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Tricks to Tame the Taskbar and Start Menu in Windows 10

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When logging in, especially the first time, the Start Menu in Windows 10 greets you with a ton of junk tiles. Many of them are shortcuts for trial applications that Microsoft wants to coerce you into using.

At the same time, useful icons, like the familiar “This PC” or “Control Panel” icons, are nowhere to be found. Also, by default, you’ll get lots and lots of notifications, most are just distractions.

This post includes a few easy tricks to make the Start Menu and Taskbar less of a nuisance. They won’t take long, and you’ll appreciate the results.

By default, the Start Menu in Windows 10 only contains icons that are good for Microsoft, but not necessarily useful for users.
By default, the Start Menu in Windows 10 only contains icons that are good for Microsoft, but not necessarily useful for users.

Simple what’s what in Windows 10

This part is probably redundant for many users, but in case you don’t know what the Start Menu—or the Start button, for that matter—is, here’s the breakdown:

  • The Start button is the icon, by default, located in the lower-left corner of the screen. It looks like four little squares put together—the official Microsoft icon. When you left-click (or tap) on this button, it will bring up the Start Menu. Right-clicking on this button will bring up the special menu (called X menu), which is useful for advanced users.
  • The Start Menu is the main menu of Windows—going back all the way to Windows 95. It contains shortcuts to all existing software applications available on your computer. Apart from left-clicking on the Start button, you can also call up the Start Menu by hitting the Windows key or Ctrl + Esc on the keyboard.
  • The Taskbar, by default, is the entire row that runs from the Start button to the right side of the screen. It has the search area right next to the Start button (integrated with Cortana) and little icons of quick access applications and those that are running. And the end of this bar is the notification area.

Step-by-step tricks for Windows 10’s Start Menu

Considering the Start Menu is the gateway to your computer, mastering it will give you the best experience with your system. These are what I do whenever I set up a new Windows 10 computer.

Replace unwanted tiles with useful ones

  1. Click on the Start button to bring up the Start Menu. (Alternatively, you can press on the Windows key or hit Ctrl+Esc on the keyboard.)
  2. Right-click on a tile that you want to remove and choose Unpin from Start or Uninstall (if available). Keep doing that until the menu is clean of unwanted tiles.
  3. Type in the search field (located at the bottom of the Start Menu) the name of a program you regularly use, such as “Control Panel” or “This PC” (no quotes). As the program you’re looking for appears in the search result, right-click on it and choose Pin to Start. Keep doing that with other frequently used applications.

That’s it; now, your Start Menu is a lot more user-friendly. You can resize it by placing the mouse at the edge till it changes into a double arrow, then drag it as you hold down the left mouse button.

Make the Start Menu persistent for all new users

Once you’ve gotten the menu to contain only the useful titles, you can make it persistent for all future accounts. As a result, when you make a new user account on the same computer, that account’s Start Menu will have the same tiles as the current account’s and not the default titles that come with Windows. Here’s how:

Commands to export and import Windows 10’s Start Menu layout.
  1. Click on the Start button, then type in the search field “PowerShell” (no quotes)
  2. As Windows PowerShell appears in the search result, right-click on it and choose Run as Administrator. Click Yes on the User Account Control prompt that follows, and the PowerShell window will appear.
  3. In the PowerShell window, enter the following two commands, one at a time, pressing Enter after each.

Export-StartLayout -Path SMenu.xml

Import-StartLayout -LayoutPath SMenu.xml -MountPath C:\

Now, try making a new account for a new user, and log in, you’ll see a Start Menu of the same tiles.

Disable suggestions and create shortcuts for popular folders

By default, Windows 10 occasionally displays suggested apps on the Start Menu (a form of advertisement). It also doesn’t give you the shortcuts to folders within your profile, such as Documents, Downloads, Pictures, Videos, and so on. Here’s how to fix that:

It's always helpful to have quick shortcuts on the Start Menu.
It’s always helpful to have quick shortcuts on the Start Menu. (Click for GIF.)
  1. Right-click on an empty spot on the Taskbar then choose Taskbar settings.
  2.  On the Settings window that appears, click on Start, located on the left pane. (If you don’t see it, you need to enlarge or maximize the Settings window.)
  3. Slide the Occasionally show suggestions in Start to Off, and then click on Choose which folders appear on Start.
  4. Slide the buttons of the desired folders to the On position.

That’s it! From now on you won’t see suggestions and can quickly access the folders you need via shortcuts on the Start Menu, directly above the Start button.

Steps to make Windows 10 notification more manageable

Notifications are one of the worst things in modern technology. There are just way too many of them and Windows 10, by default, is notorious and trying to grab your attention. There are frequently balloons and pops up at the end of the Taskbar, called the notification area. Here’s how you can manage those:

Turning on Focus assist will keep you from being distracted.
Turning on Focus assist will keep you from being distracted.
  1. Call up the Start Menu and choose Settings, which is the gear icon.
  2. In the Find a setting search box, type in “Focus assist settings” -> click on it when it appears.
  3. Change the setting to Alarms only.

And that’s it. From then on, you will no longer get unnecessary notifications except for the alarms. When you want to know if there are notifications you have missed, click on the notification icon at the right end of the Taskbar.

Dong’s note: I originally published this post on Mar 12, 2018, and have updated it since.

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