Windows Wednesdays – Keeping Your Favorite Apps Closer, Part 2

Last week, we saw how to pin program icons to the Taskbar. This week, we will have a closer look at the improved Start Menu.

In Windows 11, as in Windows 10, the Taskbar is “prime real estate”. In fact, it’s the most valuable prime real estate, since it displays key controls, like the Start button, clock and network status, pinned program icons and icons for programs that are running. Taskbar behavior in Windows 11 is somewhat more intelligent than in Windows 10, at least to a point. In Windows 10, an overloaded Taskbar used to spawn a second, hidden tier with an up/down arrow control to the right for switching between tiers. It was a usable solution, but a bit clumsy. In Windows 11, the Taskbar decreases the size of the icons as you open more programs. When there are too many icons to display at once, the Taskbar sprouts a vertical separator line, like this:

The separator line is indicated by the red oval.

It’s not clear to me, as of this writing, how to access the overflow icons on the right side of the separator. However, the Taskbar’s usability is effectively negated long before the vertical line appears. By the time you have a dozen programs running, the Taskbar is essentially just a long, unsorted list, and it’s too difficult to recognize the reduced-size icon of any program you might be looking for. At that point, it’s easier to use another method of task switching, such as [Alt][Tab], to switch between programs. So, it’s best to only pin your most frequently used icons. For most people, that’s just three or four. But what about the icons for your not-so-frequently used, but still favorite applications?

The most logical place to put those icons is the Start Menu. Microsoft greatly simplified the Start menu in Windows 11. In Windows 10, pinning icons to the Start Menu was something of a free-for-all. You could pin as many as you wanted and move them around, and there was even a way to organize them into sections. But moving and organizing icons in the Windows 10 Start Menu was cumbersome and unintuitive, so most users never learned how to do it. In Windows 11, the Start Menu has just two sections: a Pinned section and a Recommended section. For today, we will focus our attention on the Pinned section.

The Pinned section of the Windows 11 Start Menu can display up to 18 icons at a time. You can pin more, but if you do, then your Pinned section will grow additional panels: a second one when you pin the 19th icon, a third one when you pin the 37th icon, and so on. You’ll be able to navigate among the panels using a series of vertical dots, an up arrow and a down arrow to the right of the icons, similar to how the home screens on a smartphone work. But I’m not going to show you this, at least not now, because having that many icons on the Start Menu detracts from its convenience. Besides that, few people have that many favorite applications, so 18 icons are more than enough.

You can also unpin icons from the Pinned section of the Start Menu, and you can drag and drop icons to rearrange them to your liking. Let’s see how this works.

As of this writing, my Start Menu looks like this:

First, let’s remove a couple of unused icons. I don’t use the Facebook app, and I’ve never used the Windows Tips app. So, I right-click on Facebook, and click “Unpin from Start”, as shown:

Repeat this for the Tips icon, and now my Start Menu looks like this:

Next, I’ll pin a new icon to my Start Menu. I use Firefox frequently (along with Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome), so it would be nice to have it closer at hand. Pinning an icon to the Start Menu is very easy in Windows 11, because when you right-click on any program icon in Windows 11, no matter where or how you found it (in the Taskbar, search results, the All Apps list, the Desktop or File Explorer), the context menu includes “Pin to Start”. So, I’ll search for Firefox, right-click on it and click “Pin to Start”:

Almost done! My Start Menu now looks like this:

But it would be nice to have all my web browsers grouped together. This is also quite easy, as it’s just a couple of simple drag-and-drop operations. I start by clicking and holding (with the left mouse button) on the Firefox icon, and dragging it next to Edge, as shown:

The other icons obligingly shift to the right to make room, and when I release the left mouse button, the Firefox icon drops right where I want it, next to Edge. After I repeat this for Google Chrome, my Start Menu looks like this:

Now it’s your turn. Try unpinning icons you don’t need, pinning icons you want to get to more quickly, and rearranging icons on your Start Menu to see how much better you can make the menu work for you!

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