Image: Microsoft

The Start menu is your way into Windows and the web—it’s where you find your apps and start your searches, where you go to customize the system and organize your digital life. It’s the hub of everything you do on your Windows computer, so don’t settle for the default configuration: Make the Start menu your own.

Start menu basics

To access the basic Start menu settings, open the Start menu itself and click the cog icon on the left. Choose Personalization, then Start, and you can turn various Start menu features on or off, including whether or not recently installed and frequently used apps are shown. The main apps list can be hidden altogether, leaving only the tiles.

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If you long for the days of Windows 8 when the Start screen would take over the whole of the display, you can bring those days back by turning on the toggle switch for Use Start full screen. Click Choose which folders appear on Start to show or hide links to Downloads, Documents, Music and so on.

Screenshot: Gizmodo

The settings for the look of the Start menu are somewhere else: Click Colors under the Personalization heading to pick a different accent color for the Start menu (and other elements of Windows). You can enable transparency effects and switch to dark mode here too—the changes apply to the whole operating system, including the Start menu.

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If you tick the Start, taskbar, and action center box then a variation of the accent color you’ve picked acts as the background to the Start menu (and taskbar) as well as the accents (like the app tiles) themselves, rather than the regular black. Any changes you make get applied in real time, so you can quickly undo any modifications you don’t like.

Adding and organizing apps

Any application installed on your system gets added to the master apps list on the left of the Start menu (use the settings screens mentioned in the previous sections to show or hide this list). If you want to see a larger tile for the program on the right of the Start menu, right-click its entry in the list and choose Pin to Start.

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Once you have a tile pinned, click and drag it to move it around. Drag it on top of another app icon to create a new folder, or on top of a folder to place it in there. You can also create new groups of application shortcuts by dragging an icon to an empty spot (click above an icon group to name or rename it).

Screenshot: Gizmodo

Right-click on a tile and in some cases a Resize option appears (it depends on how the app developer has coded it). This gives you more choices for designing and configuring the Start menu, and getting the programs you need front and center. Choose Unpin from Start to remove a tile.

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That right-click menu also acts as a link to some other useful shortcuts too, depending on the app in question: You can see your recently viewed websites with Google Chrome, for example, or recently opened files in Microsoft Excel. If you right-click on the iTunes icon, meanwhile, you can eject devices, shuffle music, and more.

Adding other shortcuts

The Start menu isn’t just for your applications—shortcuts to files and websites (and web apps) can be kept here too. When it comes to folders, you need to open them up in File Explorer first, then right-click and choose Pin to Start. Certain folders, like the default Music and Video ones, can be added from the settings pane we mentioned above.

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Shortcuts for files can be added to, but it’s a rather convoluted process: From File Explorer, hold down Alt then click and drag a file to the desktop to create a shortcut to it. Then, move that shortcut to the C:\ ProgramData\ Microsoft\ Windows\ Start Menu\ Programs folder—it’ll then appear on the main apps list on the left and can be pinned to the tiles pane just like a program.

Screenshot: Gizmodo

Adding website and web app links is a little easier, at least in Edge: Click the three dots (top right) to open the program menu, then choose More tools and Pin this page to Start. The link you’ve created gets added to the tiles (and opens in Edge). In Chrome, open the chrome://apps page, right-click and choose Create shortcuts then Start menu—this only works on that page and only on web apps.

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To open other web links in other browsers, the browser needs to be set as the default for Windows. with the page open, click and drag the URL to the desktop to create a shortcut, then move that shortcut to the same C:\ ProgramData\ Microsoft\ Windows\ Start Menu\ Programs folder in File Explorer that we mentioned earlier.

Start menu extras and features

That’s most of the Start menu customization options and tweaks covered, but there are a few other points to mention. To quickly uninstall an app from the system completely, for example, right-click on its Start menu entry and choose Uninstall. This wipes it from your system, not just the Start menu.

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By now you’ve probably worked out the Windows key on your keyboard (if you have one) launches the Start menu. You might have also found the ‘alternative’ Start menu that appears if you right-click on the Start menu button—it gives you quick access to parts of the system like Device Manager and the Network Connections screen.

Screenshot: Gizmodo

The icons down the left of the Start menu give you access to frequently used folders and File Explorer, as well as your Microsoft account settings (if you’re signing in with a Microsoft account): Click your avatar to change your account settings or to lock your computer if you’re stepping away from it for a while. The Start menu is resizable too, which you might not have noticed—click and drag the top or right-hand edge of the menu to change its size.

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You can even remove all the tiles and shrink the menu right down for a more classic look, if you want. Finally, if you have a lot of apps, click any letter heading in the apps list for a quicker way of searching through them (you can also remove and rename shortcuts by going to the C:\ ProgramData\ Microsoft\ Windows\ Start Menu\ Programs folder that we’ve already mentioned).