How do I customize the order of items in the All Programs section of the Start menu?

The items in the All Programs section of the Start menu are grouped into two sections, although there are no visible divider lines between them.

  1. Non-folders, sorted alphabetically.
  2. Folders, sorted alphabetically.

We saw earlier that the Fast Items lost their special status in Windows Vista and are sorted with the regular items. Another change from Windows XP is the order of the remaining two groups: Windows XP put folders above non-folders, because that was the sort order imposed by the IShellFolder::CompareIDs method so that folders sorted above files in regular Explorer windows. This deviation from standard sort order starting in Windows Vista was introduced because the guidance for application developers regarding Start menu shortcuts is to place program shortcuts in the Programs folder, with other supporting stuff in subfolders. Given that guidance, it is the program shortcuts in the Start menu that are more important, so they go at the top.

If you don't like the alphabetical ordering, then you can go the Start menu Properties, select Customize, and then scroll down to the bottom of the options tree and uncheck Sort All Programs by name. If you do this, then you can manually rearrange the items in the All Programs menu via drag/drop to put them in whatever order you like.

Pre-emptive snarky comment: "Changing the Start menu from a cascading menu to a tree navigation model was the stupidest idea since unsliced bread." Yes, I know you all hate it. Old news. Consider this a tip on how to cope with adversity.

Comments (31)
  1. Marquess says:

    People actually click through the start menu on Windows 6.x? How quaint.

  2. Dan Bugglin says:

    "Yes, I know you all hate it."

    I love it, actually.  Makes it a lot easier to navigate and organize without it spilling all over my screen.

  3. Andrew says:

    People are so reluctant to change it's amazing. Personally I love the changes brought by both Windows Vista (and 7) and even the ribbon in Office 2007. I also actually keep Aero on (because it doesn't affect anything, and it looks nicer) and the new style taskbar. Maybe I'm weird. I see people trying to make it emulate W2k and it both looks bad and far is less functional. The tree view in the compact Start Menu is much easier to navigate than moving your mouse all over the screen, potentially moving away long enough to close the tree you had opened. Then again, I tend to pin the stuff I want most (turning off recently used programs in the Start Menu) or just search for it. It's so much faster than trying to remember where stuff goes, especially with the weird places some developers put things in the Start Menu.

  4. DIR /S says:

    > People actually click through the start menu on Windows 6.x? How quaint.

    Using pinned menu icons (forcing no automatic detected shortcuts) and pinned taskbar icons, I have at 1/2 clicks range ~50 applications.

    I seldom use applications out of this list (like, less than once a week).

    On the other side, I find the search text-box to be near to useless to me. If I want to exec something, I use Win+R and type the command or cmd and then the commands. Apart from outlook (and the web of course) I can't remember the last time I had to search something – I find search tools way overrated – especially compared to a good old DIR /S.

  5. Frederik says:

    I for one love the new start menu in Vista and 7, especially being able to type the first few letters of a program.

  6. Dolores Umbridge says:

    The biggest problem with the horrible disaster and utter abomination that is the new Start menu is PERFORMANCE. When searching/keyboard use, it's acceptable. When navigating All Programs using the mouse, it's a joke. I continuously see the Aero busy cursor and the expanding of trees, scrolling and launching a shortcut is massively slow if you have a number of programs installed. Probably the shell team's tip on how to cope with this adversity would be to use the keyboard only. Plus you can't even launch multiple programs by holding down the Shift key while clicking so launching even 2 or 3 apps using the mouse is incredibly time consuming. Unless you follow MS's coping with adversity tip and use search or use only pinned/MRU apps. Other deficiencies include not showing infotips for folders like Classic did, can't open folders by double clicking, a Connect To which cannot be expanded into a menu like other items can and an extremely annoying reverse/descending sort order so folders go to the end. In short, it's all broken by design for mouse usage since Vista and the shell team ignores it.

  7. Leo Davidson says:

    Increasing the "number of recent programs to display" (under Start -> Properties -> Start Menu -> Customize) is another way to make the Vista/Win7 Start Menu nicer, if you have the extra screen height.

    (It makes the whole thing taller so that, in particular, the All Programs list isn't so cramped. You'll still be scrolling more than necessary but it'll suck a bit less.)

    IMO, the Start Menu should automatically expand its height when you open All Programs. Maybe it doesn't because that combined with putting the files before the folders would move the items (the designers may assume) people want further away from the mouse, or maybe because it's just not worth spending time on when the All Programs list is so rarely needed now. :)

    Overall, I wouldn't go back to the earlier Start Menus, even though this small aspect of the newer ones is a little irritating. The search stuff more than makes up for it.

  8. Peter da Silva says:

    I can't get a working classic theme back, but at least I can get the classic start menu back.

  9. asdbsd says:

    @Peter da Silva:

    <i>Also it is not immediately clear what parts of it are clickable. You have to move the mouse around to discover the UI like in a Lucas Arts adventure game.</i>

    <i>Type “C”. It finds “Koala.jpg”. WTF? THERE IS NO “C” IN “KOALA” OR “JPG”!</i>

    Epic lol. I wouldn't agree with everything this guy writes, but he's definitely funny.

    I wonder how his start menu integrates with taskbar though. Will it keep the explorer default taskbar? Because that's definitely the part Microsoft got right in Windows 7.

    …And I wish instead of trees someone made start menu icons bigger. On a touchscreen netbook, navigating through the new start menu is a special kind of hell.

  10. Marcel (not the one above) says:

    Why is there a "</!–>" in the article source code, it makes Opera stop displaying the rest of the page.

    [Apparently the software that runs this site thinks that <!– comment –> is a tag that needs to be closed with a </!–>, and if you "forget" to close it, it will "helpfully" close it for you. Deleted the comment. -Raymond]
  11. Tuesday says:

    Since some commenters hurried to state they love new things, I'll feel free to add my opinion:

    I want simplicity. I don't care if it's old or new. Even Win2000's Intellimenus and MenuOrder are an unnecessary burden (take a shot of ProcMon to see).

    I don't want to burn (let's say) 200 MHz of my processor's computing power for such a stupid thing. It may not seem much, but there are many places like this in Windows.

  12. Alexandre Grigoriev says:


    Have those bastards to use your special keyboard!

  13. Paul M. Parks says:

    Regarding the botched SGML comment… Where is there a blog or other site where I can complain about the "improved" MSDN blog software? The number of bugs and annoyances I've run into since the upgrade is pretty amazing, and apparently this is true for the users on the MS side as well.

    I know they probably "improved" it in order to serve me better, but, wow….

    [Sean Jenkin blogs about the blog software. The botched comment is apparently a known issue (more specifically, known to the blog software team, not known to me) with a fix "coming". -Raymond]
  14. R. Bemrose says:


    Yeesh, how old is your computer?  My current PC is two years old and has four cores, each operating at 2.4Ghz.  If something's taking up 200Mhz, it's beneath my notice because I have a combined total of 9,600 Mhz of processor power and can run 4 threads simultaneously.

  15. DWalker says:

    Yay for customization!  I like and dislike vastly different things than other people.  The commenter who said Aero "looks nice" … well, I hate semi-transparent title bars with a huge passion.  I don't like things leaking through other things!  Even when you turn off transparency, the title bars (and the borders) are not one solid color; there are slanted lines of color shadings in the title bar, and the side borders change color partway down.

    Not to rant on Vista — I know this is not the place — but I wish the customization was built in to the product instead of having to go to outside software.  (And I don't want "classic theme" because it's too "square".  I like the rounded corners of XP, and I don't think I will ever get used to the Vista look.)

  16. Marcel says:

    You expect all developers to change the shortcut placement as per the new guidelines after 10 years?? Guess what, most of them are not doing that. Does Office 2010 do that? Does Visual Studio 2010 at least put the main IDE link at the top? And what about legacy apps? You should have allowed *users* to change the sort order with folders at the top. You expect poor users to disable auto sort by name and drag and drop *each and every installed app shortcut* with the folder at the top in the the massively slow Start menu? EPIC FAIL.

  17. Marquess says:

    «Type “C”. It finds “Koala.jpg”. WTF? THERE IS NO “C” IN “KOALA” OR “JPG”!»

    Metadata. Windows Search indexes metadata. So there probably was a C somewhere in there.

    So, when are the blog software people going to rename the Post button to “May or may not post”?

  18. Miral says:

    Hmm, wait a minute.  Reading that guidelines link only seems to show sensible stuff.  Where did "other supporting stuff in subfolders" come from?  That's the bit that I was really objecting to, but it doesn't seem to appear in the linked page at all.  Was this changed in the year or so since this entered your queue?

    [More like I misremembered the guidance. -Raymond]
  19. peterchen says:

    @Marcel "You expect all developers to change the shortcut placement as per the new guidelines after 10 years??"

    • we have to stick to 10 year old guidelines – why?

    The new rules move toward a cleaner start menu, the implementation supports old programs very well while giving the playing-nice ones a notch.

    An informal survey of my start menu shows a payload:crapola ratio of 1:3  (…/you-need-only-one ) – reason enough to remove that clutter.

  20. dinker says:

    I`m still on XP, cannot stand the Start menu on Seven.

  21. Pi says:

    Thank you, dinker, for the very useful and/or funny information you have provided that isn't even covered by the "pre-emptive snarky comment". You make your mother and the president of the United States proud. U-S-A! U-S-A!

  22. K says:

    It too me a while to get used to the W7 start menu, but I think it's an improvement. Except for a simple thing:


    It uses what? 600×500 pixels, that's about 300'000? I've got another 3 million of those, but I have to scroll down inside a tiny box. See environment variables dialogue.

  23. Tuesday says:

    @R. Bemrose:

    It's not that I can't afford to spare them, I don't want to spare them. That's MHz wasted for my annoyance (to constantly shift things and make me look for them again and again). I'd feel easier even if it was a proper spyware (because that's what user tracking is) – if it was reported to Microsoft to solve some problem or optimize something. This is just a waste and not green at all. :)

  24. Ivo says:

    @Marquess: I'm the one that wrote the Koala bit. It was (mostly) tongue in cheek. Of course I know about the metadata. However I question the usefulness of it. So we can't trust the users to organize their Programs folder (that's why the search is needed), but we can trust them to have correct metadata? Really? :)

    I think the deeper problem is that the start menu tries to mimic a web search, but that's just wrong.

    A web search is a tool for exploring the unknown (the Internet). I don't know what I'm going to find, so anything remotely related to my search may be important to me. Go ahead and look at the metadata, hidden keywords, whatever, as long as it's going to produce better results.

    The start menu searches my computer. It is not unknown. I don't need to discover stuff, I put them there in the first place! So it shouldn't try to be smart. Looking at the metadata does two things: A) slows down the search, and B) produces false positives.

  25. DWalker says:

    @miral:  I think the guidance says to make the other supporting stuff accessible from the product itself.  (Such as links to the home page of the developing company; they don't need to be in the Start menu at all, but reachable from the program.)  If your product has distinct parts, put them in subfolders (my loose translation).

  26. @Ivo says:

    Actually, a lot of files have correct metadata. Legally purchased MP3s for example. And the filestamp in images is also usually correct. The wisdom of searching for text in images may be debatable, but if the user actually uses keywords, then he better finds them.

    Also, the start menu search looks in a bit more than just the start menu.

  27. Marquess says:


    Actually, a lot of files have correct metadata. Legally purchased MP3s for example. And the filestamp in images is also usually correct. The wisdom of searching for text in images may be debatable, but if the user actually uses keywords, then he better finds them.

    Also, the start menu search looks in a bit more than just the start menu.

  28. John Elliott says:

    Start menu? Ha! You can have progman.exe when you prise it from my cold dead harddrive.

  29. Miral says:

    @DWalker59: Yes, I know, and I agree with that.  My message above was actually my second post (the first got eaten by the blog software — which is probably for the best, since it was much more irate in tone; it was a response to the "other stuff in subfolders" bit before I had read what the link actually said, which was different).

    The other thing from my missing first post was essentially "I would much prefer having the XP style menu combined with the Vista-style type-and-go box."  I really hate the Vista-style treeview, but love the type-and-go box — I use it for basically everything except folders, which Win+R is still the best at dealing with.

    (And I really hope someone fixes all the bugs in the blog software soon.  This post nearly got eaten too.)

  30. DWalker says:

    It's amazing how many products don't follow that guidance for what to put on the Start menu.  I don't know when the guidance was written, but the screenshots look like Vista.  I just checked five different non-Microsoft programs and they ALL have "about" or "Web site" or "uninstall" or "Readme" or "help" links in the Start menu folders.  Most of them have all five of those things, which goes against the guidance.  Oh well.

  31. @bottom says:

    A good thing is that startmenu in windoze 6.2 cannot be worse!

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