Start menu tricks for Windows 10

The latest Start menu has few of Win7-era customizations -- but many new tricks worth knowing

Start menu secrets every Windows 10 pro should know
Start menu secrets every Windows 10 pro should know

Microsoft’s recently released RTM version of Windows 10 marks the official return of the Start menu, which has many Windows aficionados rejoicing. The run-up has been an open book, with numerous iterations of the evolving Start menu hitting the streets since the Windows 10 Technical Preview was released nearly a year ago. It’s high time to update my original Win10 Start menu tips, now that the bits are (nearly) baked.

I’m not going to bore you with the easy stuff -- pinning, resizing, renaming, moving groups, and the like. Instead, this guided tour takes you behind the scenes, to point out settings you may have missed and offer a few tricks that may save your bacon one day.

Suffice it to say that the Windows 10 version of Start isn’t anywhere near as complex or malleable as the Win7 version -- no custom folder hierarchies, for example, no drag-and-drop pinning to the left side. But it has inherent smarts you may find useful.

If you have any additional cool tips, hit me in the comments!

Basic actions on the left side
Basic actions on the left side

In the shipping RTM version of Windows 10, you can’t drag and drop programs or folders to the left side of the Start menu, as you could with Windows 7. In the “Most used” section, you can click and drag a program from the Start menu to the desktop, and this will create a shortcut to the program (and leave the entry on the Most used list). You can also click and drag a program from the left side of the Start menu to the right side (aka the Tiled side), and it will appear among the Tiles, but this action will remove the program from the Most used list. Right-clicking a program on the left side of the Start menu and choosing Pin to Start will create a Tile for that program on the right side.

When you right-click on a program or folder and drag it to the Start button, Win10 brings up a floating notice that you can “Pin to Start menu.” But that floating notice is currently bunk, as I couldn’t find any way to pin a dragged program, folder, or file to either the left or right side.

Bottom line: There’s no way to put your folder or file on the left side of the Start menu. (It’s possible to put some specific folders and shortcuts to programs and shortcuts to files in the All Apps list. On the right side, you can generally pin folders -- turn them into tiles -- but not files. It’s complicated. Keep reading.)

As with all of Microsoft’s Most used lists, the one on the left of the Start menu is salted with programs that Microsoft wants you to try. If you run a program over and over again, eventually it will show up on the Most used list, but it can take a long time for the program to float to the top.

Custom settings on the left side
Custom settings on the left side

The Start menu settings, shown in this screenshot, aren’t as cut-and-dried as you think.

“Show most used apps” shows the list at the top of the left side of the Start menu. As mentioned, it’s a salted list and not likely to cover the apps you genuinely use most until you’ve been using Windows for quite some time.

“Show recently added apps” adds only one entry to the left side of the Start menu, no matter how many apps you install and when.

“Use Start full screen” puts Windows in Start full-screen mode, which gives you a Start menu that works and acts like Tablet mode -- there are Tiles all across the screen, no text on the left, and a hamburger icon on top. Once you get past the Start menu, though, you’re back on the regular desktop.

“Show recently opened items in Jump Lists on Start or the taskbar” is more an aspiration than a working feature. File Manager shows only Pinned and Frequent folders in its jump list. Edge doesn’t show any jump lists at all.

Custom settings at the lower left
Custom settings at the lower left

Click on the link shown at the bottom of the previous slide -- the one that says “Choose which folders appear on Start” -- and you see this set of optional folders.

When you specify a folder is On, it appears at the top of the list on the lower left of the Start menu, above File Explorer. The more folders you add to the bottom, the fewer programs appear in the Most used part at the top. Worse, if you later remove folders at the bottom, the list at the top doesn’t expand to fill the vacated slots; you have to restart to get the entries back.

For example, if you slide Documents to On, your Start menu sprouts a new entry above File Explorer that points to your Documents folder.

The last item on the Choose which folders list, “Personal folder” (it doesn’t appear in the screen shot), displays a link to open the folder associated with your user id, which is commonly C:Users<username>.

Custom folders on the All Apps list
Custom folders on the All Apps list

By now you’ve no doubt rattled around the All Apps list, on the left side of the Start menu. You can right-click on an app in the All Apps list and pin it to the taskbar, or “Pin to Start” -- which means put a Tile for the program on the right side of the Start menu. Click on one of the capitalized section headings (for example, “A”) and you get a phone book-like index of all letters, making it marginally easier to locate a program. Beginner stuff.

You may not realize it, but you have significant control over the All Apps list. In this screenshot, for example, I’ve created a custom All Apps folder called “AskWoody,” and under it I’ve placed links to a program, a JPG file, a video, and a Word document.

To generate the All Apps entries shown here, I created a folder called AskWoody in C:ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuPrograms. I then placed shortcuts to a regular old-fashioned Win32 desktop program, to a JPG file, to an MP4 file, and to a Word DOCX file inside the folder. Note that Win32 programs or files don’t work -- you can put them in the custom folder if you like, but they won’t show up on All Apps. You have to work with everyday Windows shortcuts to programs and files.

I wasn’t able to create a hierarchy of folders in the All Apps list. RTM Windows 10 apparently scans all of the contents of a folder and its subfolders, and pulls out shortcuts it recognizes. So, for example, if I had Shortcut1 inside …ProgramsAskWoody and Shortcut2 inside …ProgramsAskWoodySomefolder, both Shortcut1 and Shortcut2 appear on the All Apps list under AskWoody, but there’s no entry on All Apps for Somefolder.

I also had no luck with making subfolders (below the C:ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuPrograms level) and shortcuts to folders appear on the All Apps list. If you’ve found something different, please nudge me in the comments!

The same procedure works with C:Users<username>AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuPrograms, which is the old Windows 7 location for “this user only” Start menu entries.

There are more tricks in this vein. Let’s first look at Start menu Tiles in general.

Pin Settings in the Tiles area
Pin Settings in the Tiles area

In general, you can right-click on any program, no matter how you find it (All Apps list, File Explorer), and choose Pin to Start. That puts a Tile for the program on the right side of the Start menu, in the Tiles area. You can do the same with any folder. You can also right-click on any shortcut to a program or folder and similarly pin it in the Tiles area.

There’s a trick to pinning folders on the Start menu. Find the folder you want to pin, right-click on it and choose “Pin to Quick access.” Then, in File Explorer, look at the Quick Access list at the top, right-click on the folder, and choose Pin to Start. That puts a Tile for the folder on the right side of the Start menu.

The Pin to Start trick also works for every setting in Windows Settings. Click Start,  then Settings, navigate to a setting that interests you, right-click on it, and choose Pin to Start (see screenshot). That puts a Tile for the setting in your Start menu’s Tiled area.

There’s a laundry list of similar settings that can be placed in the Tile pool. See my article “How to make shortcuts to Windows 10 settings on your Desktop” for details.

Put shortcuts to programs and Tiles on the desktop
Put shortcuts to programs and Tiles on the desktop

Want to put a shortcut to one of your programs -- either old-fashioned Win32 programs, or new-fangled Universal apps -- on your desktop? No problem. Find the program, either in the All Apps list, or among the Tiles on the right side of the Start menu, left-click and drag it to the desktop. The Link overlay appears (see screenshot) and if you drop the program on the desktop, that’s exactly what you’ll get: A link to the program, sitting on your desktop.

It’s important that you left-click. If you right-click (as I’m inclined to do), nothing happens.

Don’t forget that you can put shortcuts on the desktop for any program you can find in File Manager. Simply navigate to the program, right-click on it, choose Send To, and Desktop (create shortcut) -- the shortcut magically appears.

That’s how you can put a link to any Windows program on your desktop. Combine it with the All Apps folder modification mentioned earlier, and you can stick any program on the All Apps list, in the location you wish. See the next slide.

Put any program anywhere you like on the All Apps list
Put any program anywhere you like on the All Apps list

If you’ve been following closely, no doubt you’re anticipating the next step. By creating shortcuts on the desktop and moving them to the appropriate subfolder under C:ProgramDataWindowsStart MenuPrograms (or C:Users<username>AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuPrograms), you can create custom menu items in the All Apps list that contain any programs, whether they’re old-fashioned Win32 programs or new WinRT-based Universal apps.

In this screenshot, I used the trick in the previous slide to create shortcuts to the Universal apps Calculator, Microsoft Edge, OneNote, and Phone Companion. I then dragged those shortcuts into the C:ProgramDataWindowsStart MenuProgramsAskWoody folder, next to the other shortcuts I added earlier.

Voilà. You get an alphabetized list of all the shortcuts in the folder and all of its subfolders. Judicious use of underlines and other typical alphabetizing tricks will let you arrange the shortcuts in any order. (Note: To change the title of a shortcut, right-click on the shortcut, choose Properties, and on the General tab, change the text in the top box. You can change the icon there, too: On the Shortcut tab, click Choose icon.)

If you’ve been wondering how to roll out a custom hierarchical folder in All Apps, this doesn’t quite give you all the tools you need -- the hierarchy is only one deep -- but it’s a decent start.

Make GodMode items shortcuts
Make GodMode items shortcuts

But wait -- there’s yet another huge trove of programs you can add to your collection of shortcuts. (As you’ll see in the next slide, the shortcuts are one step away from appearing on the All Apps list.)

Windows 10 can display a list of 250 (or so) system programs that you can access directly. It’s commonly called “GodMode,” but you can call it “Parlor Trick” or “Fried Green Tomaters” if you like. I posted an article about GodMode back in June, but the short version goes like this: Right-click on your desktop, choose New, Folder. When the new folder appears, give it this name:


You can use any valid Windows filename instead of GodMode. Double-click on the folder and you get the list shown in this screenshot. Right-click on any entry in the GodMode list, choose Create Shortcut (see screenshot), and you ultimately get a shortcut to the program on your desktop.

For example, if you want to put a shortcut to the “Schedule tasks” function on your desktop, get GodMode going, right-click on Schedule tasks and choose Create Shortcut.

Pin any program shortcut to the All Apps list, then optionally add it to the Tiles
Pin any program shortcut to the All Apps list, then optionally add it to the Tiles

It’s usually easy to add program shortcuts to the Tiles on the right side of the Start menu: Right-click on the shortcut, choose Pin to Start, and the new Tile appears. In some cases, though, there’s no “Pin to Start” option. Relax. There’s a trick.

As best I can tell, you can put a shortcut to almost any program, document, or folder directly on the All Apps list. (None of this is documented anywhere I can find, so we’re kind of pushing the envelope.)

For example, using the technique in the previous slide, I created a shortcut to the GodMode entry for Schedule tasks and put it on my desktop. If I right-click on the shortcut, there’s no “Pin to Start” option, thus no way to directly put Schedule tasks in the Tiles on the right side of the Start menu. There is, however, a tricky way around the limitation.

I start by putting the Schedule tasks shortcut directly on the All Apps list. Do that by copying the shortcut to this folder:

C:ProgramDataWindowsStart MenuPrograms

At that point the shortcut appears in alphabetical order with all the other entries in the All Apps list (see screenshot). You can do the same thing with shortcuts to documents and most (but, mysteriously, not all) folders.

The same method works with C:Users<username>AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart MenuPrograms, the old Win7 location for “this user only” Start menu entries.

Once you have an entry in the All Apps list, you can drag it to the right and create a Tile on the right side of the Start menu. In this case, if you’re frustrated by the fact that you can’t right-click on the Scheduled tasks shortcut and “Pin to Start” to make a Tile available on the right side of the Start menu, you can use this trick to get the Tile where you want it.

Make File Explorer open to any location
Make File Explorer open to any location

This is a trick I talked about last year, and it works in a similar manner with the RTM build 10240 of Windows 10. Windows shortcuts have the power to start File Explorer based in any location you like. Here's how:

1. Right-click any open spot on the desktop and choose New > Shortcut. You get a properties dialog like the one in this screenshot.

2. In the Target box, type explorer.exe followed by the switches that tell Explorer to open the right way, in the right place. There's a full list of valid switches in Microsoft's KB 152457. In this case, I want Explorer to start "rooted" at the location C:UsersWoodyDocumentsInvoices. So I type the following:

explorer.exe /root,C:UsersWoodyDocumentsInvoices

You can use quotes around the folder name, if it has spaces.

3. Click Next, give the shortcut a name, and click Finish. You end up with a shortcut on your desktop.

4. If you want to change the picture on the icon, right-click on it, choose Properties, then on the Shortcut tab click the Change Icon button. Pick a different icon. (Tech Republic has a good overview of files with icons.) When you're done, click OK.

5. Double-click on the shortcut on your desktop, and verify that File Explorer opens to the given location.

6. If you want a Start menu Tile that opens File Explorer to that location, right-click on the new shortcut on your desktop and choose “Pin to Start.”

7. If you want to add an item to the All Apps list that starts File Explorer in that location, drag the shortcut to the folder C:ProgramDataWindowsStart MenuPrograms.

Just the beginning
Just the beginning

I’ve only scratched the surface with these examples. There are certainly many more combinations and permutations. For example, I haven’t even started twiddling with the settings inside the shortcuts’ Properties dialog.

Windows 10 Start doesn’t have all the goodies in Windows 7 Start, but there are a surprisingly large number of similarities -- if you know where to look. Corporate developers who have to deploy app suites that integrate into the Start menu in Windows 10 should take particular note.

You may find it better and easier to work with a Windows 10 Start menu replacement program. I wrote about Start10 and Classic Shell in August, and they’re the two top contenders. Classic Shell, in particular, has a great implementation of hierarchical menus.

But if you want to stick to bone-stock Windows 10, there’s a lot more to the Start menu than meets the eye.

Explore! If you find something new and interesting, post it in the comments here, or send email to me,