Start8 brings back Windows 7's Start Screen, with full functionality
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In the wake of Microsoft’s giving the old Start button the boot in Windows 8, the developers at Stardock have come up with an alternative that mimics the orb available in Windows 7. Specially built for the new OS from Microsoft, the tool is called Start8.

Its purpose is to replicate the functionality of its counterpart in Windows 7 and, as such, acts as launcher for the most used applications on the system.

The program has only recently moved to a stable development build, but it started making waves online since it was in beta. Stardock’s Start8 is not free and the price tag indicates a $4.99 fee. You can try it for 30 days with all features enabled.

Installation is straightforward and quick. An initial computer restart was required during our tests in order to have the new Start button available in the lower left corner of the screen. However, ulterior changes took effect on the spot.

However, before you jump to reboot the system, you can customize its looks and set the permanent shortcuts you want in the right hand side of the Start menu. Also configurable are the actions available for the classic environment, as well as for Modern UI.

Start8’s layout is simple, with the customization menus in the right hand part of the application window. Although the application looks great out of the box, you have plenty of options to choose from, both for the Start button as well as for its menu.

You can choose Windows 7 style, which pins the launch button from the OS, complete with power options. There are three themes to choose from, and you can also enable or disable transparency for the menu.

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Furthermore, the developer makes available a set of custom buttons that also include the classic Windows XP Start look.

If you go with the Windows 8-style button, the configuration options are trimmed down and you will get the Apps screen on the desktop. It is not a pretty sight and not particularly usable, though, unless you’re on a tablet.

Some problems occurred during our testing when we switched to Windows 8 style, as the start menu would not appear. Switching back to Windows 7 style worked fine, though.

Regardless of the style you choose, Start8 is designed to override the default setting when the system boots up and goes straight into the classic Desktop environment. If you prefer Microsoft’s default, to boot into Modern UI, you can change the options from the Control menu.

Although the initial configuration of the application fits the bill for most users, there is also the possibility for further personalization of the start button.

As such, you can extend the amount of recent programs to be displayed to as much as 30, define the action for the power button or choose the shortcuts you want in Start menu. It can even highlight newly installed applications or show submenus at mouse hover. All these are exact options available in the original button in Windows 7.

The behavior of Start8 can change, depending on the active environment. On the Desktop, it can show either Start8 or Windows 8’s menu; one of these actions can be assigned for the Win key as well.

This way, you have the possibility to use the keyboard for switching between Desktop and Modern UI and the mouse click to view the Start menu. An additional keyboard+mouse combination is also available if the above mentioned setup does not fit your needs.

Aside from providing the launch button functionality, Stardock’s utility can also disable the hot corners in Windows 8 and/or the “charms” bar when in Desktop mode. This would make the environment similar to what Windows 7 offers, but with the benefits integrated in the new OS.

Start8 manages to bring back the launching point that has been included in Windows operating systems since 1995, and now ditched in Windows 8 in favor of the Modern UI Start screen. The application successfully restores the functionality of the button every PC user came to take for granted – and did so for so many years.

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The Good

It offers the same functionality options as the Start button available in Windows 7, like program Jump List, highlighting new installations, search box, customizing menu items or pinning programs. You can choose between several preset images for the buttons, including the XP look, as well as multiple themes.

Configuration options allow you to define how the menu is activated and the triggers for switching to the Modern UI menu. Also on the list there is booting straight into the classic Desktop mode and disabling hot corners.

The Bad

We had trouble with the Windows 8 style menu at one point during testing as it would not become visible.

The Truth

Start8 fits perfectly in Windows 8 and offers the chance for a smooth transition to the new operating system for those who are still on the fence about the modern Start Screen.

The customization level is impressive, offering the same possibilities as the original Start button in Windows 7.

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