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The Windows 11 'context menu' reverts me to a primal and inhuman state

Windows logo crossed out over goopy, abstract background with angry crying-laughing emoji in upper right corner
(Image credit: Microsoft)

I am a placid and calm person, even-keeled, floating through this life offering friendship to all. However, when I first right clicked on a program on my shiny new Windows 11 PC and had to go searching for an option to even see the command I actually wanted to access, buddy, something broke inside me.

When I built a new PC in the winter, I opted for one of those shiny new Alder Lake processors from Intel—someone wise once said they're among the best CPUs for gaming. With the new processor generation's architecture shift, general consensus is that Windows 11's "thread director" technology gets the most out of my i5 12600K's combination of heavy-duty performance cores and agile, dainty efficiency cores.

So far, so good, and I haven't had too many complaints. This isn't Windows Vista—things aren't awful. My user experience has been largely the same as it was under Windows 10, things are just a little bit sleeker.

But that context menu.

If you're unaware of the, ahem, context, Windows 11 changes what you see when you right click on your desktop or in file explorer. Instead of the classic dropdown list we've become accustomed to, Windows 11 "innovates" by showing you fewer of those options, with the list changing depending on where you right click. The abbreviated list of commands takes high-traffic functions like copy, cut, and rename, and squishes them up at the top of the menu in the form of cryptic little hieroglyphs.

Windows 11 new context menu

The classic right click menu with the functions you actually want is accessed at the bottom of the new context menu as a "show more options" command—as if the new context menu is the natural way of things, and the classic menu is the aberration!

I feel the same way I do when I have to replay the tutorial of a game I've beaten a million times, and there's not exactly a choice in the matter—at least not without some fiddling. Much like Windows 11 attempting to force-install itself (opens in new tab), the OS springs this on you as if it's for your own good. "Eat your vegetables," the personal computer I blew two thousand dollars on tells me.

There's no menu setting to revert to the classic right click drop-down. The top Google result for "Windows 11 context menu" is PCG sister site Tom's Hardware's guide (opens in new tab) on using the registry editor to force the classic right click menu, and our own guide (opens in new tab) isn't far below it. I was hesitant at first, having never messed with the registry editor before, but that nervousness has finally been overwhelmed by my disdain for the context menu. The edit was not hard to pull off, all things considered, and I feel as though a great weight has been lifted from my soul. 

But even this is hardly an ideal solution. This basic matter of UI preference should be adjustable with a simple menu option, not a more complicated and user-unfriendly registry edit. Additionally, Windows updates will muck up something as basic as my multi-monitor desktop wallpaper—I fully expect to have to tweak this change again at some point down the line after an update.

Windows 8 desktop

(Image credit: Microsoft)

To my eye, this is a quieter refrain of Windows 8's switch to the positively baffling, touch screen-oriented "start screen" over the classic start menu—a change the company walked back in Windows 8.1. They're similar instances of an over-designed retrofit nobody asked for, the replacement of a muscle-memory function with something new, clunky, and unwelcome.

In years past, someone telling me to just use Linux in response to my Windows griping would have elicited an annoyed scoff, but the winds may be shifting. As Valve increases its gaming support for the OS with the Steam Deck's Proton compatibility layer, Microsoft could have some serious competition down the line for PC gamers. For now though, registry editing away the hated context menu has mollified me, though I still fear the spiteful and vindictive OS user the feature uncovered.

Associate Editor

Ted has been thinking about PC games and bothering anyone who would listen with his thoughts on them ever since he booted up his sister's copy of Neverwinter Nights on the family computer. He is obsessed with all things CRPG and CRPG-adjacent, but has also covered esports, modding, and rare game collecting. When he's not playing or writing about games, you can find Ted lifting weights on his back porch.