Regarding the right panel of the start menu... sadly this might be the reality.
Okay, then here's an "outside the box" idea:
For one, I've always thought it was hokey to have your start menu just kind of pop up above your dock when using a launcher. Just my opinion. I think it looks wierd when out of place (ie- normal windows position).
What if, instead of the actual start menu, there were a type of start menu launcher that displays your start menu items, without displaying the actual start menu? Half similar maybe to the W7 jump lists or something.
Don't even know if it's possible, just thought I'd throw that out there.