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Windows XP Your Way: Customizing the Start Menu
The Start menu is a primary conduit to functions and files. How to configure it for individual preferences is discussed.

Many of the properties of the Start menu can be configured by right-clicking the Start button and choosing "Properties" from the context menu. Figure 1 shows the resulting properties sheet. To customize the Start menu, click the "Customize" button. This will open the dialog box shown in Figure 2. Those who wish can change the appearance of the Start menu to the older look by choosing "Classic Start menu". Only the XP style will be considered in this discussion.
Figure 1. Properties sheet for Start menu


Figure 2. Dialog box for customizing Start menu

There are several areas in the Windows XP Start menu and these are shown in figure 3. A number of the entries are discussed in following sections.

Figure 3. Sections in the Windows XP Start menu

Recently used programs

Using an algorithm that is not always clear, Windows XP will place shortcuts to some of the programs that you have recently used into the area labeled “Recently used programs”. This list will change depending on your program usage. By default, up to six programs can be listed here but this number can be changed as indicated in Figure 2. Choosing “0” (zero) will prevent any programs from being listed. The current list can be cleared by using the button “Clear list”. Individual entries can be removed by right-clicking them and choosing “Remove from this list” in their context menu. You can prevent your browser and email program from being listed by removing the check by the items "internet" and "E-mail" shown in Figure 2. If you use the Microsoft PowerToy "TweakUI", you can shose from a whole list of programs that can be prevented from showing up in the recently used programs..

Pinned programs

If you wish to give a permanent place on the Start menu to a favorite program, place it in the “Pinned” area. Right-click the program entry in the All Programs menu or other location and choose “Pin to Start menu”. To remove a program from the pinned area, right-click and choose “Unpin from Start menu”.

Organizing the “All Programs” menu

The listings in the All Programs menu are just shortcuts to the actual program files and can be edited like any other shortcut. The shortcuts are in two places; one is for programs that only apply to the current user and one is for programs for all users. The actual folders where the shortcuts are kept are:

\Documents and Settings\{Current User Name}\Start Menu and \Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu

The menu for All Programs can easily become disarranged as new programs are added. To keep the listings alphabetical, open the All Programs menu and right-click on any entry. From the context menu, choose “Sort by Name”. The listings also tend to grow and become too many for quick usage. To cut down the size, remove “Read me”, “What’s new”, and other extraneous entries. Any item can be deleted by using the right-click context menu. Entries in the Start menu are only shortcuts so deletion does not affect the actual file or folder.

Use folders to group related items. For example, put Word, Excel, etc. all in one folder “Office”. To create folders and/or move icons in the Start menu, right-click the Start button and choose “Explore” from the context menu. This will take you to a regular Windows Explorer two-pane display where you can manipulate the shortcuts in \Documents and Settings\{Current User Name}\Start Menu. Most entries will be in the subfolder \Documents and Settings\{Current User Name}\Start Menu\Programs. To edit the entries for All Users, right-click the Start button and choose “Explore All Users”. This will open a Windows Explorer display showing \Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu. Open the subfolder \Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Programs and edit as desired.

Advanced Start menu settings

If the "Advanced" tab in Figure 2 is selected, the dialog box shown in Figure 4 will open. There are numerous settings here and the figure shows the default values. One that I like to change is "Highlight newly installed programs". I prefer to uncheck the box there. Another setting worth noting is "List my most recently opened documents". Some may wish to uncheck this or at least to periodically use the button "Clear list" to clean up the entries. The scrollable list under the heading "Start menu items:" is too long to show more than a part in the graphic below. The entire list can be seen by clicking here. These settings allow the user to remove or show a number of functions in the Start menu. I like to remove My Music and My Pictures from the Start menu.

Figure 4. Advanced settings for Start menu

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