Using Windows 11

Using and customizing the Start menu

The interface element popularly known as the Start menu has gone through some drama in recent times, including a brief banishment in the Windows 8 era. In Windows 11, its core remains intact, with a dramatically simplified focus compared to its recent predecessors.

To open the Start menu, click the Windows logo—the leftmost button in the center of the taskbar—or press the Windows key. In Windows 11, Start is divided into a series of horizontal regions. At the top is the search box, where you can enter search terms and see matching results from local content, from cloud accounts, and from the web.

Below that are two large regions, labeled Pinned and Recommended. The first contains icons for apps installed on the current PC; you can add, remove, and rearrange these pinned apps to match your working style. The Recommended block displays shortcuts to files you’ve opened recently, which Windows quite logically thinks you might want to work with again.

At the very bottom of the Start menu is a horizontal region that, by default, contains only two controls. On the left is a picture (and username) that matches the account with which you signed in to Windows. Click that picture to display a shortcut menu allowing you to change the settings for your account, lock the PC, sign out of Windows, or switch to another user account.

On the right is a power button, which you can click to change sign-in options or choose one of three additional options: Sleep, Shut Down, or Restart. (If you’ve enabled the Hibernate option, you see it here as well.)

On a default installation, the space between those two items is completely blank. You can choose to fill it with up to nine shortcuts, one that takes you to the Settings app and the remainder from your user profile. To choose which folders appear in this space, go to Settings > Personalization > Start > Folders, and then turn on the switches for the folders you want to see, as shown in Figure 3-4.

Figure 3-4

Figure 3-4 Use the switches on this Settings page to tell Windows which folder shortcuts you want to see on the bottom of the Start menu.

Customizing the contents of the Start menu

In sharp contrast to its predecessors, the Windows 11 Start menu is lean, with a minimum of customization options. As we noted earlier, the menu itself is fixed in size and divided into two regions: the top for pinned program icons and below that a place for recommended shortcuts to files and apps.

The Start menu’s most important function is to organize shortcuts to installed apps. Windows pins a selection of apps to the list by default. You can pin any installed app to that list by right-clicking its executable file or an app shortcut and choosing Pin To Start Menu. To remove a pinned app, right-click and choose Unpin From Start. You can rearrange pinned shortcuts by clicking and dragging them from their current position to the one you prefer.

Initially, the Pinned and Recommended regions are configured to be roughly the same size, with three rows of shortcuts in each. You can change the relative allocation of space by going to Settings > Personalization > Start and choosing More Pins or More Recommendations from the Layout section at the top of the page, as shown in Figure 3-5. (You can also get to this page by opening the Start menu, right-clicking the blank area at the bottom of the menu, and choosing Start Settings.)

Figure 3-5

Figure 3-5 The Start menu is divided into two sections. You can’t make either one go away, but you can change the relative allocation of space.

You can’t hide the Recommended section, but you can make it shrink to almost nothing. If you prefer to use the Start menu exclusively for app shortcuts, choose the More Pins option and then turn the three switches on that page to the Off position. That configuration hides all shortcuts from the Recommended section and shrinks it to a minimal size.

Both regions include a button at the top right that takes you to an expanded list of items from that category. Clicking the All Apps shortcut reveals an alphabetical list of every installed app, in a format that should be familiar to anyone who’s used any version of Windows in the past two decades. Clicking More (to the right of the Recommended heading) displays an expanded list of recent documents. In either case, you can use a Back button to return to Start.

Arranging pinned apps into folders

Pinned apps can be combined into folders, with or without folder names. A folder containing two or more pinned apps takes up the same space as a single app, with miniature versions of the first four app icons displayed in the folder.

To create a folder, drag one app icon and drop it on top of another. To give a folder a descriptive name, click the heading at the top of any open folder and start typing. To drop additional apps into the folder, drag them to the existing folder. When you click or tap a folder, the folder opens to reveal the individual apps contained within. You can click any pinned app in the folder to open that app.

To remove an app from a folder while leaving it pinned to the Start menu, open the folder and then drag the pinned app to the place where you want it to appear.