Customizing the Windows XP Start Menu

If you’ve used XP for any reasonable period of time, chances are good that you’re familiar with its main purpose, namely to act as a starting point towards accessing shortcuts to programs, documents, and tools such as those found in Control Panel. By default, Windows XP uses a new Start menu that’s a little different than in previous versions of Windows. Instead of the standard shortcut grouping found in versions of Windows from 95 to 2000, XP includes a more customizable Start menu that incorporates the ability to quickly add or remove items, control how many shortcuts are listed, change icon sizes, and more. In the next section you’ll learn how to switch from this default menu to the “classic” Start menu used in earlier versions if that’s your preference. For now, we’re going to assume that you’re using the default XP Start menu, since it allows the greatest degree of customization.

A very wise person once said that old habits die hard. When Windows XP was first released, many users resisted the upgraded interface, prefering the old Windows environment that they had come to know and love. Windows XP allows users to switch between the native XP desktop style or kick it old school with what is commonly referred to as Classic Windows mode. In classic Windows mode, the XP desktop takes on a look and feel similar to Windows 2000 or ME, a style that many users still prefer. One knock on the new style XP Start menu is that is takes up too much room on the screen, especially when used on systems with small monitors. If you’ve got a smaller monitor, you may want to consider switching the Start menu to classic mode, if for no other reason than to save valuable desktop real estate.

Making the change from XP’s default Start menu to the Classic Windows style is exceptionally simple. Just click on the Start button and then right-click on an area of free space and click Properties. This opens the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties page to the Start Menu tab, as shown below. Switching your Start menu to the Classic Start menu is as simple as selecting the appropriate option from this screen, as shown below. This change is immediate once you click OK, and does not change the look or feel of XP’s windows; only the style of the Start menu is changed. To change the look of individual windows back to a pre-XP style, use the Display applet in Control Panel. From the Appearance tab select Windows Classic style from the Windows and buttons drop-down menu and you’ll be off to the races, kicking it old school!

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.