I'm probably not the only one who panicked a little when he started using the new and improved (read "dumbed down") Windows 8 interface. The only redeeming quality is that it did not abandon the desktop altogether. Besides having to open that blocky screen in order to search for something, you had to see it every time Windows was booted up. Honestly, whoever thought that PC users will jubilate at the chance of having their PC screens look like tablets was probably smoking the wrong kind of weed. If you don't agree with me, that's fine, but then what on Earth are looking for in a program that restores the Windows 7 start menu and limits the Metro tile job to a humble list?
Knobs and levers
Start Menu 8 replaces the Start screen button with a prettier looking button of your choosing. Clicking it no longer brings up the Metro screen, but instead shows a menu that recreates the one from Windows 7 and Vista. You get the search bar, the All Programs list and the classic shortcuts for Pictures, Documents, Control Panel, so forth and so on.
Clicking on Settings will open the Start Menu 8 configuration window. There you can change the looks. If you still kind of like the Metro tiles, then you can opt for a hybrid Windows 8 style, in which the Metro screen is partially extended on a fraction of your desktop space. In the General Settings you can further remove aspects of the new interface such as the sidebar, hot corners and having the Metro screen pop-up at start-up.
A cute customization option is picking from a gallery of start buttons, complete with all three states (default, highlighted and pressed). I personally like the acorn. Further customization concerns the content of the menu. You may decide if a button opens a list, remains just a link or doesn't show up at all. Very useful if you want to remove all trace of the Metro buttons. Finally, you can set a user icon. This one has nothing to do with the Windows 8 user profile and must be set manually.
- Alternative hybrid metro start menu
- Controls to disable aspects of the metro interface
- Hotkey editor
- Alternate button graphics
- Start menu links customization
- Custom picture
- Works pretty much just like the old Win7 start menu.
- There may be circumstances in which the program does not load fast enough, so you'll be stuck with the standard button for a few moments.
- Has trouble starting some metro based apps (such as MS Paint)
Start Menu 8 offers a free get out of jail pass for those who simply cannot get comfortable with the Metro interface. For those who can however, is an interesting alternative, and a tool for customizing aspects that you don't like about the Windows 8 user interface. However, Start Menu 8 suffers from functionality issues. You cannot start basic Windows apps from the search bar and the Start button needs to be clicked twice to work while using the Windows 8 style menu. Still, it's free.
EDIT: Start Menu 8 has been recently updated (Jan 27th, 2015)