The lack of the Start button in Windows 8 is quickly fading away from the list of weaknesses in the operating system. And this is thanks to third-party developers who took it upon themselves to supplement this feature. IObit is no different and came up with StartMenu8, a simple and free alternative that mimics the launch button in Windows 7 almost to the letter. As such, you have the section with frequently used programs, the side menu (with the exact entries as in Windows 7), the power button and the search bar. Although it has already reached version 2.0 StartMenu8 has not yet made it out of beta. This means that glitches and issues are likely to occur. Installation does not take long to complete and, just like in the case of other start buttons we’ve tested, no system restart is required. However, during our tests we needed to restart Windows Explorer’s process in order to make the button visible (otherwise it would work just fine). StartMenu8 makes the environment in Windows 8 a little friendlier for those still on the fence about giving Windows 7 up. Looking at the launcher there is little to give away it being created by a third-party developer and pertaining to a different operating system. By default, the application places the familiar start orb in the bottom left corner of the desktop. There are multiple options to pick from, among them being the Windows 8 logo and two custom buttons sporting a black and white version of the Microsoft flag. On the less serious side there is a smiley face you can choose..
The program is extremely flexible when it comes to the way the start button looks because it allows you to add custom images. The procedure is quite simple, if you already have the buttons designed. All you have to do is copy them to the StartButtonSkin folder in the installation directory of the program.
You need three PNG images, sized 54×54. One is required to represent the button in normal mode, one for its appearance when clicked and one for hovering the mouse over. Obviously, you can have the same image for all three states. Full details are available here.
The configuration panel of the application provides the possibility to boot straight into the classical desktop instead of the modern UI Start Screen. Furthermore, the hot corners can be deactivated as well as the charms bar.
Switching to the modern design of the operating system can be achieved easily, either through Alt+X hotkey (changeable) or from the context menu of the Start button. Additional keyboard shortcuts you can assign are for calling the configuration panel of the app and for displaying the Run menu (the default Win+R still works, though).
Other customization settings refer to the side menu in the launcher. Almost each entry can be displayed as a link or as a menu. Obviously, the list is subject to customization and there are plenty of shortcuts to add (Administrative Tools, network connections, Downloads area, etc.).
On the downside, we noticed that not all our choices would be reflected in the side menu, a clear indication that the application still needs to tie some loose ends in order to become stable.
StartMenu8 can be a great companion if you can’t work with the modern Windows that gave up the decades old Start button. It is still under development but it offers much of the functionality in the Windows 7 counterpart.
There are some differences a keen eye will spot immediately, though, such as the obvious “Send Feedback” button under the account picture. On the same note, you won’t be able to access the list of recent items for the frequently used programs and newly installed applications are not highlighted.
We noticed that the algorithm governing the order of the programs needs to be refined because our attempts to move a specific entry up in the list in real-time by accessing it on a more frequent basis ended in utter failure; but restarting the application seemed to solve the problem. StartMenu8 allows you to pin entries to the top of the list, for easy access.
Compared to similar software StartMenu8 is extremely simple. It comes with a clear set of options that can be easily handled by all types of users and it can boot straight into the classic desktop. It allows customizing the looks of the button with images of your own.
The program is still under development.
StartMenu8 from IObit is not as complex as other applications in its category but it makes for a simple and useful solution for those that can’t make it on Windows 8 without a start button. It mimics the functionality of the original (although not entirely) and provides the possibility to customize its looks.
Even if the project has not been finalized, the bad parts aren’t that bad, so the app is very close to getting there.
Note: Since StartMenu8 is in beta stage of development our rating will remain set to the default three stars.
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