NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2003
Start Here to Transform the Windows Start Menu
by Steve Bass
Pasadena IBM Users Group
(click to email author)

Customizing the Start Menu is a snap

I was sitting on the back deck, a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in hand, and leafing through Microsoft's Windows XP Reviewer's Guide.

I was describing to my wife how XP made better use of the Start button than Win 98, when she casually said she hated it. "I never use the thing," she went on, not realizing I was under a moral obligation to make sure she was using the Start Button correctly. "I can get to all the programs I regularly use," she continued, "by clicking an icon on my desktop." Oy vey, I thought, the 293 icons-on-the-desktop syndrome. I had my work cut out for me. (Needless to say, she's never seen my collection of 70 Desktop icons, but that's another story altogether.)

"I'm a computing professional," I said emphatically, hoping she wouldn't challenge me, "so tell me all about it."

"Besides," she was on a roll and there was no stopping her, "when I open the menu and click Programs, another menu slides out, then another, and half of them aren't even programs I have anymore. To get to the program I want takes, I dunno, 20 minutes."

Was that in real or computer time, I wondered, grabbing my beer, trying to decide if I should start the barbecue or plunge deeper into the abyss.

"The Start Menu," I said, easing back into the conversation, "is fully customizable. Give me ten minutes and I can show you how to make it look, feel, and act just the way you want it to."

Step into my wife's office and I'll show you what I did to her PC. I'm basing my tips on Windows 98 so while some will work in Win95 (and certainly in Win ME), you'll need to do some fiddling on your own.

STARTing to Understand
The first thing to be aware of is that the Start Menu is built upon directories (folders, if you're new to this sport) and shortcuts. If you'd like to make a sub-menu, just add a new folder. Don't forget, a shortcut simply points to the program and can be safely renamed, moved, or even deleted.

You might also think of your old program groups (hello? Win 3.1?) as the folders on the Programs menu.

The Structure of Start
When you click on the Start Button and the menu pops open, you'll see three sections. Depending on your PC, the lowermost part has Shut Down and Log Off. The middle section includes Run, Help, Find, Programs, and other entries.

Folder Fodder
The top section is the most troublesome and may have tons of stuff.

What happens when you install a new application is that the program, in collusion with Windows, adds a folder either to the top portion, the Programs area (again, just a folder), or worse, both spots. In my case, at least before I made the Start Menu my own, I had 12 entries (and few that I used often) because of the proprietary way these arbitrary, capricious, and dumb programs install themselves.

Making the Change
To reorganize items on the Start menu, just keep in mind they're all menus or shortcuts, and all your moves can be unmoved.

If you're a novice and want to experiment, try this: Close all your applications so you're at the Desktop. Open the Start Menu and slide any item from the upper portion onto the Desktop.

Don't like it there? Two remedies to try: Right mouse click on the Desktop and select and click Undo Move. Or just slide the entry back onto the Start Menu by dragging it to the Start Button, waiting for the menu to appear, and dropping it where you want to see it. Cool (and easy), eh?

Now open Start, Select programs, wait for the menu to pop out to the side, and try the same thing. Move, delete, and rename items by dragging and dropping, or using the right mouse button to copy and paste.

Win Explorer Meets Start
If you want to be a power user (or pretend to be one), open Windows Explorer and head for \Windows\Start Menu. Both of those files are shortcuts and correspond to the upper portion of your Start Menu. Try this: Rename any item (press F2, a shortcut). Then open the Start Menu. The change is effective immediately.

Now click on the Programs folder and take a few minutes examining the contents. Each folder matches what's in your Start Menu, right? Begin rearranging items in a logical way. For example, I created a folder named "tools" and moved every system tool, utility, and applet into it. Another folder? Multimedia for all of my music programs. Ditto for security, photos, and games.

Now move programs you use often to the upper portion of the start menu.

Here's a trick: I take frequently used programs, ones I use daily- PowerDesk, Eudora, IE, Word's Open Doc, Snagit (a screen capture tool)-- and stick a shortcut for each one in the Quick Launch part of my taskbar. Do it by right clicking on an empty area on your taskbar, click Toolbars, and make sure that Quick Launch is selected.

Then from Win Explorer or PowerDesk (or even your Desktop), drag a program onto the Quick Launch bar. It will add a shortcut (that's done automatically) and you can slide it along the Quick Launch area to suit your needs.

A Clean Start
As you poke around the Start Menu, my guess is you'll find more than a few dead links, programs that you've uninstalled but are still in the Start menu. Instead of hassling with it, use Start Menu Cleaner, a freeware utility which cleans the start menu by removing unneeded shortcuts and folders. It's available at http://www.mithril.d.se.

If you want to fiddle with other settings on your PC besides the Start Menu, say, changing icons or editing the Add/Remove Programs list, grab a copy of More Properties 2.0. It's free to try and a dollar if you continue using it. http://home.global.co.za/~olivierd/imaginary/mp20lite.zip

Hey, I've gotta go. My wife's wondering if I can show her how to modify Word's Toolbar.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Write to him at steve_bass@pcworld.com. Check PCW's current edition at http://www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at http://www.pcworld.com/bass_letter.

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