For Windows 8 beta users still yearning for the good, old-fashioned Start menu in Windows 8, StartMenu7 is one utility that can bring it back.
Initially designed to replace and enhance the Start menu in Windows 7 and prior versions, StartMenu7 (aka StartMenuX) can pull a similar trick in Windows 8. Designed for a PC or touch-screen device, this utility is available as both a free version and a paid $19.99 pro version, so you can try out the freebie first.
After installation, the software displays an icon in the lower left corner of the desktop. Click on the icon, and a traditional Start menu pops up with access to your various programs, documents, folders, and other content. You can navigate through the various folders and subfolders to launch your full array of installed programs.
You'll find the familiar Run command, which is always handy. And a Search link brings you to the Metro screen's Search feature. A power control panel gives you access to a helpful collection of options, including Shut Down, Restart, Sleep, Hibernate, Log off, and even Undock if your laptop is connected to a docking station.
You can easily resize the menu to make it shorter or narrower and even position it anywhere on the screen so it's closer to or further away from the Taskbar. By default, the utility uses the new Windows 8 logo for its button, but you can change that to the familiar Windows 7 orb, an Apple logo, or even an Angry Birds image. You can also change the skin and color of the menu itself.
The free version provides some options to edit the menu by letting you add and remove items. But you'll need the pro version to completely customize the menu. A separate Group Manager tool allows you to add, edit, and remove virtual groups for your different applications.
Since the tool's Start menu icon appears in the usual lower left, you may have some trouble accessing the Metro screen thumbnail that appears when you hover in the hot corner. The trick is to move your mouse all the way to the hot corner until the thumbnail appears, then move your mouse up, and then click on the thumbnail to bring you to the Metro screen. So with a little finesse, StartMenu7 can co-exist peacefully with access to the Metro Start screen.
I did bump into one glitch where the utility's icon overlapped the Taskbar icon next to it, in this case the shortcut for Internet Explorer. Exiting the icon removed it from the screen, but then I couldn't get it back until I rebooted Windows 8.
If you have trouble launching the program from its Start menu icon, you can run it from the Windows System Tray instead. Click on the arrow for Show Hidden Icons in the System Tray and select Customize. Set StartMenuX to "show icon and notifications," and it will always appear to let you trigger the menu.
Old habits die hard, and the traditional Windows Start menu will probably die harder than most. So I expect to see even more utilities pop up this year trying to take its place. For now, though, StartMenu7 seems to fill that job quite nicely.
Microsoft has not announced when Windows 8 will officially be released, but some reports have said it will come out in October.