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Miss the start button in Windows 8? This app will bring it back

Microsoft decided to jettison the familiar desktop start button in its upcoming OS, but a utility from Stardock offers a promising alternative.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
Start8 combines the classic Start button with access to the Metro UI.
Start8 combines the classic Start button with access to the Metro UI. Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

People who just can't work in Windows 8 without the classic start button may want to check out a free app called Start8.

Designed by the folks at Stardock, Start8 tries to merge the convenience of the start button with the functionality of the new Metro environment. As such, it moves beyond the standard start menu with some unique features of its own.

You can download Start8 from its dedicated Web page and install it in the current beta, aka Consumer Preview, edition of Windows 8. Installation is quick and simple. After the app is installed, you'll see the familiar start menu orb appear in the lower left corner of the desktop.

By default, clicking the orb displays not the traditional two-pane start menu but rather the Metro Apps screen and a search pane where you can launch any installed app and search for apps, settings, and files. Moving your mouse to the lower left hot corner displays a thumbnail of the Metro start screen but clicking it opens the same apps screen and search pane. So in essence, you never have to even see the Metro start screen.

But as someone who appreciates certain aspects of the Metro screen, such as Live Tiles, I still want the option to display it. So Stardock gives you the power to customize its app based on your preferences.

Right-clicking the orb reveals a variety of options. You can disable the apps page as the default so that clicking the orb brings up the Metro start screen, either in full view or side by side with your desktop. You can set it so that clicking the orb displays the apps page but pressing the Win key brings up the Metro start screen.

You can also control the size of the Metro start screen and the apps screen when you click the orb, choosing among small, tall, wide, large, and full screen. This option lets you determine how much of the Metro screen and how much of the desktop you want to see together.

You can even change the image of the start button from an orb to the classic XP button, the new Windows 8 logo, or something else. Finally, right-clicking the orb also brings up selections for the run command and the shutdown command, so that both are more easily accessible.

Start8 is in beta, so Stardock will likely continue to tweak it before Windows 8 officially launches, reportedly in October.

The options to control the size of the Metro screen and still use the Win key to display the Metro desktop were added just yesterday.

We're still several months from the final version of Windows 8, so who knows what further changes Microsoft has in store for the new OS. But in the meantime, Start8 is a helpful tool for Windows 8 beta users who need the old, reliable start button but still want to work and play in the new Metro arena.