With Windows 8 receiving massive backlash from customers and PC manufacturers, it is safe to assume this is due to ‘Metro’, sorry Modern UI.
Unfortunately due to the lack of touch screen use by most computers, Modern UI’s main appeal fails, and it quickly becomes unintuitive and I personally found myself searching through every menu for things I would find instantly in Windows 7.
Windows 8 brings change, and whenever you change something that has been in since Windows 95 (i.e. the start menu) you are always going to encounter issues. The issue that arises from Modern UI is that due to its forced use many users are sticking with Windows XP and Windows 7. This is shame as they lose out on performance gains, improved task manager, improved SSD support and much more importantly current Microsoft support with Windows 8 and now Windows 8.1 versus XP and 7 (which although currently supported, are not receiving as many updates).
The solution therefore is an alternative 3rd party start menu. There are quite a few on the market and I am going to discuss four I have tried personally and give opinions on each one, I will also look at the Start button added in Windows 8.1 and see if it counters the need for a 3rd party start menu.
Of the four programs I have used Start8 is the only non-free option, it happens to be the first 3rd party start menu I discovered as I moved to Windows 8. Created by Stardock (known for their game development/self-publishing arm), Start8 is probably the most complete 3rd party start menu but on first install requires a login and registering every time, this is a slight annoyance when compared to rival offerings, but for $4.99 Start8 initially did well by being the first to the market and was for quite some time the only way to seamlessly mimic the Windows 7 start menu.
Pokki is the second 3rd party start menu I personally used; originally I adopted its use to counter the first time setup issues above. Unfortunately Pokki has issues in the form of the integrated app store which makes the application feel bloated and very ad ware versus alternative options, and as such I would struggle now to recommend it.
Start Menu 8 by IOBit is likely the best commercial option on the market; streamlined and simple, providing a start button and menu that mimics Windows 7 perfectly while providing some customizing options. Start Menu 8 is also free which gives it an instant advantage over Start8. This is quite likely the best option for most users for ease of use, price and from a well-known name.
Classic Shell is my favorite 3rd party start menu application. Classic Shell provides power users the customization options that provide you the ability to make your start menu how you want it. You can adjust the start menu from the classic standard 2000/XP start menu, to the more modern two column Windows 7 start menu. Like Start Menu 8, Classic Shell is free, but due to its customization options and smaller brand name I would not recommend it to the average PC user seeking to bring back the start menu. However if you are a power user who seeks full control of your system, then Classic Shell is the perfect application for you.
As well as re-adding the start menu, most of these applications also provide the option to boot straight to desktop, completely avoiding Modern UI altogether, so much so that most people will not even realize you are running Windows 8 until you tell them, therefore providing the improvements of Windows 8 without the disadvantages of an unintuitive UI.
Windows 8.1 prior to release was heavily rumored to be a big U-turn on all the complaints made against Windows 8, with the key complaint being no start menu and the forced use of Modern UI. However upon release this seems to have been incorrect, although we do now have a start button, it simply does not return the start menu to its pre-Windows 8 glory as we all expected, as such I still recommend a 3rd party start menu.
Ultimately anyone who has been considering a move to Windows 8, or now 8.1 has no excuse in the form of hating Modern UI as a quick download and install taking only a couple of minutes brings back the comfortable layout of Windows 7.