Microsoft described Windows 11 as “the next generation of Windows”, but in reality not a huge amount has changed. The main differences compared to Windows 10 are visual, including a new taskbar, rounded corners and updated multitasking functionality.
One of the most controversial updates is the new Start menu, which has been completely redesigned. A stripped-back aesthetic means it’s now primarily a launcher for your most used apps and files. Few people are mourning the loss of Live Tiles, but this dramatic simplification doesn’t suit everyone.
Fortunately, there are various ways to get the Start menu looking just how you like it. There are both free and paid options, depending on how serious you are about Windows 11 customisation.
Firstly, let’s explore options that don’t require you to pay a penny. These can be found within the Windows 11 Settings menu.
Change the Start menu’s location on the taskbar
You’ll probably have noticed that Windows 11 shifts the Start menu (and other taskbar icons) to the centre of your screen. If you’d prefer its usual placement on the left, here's how it's done:
- Open Settings
- Select ‘Personalisation’ from the left pane, then ‘Taskbar’ from the options that appear
- Scroll down to ‘Taskbar behaviours’, then click it to display more options
- Next to ‘Taskbar alignment’, click the drop-down and choose ‘Centre’
Remove the recommended section
By default, the Start menu is split into ‘Pinned’ and ‘Recommended’ sections. If you’d rather remove the latter, the process is just as simple:
- Open Settings
- Choose ‘Personalisation’, then ‘Start’ this time
- Click the toggles next to ‘Show recently added apps’, ‘Show the most used apps’ and ‘Show recently opened items in Start, Jump Lists, and File Explorer’ to turn them off
Bear in mind, this won’t delete Recommended from the Start menu entirely – you just won’t see anything within that section. This is how you can expect it to look:
Add shortcuts to stock apps
Between your name and the Power options button, you'll a relatively large blank space. This can be filled with shortcuts to many of the most commonly uses stock apps:
- Open Settings
- Head to ‘Personalisation, then ‘Start’ once more
- Click ‘Folders’, where you should see a list of several options which can be displayed in the Start menu
- Click the toggle next to each one you’d like to add. There’s enough space for them all
In-depth customisation via Start11
As you can see, Windows 11 offers some basic customisation tools within Settings. However, for anything more in-depth you’ll need to invest in paid software. Stardock’s Start11 is the leading name here, but it remains relatively affordable.
A licence for one computer costs £5.99/US$5.99, or you can pay £13.99/US$13.99 to install it on up to five devices. This is a one-off fee, while a 30-day free trial is available without entering your payment information.
Once that’s taken care of, there’s a huge range of customisation options to choose from. Here are three key ones.
Switch to a classic design
Using Start11, you can get the Start menu looking just the way you like it. There are four main styles to choose from – Windows 7, Windows 10, Windows 11 and Modern. The first three look broadly similar to the version after which they’re named, albeit without Live Tiles. Stardock’s interpretation of a ‘Modern’ theme strikes a balance between them.
Here’s how to get started:
- Open Start11
- Click ‘Start Menu’ from the left pane, click the toggle next to ‘Use the Start11 Start Menu’ to turn it on
- You’ll then be presented with the four styles. Just select whichever one you’d like, then open the Start menu to preview it
- Click the drop-down menu for Windows 7 or Modern styles to choose between Compact, Grid or Compact Grid layout, or the settings cog next to each for more customisation options
Resize the Start menu
If you choose either the Windows 10 or Windows 11 styles, you also get access to another key feature – resizing. Just click and drag from the edge of the Start menu to increase or decrease its total area. Under ‘Advanced options’, you can also make it full-screen - that’s something Microsoft doesn’t currently offer in Windows 11.
Move taskbar icons to the top of the screen
Even if you can move them back to the left, the Start menu and other taskbar icons can still only be located at the bottom of your screen by default. However, using Start11 you can move it to the top instead:
- Open Start11
- Click ‘Taskbar’ from the left pane, then scroll down to ‘Advanced taskbar tweaks’
- Click ‘Taskbar position’, then choose ‘Align Top’ from the drop-down. If you have secondary displays connected, you can set those individually here
- From the top of the section, click ‘Restart explorer’ to apply changes
Unfortunately, there’s no option for a vertical taskbar on the left side of the display, as is possible on Windows 10. Hopefully that will be added in a future update.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Start11. Extensive customisation options are also available for the taskbar and search functions, allowing you to really make Windows 11 your own.