsBack++ were buggy unless I made a change in the registry that would bring back a classic taskbar look (more on that later). 

Below, I'll show you how to replace the Windows 11 Start menu with any of these third-party utilities and make sure they appear in the right place. 

Left Aligning the Taskbar Icons

To use any of the current Start menu utilities, you need to align your taskbar icons to the left. All three programs' buttons try to appear in the lower-left corner of the screen, so by shifting Windows 11's native button to that location the third-party one appears on top of it. However, in the case of StartIsBack++ and Start10, the third-party button either doesn't appear or is intefered with by the first-party one.

Also, if you don't install any third-party utilities, you may still want to put your icons on the left, because that gives Windows 11 a much more traditional feel than it has by default. 

To shift your taskbar icons to the left:

1. Right click on the taskbar and select Taskbar settings.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

2. Open the Taskbar behaviors menu.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

3. Select "Left" from the Taskbar alignment menu. 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Using Open Shell

Open Shell is a free, open-source utility that gives you a Windows 7-style Start menu and a ton of options for customization. The picture below shows what Open Shell looks like. It also has its own built-in search box. 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Getting started with Open-Shell is as easy as downloading the latest version from Github and installing it. Just make sure you choose the right Start button icon. Open-Shell gives you a choice of a couple of Start buttons or the option to upload your own image. However, I found that the custom button images I uploaded were often invisible or parts of them were invisible until I clicked on them.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Your Start button icon appears on top of the Windows 11 Start button, but if the one you choose doesn't completely cover it and you click an uncovered part, it will launch the Windows 11 Start menu. 

In Open Shell, clicking outside the Start button, gives you the Windows 11 Start menu (Image credit: Future)

The most reliable Start button icon is the default "Aero" button which is a circular shell icon. On our PC, it covered the complete Windows 11 Start button, but if I clicked in the blank space to the left of it rather than directly on the button, I still get the Windows 11 Start menu. The larger, rectangular Start button can solve that problem, but it may cover over parts of your other icons.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Another possibility is to uncheck Replace Start Button in Open-Shell's options menu and use the classic taskbar hack (see below) and then you'll get a clickable, Windows 10-style Start button.

Using Start10 and StartisBack++

Stardock's Start10 is a bit more polished-looking than Open Shell, though it costs $4.99 after a 30-day trial and, as of this publication time, it only works if you enable the classic taskbar (see below). Start10 also has a "Windows 10 style" Start menu that promises the Windows 10 look and feel, complete with tiles. However, as of this writing, only the "Windows 7 style" and "Modern style" modes work. Presumably, Stardock will fix this at some point. The good news is that, with Start10, you can use the actual Windows 10 Start button icon if you want.

Below is a screenshot of how Start10 looks in Modern style. There's also a built-in search menu that works really well for finding your apps.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

After you download and install Start10. you can set the style and control lots of fine details like the size of the icons and how many columns you have. On the Style tab, you can set the Start button icon and we strongly recommend going with the Windows 10 icon.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

StartIsBack++ is very similar to Start10, but it's $1 cheaper and doesn't have a (non-working) Windows 10 look-a-like option. With StartIsBack++, you can successfully choose one of the built-in Start menu options, like this shamrock icon, and it will cover over the Windows 11 Start button, but if you right click on it, it will lock up. So your best bet is still to enable the classic taskbar (see below).

StartIsBack++

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Enabling Classic Taskbar

In order to get Start10's button to appear and be clickable at this point, to get Open-Shell to use a Windows 10 Start button icon and to keep StartIsBack++ from locking up when you right click it, you need to enable the classic taskbar in the Registry. This taskbar looks and feels a little bit more like the Windows 10 taskbar and has a Search box and a Task View button. 

However, neither of these works. The Search box does absolutely nothing when you click on it and the Taskview, in my experience, almost always crashes, causing icons even of open apps to disappear temporarily, so in other words, don't click it , or better yet, hide it, which we'll show you how to do.

1. Open Regedit. You can launch it by hitting Windows + R and typing "regedit." Click Yes if prompted.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

2. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Shell\Update\Packages.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

3. Create a new DWORD (32-bit) value by right clicking in the right window pane and selecting New->DWORD (32-bit) Value.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

4. Rename the value to UndockingDisabled.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

5. Set UndockingDisabled to 1.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

6. Close regedit and restart Windows 11. The classic taskbar will be there, but you'll notice on the left side that the clock, audio and networking icons are missing. 

7. Launch the notification icons control panel by hitting Windows key + R and entering shell:::{05d7b0f4-2121-4eff-bf6b-ed3f69b894d9} then hitting Ok.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

8. Click "Turn system icons on or off." 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

9. Toggle Clock, Volume and Network to On. The icons will now appear on the left side of the screen.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

10. Hide the "Task view" icon (optional). Since this function tends to crash, I recommend hiding the button by right clicking on the taskbar, selecting Taskbar settings and toggling Task view to off.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

11. Hide the search box (optional). Since the search box doesn't actually work, your best bet is to hide it by using Regedit to navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Search and setting SearchTaskbarMode to 0 and then restarting Windows. The good news is that   the Start menu replacements have their own search boxes built in.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

In the end, you will have a taskbar that works with any of the utilities and looks a bit more Windows 10-like. You can even, as of this writing, unlock the taskbar and drag it around.

You'll also have the Windows 10-style File explorer and right-click, jump-list menus that look like Windows 10 and have all the options on them, as opposed to the Windows 11 menus that only a show a maximum of 7 options. That may be reason enough to make this tweak.

However, if you just want the Windows 10 File Explorer in Windows 11 or to move the Windows 11 taskbar to the top, there are other ways to do those things.

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.
  • HyperMatrix
    For the past few years I’ve been launching most of my apps either by their desktop or taskbar icon, or by hitting the windows key and typing part of its name and hitting enter. It’s by far the fastest method. There’s nothing particularly useful about the windows 10 start menu unless you happened to like the live tiles for the apps that supported it. Overall not a significant change and nostalgia and fear of change would be the only reason I can see for people wanting to stick to the old look.
    Reply
  • Aaron44126
    I for one will miss the Windows 10 Start menu. Not because of Live Tiles, that was a nifty feature but I never saw it used in a way that was "useful" other than maybe the weather app tile. Since Windows 8, I've adopted an approach of pinning basically everything that I could need to the start menu. It's laid out in a way that makes sense to me and I know where everything is. So, opening an app is just Windows key + click, even faster than typing in the search bar. The most common stuff I have pinned to the taskbar, but the Start menu has easily 80+ apps available at a glance.

    On Windows 11, I think you can only pin 18 items before having to scroll through them. They can't be freely placed, either, they are arranged in rows sort of like iOS. So, blah. Just throwing icons on the desktop is not really my thing, because then I have to deal with minimizing all open windows to access it. The closest thing that I've found to replicate the Windows 10 Start menu (as a one-click app launcher) is WinLaunch, but that one doesn't have as much layout flexibility as the Win8.1/10 Start menu did.
    Reply
  • Math Geek
    i could not get open shell working on it, did not realize i had to set the task bar to the left first.

    much more bearable interface when i can make it look like win 7 :) and of course once you enable the win 7 start menu, you can now make folders and organize your stuff like many like/want to do.

    otherwise i really don't see much different than win 10 in how it works.
    Reply
  • Pollopesca
    I've been using RocketDock with stacks for frequent apps (aligned to the left) since the XP days. Sure it hasn't changed since 2008, but still serves its purpose well. The Win 10 start menu was the only one that really came close to the same level of customization/organization with small tiles. Being 1-2 clicks from any major app without cluttering my desktop or scrolling through a list.

    I feel like customization is key to a good start menu.
    Reply
  • helfer.pesche
    Aaron44126 said:
    I for one will miss the Windows 10 Start menu. Not because of Live Tiles, that was a nifty feature but I never saw it used in a way that was "useful" other than maybe the weather app tile. Since Windows 8, I've adopted an approach of pinning basically everything that I could need to the start menu. It's laid out in a way that makes sense to me and I know where everything is. So, opening an app is just Windows key + click, even faster than typing in the search bar. The most common stuff I have pinned to the taskbar, but the Start menu has easily 80+ apps available at a glance.

    On Windows 11, I think you can only pin 18 items before having to scroll through them. They can't be freely placed, either, they are arranged in rows sort of like iOS. So, blah. Just throwing icons on the desktop is not really my thing, because then I have to deal with minimizing all open windows to access it. The closest thing that I've found to replicate the Windows 10 Start menu (as a one-click app launcher) is WinLaunch, but that one doesn't have as much layout flexibility as the Win8.1/10 Start menu did.
    Me too! I feel exactly the same way. Everything I need is neetly organized in the Start Menu - even hierarchically. Everything I need frequently is linked on the taskbar. But that's only a fraction of what I have in the Start Menu, and the taskbar is already full. I seriously hope there will be some kind of workaround or third party app to get the Win 10 Start Menu back. It's not about nostalgics, I switched from Win 7 to Win 10 easily. It's about the Win 10 Start Menu being way more flexible than the dumbed down Win 11 Start Menu.
    Reply
  • JoBalz
    HyperMatrix said:
    There’s nothing particularly useful about the windows 10 start menu unless you happened to like the live tiles for the apps that supported it.

    Agreed. The only live tile I ever use is the Weather Forecast tile, which I do scan frequently. Otherwise, I don't use the feature on any other file.
    Reply
  • Kamen Rider Blade
    Pollopesca said:
    I feel like customization is key to a good start menu.
    I think that philosophy should be the core to a good start menu that can be customized to the end users whims.

    I have a alternate Start Menu Design that is a hybrid of all the existing Start menu's that I want to try to implement, but it'll take time for me to figure out how to make it.
    Reply