How-to: Tidy up your Start Menu programs in Vista

Difficulty: 2

NewstartI have been using Vista for only two weeks and my Start Menu programs are cluttered and messy, requiring me to scroll through them to get to what I want. When I first played with Vista, I thought this may be a problem as you get to scroll through your programs folders, rather than hover over them and the menu open automatically. It is possible to go back to the classic start menu and use the menus as we used to, but Vistas Start Menu looks nice, so I want to tidy up my programs to make it more usable.

The most commonly used programs menu is still available and I will use this most the time, but I have more than 8 applications I use regularly so I am forced to go into the “All Programs” cesspit. I came across similar problems with previous versions of Windows, where user guides and uninstallers are all thrown into the Start Menu, when these can be accessed in the program directory itself or using by using “Add/Remove Programs” within the Control Panel.

This article will show you how to tidy up your “All Programs” menu to make it more usable. There are many different ways to file your programs away, so you will need to find out what works best for you. This article will show you how I organise my programs and hopefully give you ideas of how you can best tackle your own.


The picture on the right shows my “Start Menu” programs after 2 weeks in Vista. The list of programs is twice as long as what is shown here, and that is without expanding any of the folders.

As with other versions of Windows, your computer will probably come with a lot of programs you don’t need. Being a new operating system offering you a lot of extra built in applications, it is worth opening each of these programs to see which ones can be helpful and useful to you.

Ideally, we want to cull many of them. I cannot tell you what you should keep or trash because this depends on how you use your computer.


Important – Read First:

ExclimationIt is much harder to add programs to your start menu than it is to delete them. If there is an item you are unsure about, please leave the shortcut and cull it at a later date.

ExclimationThe changes you make, will affect everyone who use the computer. There are a couple that will only affect yourself, but for the majority of programs, other users logging in will see the same as you do.

ExclimationYou will need to be logged in as an administrator to have enough rights to delete and move these shortcuts.

ExclimationThis is something you will have to do continually as you install programs in the future. If you don’t, your start menu will get untidy again.


When uninstalling programs, you are likely to find that the shortcuts you have moved, will not be removed in the uninstall. You will have to do this manually. After you have gone through this though, you will only have 1 shortcut to remove.

Enabling “Show Hidden Files”

This is not completely necessary to do to acheive this, but it does make navigation much easier. It is important to change this back once we are done. It will protect us from deleting or changing things we are not meant to, as well as hiding files that mean nothing to us.

Folder and search optionsOpen up an Explorer Window such as “Computer” or “Games”.

Click on “Organize”

Select “Folder and Search Options”  






Show hidden filesIn Folder Options,

Select the “View” Tab

Dot “Show hidden files and folders”

Click “OK”







Start Menu Locations:

The shortcuts to the “Start Menu” programs are stored in three main locations.

The main location: Contains most of the shortcuts
C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\

Individuals Location: Contains only a few shortcuts
C:\Users\Chris\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\

Games Explorer: Most games will add themselves to this automatically. Some older games, you will have to drag shortcuts into it.

Backing up:

If this is a new concept to you, please consider making a copy of your start menu programs so that you can restore any shortcuts you have removed at a later date easily.

The easiest way to do this I find is to create a folder in your “Documents” folder called “Start Menu” and copy the contents of the first two folders above into it.

If you miss this step, you should be able to use Vistas “Previous Version” restore utility though I have not had an adequate chance to see how well it works.

Defining Your Filing System:

There are many ways to organise your “Start Menu” shortcuts. I like to do it according to genre so I want to break down my programs into the following groups. This will vary according to how you use your programs.

Microsoft has looked after this for us.

For anything audio visual

Applications > Windows Office:
For main applications and Windows utilities. Vista comes with Windows Mail, contacts, calendar etc which I am not going to use currently. I will put these aps into “Windows Office” as I may want to use them in the future.

Little bits and pieces around the place I might use, this is left relatively untouched

Maintenance > Anti-Everything:
For system maintenance and anti virus software.

For bit torrent, browsers and other peer to peer apps.

is required by Windows as it launches programs in it at start up.

Mobile Devices:

For anything related to my Pocket PC.

I also want to create a folder inside Applications called “Windows Office” and a Folder in Maintenance for my anti spyware and anti virus software.

New folderDo this by right clicking in the white space of your explorer windows and then selecting “New” and “Folder”.

You can then name the new folder to whatever you want.

Depending on how many applications you have in any one folder, you may want to make sub folders. This is useful if you have multiple movie players or sound recording applications, break it down to an audio folder and a video folder.

Organising it all:

All you have to do now is delete or move the shortcuts around. You can either do this from the explorer window you have open, or you can drag things around directly inside the start menu. If you are moving many files around, I recommend using explorer, then you can drag things around inside the start menu for the finishing touches or whenever you install a new program.

I don’t like anything apart from program shortcuts in my Start Menu. I don’t like having uninstallers and read me files as these can be accessed elsewhere. It is very likely that you will be able to uninstall programs from the Control Panels “Programs and Features applet”. A few to get you started.

Adobe Reader 8: This application loads automatically when I launch a pdf file so this an be removed completely.

Games: Ensure there is a shortcut in the games explorer to the game itself  and then delete the folder. If you want the user guide/readme files that came with the game, store them in your Documents instead of the “Start Menu”

Default Programs: This is available through the control panel so I am removing it from the start menu.

Internet Explorer: this is available at the top of the “Start Menu” so I don’t need it here. If I were to use Firefox as my default browser, I would put this shortcut into “Internet”.

New Microsoft Office Document: I either load the document which in turn loads up Office, or I open up the Office Application to create a new file. I don’t use these shortcuts so I will remove them from my list. Many people love these links so they should keep them.

Microsoft Office: This folder is full of useful programs and not much rubbish, it is worth keeping the whole folder intact.

So much of this comes down to personal preference. Leaving it as is will hurt you in the future.

You should be able to take it from here.

The Results:

NewstartAs you can see, I have culled the list down quite a bit and it is much easier to navigate. All the games can be accessed from the “Games Explorer” to the right of screen.

There is no more need to scroll through the applications as they are all neatly put away into a folder.

This is also great if you install applications for future use. Some applications don’t have ideal names. Once you have put them in their folder, you will be able to see later down the track, what the application is used for, and this can help identify them to you.

This method is nice to keep applications we rarely need to use out of the way. For example, Anti Spyware is something we should use monthly, we don’t need to see it the rest of the time. This way we know how to get to it when we need it, but it won’t bog us down the rest of the time.

The Final Touch:  

The internet has become a huge part of our lives. More and more web applications are becoming available to us. It is also great for getting TV guides and other goodies. I like to have my Favorites show up in my start menu so I can launch a page similar to an application. To do this,

Right click on the “Start” orb and select properties.


Select the “Start Menu” tab and click “Customize…”



Tick favoritesTick the Favorites Menu” box.

Click “OK”



FavYou will now have a Favorites link within your Start Menu. It takes a little bit of time to get used to it here, but you bypass the step of having to load up you browser in which you would have to go into your favorites anyway.



I hope you will now find your “Start menu” to be much more usable, being easier to get to what you want quickly. You should also experience fewer incorrect clicks. I hate trying to load up a program only to find the help loads instead because the icons were similar.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and that it has been useful for you. Please stick around and read some of my other articles at

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2 comments so far »

  1. Tony Fendall said, on October 25, 2007 @ 11:04 pm

    Very helpfull indeed. Tidied up my Vista laptop.

  2. Un0btrusive said, on December 16, 2008 @ 4:44 pm

    I’ve been doing this for years, ever since win95. I find that it’s also easier to number the new directories (ie 1. Applications) so that, when you install something new, and don’t have time to reorder your Start Menu right away, Windows doesn’t make a mess of all your hard work.

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