Thursday, April 9, 2009

Streamline Vista/XP StartMenus

This article describes how to re-organize your Start Menu icons so they are easier to use. This works with both Windows Vista and XP but not for Windows 7. It recommends using the "Classic" Start Menu, although the ideas presented here do not require this.

Quick Peek: If you are looking for the folder 'all-users start menu'; look here:
XP: Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu
Vista: C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu

For Windows 7, see this article: Windows 7 Streamline Start Menu

The Problem with Clutter:

When you click the Start Menu, do you get frustrated?
Is it a nuisance to find a program?
Do icons seem to move around?
Does your Programs Menu look like this?:

Consider the following changes, which includes a change in how the Start Menu itself looks, as well as steps on how to organize the icons.

I recommend switching the Start Menu to the "Classic" style. Although it is not as pretty as the default start menu, you will find it easier to navigate and easier to read. (Note, starting in Windows 7, the "Classic" menu is no longer available -- however, the rest of this article still is valid; see this article for Windows 7 Start Menu Cleanup steps)

Changing the StartMenu Style

To change the Start Menu to the "Classic" style, follow these steps (this option is not available in Windows 7).

1. Find an unused (grey) area on the task bar (between two buttons).
2. Other-mouse-click and choose "Properties"
3. Click the Start Menu tab (top row)
4. Click "Classic Start Menu" (not available in Windows 7)

Customize the Start Menu:

Changing these options further improve and enhance the menu and these are recommended for both Vista and XP users.

5. While still in the Start Menu top-tab, click the "Customize" button
6. In the Advanced Start Menu Options list, make these changes:

[x] Display Logoff (check)
[x] Display Run / Run Command (check)
[ ] Scroll Programs (uncheck for speedier scrolling)
[x] Show Small Icons in Start Menu (check)
[ ] Use Personalized Menus (uncheck)

Leave all other options, as-is. Click OK and return to the desktop

Turning off "Personalized Menus" keeps the icons from moving to new positions (by default, Microsoft places the most recently-used icons near the top and it will re-shuffle the icons).

Adding Common Programs "above the line"

By default, there are no icons above the Start Menu's "Programs" choice. You can add your most commonly-used programs "above the line," which makes them reachable in two mouse clicks. For example, I have my AddressBook, Windows Explorer, Excel, WordPerfect and other programs listed here, "above the line:"

Do the following to place icons. This works on both the Vista/XP Standard and "Classic" menus.

7. From the Desktop, "other-mouse-click" the Start Menu
8. Select "Explore All Users" (not "Explore"). If you have Windows 7, see Windows 7 Streamline Start Menu

In the Directory Tree, the "Start Menu" folder represents the icons that can live "above the line" (see illustration above). Icons created (or copied) from other areas and pasted here become visible "above the line." Icons placed in the "Programs" folder are visible in the "Programs" menu.

Copy Icons from Other Areas:

9. Directly below the "Start Menu" folder
Single-Click the "Programs" folder.
In the detail-side, other-mouse-click an icon
(for example, Microsoft Excel)
Select Copy.

10. Re-highlight the "Start Menu" folder; other-mouse-click the folder and select Paste.

If you are running Windows Vista, it will ask for permission (UAC). See my article "Stopping Vista's most Annoying UAC Nags" to turn these specifically off.

Click the start menu to see the results: (Excel) will show above the line when the Start Menu is clicked.

When Copying and Pasting icons, don't hesitate to tunnel down the StartMenu, Programs menu, into sub-folders that other vendors have built. Copy those icons and paste them either in the Start Menu folder, or if they are used less-often, paste them in the "Programs" folder. Often I put copies of the icons in both places.

Other Vendor's Messes

Vendors often create folders within folders in the StartMenu. For example, Acronis True Image Home makes tunnel through 5 clicks in order to start their program This is mostly advertisement.

Streamline the mess by following these steps. This example uses the above Acronis illustration as an example.

A. While still in the (Explore All Users" directory tree; step 7 and 8 above), tunnel into the "Programs" folder, until you find the vendor's icons. In this example, tunnel to Programs, "Acronis", "Acronis True Image Home", then look to the detail side.

B. From the detail side, copy or drag the icon(s) you want to keep into either the "Programs" or the "Start Menu" folder (see illustration, above). In this case, only one of the three icons are necessary -- "Acronis True Image Home".

Drag or copy-and-paste the icon into either the Start Menu (if you want the icon "above the line" or into the Programs folder (if you use the program less-often).

(When deleting and copying, Vista will prompt with a variety of UAC nags. Pummel your way through them until your work is done. You may get multiple prompts for the same icon.)

Consider building a "Programs\Util" folder and pasting the icon there. Or for other types of programs, paste them into the Accessories folder, if you want to keep them around, but out of the way.

C. Once you salvage the icon(s) you want to keep, delete the remaining (Vendor's) folder and all contents within. The Help and Website icons are reachable from within the program and there is no reason to allow them to clutter your Start Menu or your life. Delete them!

The Results:

View your handy-work by clicking Start Menu, Programs: Note the Acronis icon is easily visible in the Programs Folder, right where you want it to be. The other Acronis folders are gone, and the menu is one item shorter.

Delete Even More:

If your Program Menu is cluttered like this illustration, consider weeding through the entire menu, consolidating and deleting folders and icons. It is perfectly safe and acceptable to do this and the underlying programs cannot be harmed by these changes.

This is my actual Start Menu on my main production computer. I am ashamed I haven't moved "CyberViewX_MF" into the Accessories folder, but I will as soon as this article is posted!:

When looking at a Program folder, I often delete most of the icons and folders installed by vendors, leaving only the ones I need to launch their program. For rarely-used programs, I often tuck them inside of the Accessories or a Utility Folder.

Only those programs that I use on a daily basis are visible at the front of the menu. All others are deleted or moved further down. Icons such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, Windows Calendar, Windows SideBar, Backup Programs, and the like, are all tucked away in sub-folders. With this, I seldom have to hunt for a program and my Start Menu is short and sweet.

I always ask myself, "When was the last time you clicked this icon?" If the answer is rarely or never, delete it. De-clutter your life.

As you work in these folders, Vista's, UAC nags will be horrendous. Consider disabling them temporarily (see links, below).

Related articles:
Stopping Vista's most Annoying UAC Nags
Vista Spiffs
Cleaning Startup Programs
Windows Folder Locations

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