Start Menu (Vista) Guide

A guide for users of the Jaws screen reader, written by David Bailes. More guides are available on the Jaws Guides page of the VIP Software Guides website.



This is a guide to the Start menu in Windows Vista, and it describes both how to use the menu, and how to customize it.

Using standard keystrokes to move around the menu, you can:

In addition, you can use the Start Search box to find and open a wide range of items: programs, favorites and history, files and folders, contacts and emails.

To open the Start menu, press Windows Key. If you select a menu item and press Enter, then the Start menu automatically closes, just like any other menu. However, if you want to close the menu without choosing an item, there are two ways of doing this. Pressing Esc closes the menu, leaving the Start menu button as the focus. Alternatively, pressing the Windows Key also closes the menu, but returns the focus to wherever it was before you opened the menu.


The start menu has two columns, which are described the next sections. Note that unlike normal menus, the menu items in the Start menu have context menu's. Normally you'll just want to press Enter to open the menu items, but the context menus are occasionally useful.

Left hand column

After you open the menu, the left hand column contains the following:

Note that if the All Programs menu is opened, or there's text in the Start search box, the contents of this column change and this will be described in the relevant sections below.

Right hand column

The right hand column always contains the following:

Examples of using the menu

After opening the Start menu, the Start Search box, which is at the bottom of the left column, is the initial focus. The following are examples of ways of selecting various menu items. You can then open the item by pressing Enter, or open its context menu by pressing Application key.

When you open the Start menu, the Start Search edit box is the initial focus. This can be used for opening programs and a wide range of other items.

To open most programs, type either all or part of the name of a program into the search box, and press Enter. You can type in either complete words or the beginnings of words. Whenever there's a pause in your typing, Jaws reads out the best match to what you've typed. As soon as you hear the name of the program, you can press Enter to open it – you don't have to type in the full name. Note, that if there's text in the edit box, then a quick way of deleting it is to press Esc.

The following sections describe the use of the search box in more detail.

What is searched

The Start search edit box can be used for finding and opening the following groups of items:

By default, all four of the groups of items described above are searched, but you can customize this, as described in the Groups of items searched section below.


You can use either complete words or the beginnings of words as search terms. Whenever there's any text in the Start Search edit box, then the contents of the left hand column above the edit box are temporarily changed to display the search results. So the left hand column then contains:

The search results are grouped using the four groups which were described above, and in that order: Programs, Favorites and history, Files, and Communications. Depending on your search terms, there may be results for one or more of these groups, or none at all. If the first item in the list is either in the programs group of the Favorites and History group, then it's automatically selected.

As you type characters into the Search box, the list of search results is continuously updated. Whenever you pause after typing one or more characters, Jaws reads the first item in the list.

Opening programs

If you want to open a program, then you can often get this program to be the first item in the list, by either typing in some distinctive search terms of by typing the full name. As mentioned above, if the first item is a program, it's automatically selected, so you can open the program by pressing Enter.

However, to open some programs, there's a need to select another item in the list so that you can then open it. For example, if you type in sound so that you can open Vista's Sound dialog, then you'll probably find that Sound Recorder is the first item in the list, and Sound is the second. You can select other items in the list by using Down Arrow and Up Arrow. Note that these keystrokes don't move the focus away from the search box – if you type in more characters these appear in the search box. As you move the selection down the list, if you move to an item in a different group, such as Files, then Jaws reads the name of the group.

Opening other items

You can open items in the other groups in a similar manner. However, for reasons possibly known by Microsoft, if the first item in the list of results is either in the File or Communications group, then the Search Everywhere link is automatically selected, rather than the first item, and Jaws indicates this by saying unselected after it has read the first item. So in this case you have to press Down Arrow three times to move the selection to the first item in the list.

All programs menu

The All Programs menu contains all the programs which have been installed on the computer by either you or the company who build the PC, together with some programs which are part of Windows.

Once you've selected the All Programs sub menu, you can open it by pressing either Enter or Right Arrow. This menu opens as a tree view, rather than a conventional menu, and it temporarily replaces the pinned and most frequently used programs in the Start menu. In addition, a Back sub menu item temporarily replaces the All Programs sub menu item. So, when the All Programs menu is open, the left hand column of the Start menu consists of:

The top level of the tree view consists of an number of individual programs, followed by a number of folders. A folder contains a number of items which have been grouped together, and is the equivalent of a sub menu in a conventional menu. For example, the Accessories folder contains programs such as Notepad, and Calculator.

Selecting an item in the tree view

As with any list or tree view, you can use Up Arrow and Down Arrow, Home and End, and the first character or characters of an item. Note that you can move to all the items in the left hand column using Up Arrow and Down Arrow. So if you're on the first item in the tree view, pressing Up Arrow will take you to the Start Search box, and if you're on the last item, then pressing Down Arrow move you to the Back sub menu.

Some of the keystrokes for navigating the tree view are slightly different from normal:

Closing the All Programs sub menu

If you need to close this menu:

Shutdown, Sleep, Log off, etc

The toolbar at the bottom of the right hand column contains the Power button, and the Lock button, and a menu button which automatically opens when you select it. The items on the menu are: Switch User, Log Off, Lock, Restart, Sleep, and Shutdown which is initially selected.

There are a couple of things to note about the Power button, which is the first button in the toolbar. Firstly, after installing Vista this button is a Sleep button, but you can change it so that it's a Shutdown button as described in the Power button section.

Secondly, for some Windows updates, the computer needs to shutdown. When the computer downloads such an update, the Power button temporarily changes to “Install updates and shutdown”. However this option does not appear on the menu.

So if you normally shutdown the computer when you're finished with it for the day, then if you've changed the sleep button to a shutdown button, and use that button to shutdown, then you'll be aware of these updates that need installing. Alternatively, if you prefer to use the menu to shutdown, then on your way to the menu, pause on a regular basis to check it there are any updates that need installing.

Shut Down Windows dialog

An alternative to using the Start menu for shutdown, sleep, etc is to use the Shut Down Windows dialog box. You can open this by pressing Alt + F4 if the focus is the Desktop or anywhere on the Taskbar (Start menu, Quick launch toolbar, Taskbar buttons, or System tray). So if a program window is the focus, then to open the dialog you could press Windows Key + M to move to the desktop, and then Alt + F4 to open the dialog. The first control in the dialog is a combo box which contains all the options for shutdown, sleep, etc.

Customizing the Start menu

Rename an item

  1. Select a menu item.
  2. Press F2, or choose Rename from its context menu.
  3. Type in the new name, and then press ENTER.

Pinned programs

By default, the first two pinned programs are your default web browser and your default email programs. If you need to change these items, then this is described in the Internet and E-mail programs section below. In addition to these, you may want to add all the programs you regularly use to the pinned programs.

Add a program to the pinned programs

  1. Navigate the All Programs menu, and select the program.
  2. From its context menu (Application Key), choose “Pin to Start Menu”.

Remove a pinned program

  1. Select the program.
  2. From its context menu, choose either “Unpin from Start Menu” or “Remove from This List”.

Power button.

The Power button, which is the first button in the toolbar, is a Sleep button by default. However, you can change it to be a Shutdown button as follows:

  1. Open Power Options in the Control Panel. An easy way to do this is to open the Start Menu, type in Power Options, and then press Enter.
  2. The Power Options section of the Control panel opens. The window contains a group of three radio buttons which provide a choice of three power plans for the computer. The three plans are Balanced, Power saver, and High performance, and by default, Balanced is set. So press Tab till you get to a radio button, which will probably be Balanced. Note that Jaws incorrectly says it's in a group of one. Then press Tab to move to the Change plan settings link, and press Spacebar to open it – for some reason Enter doesn't work for this link.
  3. You're moved to the Edit plan settings section. Tab to the Change advanced power settings link, and press Enter open it.
  4. A Power Options dialog opens, and the initial focus is a combo box. Press Tab to move to the tree view.
  5. Press Down Arrow until you get to Power buttons and lid. Press Right Arrow to open it. Press Down Arrow twice to move to Start menu power button, and press Right Arrow to open it. Press Down Arrow to move to the Setting item which it contains. By default it is set to Sleep. To change the setting, press Right Arrow which moves you to a combo box. Change the setting, and then press Enter to press the Default OK button.
  6. You are returned to the Edit plan settings section of the Control panel which you can close.

Customize Start menu dialog

The Customize Start menu dialog contains controls for setting various options. This section describes how to open and close this dialog, and the following sections describe the various options.

  1. To open the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog: move the focus to the Start button by first pressing Windows Key to open the Start menu, and then Esc to close it. Then either choose Properties from the Start button's context menu, or press Alt + Enter. An alternative way of opening this dialog is to type all or part of “taskbar and start menu” into the Start Search edit box.
  2. The Taskbar and Start Menu Properties opens. If necessary move to the Start menu page. On this page, the first control is a group of two radio buttons for selecting either the standard start menu or the classic start menu. This guide is for the standard start menu, so it's assumed that the Start menu radio button is selected. Tab to the Customize button and press it.
  3. The Customize Start menu dialog opens. Change some of the settings, as described in the following sections, and then press Enter to press the default OK button.
  4. You're returned to the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog. Tab to the OK button and press it.

Most frequently used programs

By default, the number of most frequently used programs shown is 9. Some people prefer to set this to zero, and just used the pinned programs which don't change unless you change them. You can set the number in the Customize Start Menu dialog, which was described in the previous section, where there is a “Number of recent programs to display” spinbox.

Groups of items searched

When you use the Start Search edit box, then by default four groups of items are searched: Programs, Favorites and history, Files, and Communications. However, you can choose which groups of items are searched in the Customize Start Menu dialog which was described above. The tree view, which is the first control, contains the following relevant items:

Group of items in the right column

You can customize the group of items in the right hand column, which normally begins with your personal folder, using the tree view in the Customize Start Menu dialog, which was described above.

For some menu items, there is just an option as to whether they're displayed or not. For these items, there's a check box in the tree view. For other items, there are more options, and for these the item in the tree view contains a group of radio buttons.

There are three options for your personal folder, and the following folders which are contained in it: Documents, Pictures, Music, and Games. The options are:

The following items can be either displayed or not, and the default is shown in parenthesis after each item: Connect To (on), Default Programs (on), Favorites menu (off), Help (on), Network (on), Printers (off), Run command (off).

Computer and Control Panel both have the same three options as your personal folders above, and the default is Display as link. Finally, System administrative tools has three options, and the default is that it's not displayed.

Internet and E-mail programs

Normally, the first two pinned programs at the top of the left hand column are your default web browser and email program. If you change which program is your default web browser or email program then these items are automatically updated. However, if you accidentally remove one of these from the menu and want to restore it, or you want to change either of these programs, then you can do this in the Customize Start Menu dialog, which was described above.

In the Show on Start menu section of this dialog, there's an Internet link check box followed by a combo box, and an E-mail link check box followed by a combo box.


Command Keystrokes
Open Start menu Windows Key
Close Start menu, restoring focus to previous location Windows Key
Close Start menu, leaving the Start menu button as the focus Esc
Move to next or previous item in a column Down Arrow or Up Arrow respectively
Move between the two columns Left Arrow or Right Arrow
Cycle forward through Personal folder, Power button, Internet, All programs, and the Start Search box. Tab
Cycle backward through similar items, except that for groups of items it moves you to the last, rather than the first item. Shift + Tab
To clear the text in the Start Search box Esc
Close the All Programs menu Esc