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PowerToys Run is a perfect antidote to the Windows 11 Start menu

Powertoys Run
Powertoys Run (Image credit: Windows Central)

I don't like the Windows 11 Start menu. I'm not alone either, with both colleagues and readers who aren't fans. But while Microsoft may have taken away features and made the user experience worse, there is at least something that can be done about it.

You could get yourself something like Start11, which will give you a pile of customizations. Or you could do what I've done, and in all honesty, what I've done on Windows 10 for a long time now, and that's use PowerToys.

Specifically, PowerToys Run, a launcher for Windows that allows you to open files, folders, and apps without ever touching the Start Menu. So if like me, the Windows 11 Start menu gets you down, it's a perfect time to turn to PowerToys.

What is PowerToys?

Powertoys

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

PowerToys is a suite of tools built by Microsoft that expands the functionality of Windows. It's so good that I think it should all just be built into the OS, but it is what it is. We've covered PowerToys in-depth elsewhere, but it's free and very, very awesome.

The tools cover a wide range of features, too. Obviously, there's the launcher, but there are also tools for image resizing, renaming files, extensions for File Explorer, and much more.

PowerToys is also open source and hosted on GitHub.

PowerToys Run is outstanding

Powertoys Run

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

If you've ever used a Mac or even a Linux PC, then you might be familiar with the idea behind PowerToys Run. In simple terms, it's like Apple's Spotlight, only for Windows PCs. The idea is that it relies entirely on your keyboard, so whatever you're doing a quick tap of the shortcut, start typing, and you'll get what you're looking for.

You might be wondering why it's better than just hitting the Windows key and using Search? It's a valid question. Ignoring times when you might have the Windows key disabled, for example, when gaming, PowerToys Run is more streamlined than regular old Windows Search. And because it's only searching for local files you don't get any web results or anything cluttering up your results.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

More so even than that, you have complete control over the results you get in PowerToys Run. If you want to only see a few results, you can decrease this, or increase it if you want to see more. In my experience though, PowerToys Run has become so good that I don't need to see more than three results and it'll have found what I'm looking for. It has a built-in calculator, a unit converter, even access to basic shell features and registry search. All apps can be run as administrator from within the results or send the path straight to your terminal.

Of course, any of these plugins you don't want, simply turn them off.

PowerToys Run sounds like a power user tool, and it is, but it's also perfectly accessible to the average person. It takes a little training to stop yourself from using a mouse to open files and apps, but once you get your brain thinking that way, it's much more efficient. If you don't like the new Start Menu or hell, even if you do, you have to try PowerToys Run.

Richard Devine is an Editor at Windows Central. A former Project Manager and long-term tech addict, he joined Mobile Nations in 2011 and has been found on Android Central and iMore as well as Windows Central. Currently you'll find him covering all manner of PC hardware and gaming, and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

16 Comments
  • I respect PowerToys a great deal, but... this doesn't really address the changes from Windows 10 Start Menu to Windows 11. At best this streamlines the capability that Windows 10 and 11 (and even Windows 7 and 8) have in common: typing the name of a program to launch it. This is one thing that's effectively unchanged between Windows 10 and 11. My problem with the new Windows 11 Start menu (and I think the general problem among users, aside from losing Live Tiles) is the lack of being able to organize my apps in groups for browsing. Kind of the opposite of typing, which requires you to already know exactly what app you need. I want to look at all my graphics editors, and then select one, or look at my various MP3 or audio players/editors, then pick one, or a text editor (Notepad, Notepad++, some hex editor, etc.), or OneNote desktop vs. OneNote Windows 10, or the correct Amazon S3 file manager... What about web pages installed as apps? I suppose you can give these names, and then search by typing that name, but I think of them as their icons. To me, they don't have names, they have images, including multiple saved "apps" from my own company web site. In Windows 10, I can group all these or put them in folders to reflect this. In Windows 11, it seems it's designed for people who only have a handful off apps and don't need to organize them. I use several dozen apps and need a way to organize them. That's not to undermine PowerToys -- those are great, I just think it's a bit of a contorted stretch to suggest this is a solution to what Windows 11 changed about the Start menu.
  • Excellent point: a launcher isn't the solution to the start menu problems, which you explained so well. Also, PowerToys has some serious competition in Flow Launcher and Ueli.
  • Yeah, PowerToys Run doesn't actually addressed what many complained about Windows 11 Start menu. The Windows Search remained the same from Windows 10 for all of its pros and cons, just have rounded UI that's all. The Search bar on the Start menu is nothing but acts a button to launch the Windows Search flyout anyways, user experience doesn't change that much. Anyways, the PowerToys Run is actually pretty good. Faster than Windows Search and more reliable. For whatever reason, Windows Search tends to not always put a search results you want, or it takes for it to learn what you want. But if you have bad connection, it does affect its performance due to its web search actually loading alongside local search. PowerToys Run is much faster, sadly I can't use that to search from Windows key which is one of the most convenient thing about Windows Search.
  • Yeap, I have ~50 apps on my start menu on Windows 10, this doesn't fix that issue, if I wanted to type I would already be doing that with the regular Search.
  • I have 0 apps in the start menu. Shows how you are never going to make all users happy with OS changes.
  • PowerToys is wonderful. Improving the type-to-launch experience does almost nothing to mitigate the changes to the W11 Start Menu. Clickbaiters gotta clickbait...
  • The editor kind of sounds like one of those people who used to whine and cry about the difference between Windows XP in Windows 7. It's also funny that he makes it sound like no one likes the new start menu even though over 50% of windows central readers stated in a poll they like the new start menu
  • Most people here ms fanboys. This article is aimed at regular windows users. Plus it can attract new audience from google search.
  • "Jnhffr - You just read and wrote my mind.
    Not everyone will like everything, It is not everything in Win11 that Like, for me, it is not the Start menu. When this article writers goes off bashing Start Menu like 99.9999% of users hated it, like you alluded to about their survey, That is absolutely untrue.
    I am not defending those who like the start menu, neither am I supporting those who do not.
  • Maybe Microsoft intentionally made the start menu something that people wouldn't like to have people talk abiut Windows 11? 😜
  • The current issue with windows 11 is nothing really new with Microsoft. The same issues came up when xp became 8 and 8 became 10. Microsoft just can't nail the start menu out of the gate. The fun part is that the moment they finally nail down changes. We will go through the flow all over again when they release 12. Its a perpetual challenge that started with 8 and I don't see it ever ending.
  • There's still no ARM64 version though. I hope .Net 6 brings ARM64 back into the fold with all these tools.
  • I personally don't mind the start menu. I have a lot of apps in my Windows 10 start menu that I don't use, and I think the Windows 11 start menu will help me get rid of clutter. But that's just my opinion on how I would use it, and overall, I agree that there are a lot of things that Microsoft has done that makes Windows 11 frustrating to use and understand for everybody. I am yet to try it for myself, but I'm sure that I'll be customising it a fair bit once I've tried it out.
  • I run Windows 10, and I use PowerToys Run by pressing a Alt+Space combo (very handy!), as well as Classic-Shell start menu replacement when pressing the Win key (Modern Start is accessible by pressing Shift+Win).
    As much as I like these two apps, I still keep the 🔎 Search button in my taskbar because Windows Search is AI-powered and somewhat intelligent, and is able to guess even if I'm typing something wrong. Practical examples:
    1. If I want to open a power management called Power Plan Assistant, with Windows Search it'll show up when I type "power" or "powerp"; however PowerToys Run will fail to recognize the second because I missed a space between "Power" & "Plan"; it'll only offer to open PowerPoint.
    2. Windows has a built-in autocorrect of sorts. If I type "sotre", Windows Search will still understand what I want and the first option in the list is Microsoft Store. PowerToys Run, on the other, has no idea what I meant and often does not display what I want. (I just tested it, and well, "sotre" did bring up Microsoft Store in the search results, however Run has had to guess it based on running apps and failed to show its icon.)
  • True, this is one at one the things at least Windows Search works better. If they really just optimize it more and able to segregate its search loading from web search, so I won't have to wait for few seconds to show results when I'm having bad connection, even server-side issue that it also affects the Search UI. The problem I have with Windows Search is being a web wrapper of some sorts, in itself isn't bad but somehow the implementation is. Similar issue with current Widgets which will not work if you first login offline or having bad connection. Windows Search is at least now hybrid for the most part, but can still far from immune. At least I never had issues with Windows Search before on Windows 8.x and on Windows 7/Vista.
  • I've been using Keypirinha. for a long time, very customizable macOS spotlight type tool (looks similar to powertoys run judging by that screenshot). I'd try that as well if you're looking for something like this. You can even write your own plugins in python.