Interface Technical Training

Windows 10 Start Menu Not Working

A co-worker pointed out a solution to an occasional problem that occurs shortly after a Windows 10 upgrade. The Windows 10 Start menu and Start button not launching.  This is a potential sign of far more significant operating system issues, including Operating System corruption or malware intrusion. Don’t treat it lightly, and do use a planned, investigative approach before you start implementing repair options.

The Windows Club offered a series of solution steps, and later updated the content since a portion of the solution can actually cause greater damage to Windows 10. Josh correctly pointed out that the repair options are unlikely to be understood by most readers and could lead to greater issues. I agree.

This blog offers clarification, instruction and additional options.

First Note of Caution: When viewing the articles at The Windows Club or elsewhere – offers for free downloads and repair solutions embedded within the article or on the webpage are seldom a component of the solution. Downloading third party software without an awareness of the software’s purpose, functions, or configuration can typically result in system performance decay, excess system overhead, or temporary solutions that require an extended repair effort to remove and correct properly.

For instance, the first article about the Windows Critical Error by The Windows Club starts with a recommendation to click a link that fixes the problem. This link redirects you to and their FixMyPC tool – and a website designed to look misleadingly (at least to the less experienced) exactly like Microsoft support sites.

Microsoft is aware of the problem and already offers several alternative solutions. Always start at the software source before you turn to a third party.

The message above is the typical symptom, and Microsoft has an Answer page that addresses solutions. Microsoft also has a page updated in February 2015 with additional suggestions for troubleshooting Windows Start Menu and Cortana problems.

Interestingly, a quick search of “Critical Error. Your Start menu” yielded multiple results pages, and the Microsoft solution was listed fourth amongst my results.

Step one, per CompTIA A+ troubleshooting is ALWAYS read the documentation and do your research first. I add, read the appropriate vendor manual or content first.

Once you have done your research regarding this particular issue, you will discover that every solution suggests performing either an update to Windows 10, or a repair using the tools provided by Microsoft for OS repair.

The Microsoft solutions don’t include the creation of a Restore Point, but this is always a good idea before making basic OS changes like updates, patches, or configuration modifications. (By the way, the link provided in the last sentence is the most direct method offered by Microsoft to create a restore point in Windows 10.)

Sign Out and Sign Back In

Note that the Critical Error actually suggests that you ‘Sign Out Now’. This is NOT the same as rebooting your system. Merely sign out and sign back in to see if this resolves the problem. It might be the only resolution you need, depending on the Windows 10 release installed on your system.

If signing out, and logging back in, doesn’t repair the symptoms, then the problem might be related to the switch between Tablet Mode and Full Screen mode. Try this simple setting first (some sites suggest doing this test/repair later in the sequence). Keeping your test and repairs simple are always the better first steps.

Switch to and from Tablet Mode

Open Action Center >

Select or Unselect Tablet Mode and see if this changes your Start Menu behavior. If not, move on to the next solution.

Enter and Exit SafeBoot Mode

Several videos and blogs identify that the problem may automatically resolve by rebooting into SafeBoot mode by using MSConfig (from the run/search line merely type ‘msconfig’ and hit enter), selecting Safeboot, rebooting, then from within Safe Mode again launching MsConfig, deselecting Safeboot, and rebooting. I hate suggesting a system reboot as a ‘repair’ of a problem since this does nothing to repair a system configuration problem. It might repair a setting anomaly, but totally removes your ability to capture or view the current system state since the reboot clears active settings.

The following alternatives, however, involve a potential repair or full recovery of the OS itself, so you might try the Safeboot option and include a few additional diagnostic steps while in Safe Mode before you proceed. Safe Mode is designed for diagnostics by limiting the OS variables while you exam or test settings. Make sure you try to use the Start Menu while in Safe Mode even though online instructions don’t suggest this step.

The problem is apparently related to Windows 10 OS version, and may have been repaired in the more recent Windows 10 releases. Microsoft hasn’t closed the door on the problem, and is still asking for examples from anyone for whom the issue remains. Yet the recent Microsoft Answer pages suggest that the problem is now rare rather than the commonality with which it was occurring shortly after Windows 10 commercial release.

Check your release of the OS

Check which release/version of Windows 10 you are running. According to Microsoft the symptoms were most commonly noticed before the November 2015 release identified as version 1511.

Check your OS version.

  1. Press the Windows Logo  + r
  2. Type ms-settings:
  3. Click OK
  4. Click System
  5. Click About

If the version number is not 1511 or newer. You need to update your Windows 10 version. You might want to create a System Restore Point first, although Windows 10 updates typically create Restore Points before installation unless you have Restore Points disabled. It never hurts to check. Remember the ‘measure twice – cut once’ adage.

To update your Windows 10 OS:

  1. Windows Logo  + r
  2. Type ms-settings
  3. Click OK
  4. Click Update & security
  5. Then Check for updates.

Remember that Windows 10 is the LAST release of Microsoft Windows. That’s the Microsoft statement. This means that you really need to maintain your version updates, because both corrections and enhancements will continue to roll out continuously. (and they have been!)

Any time you follow a step to correct the root cause of a problem, always test to see if the symptoms have been resolved before you continue. A recommendation missed both on the Microsoft site and third party solutions sites.

Why continue on with additional steps once you have repaired the issue?

And it doesn’t hurt to create a Restore Point between alternative solutions, just in case one of the solution alternatives creates additional issues not predicted by the solutions sites or your process.

If your Windows Version is current and the symptoms/problem persists:

Create an additional Administrative Account

Microsoft’s solutions include the creation and testing of an Administrative account. I won’t go into the step-by-step process here, since you can find it within the Microsoft alternatives in detail. Essentially, Microsoft is suggesting that the corruption might exist in an account profile rather than the OS. Give this a shot before you try to repair or rebuild your entire system.

Repair the Installed Image

Since the release of Windows Vista, and the deployment of the Microsoft Operating System using a Windows Image file (install.wim), Microsoft has provided a means to repair or recover your Operating System using the System File Checker (sfc) tool with the /scannow switch. This compares the digitally signed Hash value found in the .wim file for signed system and driver files with the Hash value for the files installed on the system. If the hash values do not match, the file copy found in the .wim file is extracted and used to replace the file installed on your system partition.

Note: Changes made via Windows Update, Microsoft Update, or image management tools like DISM automatically update the signature components of the .wim file so that your repair will use the latest, authorized components rather than rolling the system back to its initial install state. You MIGHT run into issues with drivers or other components installed from third party vendors that do not implement the recommended Microsoft installation processes.

If your system was corrupted by malware, this is NOT a permanent repair, but it should correct the symptoms long enough for you to initiate a more permanent solution.

To affect the SFC repair:

  1. Launch the CMD prompt with elevated rights.
    1. Type cmd and Alt-Click (the right or alternate mouse button) and select Run as Administrator.
  2. In the Command Prompt interface (make sure it is labeled as Administrator:Command Prompt), type sfc /scannow.
  3. The scan and automated repair can take some time since it checks every signed file on your system, repair the files whose signed Hash values do not match.
  4. Repair is automatic, and once the process completes, you can close the Command Prompt and test your solution.

System Repair Using DISM (CAUTION on this one!)

If this doesn’t correct the problem, The Windows Club site recommends an alternative Elevated Command Prompt option using DISM. I am uncertain why this would work if the SFC option doesn’t since it is essentially using DISM to perform the same signed Hash comparison? I might try one or the other, but not both. (DISM is a .wim file management tool capable or far more than just repair options.)

DISM repair is a far more powerful and complicated process than The Windows Club makes it appear. Read the Microsoft Technet article on DISM repair before attempting this option. There are actually three command strings associated with DISM repair options:

They are designed to be used in the above sequence, noting the messages that result from each step before proceeding.

The /ScanHealth switch merely checks for corruption, and takes several minutes to run.

The /CheckHealth switch reports whether the image is healthy, repairable, or non-repairable after the /ScanHealth has been run. NOTE: Microsoft recommends that you actually discard the system image and rebuild the entire system if you get an ‘unrepairable’ result. You need to be prepared to rebuild your customer’s system – which means having backed up data, user profiles and settings, system settings, applications, and application settings before you proceed down this path!

The /RestoreHealth switch will actually restore your system from the .wim file. After which you may have considerably more testing to perform in order to confirm proper operation than just checking on the Start menu function.

I would NEVER run /RestoreHealth without running the /ScanHealth and /CheckHealth switches first.

Repair Your System Using Windows Recovery Options

Microsoft Windows 10 offers a series of System Recovery and Restore options starting at:

Settings > Update & Security > Recovery

Again, I won’t go into the details behind this sequence of alternatives in this blog. This path offers a range of alternatives with Wizard and Menu guided selections to totally restore or rebuild your Operating System, including partial repairs and full wipe-and-load alternatives. Don’t head down this path unless you do your homework and understand the possible outcomes first.

DO NOT USE POWERSHELL ALTERNATIVES (at least the specified ones for this problem)

No offense to all the Powershell gurus in our blog audience.

The offered PowerShell alternatives, including those using the Get-AppXPackage, Add-AppXPackage, alter registry or other settings with specificity. Even the sites offering early suggestions using PowerShell have posted later disclaimers pointing out that their suggestions can actually break your Windows OS installation if not applied against the correct Windows 10 OS version.

Okay, if you are an experienced PowerShell user, apply your knowledge to diagnosing and repairing the problem. Just don’t apply the ‘canned’ scripts or responses in some of the published problem resolutions for the Start menu problem unless you clearly understand what the commands are doing.

So, before you try a PowerShell option or a third party tool that might make similar changes to your system, make sure you have the correct Windows 10 OS version, and try one or more of the options offered above first.

You should now have sufficient knowledge and alternatives to research, identify, or resolve the problem in an informed manner.

Best of luck!

Steven Fullmer
Interface Technical Training Staff Instructor

Steve teaches PMP: Project Management Fundamentals and Professional Certification, Windows 7, Windows 8.1 and CompTIA classes in Phoenix, Arizona.