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Changing Programs Listed on Your Computer Start Menu

Computers and Technology: Personal Tech • Published: February 19, 2010

The “Start Menu” of the Microsoft Windows Operating System is a great shortcut resource, if it’s not a clogged mess. Cleaning it up requires knowing a little bit of inside info that most people haven’t taken the time to research. I compiled that info for you here.

The Start Menu on your Windows computer consists of two menus, both of which are lists of programs your computer can run or start:

  1. The first menu is the one that pops up when you click the Start button (or with the new Windows 7, whatever you call that Microsoft logo thingy at the bottom left-hand corner of your screen) – it lists shortcuts to programs that you want fastest access to and presumably that you use most often.
  2. The second menu is accessed at the very bottom of the first menu, where you’ll see a link to “All Programs,” where Microsoft plops a shortcut to every program you install, whether you want that done or not.

Note about differences between Windows XP and Vista/7: The XP menu pops up so you can see both first and second menus, while Vista & 7 let you see one or the other, but not both.

Most computer users have figured out that they need to go to the “All Programs” menu to find new programs they install, or hunt there for programs pre-installed on the computer. It’s really a weird setup, but that’s what we have.

The Start Menu isn’t meant to be a filing cabinet of documents, although you actually have the ability to make it that way if you choose. For simplicity and practical purposes, we’ll focus only on getting your programs organized in a logical system.

We’ll deal with the “first menu” first, the one that pops up when you click the Start button. This list represents only a few of the programs on your computer. For any program that you use (that “runs”), you can add (or “pin,” the term Microsoft uses) it to the Start menu. You are really only creating a shortcut to the program’s actual execution file which is stored elsewhere. But by pinning a program to the Start Menu, it will appear there when you click the Start button and then you can run the program with just two mouse clicks.

To pin a program, go to Windows Explorer and right-click on a program – that will display a menu. Then choose “Pin to Start Menu.” That’s all there is to it. You can also go to the “All Programs” section and right-click on one of the programs there to generate the menu to “Pin to Start Menu.”

There are several other ways to put a program on your Start Menu, including dragging an icon from your Windows Explorer or desktop, directly to the Start button. I won’t cover any more of that here, but it’s not hard to figure out.

Removing a program from the Start Menu list is just as easy: right-click it and choose “remove” (or “unpin”).

My Start button lists about 20 programs that I use regularly. You will have similar space for your favorite programs, depending on the size of your screen and the font (text type and size). Everything else should go on the second menu, “All Programs.” This menu can be as big as you want it to be.

You change the programs listed by right-clicking the Start button, then selecting “Explore All Users.” You can also choose the “Explore” or “Open All Users” options, but I like to make changes for all users, one time.

That opens a new window for you, where the same contents you see in the “All Programs” menu are listed in Windows Explorer, and now you can alter the contents as you normally would alter contents using Windows Explorer for “My Documents” or any other Windows folder.

The Start Menu is part of, and changeable in, Windows Explorer. By accessing “Explore All Users” through the Start button, you’re really just taking a shortcut to Windows Explorer. If you’re extra-computer-savvy, you’ll notice the folder location at the top and observe this very important section is buried so deeply inside your folders that it’s almost useless to attempt to explain, let alone remember, where it is for quick access via Windows Explorer. However, for the bold, here’s the Windows Explorer location of the start menu:

C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu

In the minds of most sane people, this forces the instant question, why did Microsoft set it up that way? I have no logical answer, and I doubt Microsoft does either, so just remember to access your “All Programs” with the right-click and “Explore All Users” choice described here.

If you are not already familiar with changing your Start Menu “Programs” options and need a lot more help, learn here for Vista and here for XP.

If you look around in your computer and online, you’ll see references to “changing the Start Menu” – make sure you don’t get confused between two different functions: one is for altering the appearance, and the other is for changing the contents. At the links given in the previous paragraph, for the appearance, find Microsoft’s guide to “Customizing the Start Menu” at the BOTTOM of the Vista link and the TOP of the XP link.

If you have multiple users setup on your computer, and/or you are not the “Administrator” or don’t have administrator privileges, then you’ll have to do things differently, and here we’ll refer you to Microsoft’s directions (for Vista) and abandon this topic, since it could take another four pages to explain it properly, and that’s way beyond our focus.

Now that you know a little more about the Start Menu, you’re ready for my article, “The Ultimate Computer Organization System For Your Downloads & Start Menu.” And you can get my book to learn about the folders you can and should setup in your Start Menu “All Programs” list.

John Gordon Cini is The Technology Doctor and author of the book “Computer Chaos Control,” which:

  • shows you how to store EVERYTHING on your computer so you can find files fast,
  • explains how to setup folders for all your programs, and
  • gives you a system to sync folders across the programs you use most often (such as internet, email, songs, videos, and word documents).

Learn more about the book at

(c) Copyright – John Gordon Cini.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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