The History and Evolution of the Start Menu: Windows 8

In the latest Windows 8 series of posts, Steven Sinofsky kicks off a new series of posts about the design of the Start screen and the evolution of the core activity of launching and switching programs.The post authored by Chaitanya Sareen, program manager who lead on Core Experience Evolved team, talks about the history and […]

In the latest Windows 8 series of posts, Steven Sinofsky kicks off a new series of posts about the design of the Start screen and the evolution of the core activity of launching and switching programs.

The post authored by Chaitanya Sareen, program manager who lead on Core Experience Evolved team, talks about the history and evolution of the Start menu, and several of the problems and trends.

"Some folks are calling the Start screen the "Metro shell" for Windows 8, but for us it is the evolution of the Start menu and associated functions."

Windows 8 Start Menu

Microsoft notes that the taskbar has now evolved to replace many aspects of the Start Menu. "You can even say the taskbar reveals many of the weaknesses of the Start menu and that the menu is no longer as valuable as it once was long ago. Search and access to All Programs are still unique strengths of the Start menu that we know you depend upon, but when it comes to the apps you use every day, one-click access from the taskbar is hard to beat."

According to Microsoft's telemetry data, the usage of the Start Menu actually decreased from Windows Vista to Windows 7. Part of the reason, as Sareen explains, was attributed to the much-improved taskbar introduced in Windows 7, which allowed for one-click launching and switching between most frequently used applications, and for IE9, favourite web sites.

Change in Start menu feature usage between Windows Vista and Windows 7:
Start menu Table

The use of links to user folder locations - Documents and Pictures - fell with the availability of Jump Lists and the ability to pin favourite folders to the Explorer taskbar button. Pinning items to the Start Menu also fell in favour of saving one click by pinning the item to the taskbar, as the following graphs demonstrate:

Number of pinned apps on the Start menu (top) vs. on the taskbar (bottom):
pinned apps on Start menu and taskbar

Microsoft now refers to the new taskbar as a "Start bar" claiming that most people now start with the bar, rather than with the menu. In fact, the company is referring to the Start bar as a "powerful primary launcher and switcher for the desktop."

With the current Start menu becoming labeled by Microsoft as a "poor everyday launcher," Microsoft is looking to enhance the Start menu into something great. "Improved search, more room for all your programs, tiles that are alive with activity, and richer customization all suddenly become possible when the venerable, but aging, Start menu is transformed into a modern Start screen."

"With the Windows taskbar becoming the key launcher and switcher for the desktop, and the Start menu being revealed as a poor everyday launcher, an opportunity appeared to reimagine Start and make it into something more valuable. Since we now know most of you can (and do) just use the taskbar to access the things you commonly use on the desktop, this freed us up to make Start even better at its unique strengths and to unlock new scenarios. Improved search, more room for all your programs, tiles that are alive with activity, and richer customization all suddenly become possible when the venerable, but aging, Start menu is transformed into a modern Start screen," stated Sareen.