[Review] Aston Menu

{rw_text}Software reviewed in this article:

Aston Menu

Also known as Aston2 Menu

Version reviewed:

v2.00

Supported OS:

Windows XP/Vista/Win7

Price:

$19.95 (USD) for a “personal” single license or $24.95 (USD) for a “home” 4 user license… but you can get it for free for a limited time at Giveawayoftheday.com!

Software description as per the developer:

Aston Menu is Windows start menu replacement with the enhanced functionality.

{/rw_text}

{rw_good}

  • Straightforward and easy to use.
  • Allows users to easily “skin” the start menu.
    • There are many skins available to pick from.
  • Has widget support for the start menu; users can easily drag + drop widgets around as they please.
  • Allows users to customize the entries present in the start menu.
  • Gives users the option to show entries as folders or as menus.
  • Incorporates the ability to do a Google search in addition a desktop search.
  • Comes with basic hotkey modifying features.

{/rw_good}

{rw_bad}

  • Users are limited to a select number of entries that can be added to the start menu – no custom entry option.
  • Needs an ability to directly add entries to the “Top Programs” list.
  • No undo/redo feature when editing start menu entries.
  • No hotkey support for switching between Google search and desktop search.

{/rw_bad}

{rw_score}
{for=”Ease of Use” value=”8″}Fairly easy to use. However, needs an ability to directly add entries to the “Top Programs” list and needs an undo/redo feature when editing start menu entries.
{/for}
{for=”Performance” value=”8″}Focuses a bit too much on enhancing form rather than function, but still performs well. Computer resource usage is not too bad either (~8 MB) considering it is always running the background.
{/for}
{for=”Usefulness” value=”4″}As just mentioned, Aston Menu focuses a lot on enhancing the look for the start menu rather than providing game-changing new features for the start menu, so I don’t see too many people finding this program useful; in my opinion really only the people who like skinning their Windows will find this program useful.
{/for}
{for=”Price” value=”7″}$19.95 is an OK price; personally I think it should be sold for $10-15 but one also needs to consider that there is a home 4 user license available for $24.95.
{/for}
{for=”Final Score” value=”7″}
{/for}
{/rw_score}

{rw_verdict}[tup]
{/rw_verdict}

Aston Menu is a start menu enhancing software. It aims to add features to your start menu that Microsoft did not built in, and allows you to skin your start menu.

Aston Menu has the ability to “replace” your start menu, so when you press the Windows button Ashton Menu pops up instead of Windows’ start menu. You have the option to turn this feature off but this feature is handy because it ensures that Aston Menu will “cleanly” uninstall in the sense that it doesn’t touch your start menu, so if you ever want to remove Aston Menu, your start menu will be as if you didn’t even touch it.

This is what my start menu looks before I use Aston Menu:

This is what my start menu looks with Aston Menu:

The Aston Menu you see in the above screenshot is actually just one of the many skins available for use with Aston Menu; you are allowed you change the skins as you will – just click on “Aston Skins…” and select the skin you want to use:

Aston Menu comes with 7 skins, but you can easily download dozens of other skins (62 by my count) from the Aston Menu’s skin page. Most of the the skins keep the same basic structure as the default skin shown in the screenshot above except they change how the menu looks, add/remove widgets, and change where things are placed. However, some skins deviate, such as the “Classic Menu” skin which makes the start menu look like it did pre-Windows XP (I think its pre-Windows XP, anyway), or the “Metal” skin which makes the start menu look like a space ship. It is worth noting that, there is also a “Windows 7 Clone” skin for Windows XP users that have always wanted that Windows 7 start menu.

When it comes down to features, aside from the ability to skin the start menu, there are three main functions that Aston Menu adds to the start menu:

  • The ability to customize the entries in the start menu.
    • These entries – aside from the “Top Program” ones – can be made to appear as “folders” (in which case you click on them and the folder opens) or “menus” in which case the contents of the folder show up as a pop up menu (pop side menu?).
  • The ability to add widgets to the start menu. Currently these are the supported widgets as per the developer: Calendar, Clock, Disks, Keyboard Switcher, Launch bar, Notebook, Notification area, Power control, Quick Launch, Recycle bin, Resource monitor, RSS reader, Search, Start button, Task list, Toolbar, Top Programs, Username, Weather and WinSwitch.
  • The ability to perform a Google search via the start menu. If you are a Windows XP user, a new feature for you will be the ability to perform desktop searches via the start menu (Vista and Win7 users already have these features).

Here are four short videos by the developer walking users through the main functions that Aston Menu adds to the start menu:

Aston Menu – Start Menu Editor

Aston Menu – Top Programs

Aston Menu search widget

Weather widget

Since Aston Menu is potentially a start menu replacement, it will be running all the time on your computer. So its computer resource usage is essential. Well, don’t worry about Aston Menu hogging up your computer resources – it has a fairly light footprint using about 10 MB at peak, and usually 6-7 MB while sitting idle.  CPU usage is negligible.

One thing to note is that currently there is no easy way to modify the widgets or skin in Aston Menu – you can only use the premade skins provided with the program or the developers website, and the widgets that come with these skins. However, in the next version of Aston Menu the developer plans on adding a WYSIWYG editor making it very easy to modify skins and add/remove widgets.

There are a few things I dislike about Aston Menu – areas that the developer can improve:

  • There needs to be a direct method of adding menus to the “Top Programs” list. Telling users “if you want a program to appear here, just run it a couple of times” is not good enough in my opinion, especially not for a program that users pay for.
  • In the first video above it shows how to edit the start menu. What the video does not show is that users are limited in the selection of entries that they can add to the start menu. These are all the things users can add to the start menu:

Yes, that is a fairly extensive list, but there is one major thing that I find to be lacking: the ability to add a custom entry (file or folder). Personally, if I am going to use a program to replace my start menu, I want the ability to add custom files/folders – not be limited to a selection provided to me some by some developer.

  • When editing the start menu, there is no undo or redo features, so be careful what you do. However, if you do make a mistake, you can always hit “cancel” and all changes will be canceled.
  • There is no way to activate Google search via a hotkey – you must click on the round button to change it from desktop search to Google search and vice versa. I find this to be very annoying considering one of the main reasons to have the search box located in the start menu is easy access via hotkeys (press windows key and type in search query to find what you need – no mouse involved). Now it just slows me down to have the use my mouse to switch to Google search, so much so that if I were an Aston Menu user I probably wouldn’t even use the Google search.

Last but not least, I would like to criticize the fact that the developer puts a lot of focus on form, but lacks in regards to function. Aston Menu allows you to skin your start menu, yes, but it really doesn’t make the start menu groundbreakingly different – in general the start menu is still what it is before installing Aston Menu; you still have to deal with the pop up menus, etc. I would like the developer of Aston Menu to add the ability to make the start menu very different, so that a user may want to use Aston Menu for how it changes the start menu rather than for the ability to skin the start menu. For example, VistaStartMenu/StartMenu7 make fundamental changes to the start menu which really alter the start menu is such a way that a user can compare Windows’ start menu and VistaStartMenu/StartMenu7 and think “how do I want my start menu to work”? In other words, VistaStartMenu/StartMenu7 change how the start menu works, where as Aston Menu (primarily) skins it.

This review was conducted on a laptop running Windows 7 Professional 32-bit. The specs of the laptop are as follows: 3GB of RAM, a Radeon HD 2600 512MB graphics card, and an Intel T8300 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor.

{rw_freea}

All of the following software allow you to change your start menu:

VistaStartMenu

StartMenu7

Classic Shell

{/rw_freea}

{rw_verdict2}In my opinion, Aston Menu focuses too much on form, and lacks in terms of function. However, it still is a good program; but it is a good program that will primarily only attract the brave few that like to change how their Windows looks.
{/rw_verdict2}

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15 comments

  1. Wally Weaver

    “Now it just slows me down to have the use my mouse to switch to Google search, so much so that if I were an Aston Menu user I probably wouldn’t even use the Google search.” And why would you, when it’s so much easier to open your web browser, type in a URL, then move your oh-so-cumbersome mouse to type in the search term – I mean, are you stoned, boy, or just stupid?

  2. rachana

    HELLO ALL
    LAST 4 DAYS I AM UNABLE TO CONNECT GOATD, I AM ABLE TO DOWN LOAD LATER WHILE INSTALLING IT SHOWS MESSAGE  UNABLE TO CONNECT
    IT IS HAPPENING FROM LAST 4 DAYS
    I NEED AUSTON2MENU PL.HELP ME WHAT I HAVE TO DO
    THANKS I ADVANCE
    rachana
     

  3. Patrick

    @Ebony #9

    Hi,

    As far as I know activation has to do with this (GAOTD-) version of the program being recognized as such by the developer and providing functionality accordingly (i.e. that it is no trial version, that you have no tech support, etc.) given the right registration key. If you do not activate within the time frame given by GOTD the software will not function or will redirect to the developer’s page (e.g. to suggest installation of a time limitted trial version).
    So, as long as you have not ‘activated’ the program it will not apply any changes to your default start menu without your doing so yourself.

    I have not yet installed this version of Aston Menu (still have some hours time), so I don’t know where this “activation”-message  comes from (or in what stage of installation/registration procedure).
    Consequently my explanation may not be 100% accurate. Anyway, no TIMELY activation, no working program. That’s the bottom line with all GAOTD offers.
    Activation should not harm your system. Otherwise you would undoubtedly have read about it on GAOTD’s page Comments section, and I’ve not read anything there to suggest that activation would do harm. 

    Excuse me if I’m wrong about all this.
    And if so, WOULD ANYONE ELSE BE SO KIND AS TO GIVE A CORRECT OR MORE COMPLETE EXPLANATION ??

    Greetz,
    Patrick

  4. Emrys

    I too skip to this site to see the review before downloading the latest and greatest GAOTD offering. I always read what the alternatives are too. I would like to make changes to my start menu, but I still run XP and have to be content with it as is I guess. I’m passing on this one. Thanks Ashraf again for your hard work.

  5. ebony

    @ebony:
    Is there a work around for ONLINE ACTIVATED,  HAVE TO INSTALL AND RUN ACTIVATION FROM INSIDE THE MAIN APP if you want it to be fully activated.
    Does this  mean I am putting it into play as my start menu right away, or can I do it later. Sometimes, time is not on my side to get it done and I am not sure if I want changes made right away.
     

  6. ebony

    @Mags:
    tidystartmenu
    I like this one, I dl it and had to take a few stabs at getting it working and developing some work arounds for not being able to delete a category without deleting the programs inside.
    I simply uncheck the programs before deleting the category.
    This was one issue that was stated in the review here. And as has been stated, that is why I like to read dot Tech reviews. Much easier insight to the program’s good, bad, and ugly.
    Thanks Mr. Boss for all the good services that this site provides.
     
     

  7. Mags

    Not sure if this program is for me.  My preference is for the Classic Menu.  However, having said that, Win 7 doesn’t give you the option of having the Classic Menu.
     
    Therefore, I went searching to see if there was a way or SW that would give me the option to get the classic menu back.  I found a SW that fits the bill.
     
    They have a free version and a Pro version.  I haven’t tried it yet, only because I want to give the Win 7 Start Menu a chance (I do like it better that the XP and Vista Start Menus)
     
    You might want to check out the free version.   You can find it here
    http://www.tidystartmenu.com/index.shtml
     

  8. Patrick

    @ Sherwood Tucker #5:

    Quote:
    I ALWAYS go straight to yours and see what you have to say.
    Then , IF it is something in which I am interested, I chose the alternatives.
    Unquote.

    Shouldn’t that read “…in which I am NOT interested…”?  If not, then it seems a bit of a contradictory statement to me. Unless of course you’re joking ;-)

    By the way, I usually have a look at the alternatives myself as well . Mainly for reasons of comparison ànd because Ashraf also sometimes has reviewed the alternatives in some past article - in which case visiting the developer’s site is either worth spending time or saves time better spent otherwise ànd protects from unasked for frustration as well.

    Greetz,
    Patrick.

  9. Sherwood Tucker

    Ash,
    Hey I finally had to tell you how much I appreciate you frank assessments of GOTD softwares. I ALWAYS go straight to yours and see what you have to say.
    Then , IF it is something in which I am interested, I chose the alternatives. Seems there is a LOT of sub-optimum software out there. Saves me a LOT of time!
    Thanks again dude!
    Sherwood

  10. Patrick

    Hello,

    At this moment the related GAOTD page only shows 1 entry -linking to Ashraf’s review here. As usual I wait to install untill there are some more comments there. Not that I don’t appreciate your reviews, Ashraf, -they usually determine my final decision because I find them well documented, to the point and free of high spirited developer-like appraisal statements- but I’m just always interested in second opinions.

    My question is: Why do all those start menu ‘enhancers’ seem to have the same shortcomings (some as listed in the Bad-box above)? Limited number of folders (sometimes just limited to a fixed number of preset folders), no undo/redo feature,…

    Could it have something to do with the complexity of making/undoing changes to the registry?
    If so, then developers of such tools give the impression of having rather limited programming skills or just want to make some quick and easy extra money. I’m not saying that’s the case, but it’s difficult to change that IMPRESSION…
    Totally mastering the registry seems to me a must for a good programmer, so…
    And as far as pricing goes: I haven’t the faintest idea about how to set honnest prices on software as there are quite a few issues to be addressed apart from the coding process and personnel costs involved, and most of which I think are related to purely legal (copyright, use of copyrighted routines and algoritms) or commercial issues.

    So: why those “semi universal” shortcommings with this software-”family”?

    Still thanks for a nice review!

    Greetz to all,
    Patrick.

    [Posted 11:51 GMT+1]

  11. phoenix_rising

    Thanks for the review of this, Ashraf. Appreciated.
    @ Locutus: If you have any success, let us know, hey. I’d be interested in jazzing up my start menu, but not with this prog though.
     

  12. Locutus

    Purely for the sake of hacking (the good kind!), I downloaded a theme.  Looks like it’s just a ZIP file that contains images and an XML file.  I’m going to try making my own theme!