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This chapter is from the book

Customizing Your Start Menu

You can change the behavior and look of your Start menu so that it works best for your specific needs. To change Vista's Start menu, right-click on the Start button and select Properties. When the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box appears, click the Start Menu tab (see Figure 3.5).

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 Vista enables you to customize your Start menu to perform the way you want.

Selecting the Start Menu Type and Recently Displayed Programs and Documents

The primary options on the Start menu dialog box let you select between the Start menu option and the Classic Start menu option. Unless you or someone else has changed it, the Start menu option will be selected. This allows Vista to display its Start menu to operate in the Vista style of a one-column set of programs, as explained earlier in this chapter. The Classic Start menu changes your Vista menu to perform more like the Windows XP Start menu that cascaded out to the right as you selected from submenus.

The Privacy section provides two options that determine whether recent documents and programs will appear on your Start menu. The default option displays the programs you've recently run on the Start menu's left pane. The programs you run in the future or the submenus of other programs as you select them from the Start menu will replace the displayed programs.

The Store and Display a List of Recently Opened Files option determines whether the Recent Items entry on the Start menu's right pane (from Table 3.1) appears on your Start menu.

Customize the Start Menu's Right Pane

When you click the Customize button to the right of the Start menu, the Customize Start menu shown in Figure 3.6 appears.

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 You control just about every element that appears on your Start menu.

The top half of the Customize Start Menu dialog box determines how menus look and behave on the Start menu. You determine whether most of the items on the Start menu's right pane display (from Table 3.1) by selecting the appropriate option next to each entry. For example, if you click Don't Display This Item under the Control Panel entry, the Control Panel disappears from your Start menu's right pane until you again open this Customize Start Menu dialog box and select either Display as a Link or Display as a Menu.

The difference between the two display options—Display as a Link or Display as a Menu—becomes apparent when you display the Start menu. If you selected the Display as a Menu option for any item on your Start menu's right pane, such as the Control Panel, the Control Panel appears with a small arrow to the right of its entry. This indicates that when you point to Control Panel, a cascading menu showing the Control Panel options flies out to the right of the Start menu—not unlike the Start menu in previous versions of Windows.

Figure 3.7 shows a Start menu with several of the right pane's entries set to display as a menu. Notice the arrows next to them that indicate a submenu will cascade out to the right when a user clicks that item (or rests the mouse pointer over the option). When the user selects an item that appears without an arrow, a folder window opens instead of a submenu flying out to the right of the entry.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 You can change the Start menu's right pane to display submenus or to open the submenu's contents in a folder view when you select the entry.

Modifying Additional Start Menu Settings

The list of options in the Customize Start Menu dialog box doesn't just support changes to the right pane's display. Other options are useful for making your Start menu look and behave according to your preferences. Additional Start menu options in the Customize Start Menu dialog box include the following:

  • Enable Context Menus and Dragging and Dropping—When selected, you can right-click a menu option to display a menu known as a context menu (sometimes called a shortcut menu or a pop-up menu). In addition, you can drag any menu or submenu option to another location on the Start menu. If you don't like the default alphabetical order of your Start menu, drag any entry to another location by clicking and holding that option down with your mouse, and then dragging that item to another Start menu location before releasing your mouse.
  • Highlight Newly Installed Programs—Highlights new entries that represent programs on your Start menu. After you install a new program, that program's menu will be highlighted for several days until you use the program a few times or turn off the highlighting by clicking to uncheck this option.
  • Open Submenus When I Pause on Them with the Mouse Pointer—Opens submenus when you pause your mouse pointer over them instead of requiring that you click your mouse to open the submenu. Some users prefer that Windows not open submenus automatically because they want more time to look at the Start menu before it changes to show the submenu. By clicking to uncheck this option, you must click a menu item before a submenu will open. This is also true of the right pane when you have set its entries to display menus instead of displaying in folder views.
  • Sort All Programs Menu by Name—Ensures that all new programs and entries added to your Start menu appear alphabetically (with submenu folders on the bottom, as opposed to the default on Windows XP where the folders appeared at the top). If you uncheck this option, Vista adds new entries to the bottom of your Start menu.
  • Use Large Icons—Determines whether Vista uses large or small icons to represent Start menu entries. Small icons enable you to see more items, but some displays don't easily lend themselves to adequate viewing of the small icons.

By default, the Run command does not appear on your Start menu, but you can add it by selecting the Run Command option from the Customize Start Menu dialog box. As stated earlier in this chapter, the Run command is less necessary in Vista than in previous Windows versions because of the powerful search box that resides at the bottom of the Start menu.

The Number of Recent Programs to Display option determines how many recently run program icons Vista tacks to the Start menu's left pane. Some users feel that the default value of eight is too many. If you routinely run only three or four programs, you might want to decrease this value to a lower number. If you increase the option's value to a higher number, you probably will have to uncheck the Use Large Icons option to see the recent programs without having to scroll to see them all.

Returning Your Start Menu to Its Default State

At any time, you can click the Use Default Settings button to return your Start menu settings back to their original, newly installed state. You won't be able to put back your customizations after you click the Use Default Settings button unless you've backed up your computer or set a restore point (see Chapters 31, "Restoring Your Windows System to a Previous State," and Chapter 35, "Protecting Your Data and Programs").

Determining Your Start Menu's Internet Browser and Mail Programs

By default, Windows Vista reserves the two top entries in its left pane for your Internet browser and email programs. For example, the user in Figure 3.8 uses Internet Explorer for Internet browsing and Windows Mail for email. You can elect not to display one or both of these and you can change the program your Start menu uses for each of these items.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8 You determine which browser and email programs, if any, appear at the top of your Start menu.

The reason the Start menu reserves the top spots for these two entries is because Internet browsing and email are the two most-used applications today. By putting them in the top spots, Vista ensures that they are never more than two clicks away at any time.

Keep the checks next to Internet Link and E-mail Link at the bottom of the Customize Start Menu dialog box if you want to keep these entries. To change the programs Vista uses for these entries, click the down arrow and select a different program. For example, if you want to use Windows Mail instead of Microsoft Office Outlook, you can click the down arrow to open the list of available email programs on your computer and select Windows Mail.

After changing any Start menu settings, click the OK button and then click it again to close the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog box to put your new settings into effect.

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