Why the Windows 7 Start Menu is Going Out of Fashion

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

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    Top Comments
  • jimsocks
    i still keep little used programs on the start menu to keep my screen from being cluttered with icons
  • Anonymous
    Out of curiosity, how could they possibly get accurate statistics on these things without invasively tracking what you do on your computer?
  • socalboomer
    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
  • pbrigido
    There's not an app for that. :(
  • jimsocks
    i still keep little used programs on the start menu to keep my screen from being cluttered with icons
  • xcomvic
    Shortcuts is where it's all at!