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Why the Windows 7 Start Menu is Going Out of Fashion

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 69 comments

It's the start of the end of Start.

Windows 95 Start Me Up

Remember what Windows 95 was all about? Besides a whole new platform, it also brought us the Start menu, which was big enough to get its own Rolling Stones theme song.

The Start menu was where all the action was at, making it easier to access programs now without having to dig through directories to find executables (back when we called them those things instead of folders and apps).

Even with the most useful of technologies, however, time evolves usage models and eventually we find a better way. That appears to be the story of the Start menu.

In a new B8 blog post written by Chaitanya Sareen, program manager lead for Microsoft's Core Experience Evolved team, we find out that a new feature of Windows 7 dramatically reduced Start menu usage since Windows Vista.

"It is striking to see how dramatically different the use of the Start menu is in Windows Vista vs. Windows 7. Some of the Special Folders (what we call those items on the right side of the menu) dropped in use by over 50%. Likewise, people accessed pinned items on the Start menu half as often in Windows 7 than they did in Vista. People also access All Programs and the MFU [Most Frequently Used] far less often," wrote Sareen. "Finally, we see an 11% drop in how often people are opening the Start menu at all. While 11% may seem like a small number at first, across our hundreds of millions of customers it is eye opening to see such a drop for a universally recognizable element of the Windows interface. We’re not talking about some hidden setting that is tweaked by a minority of people—we’re talking about a fundamental piece of Windows that people are using less and less."

That new feature was the ability to pin programs to the taskbar.

"To really bring this all home, let’s take a look at where people are pinning their apps. Figure 4 [above] reveals that 85% of people have three or more items pinned to the taskbar compared to a mere 23% who have the same number pinned to the Start menu," Sareen noted. "Although the taskbar and Start menu have different pinned defaults, many people do customize both of them when they want to. The message is clear that the majority of people want most of their apps on the taskbar rather than having to dig into Start."

So what's wrong with the Start menu? This is what Microsoft thinks are issues with the one in Windows 7:

  • The menu feels cramped relative to available screen real estate when you try to see and navigate the full catalog of your programs.
  • Search doesn’t have the space it deserves to quickly show you rich results across all sources of information, especially on larger screens.
  • It’s hard to customize the menu to make it feel like it’s really yours.
  • Icons and shortcuts are static and don’t leverage more of the pixels we see in modern graphical interfaces to surface connected scenarios.

With these lessons learned, Microsoft is transforming a Start menu into a Start screen – and that will be in Windows 8. Microsoft promised to share details on the Start screen soon.

Of course, those who won't be using the Metro UI will still get the Start menu, but it'll look quite a bit different: The First Glimpse of the Windows 8 Start Menu

Display 69 Comments.
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Top Comments
  • 32 Hide
    jimsocks , October 5, 2011 7:11 PM
    i still keep little used programs on the start menu to keep my screen from being cluttered with icons
  • 24 Hide
    Anonymous , October 5, 2011 7:19 PM
    Out of curiosity, how could they possibly get accurate statistics on these things without invasively tracking what you do on your computer?
  • 13 Hide
    socalboomer , October 5, 2011 7:33 PM
    torque79pinned to the taskbar? huh? do they mean the quickstart icons? or do they mean making a folder with link shortcuts in it and making a new toolbar pointing to that folder (which I'm still doing with windows XP)?yeah it's more convenient to use taskbar and desktop icons for frequently accessed programs, but the start menu is still useful for infrequently used programs.I'm worried all this focus on "apps" will have huge icons all over the place instead of allowing a clean look.


    No, they mean Pinned to the Taskbar - which is exceptionally easy with Win7 and a step beyond what was in XP's Quick Launch icons.

    With a Pinned app, I can pin quite a bit more than just the application; I can pin its status so if it's an RDP window, I can pin that server and have a stack of servers so when I right-click on that Pinned App, I get a choice of 7 (that I have pinned). Granted, you can do that with XP, but it's far more laborious and you can't stack them. . .

    That's just one example - honestly, it's really nice.

    On the other hand, if we could go back to XP's side-expanding Start Menu, I'd be happier! The reason I don't go with Win7's menu (which MS doesn't seem to get) is because it expands vertically which is not very conducive to work. . . it's clunky. . .
Other Comments
  • 32 Hide
    jimsocks , October 5, 2011 7:11 PM
    i still keep little used programs on the start menu to keep my screen from being cluttered with icons
  • 8 Hide
    torque79 , October 5, 2011 7:17 PM
    pinned to the taskbar? huh? do they mean the quickstart icons? or do they mean making a folder with link shortcuts in it and making a new toolbar pointing to that folder (which I'm still doing with windows XP)?

    yeah it's more convenient to use taskbar and desktop icons for frequently accessed programs, but the start menu is still useful for infrequently used programs.

    I'm worried all this focus on "apps" will have huge icons all over the place instead of allowing a clean look.
  • 24 Hide
    Anonymous , October 5, 2011 7:19 PM
    Out of curiosity, how could they possibly get accurate statistics on these things without invasively tracking what you do on your computer?
  • -2 Hide
    dirgle , October 5, 2011 7:22 PM
    I've always liked to have a clean barren desktop(some say a waste of screen real estate). Auto hide the task bar and make the recycle bin disappear. So the start menu and windows+E button always get a lot of use. So I would miss the start menu, but if it was replaced by an app drawer like in Android or OSX I could learn to live with it.
  • 3 Hide
    alextheblue , October 5, 2011 7:28 PM
    jimsocksi still keep little used programs on the start menu to keep my screen from being cluttered with icons

    Right. You'll still be able to do that with the "Start screen", though. In fact realistically in a lot of cases (especially touchscreen mobile devices) you could drop explorer and just use Metro - put your most common apps up front, and the rest are tucked away but still very easy to get to. It's not for everyone, though, and that's why Win8 has both interfaces.
  • 5 Hide
    Anomalyx , October 5, 2011 7:28 PM
    Yet what they fail to see is that the first graph shows that more than half of users pin items to the Start Menu...
    Removing the Start Menu will guarantee that I will not buy.
    I like my desktop clean, and only my 2 or 3 most used programs pinned to taskbar. Don't clutter it up by removing the start menu.
  • 4 Hide
    ravewulf , October 5, 2011 7:30 PM
    I have a feeling the decrease in using the "Documents," "Pictures," etc links on the start menu was at least partly due to them sending you to the "Libraries" instead of your actual "Documents" and "Pictures" folders. Don't get me wrong, libraries are useful, but when I see my user tile followed by my user folder I expect that the "Documents" and "Pictures" will also take me to the real folders, not "Libraries."
  • 9 Hide
    Hellbound , October 5, 2011 7:32 PM
    I love my clean desktop... Everything I use is on the start menu and quick launch. I hate cluttered desktops.
  • 13 Hide
    socalboomer , October 5, 2011 7:33 PM
    torque79pinned to the taskbar? huh? do they mean the quickstart icons? or do they mean making a folder with link shortcuts in it and making a new toolbar pointing to that folder (which I'm still doing with windows XP)?yeah it's more convenient to use taskbar and desktop icons for frequently accessed programs, but the start menu is still useful for infrequently used programs.I'm worried all this focus on "apps" will have huge icons all over the place instead of allowing a clean look.


    No, they mean Pinned to the Taskbar - which is exceptionally easy with Win7 and a step beyond what was in XP's Quick Launch icons.

    With a Pinned app, I can pin quite a bit more than just the application; I can pin its status so if it's an RDP window, I can pin that server and have a stack of servers so when I right-click on that Pinned App, I get a choice of 7 (that I have pinned). Granted, you can do that with XP, but it's far more laborious and you can't stack them. . .

    That's just one example - honestly, it's really nice.

    On the other hand, if we could go back to XP's side-expanding Start Menu, I'd be happier! The reason I don't go with Win7's menu (which MS doesn't seem to get) is because it expands vertically which is not very conducive to work. . . it's clunky. . .
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 5, 2011 7:38 PM
    Win7 start button usage is down, because it's not as usable as XP's.
  • -9 Hide
    Netherscourge , October 5, 2011 7:44 PM
    I'd rather do a MacOS/iOS combo type of interface:


    1. Have Buttons/Widgets/Shortcuts, etc... scattered/arranged on the desktop for instant access.

    2. Have a horizontal scroll bar along the bottom with less-used features like the control panels, settings, configurations, etc...

    3. Along the top, have browser-like tabs for each open program "window" that you can jump around to.


    That's waht I want to see in Windows 8.

    Tree-style menus are pretty much obsolete. I don't like the TILE stuff Windows 8 seems to be pushing though - seems like a big messy collage.
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , October 5, 2011 7:44 PM
    Although a big fan of the desktop I think we need to remember that windows was based on a "work" environment (thus "desktop" and “folders”). Now that computers are moving more to the "home" environment (and more importantly developers are realizing this). I don't think anyone wants a system they use at "home" to work like their "work" system (task oriented) instead, visual cues that are emotional, social and fun oriented. So instead of “desktops”, “folders” and “project” we will see things like “home”, “family and friends” and “stuff to do”.
  • -6 Hide
    mrmaia , October 5, 2011 7:46 PM
    Microsoft is following Apple's tendency of favoring looks over using ease. For me XP's start menu is the best way to keep your stuff organized, much better than Win7's quick launch. If Windows takes the start menu out I'll reverse back to XP.
  • 4 Hide
    Specter0420 , October 5, 2011 7:47 PM
    I hope they don't remove the "press windows key/type a few letters/press enter" shortcut! I also hope they do something with kinect and maybe some software to make motion tracking out of a few cheap webcams. I don't like fingerprints.
  • 0 Hide
    Prey , October 5, 2011 7:54 PM
    If they're going the apple direction I'll keep a windows box for gaming and use Debian for everything else, I should probably just do that anyway
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , October 5, 2011 8:01 PM
    @torque79

    i find for the infrequent used items smart search is awesome, between pinned to taskbar and smart search i have never found the need to hunt into the start menu

    i hope they will replicate some functionality of pinned to taskbar in the metro tiles, pinned item quicklist has been a god send

    smart search is still present in win8 albeit it slightly more laborious (winkey + W or Q key depending which context your searching)
  • 6 Hide
    PhoneyVirus , October 5, 2011 8:01 PM
    The menu feels cramped relative to available screen real estate when you try to see and navigate the full catalog of your programs.

    Make Icons Smaller and Use Quick Launch Problem Solved Next...

    Search doesn’t have the space it deserves to quickly show you rich results across all sources of information, especially on larger screens.

    Press F3 Next...

    Icons and shortcuts are static and don’t leverage more of the pixels we see in modern graphical interfaces to surface connected scenarios.

    Create better icons not 256 x 256 again Problem Solved.

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