A Tour of the Windows 10 Start Menu

A lot has changed since Windows 7 and Windows 8.

The Return

The Windows 10 Start menu.
The Windows 10 Start menu.

 Without a doubt, the Windows 10 Start menu is the most talked-about, most-requested, and most delightful part of Microsoft's newest operating system. I've talked already about how happy it made me; its return was undoubtedly the cornerstone of Microsoft's plans for the Windows 10.

I've also showed you where it is within the larger Windows 10 User Interface (UI). This time I'll dig deeper into the Start menu, to give you an idea of how it's similar to the Windows 7 Start menu, and how it's different. Getting to it is easy; it's the little white Windows flag in the lower-left corner of the screen. Click or press it to bring up the Start menu.

Right-Click Menu

The text menu.
The text menu.

First, however, it's worth noticing that you can also right-click the Start button to bring up a text-based menu of options. They duplicate most of the functions of the graphical Start menu, but they also add a couple of new bits of functionality. Two that I want to point out are especially useful: Desktop, which is the bottom item, which will minimize all open windows and show your desktop; and Task Manager, which can shut down programs that are causing your computer to hang (both functions are available elsewhere, too, but they're also here.) 

The Big Four

Next up is the most important part of the Start menu, the four items at the bottom:

  • File Explorer. This provides access to your hard drive, and includes recently-opened items, frequently used folders and Quick Access to important stuff. (Years ago I wrote a tutorial on developing a folder system for your PC. The information is still as relevant now as it was then, and the steps are the same.)
  • Settings. This is roughly equivalent to the Control Panel in previous versions of Windows. It provides information on, and allows you to change, things like your background, updates, user access and other "plumbing" aspects of Windows 10. So from now on, think "Settings" instead of "Control Panel."
  • Power. This is the same three settings as always: Sleep, Shut Down and Restart. They work the same as described in a previous article (except there's no Hibernate mode in Windows 10.) And yes, it's glorious that it's back here, easy to get to again (a big failing of Windows 8).
  • All apps. Click this to see all the applications on your computer, listed alphabetically. It's similar to how it worked in Windows 8. 

Most Used

Above the "Big Four" is the "Most used" list. This consists of -- you guessed it -- the items you use most often, placed there for quick access. One cool thing about it is that the items are context-sensitive. That means, for example, that for Microsoft Word 2013 in my case, clicking the arrow at right brings up a list of my recent documents. Doing the same with the Chrome (web browser) icon brings up a list of my most-visited web sites. Not everything will have a sub-menu like that, as you can see with the Snipping Tool.

Microsoft also puts "helpful" items at the bottom of this list, like "Get Started" tutorials, or programs (Skype, in this case) that it thinks you should install.

Live Tiles

 To the right of the Start menu is the Live Tiles section. These are similar to the Live Tiles in Windows 8: shortcuts to programs that have the advantage of automatically updating themselves. The main difference between the Tiles in Windows 10 is that they can't be moved off of the Start menu. This is a good thing, as they won't cover and clutter your screen -- another major annoyance of Windows 8.

They can be moved around in that section of the menu, resized, have the live updating turned off, and Pinned to the Taskbar, just like in Windows 8. But in Windows 10, they know their place and stay there.

Resizing the Start Menu

The Start menu has a few options to resize it. It can be made taller or shorter by hovering a mouse over the top edge and using the arrow that appears. It doesn't (at least on my laptop) expand to the right; I don't know if this a bug in Windows 10 or not, because a multi-sided arrow does appear, but dragging it does nothing. I'll update this article if the resizing issue changes. There is one other resizing option, but I don't like it for anything but a touchscreen-only device. If you go to Settings/Personalization/Start and then press the button for "Use Start full screen," the Start menu will cover the entire display. In that case, it's similar to the way Windows 8 worked, and most of us don't want to go back to that.