Customize Your Start Menu

by Oscar Sodani
March 1, 2003

The Start menu is the center of your Windows experience. Almost every program you launch, you launch from the Start menu. Every program you install on your computer has an icon there. Unfortunately, it can get cluttered very quickly. Did you know that you can edit your Start menu? You can get rid of old icons and organize the rest. And it's amazingly easy!

With this guide, our aim is to show you:


  • What the Start Menu is
  • How to delete old programs from your Start Menu
  • How to organize your Start Menu folders

The Starting Line

Bill Gates could have used the word "Go". Or maybe "Launch". Instead, he chose "Start", and it has become part of our everyday language. The Start button usually resides in the lower left hand corner of your screen. Click on it, and a bunch of icons pop up, including "Programs", "Find" and "Settings". If you click on Programs, you'll see icons for all the software applications you installed on your computer (and some that came pre-installed with your computer).

Over time, the Start button gets pretty messy. After yu've installed a bunch of programs, it gets harder and harder to find the one you need to click on. Sometimes, when you uninstall a program, the icons are left in the Start menu, and clicking on them does absolutely nothing of value!

Luckily, Microsoft gave us a nice and easy way to edit these icons in the Start menu. The trick is, you have to understand how it works.


Shortcuts, quite simply, are icons that represent a program or a document file. If you delete a shortcut, the program or document will still remain on your hard drive -- only the representation is deleted. Think of it this way: when some people read large textbooks or have lots of papers to look through, they will mark a page of interest with a sticky note. Sometimes, they'll even write a short explanation on the sticky note of what the marked page is about.

Think of the shortcut as a sticky note -- it is there to let you quickly get to the information you need, without looking through the whole textbook again. If you rip off and throw out the sticky note, the information on the page remains -- only your reminder is gone.

The Start menu is just a list of sticky notes, er, shortcuts. The Programs folder is just a regular folder on your hard drive, and it contains all the shortcuts in your Start Menu. You can move, copy, and delete the shortcuts just as you please, without harming the original information in any way!

Let's Get Organized!

Minimize or close all your programs, so all you see is the standard Windows desktop.

Click on the Start button.

Choose Settings.

Here, Windows 95 and Windows 98 differ slightly. In you are using Windows 95, choose the "Taskbar" option. If you are using Windows 98, choose the "Taskbar and Start Menu" option. The Windows 98 screen looks like Figure 1 below.

Figure 1

A box entitled "Taskbar Properties" will now pop up. Ckick on the tab that says Start Menu. You will see three buttons: Add, Remove, and Advanced. The best way to edit the Start Menu is to choose Advanced.

Now you will see a Windows Explorer-type screen that will look like Figure 2 below. We are showing pictures of a Windows 98 screen -- a Windows 95 screen will look slightly different, even though it works exactly the same way.

Figure 2

The Programs folder is exactly the same folder you see when you click on the Start Menu! The icons inside the Programs folder are the same icons you see when you click on Start, Programs.

You may also notice icons under the Programs folder, on the right side of the screen. In Figure 2, these icons are Netscape SmartUpdate and Windows Update. These are the icons that show up at the top of the Start Menu, just above Programs. You may or may not have these icons -- it's no big deal either way.

On the left side of the screen, click on the plus sign next to Programs. This will expand the folder and show you all of the sub-folders you have in the Programs Start menu. See Figure 3 below -- it shows my Programs Start Menu.

Figure 3

As you can see, this view works just like the Windows Explorer. Using your mouse, you can move, copy, and delete any icons or folders that you do not want cluttering up your menu.

Just to make sure you have the hang of it, I'll take you through a little tutorial. You're going to create a folder called Internet Applications, and in it, you are going to move one or two of your existing program folders.

Click on the Programs icon on the left side.

Click on the File menu and choose New, and then choose Folder.

Type a name for the folder. In this case, we'll call it Internet Applications. See Figure 4 below.

Figure 4

Now we need to choose programs to put in this new folder. I have an Internet program called HouseCall that I will put in. I'll also put in my Netscape Communicator folder. By collapsing related folders into one Internet folder, I'll keep my Start Menu better organized and easier to use. Choose a couple of folders on your Start Menu that YOU would like to place in the Internet Applications folder.

First, I'm going to click on the HouseCall folder on the left side.

Then, click on the Edit menu and choose Cut.

Click on the Internet Applications folder on the left side.

Click on the Edit menu and choose Paste.

That's it! My HouseCall folder has been transplanted to my new Internet Applications folder. Now, I'm going to do the same with my Netscape Communicator folder.

I'm going to click on the Netscape Communicator folder on the left side. Then, click on the Edit menu and choose Cut. Click on the Internet Applications folder on the left side. Click on the Edit menu and choose Paste.

Done. I repeated this a few more times with some other related programs, and now my screen looks like Figure 5.

Figure 5

Because this is using the Explorer interface, I can use any of the commands I normally do in Windows -- I can delete any of these icons or folders, or I can make copies of them, or I can rename them. Now keep in mind that these are just shortcuts. Changing them will not make any changes to the original program that is stored on your hard drive.

The Start Menu is just a regular folder on your hard drive -- and it only contains other folders and shortcuts. FYI: You can find the Start Menu folder on your hard drive, in the C:WINDOWS directory.

Have fun organizing. Be careful with what you delete. Deleting a shortcut is a whole lot easier than creating a shortcut!