How to find the secret Start Menu built into Windows 8.1

It's not exactly the classic Start menu, but it's close enough. Here's the trick that makes it appear.

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I usually advise readers, but this time a reader gave me advice. Joe Rubenstein told me that "There is a Start Menu in Windows 8.1," then explained how to make it work.

Yes, it's true. You can add a Start menu--of sorts--to the Windows 8.1 taskbar without installing a third-party program. All of the code is built into Windows itself.

Three caveats: First, it's too small for touchscreens; you'll need a mouse. Second, Metro/Modern apps can't launch from this menu. And finally, it doesn't work with Windows 8.0. (Oddly, it works in Windows 7, where it's completely redundant.)

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To make the menu appear, you must first unhide hidden files. Open File Explorer. Click the View tab, and check Hidden items in the Show/hide section.

Right-click the taskbar and select Toolbars > New toolbar. This brings up File Explorer, where you should navigate to C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs. Once there, click Select Folder.

If you wish, you can now hide the no-longer hidden files. Just recheck the Hidden items option.

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The new toolbar, named Programs, will appear on the right side of the taskbar, immediately to the left of the notification area. Click the chevron to the right of the word Programs to bring up the menu.

You'll see a few programs directly on the menu. The rest of your old-fashioned desktop programs will be in the various submenus.

The submenus are actually subfolders inside the Programs folder (and the programs are actually shortcuts). If you want to create an additional submenu, right-click the Programs toolbar and select Open Folder. Then create a new folder.

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But you don't need to open the folder to make other changes. You can rearrange the menu by dragging items up and down, or dragging them in and out of submenus.

Obviously, you'll want your favorite programs on the main part of the menu, rather than in a submenu. By default, three Metro/Modern apps are located in the main menu, even though you can't launch them from there.

The obvious way to fix that problem is to delete those three shortcuts. But that seemed to confuse Windows, and caused problems. So, instead, create a submenu called Ignore Me, and drag those three shortcuts to that folder.

June 21: In my original version of this article, I neglected to mention the need to unhide the folder. I just added two paragraphs to fix the problem. My thanks to David Krause for bringing this to my attention.

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