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Customize Start menu in Windows Vista

By . Last modified: 2014-08-14.

How to customize Start menu in Windows Vista - pinning, privacy and other settings

Windows Vista has a section on the top of Start menu for default Internet and e-mail programs. This is an alternative of Quick Launch toolbar on Taskbar. To pin some other program for quick access, find it using Start menu Search box or locate it using Windows Explorer. Right-click on the program name and click Pin to Start Menu.
Windows Vista Start menu. To pin a program to the top of Start menu, right-click on its name and select Pin to Start Menu.

Now the program is on the top left of Start menu (right under the default Internet and e-mail programs) and a thin dividing line appears beneath it to tell off it's pinned.

In case you do not want a program to be pinned anymore, right-click on its name and select Unpin from Start Menu.
Windows Vista Start menu. To unpin a program from the top of Start menu, right-click on its name and select Unpin from Start Menu.

Deleting a program from recently used programs list

If you need to tidy up the recently used programs list on Start menu, right-click on the program name you want to remove and click Remove from this list.
Windows Vista Start menu. To remove a program from Start menu recently used programs list, right-click the program name and select Remove from this list.

Customizing Start menu Privacy options - program and documents tracking

Right-click on Start button and choose Properties.
Windows Vista Start button right-click menu. Click Properties to customize Start menu items.

This opens Taskbar and Start Menu Properties window. Make sure you have Start menu tab open.

To see something in the Recent Items list, leave the Store and display a list of recently opened files box checked. If you prefer to be very private about what you're doing on the computer, clear this check box - this prevents others seeing which documents and files you have opened lately.
To see a list of most used programs right under pinned programs, leave the Store and display a list of recently opened programs box checked.
Windows Vista, Start menu, Privacy options. To see recently opened documents, check the Store and display a list of recently opened files box. To see recently used programs on Start menu, check the Store and display a list of recently opened programs box.

Here is an example what Recent Items list looks like in Start menu.
Windows Vista, Start menu, Recent Items. A list of recently opened documents and files in Start menu.

You can also clear the Recent Items list on your Start menu by right-clicking it and then clicking the Clear Recent Items List command.
Windows Vista Start menu. To clear recently opened documents list, right-click Recent Items. Then select Clear Recent Items List.

Customizing the looks of Start menu - items displayed, highlighting of new programs, etc

Click Customize... button in Taskbar and Start Menu Properties window.
Windows Vista, Taskbar and Start Menu Properties, Start Menu tab. To select items displayed in the right side of Start menu, click Customize.

Customize Start Menu window opens.
Computer is set to Display as a link by default. This is fine for most of us, but you can also use Display as a menu - this will display all fixed, removable and network drives while you hover your mouse over the Computer item in Start menu.
Connect To is up to you in Windows Vista. This command will open a list of available wireless (wi-fi), VPN (virtual private network) and dial-up connections, so that you can connect to a different network by clicking on its name. If you have such connections, leave the box checked. If not, clear it.
Control Panel is also up to you. As long as you leave Search programs option checked (described later in this article), you no longer need to enter the endless maze of Control Panel options. Just type something you need (such as "device manager", "system information", "event viewer", etc) into Start menu Search box and click the needed item. If it makes you feel safer, you can leave Control Panel setting to Display as a link, though. Smile
Default Programs can be safely unchecked. This is the equivalent of what Set Program Access and Defaults is in Windows XP. As you do not need to change your default programs or file associations often, this one is pretty unnecessary.
Documents is essentially what My Documents is in Windows XP. Leave this one to Display as a link, because displaying a menu of all items available in this folder might take a lot of time.
Windows Vista, Customize Start menu. Always leave Computer, Control Panel and Documents checked. Check Connect To only if you switch between wireless, VPN or dial-up connections often. Uncheck the Default Programs box.

Here's what Computer displayed as a menu looks like in Windows Vista Start menu. It does make opening specific drives easier.
Windows Vista Start menu, Computer displayed as a menu.

Let's scroll down the Customize Start Menu options now.
Enable context menus and dragging and dropping removes or adds the ability to use right-click menus and rearranging items with mouse, but also pinning and unpinning programs and removing individual items from the recently used programs list. This one is recommended if your mouse is acting strangely and moves items accidentally, or if you have a curious kid playing with your computer often. You can still launch a program as an administrator by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Enter on your keyboard.
Favorites menu is a list of Internet Explorer favorites. Check this one only if you need to open links from stored Favorites often.
Display Games as a link if you like to play games that came with Windows. Otherwise, it is safe to set it to Don't display this item.
Leave Help checked, this is a link to Windows Vista Help and Support Center - a place for finding answers to your problems.
Highlight newly installed programs is up to you really. If this one is enabled, new programs (freshly installed) on Start menu will be highlighted with yellow or orange background color to make it easier finding them. But you can still use Start menu Search Box for finding these. If you don't like the highlighting, clear the check mark. See pictures below for highlighting examples.
Display Music as a link if you have some music (mp3-s, wma-s, etc) on your computer. If you're not a music fan, you might as well turn the link off. Never display this as a menu, as building the list can severly affect the performance of your computer!
Windows Vista, Customize Start Menu. Clear Highlight newly installed programs.

Here's an example how new program highlighting looks like with Microsoft Silverlight being the freshly installed program.
Windows Vista Start Menu. If Highlight newly installed programs is turned on, newly installed items on Start menu will be highlighted with different color.

Let's scroll down the list again.
Network is not needed unless your computer is joined to a home network and computers share resources, such as files or printers on it.
When Open submenus when I pause on them with the mouse pointer is checked, a folder on Start menu will be opened after you stop your mouse pointer on it for a second. If the option is unchecked, you must click on a folder on Start menu to open it.
Personal folder is something like user's profile folder was in Windows XP. Leave it to Display as a link. There you can find Documents, Pictures, Music and other personal folders.
Pictures is again up to you. If you have photos and pictures on your computer and you want a quick access to them, leave this setting to Display as link. In case you have no interest in photos, you can remove it from Start menu by selecting Don't display this item. Do not display the item as a menu, as creating the list of all photos can cause long slowdowns!
Printers is needed if you have at least one printer installed and you need to change its settings often. If not, leave the box unchecked.
Run command is no longer needed in Windows Vista. Use Start menu Search Box for launching programs and commands instead; or use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key+R to open Run dialog.
Windows Vista, Customize Start Menu. Clear Network box.

Scroll down the list again - for the last time. Wink
Leave Search communications checked - this will include e-mails and Live Messenger conversations in search results.
Also leave Search favorites and history checked to see search results from Internet Explorer browsing history and favorites.
Set Search files to Search entire index. This will give better search results when you share your computer with other people.
Leave Search programs checked. This means you no longer have to enter the labyrinth-like Control Panel, just type the needed item's name into Start menu Search box and click the item you need.
Sort All Programs menu by name option (when turned on) essentially sorts all folders and items by name in ascending order. This makes finding items easier. If you turn it off, all new folders and items will be added to the bottom of All Programs menu, just like in Windows XP.
System administrative tools is a place normal users do not need very often. Besides, all items there are perfectly findable via Start menu Search box. Leave this one to Don't display this item unless you need to access Event Viewer, Computer Management, Local Security Policy or other consoles often.
Windows Vista, Customize Start Menu. Set Search files to Search entire index.

Use large icons is a must for modern high-resolution displays. This will use larger icons and fonts for recently used programs list on Start menu and therefore makes reading a bit easier. But if you like small text or you want more than 9 recently used programs on your Start menu (described later in this article), clear the check box.
If you need more than 9 recent programs on your Start menu, move your eyes to Start menu size section. Set Number of recent programs to display: to your liking. Remember to uncheck the Use large icons box from options list above, otherwise your Start menu might look stretched out.
Use Default Settings button restores Start menu to its original state. Click this button only if you really messed something up on Start menu and you can't find a way to recover.
The Show on Start menu section lists your default Internet browser and e-mail program. Leave the Internet link and E-mail link check boxes turned on to display the programs on the top left of Start menu. You can use the combo boxes to change your default programs.
Windows Vista, Customize Start Menu. Leave the Use large icon option turned on.

And finally, click OK to accept changes. Smile

 

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