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Why Can't I Launch Apps By Right-Clicking on the Windows 10 Start Menu?

Why Can't I Launch Apps By Right-Clicking on the Windows 10 Start Menu?

Q. I recently upgraded from Win7 to Win10. I love the new OS for the most part, but some Win10 features don’t seem to be working.

After reading a recent article about right-clicking the Start icon, I realized I was missing something.

Of the 18 or so choices that typically appear when you right-click Start, only Run and Search work for me.

An online technician said that some of my programs were causing conflicts with Windows commands. After I allowed him to remotely access my system, he started deleting programs.

About two hours and three reboots later, he’d deleted 21 programs. He triggered another reboot but then never came back online. I’m not sure what all he did, but Start’s right-click context menu still won’t work! Talk about frustration.

I did a complete system restore using a backup I’d fortunately saved the night before, but the right-click/Start menu functionality still is missing.

Obviously something is not right, but I have no idea what it is. Help!

A. I experienced a related problem on my own main PC. Although right-click/Start (aka the Quick Access menu) worked okay, right-clicking the taskbar did nothing at all — the context menus failed.

The failures appear to be caused by conflicts with third-party software that adds itself to Windows’ default context menus. These incompatibilities can make the menus malfunction or not work at all.

The volume of online posts about this issue also appears to be growing, probably due to Microsoft’s new, fast-paced release of interim Win10 updates. In effect, Win10 is now a moving target for third-party developers, some of whom are having trouble keeping up. As a result, if and when Microsoft slipstreams a tweak to Win10’s internals, non-Microsoft software that works fine one day might have conflicts the next.

Getting to the matter at hand, there are three main approaches to removing the conflicts that cause context-menu problems. The first two are simple but don’t always work; the third virtually always works but is more complex.

  • Option 1: The easiest fix is to uninstall third-party software that’s conflicting with Windows (the approach the online tech tried on Harris’ PC).

    Start by identifying third-party software that has added items to the right-click context menus — 7-Zip and Dropbox, for example. Be sure to right-click various targets: Start, taskbar icons, desktop icons, the drives and folders in File Explorer, and so on. If you have trouble identifying a particular context-menu add-in/add-on, use the tools described below in Option 2.

    Uninstall the software you’ve identified, run a Registry cleaner, and reboot. (You might leave critical applications such as Dropbox alone, for now.)

    Now try various context-menu operations; with luck, everything will work properly. If your system is working normally, again, you can try reinstalling the software you removed. Add back one program at a time, until the problem returns. Remove that software and add back another application. Repeat until you’ve eliminated all programs causing conflicts.

  • Option 2: Instead of taking the drastic step of completely uninstalling software, you can try to directly disable or remove the third-party, context-menu add-ons themselves.

    If you know that a particular application has added items to Windows’ content menus (using, for example, the simple inspection process described in Option 1), open that software and check its settings to see whether it offers an option to disable any associated context-menu add-ons. If so, select that option, exit the software, run a Registry cleaner, and reboot. Test the context menus again.

    If you don’t know what software has altered Windows’ menus, or if the software you identified has no built-in option to disable its menu add-ons, you can use a specialized tool such as CCleaner (free/paid; site) to clean up the menus.

    In CCleaner, click Tools and Startup, then click the Context Menu tab (see Figure 1) in the Startup list to see what third-party software has appended itself to Windows’ default menus. Select one or more listed items and use the offered options for disabling or deleting those items.

    CCleaner tool

    Figure 1. CCleaner's Context Menu option can display a host of application add-ons that have attached themselves to Windows' menus.

    Nirsoft’s ShellMenuView (free; site) offers similar functions. (Note: If your anti-malware software flags Nirsoft, you can ignore the warning.)

    After disabling/deleting context-menu items, run a Registry cleaner and reboot.

    If you’re comfortable with using Windows’ Registry editor (Regedit), you can also edit Win10’s context menus manually by tweaking Registry entries. Search for Shellx/ContextMenuHandlers (there may be multiple entries scattered through the Registry); then, either delete the references to add-ons you want to remove or use the Modify option to place a minus sign in front of add-on’s keys. Reboot when you’re done.

    But, frankly, manually editing ContextMenuHandlers is a pain; using a tool like CCleaner or ShellMenuView is vastly simpler.

  • Option 3. If the simpler options don’t work (and they didn’t for me), the almost-certain way to restore proper context-menus operation is to use Win10’s built-in Reset/Keep my files option. In fact, that’s how I got my system working properly again.

    After making a full system backup, click Start/Settings/Update & security/Recovery. Next, click the Get started button under “Reset this PC” and then choose Keep my files. This’ll reinstall Win10 but keep your user files intact. It also removes third-party desktop apps and any drivers you installed, returning the system to its default settings. This almost always restores normal context-menu operation.

    The Reset/Keep my files option places a list of all removed apps on your desktop; you’ll also get links to the websites of any apps Windows knows about. Using these links can greatly speed and simplify your reinstallation of the removed apps, and it also helps ensure that you have the latest-available versions. Any listed apps that don’t include links must be restored the way you originally installed them.

    But use caution when restoring third-party apps — one of them was the likely cause of the context-menu failures. Put back only those third-party apps you know you truly need and, again, test the context menus after each application is added. (And make sure you use the latest software versions, whenever possible.)

So, Harris, I suggest you try the same sequence of solutions I used. Try removing any apps that have added themselves to your context menus — or edit the context menus, either manually or with a suitable tool. And if that fails, try the Reset/Keep my files option.

One way or another, you should end up with a fully functioning menu system!


Editor's note: We feature an abridged Q&A from Fred Langa's LANGALIST, a column available exclusively to paid subscribers of the Windows Secrets newsletter,. What you see here is just a small sampling of what Langa's writing for the newsletter — go here for more information on how to subscribe.

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