Like the rest of the Windows 11 user experience, the Start menu has been streamlined to be both fresh and familiar. Whether you consider this evolution to be successful will depend, in part, on your needs and expectations, as some features from the Windows 10 Start menu have been removed or require extra steps to access.
As you probably know, the Start menu debuted in Windows 95, and it is interesting that one of the core concepts of that original design—document-centricity—makes a return in Windows 11, over 25 years later. That is, in addition to providing application launching capabilities, the Windows 11 Start menu also surfaces your most-recently-used documents and other files.
You access Start as you did in previous Windows versions: By selecting the Start button in the taskbar, tapping the Windows key on your keyboard, or typing Ctrl + Esc. When you do, the reimagined Start menu rises from the center of the screen and, in a first, is visually separated from the taskbar and presented as a floating window. Like other user interface elements in Windows 11, Start features rounded window corners and seamlessly adopts whatever theme you selected.
There are several interfaces in the new Start menu:
Search. A browser-like Search box appears at the top of Start so that search results appear below your search, much as it does in web-based search engines. As with the Start search functionality in Windows 10, search in Windows 11 helps you find and launch installed applications, documents and other files, settings, and other content, and it is personalized for your sign-in account (Microsoft account or an Azure Active Directory-based work or school account) to provide results from your OneDrive, SharePoint, and Outlook, and from Bing on the web.
Pinned. As with the pinned area in the Windows 10 Start menu, this area displays the icons for applications you, Microsoft, or your PC maker have pinned to Start. Unlike its Windows 10 cousin, however, Windows 11 doesn’t provide live tiles, but instead uses more traditional icons. You can, of course, customize which pinned apps appear here and drag and drop pinned icons to position them. If there are more than three rows of icons in Pinned, you can scroll from within this area to see the overflow pinned icons.
All apps. To access your complete list of installed apps, select the All apps button. All apps takes over the Start menu display and looks and works much like the All apps list in the Windows 10 Start menu.
Recommended. This confusingly overloaded area provides access to two different content items: Recent documents and other files and recently installed applications. If you want to remove an item from this area, right-click it and choose “Remove from list” from the context menu that appears.
More. To access a longer list of recent documents and files and recently installed applications, select the More button. Recommended takes over the Start menu display and provides a much longer list of that content. (As with the main Recommended view, you can remove items from this view as well.)
Account. In the lower-left corner of Start, you will find an image representing your user account. (You can change or edit this image by opening Settings (Winkey + i) and navigating to Accounts > Your info.) When you select this image, a small pop-up menu appears with choices for changing account settings, locking the PC, signing out of this account, or, if available, switching to any other accounts that are configured for use on this PC.
Power. In the lower-right corner of Start, you will find a Power icon that displays options like Sleep, Shut down, and Restart when selected.
You can also right-click the Start button on the taskbar to display the Quick Access menu—which some mistakenly call the “power user menu”—as was the case with Windows 10. This menu, like Start, is somewhat streamlined compared to its predecessor, but it still works the same way by providing access to legacy management interfaces like Device Manager and Computer Management as well as tools like Task Manager, Settings, File Explorer, Search, and Run, and so on. You can also display the Quick Access menu by typing Winkey + x. (Note that a System item will be added to this menu before Windows 11 is released.)
Compared to Windows 10, Start menu customization has likewise been streamlined, but you can see the remaining options by navigating to Settings > Personalization > Start as before. Here you can toggle the display of recently added and most-used apps in Recommended, plus the display of recently opened items in Start, jump lists, and File Explorer (in its Quick Access view).
You can also enable the display of a wide range of folder icons—for things like File Explorer, Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, and so on—in Start. None of enabled by default, but if you enable one or more here, they will appear in the bottom of Start, to the left of the Power button.
The streamlined new Start menu leaves behind some key features from Start in Windows 10. There are no more live tiles, as noted, nor is there any way to create and manage groups and folders in Pinned. And you can no longer display Start as a full-screen experience. You can’t display more items in Pinned, expanding the size of that area.
More problematic, perhaps, there’s no way to configure how Pinned and Recommended are sized with regards to each other. If you remove enough icons from Pinned, for example, so that there are fewer than 12 icons—in two rows of six icons each—Pinned display an empty row instead of providing the extra space to Recommended.
Hopefully, this will be fixed before Microsoft ships Windows 11 in October 2021.