What to do when your Windows 10 Start Menu isn't working

So, your Windows 10 Start Menu stopped working?

One of the biggest problems people seem to be running into with Windows 10 is the Windows 10 Start Menu stops working. This often goes hand in hand with their task bar items disappearing. Common behavior includes clicking on the Start Button and nothing happens, or clicking on the Start Button and getting a "Critical Error" message. Sometimes right clicking on the Start Button will bring up a quick access menu, but it doesn't happen in every case.

A quick Google search of "Windows 10 Start Menu not working" or Windows 10 Start Menu critical error" brings up millions of results. This problem has been around since the developer previews from over a year ago. Microsoft still doesn't have a concrete answer on how or why this is happening. I believe the answer is tied into Cortana being so closely integrated with the Start Menu. I've seen many websites offer the same generic advice from running powershell to creating new user profiles. Some have said the only way to fix this is to reinstall Windows 10. 

After seeing this problem first hand on a customer's computer, I tried all of the suggested fixes. Keep in mind that none of those fixes are guaranteed to work and it's been my experience that they simply don't work most of the time. In my situation with that customer's computer, nothing worked. After wasting a few hours, I decided to try my go-to Windows 8 Start Menu program from Classic Shell. It worked! The computer had a functioning Start Menu. I wondered if uninstalling Classic Shell would leave behind a functioning Windows 10 Start Menu, by perhaps forcing Windows 10 to reinstall or reengage whatever code was missing or broken (Note - this is an uneducated guess. I'm not a developer). The answer was yes! A few reboots confirmed that the Windows 10 Start Menu was working once more. I think the answer is simple - spend hours trying fixes that might not work, or download Classic Shell and be back up and running in under 10 minutes.

Here's what I suggest:

  1. Download Classic Shell from www.classicshell.net or from www.ninite.com.
  2. Install Classic Shell. Classic Shell will do its thing and a few moments later it will be ready to go.
  3. Verify that Classic Shell is working. It's working when you click on the Start Button and you see a Start Menu.
  4. Reboot your PC.
  5. At this point, you can leave Classic Shell installed or you can uninstall it.
  6. If you uninstall it, reboot your PC. 
  7. After rebooting your PC, click on the Start Button. You should see the familiar Windows 10 Start Menu.
  8. In the event that uninstalling Classic Shell doesn't leave you with a functioning Windows 10 Start Menu / Start Button, just reinstall Classic Shell. Wait a day or two and remove Classic Shell again. Reboot. Your Windows 10 Start Menu should be back.
  9. Classic Shell has fixed EVERY computer I've seen that had Start Menu problems.

Classic Shell is a free program, but they do accept donations. If Classic Shell has saved the day for you, send a buck or two their way -- their donation link is on their homepage. 




Microsoft Store Updates

As detailed in my last blog post, the way you check for Windows Updates has radically changed in Windows 10. You can see that post here. In addition to checking for Windows Updates, Windows 10 brings something new to the table - Microsoft Store updates. That's right, there are now two different places to check for updates. This blog post will show you how to check for Microsoft Store Updates.

The easiest way, in my opinion, is to look at the taskbar on the Desktop. On the task bar, look for the icon that looks like a shopping bag with the Microsoft Logo on it. You can also click the start button and look for the Microsoft Store tile. In addition to that, you can click on the start button, go to "All apps" and scroll down to the "S" section where you will find that same shopping bag icon with the Microsoft Logo on it. Regardless of how you get there, click the icon or tile.

The Windows Store icon circled in red on the taskbar.

The Windows Store icon circled in red on the taskbar.

The Windows Store tile icon.

The Windows Store tile icon.

The Windows Store icon on the Start Menu

The Windows Store icon on the Start Menu

After clicking the icon or tile, the Windows Store will open up. Near the top and to the right of the screen you will see either your account icon or a generic icon depending on if you added a picture to your user account. This icon is located directly to the left of the Search Box. 

Click the user account picture or generic icon and you will see a list of options pertaining to your Microsoft Account. Click on "Downloads and updates" (circled below).

After clicking on "Downloads and updates", you'll see the blue button "Check for updates" (circled below).

Click the "Check for updates" button and if there are any updates available, they will show up on the screen in a list. The updates will automatically begin to download and install. Note that when you click the "Check for Updates" button, the button becomes grayed out and you should see a spinning progress wheel over the button. If there are any updates available, a number will appear next to your user account icon. That number corresponds to the number of updates available. See the screen shot below for an example.

Here's an example of an update that's queued up for updating:

When you are done, all of your Windows 10 apps will be up to date. Any questions? If so, leave a comment below.

Windows 10 Is Here!

Windows 10 was officially unleashed by Microsoft on July 29th, and the reviews have generally been good. I've installed it on a number of PCs already, and it's been a good experience so far. For example, my work laptop is a Sager from 2008. This Sager came with Windows Vista. It had been upgraded to Windows 7 and a Seagate SSD and now with Windows 10. It ran very well with Windows 7 and with Windows 10 it actually runs better.

If you are thinking about upgrading to Windows 10, here are some tips to keep in mind before you make the plunge:

1) This is a major upgrade - back up your data first!! Operating System updates can fail, don't put your data at risk.

2) If you're the type of person that doesn't want to leave anything to chance, you'll want to capture your Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 product key. There are two easy ways to accomplish this. You can install Speccy from Piriform or Belarc Advisor from Belarc.com. Both of them can give you your Windows product key. In addition to that, Belarc Advisor can give you your Micrsoft Office product key (if you have it installed).

3) In order to get the FREE upgrade, you must do the upgrade from within Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1. Now many experts will recommend doing a fresh install and I have to agree - that is generally going to be the best way to go. Which leads me to point 4...

4) When you do the upgrade from within Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1, Windows 10 does not require you to enter your Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 product key - it pulls it in from the current Windows installation. When Windows 10 is done installing, you will see that Windows 10 is activated. If you want to do a fresh install, you can then download the appropriate Windows 10 ISO. Burn that ISO to a disk or make a bootable USB drive and you can wipe the hard drive clean and do a fresh install. When you are done reinstalling Windows 10, you will see that Windows 10 is activated. At this point in time, it appears that Microsoft captures a snapshot of your hardware - specifically your Motherboard's ID. As long as your hardware doesn't drastically change, Windows 10 will activate.

5) If you are upgrading an older Windows 7 or Windows 8 PC, now would be the perfect time to buy a SSD drive. You will want to do the upgrade while the old hard drive is installed. When the upgrade is complete, install the new SSD. Reinstall Windows 10. Windows 10 will be activated.

6) After booting into Windows 10 for the first time, you will want to check for Windows Updates. Microsoft has changed where you check for updates. Instead of finding Windows Updates in the Control Panel, you click on the start button and click on "Settings"

Then click on "Update and Security"

Then click on "Windows Update"

If you have other Microsoft products installed, you'll want to click on "Advanced Options" and then check the box for "Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows".

7) After Windows has been updated, you'll want to personalize your Windows 10 Start Menu tiles. If you don't like the tiles, they can be removed (unpinned) from the Start Menu. Some tiles (apps) can even be uninstalled. Right clicking on a tile will let you know if it can be removed or uninstalled from the start menu. Unpinning a tile removes it from view. Uninstalling a tile removes it completely. If you don't like the way Microsoft implemented the Start Menu, you can download a third-party Start Menu. My favorite is from Classicshell.net

I have found this version of Windows to be very stable. I expect it to get only better as time goes on. Be sure to check for Windows Updates often during the first 3 months - any major bugs should be addressed by then.

Are you ready for Windows 10?

Ready or not, Windows 10 is coming. Next month, July 29th to be exact, Microsoft will be releasing Windows 10 upon the world.  I've been using the Developer Preview on a 9-10 year old laptop with a used SSD I had laying around. From what I have seen so far, everything I have installed has worked fine.  If you've used Windows 8/8.1, the jump to Windows 10 is not that far of a stretch. The big highlight being the return of the Start Menu. Sure, some things are now different, but the overall Windows feel is still there. Windows 7 users are in for a steeper learning curve than Windows 8 / 8.1 users. 

Microsoft has been updating the Windows 10 preview through Windows Update. It should be safe to assume that with a release date of July 29th, Microsoft has switched into bug squashing mode. Still, there are some features in the Developer Preview that could be pulled (or even added) before Windows 10 is officially released.

Before proceeding, make sure you have 3 GB of available hard drive space - that's the amount of space needed by the install file(s) when they download. I expect the download to occur in late July, 2015.

Recently, a new icon started showing up on Windows 7, 8, and 8.1 PCs. The icon looks like a white Windows logo:

Clicking on the icon brings up this window:

Before clicking on "Reserve your free upgrade", I highly recommend you click on the Hamburger menu (circled below):

Clicking the Hamburger menu opens up this view:

Click on "Check your PC":

Clicking "Check your PC" brings you to a screen that points out any issues you might have when upgrading. In my case, using a Laptop from 2008 running Windows 7, my Bluetooth radio is potentially in trouble:

Microsoft is reportedly having issues with some drivers working with Windows 10. That's possibly the issue I'm seeing here. If your PC is showing issues, hold off a few weeks and go through the process again. Microsoft will be working to make sure as many device drivers as possible are working. You might find that a device that is having an issue today, might be fixed in a few weeks. In my case, I reserved the upgrade because I don't use Bluetooth with this laptop. If your machine doesn't show any issues, you can click the "Reserve" button. That will give you the option to enter your email address if you'd like an email confirmation. Otherwise, you are done.

Note that if you reserve your copy of Windows 10, Microsoft will download it to your PC without prompting you first. This download should happen in late July. As mentioned earlier, the download is 3 GB, so keep that in mind if you are low on disk space. Once downloaded, Microsoft will give you the option to install it when you want. I highly recommend backing up your data before updating. The update is FREE as long as it's done in the first year that it's available.

If there are any questions about the developer preview, ask them in the comments section.

My switch to Google Voice

I've been following the wireless industry for the past 5 years. After all,  as an IT consultant, my clients often have questions about wireless technology. I was a Cingular customer (remember them?) when they were bought by AT&T. After AT&T, I moved over to Sprint. I was a relatively happy Sprint customer until their WiMax technology turned out to be the loser in the 4G arena. A move from the Chicago area to a small town 60 miles west of St. Louis meant the end of my Sprint days. Sprint's coverage here was abysmal. From Sprint, I went to Straight Talk. For an MVNO, their service was pretty good. Their Customer Service (like most MVNOs) was lacking, but that's a big reason why the rates are so cheap. I've been a fan of what T-Mobile has been doing for the past 2 years, so I thought I would give T-Mobile a try. I like to support businesses that are doing things right, so even though my home office barely gets a signal, I put my money where my mouth is.

I knew T-Mobile offered an in-home signal booster (CellSpot), but what I didn't realize is that it's useless unless you have WiFi calling. When you are self employed you truly rely on your cell phone...for everything. The shiny new Nexus 6 I got from T-Mobile is supposed to support WiFi calling in a later update, but for now it's a paper weight. (Yes, I know I could return the phone and and walk away with no penalties due to the lack of coverage, but like I said above I really wanted to support T-Mobile)

Enter Google Hangouts.

I knew Google Hangouts was capable of making WiFi calls, but until now I had no need for it. Now that I had a need for it, it was time to get to work. I called someone I knew via Google Hangouts on my Nexus 6. It worked! No cell signal, but the call when through and it sounded great. Only one problem - my call came up as unknown. That's a major problem for a business.

Enter Google Voice.

I spent the next day searching for a way to make my number show up during a Google Hangouts call. The only way I could find that would reliably make my number show up was porting my existing number to Google Voice. There a few posts out there about getting started with Google Voice, but I did run into a few small issues. The point of this post is to cover my experiences and help you avoid any potential pitfalls.

  1. Porting your mobile number to Google Voice ends your current cell carrier contract. If you are under a contract, contact your carrier first before you do anything else. If you are thinking about switching carriers, now would be a great time to do so. Since I was a new T-Mobile customer (with no contract) for only a few days, I didn't know what to expect.  Unfortunately for me, I didn't call T-Mobile first. If I had, I would have learned that my cell number and my T-Mobile account number are merged together in their system. I figured it was just a matter of opening a new line on T-Mobile and transferring the phone to it. Turns out, it's not that easy. I started the process of porting my number to Google Voice and then called T-Mobile. The Representative informed me that I'd be getting a bill for the Nexus 6. I explained that I didn't realize that I couldn't just get a new line added to the account. The representative suggested that I go out and get a new SIM card and call them back after the port process was complete. I ended up having to talk to three different departments, but the end result was a new phone number and avoiding having to immediately pay off the new Nexus 6. 
  2. The porting process took about 24 hours. Google cautions that it can take longer, but since Google Voice has been around for years, I believe they have the process down.  There's really no good time to have not have cellular service, so I picked the end of the week. That way if it took multiple days, it would hopefully be done by Monday.
  3. When you start the port process you have to have current cell service - Google calls you to verify ownership of the number. So don't cancel your current cellular service yet!
  4. When the port process is complete, you'll get an email from Google.
  5. After the port process, before you can make cellular calls via Google Voice, you have to get a new cellular number & service from a carrier. It can be the same carrier you had or a new carrier.  You add that new working cell number to your Google Voice account as a forwarding number.   
  6. I'm self-employed. All of my customers have my phone number. I couldn't afford to lose any business because my number changed. That's why making my existing phone number my Google Voice number was so important. 
  7. Even more important, down the road if I ever change cellular carriers, it doesn't matter what phone number they give me - it will be added to my Google Voice account as a forwarding number. This should be the last time I ever have to port my number.
  8. If your cell number is not that important to you, you can always open a Google Voice account and request a Google Voice number from Google. You'd add your current number from your cellular carrier as a forwarding number to your Google Voice account. 
  9. If you are an Android user, give Google Hangouts a try. It's been a great experience so far. I use Google Hangouts to make calls and send text messages. 
  10. If you want to make WiFi calls and send text messages via your PC, install the Google Hangouts Chrome extension. You can get it here: https://www.google.com/hangouts/ - Note that this also applies to Chromebooks. Also, get a good head set. Thankfully, I have one and after using it for a week I'll be taking all of my office calls that way. I'm using a Sennhieser headset. 
  11. If you want to have a good experience making WiFi calls, make sure you have a good WiFi network. The better the network, the better the experience.
  12. While I'd rather not use my Android tablet to make calls, I know I can if I have to thanks to the Google Hangouts Dialer app.

All in all, I'd have to say I'm very pleased with Google Voice. I'm definitely glad I switched. Do you have a question, or comments? Leave them in comments below.