Like many of you, I read the recent Building Windows 8 blog posts: "Evolving the Start Menu" and "Designing the Start Screen" and found myself surprised, confused, and angry. Why would Microsoft even think about taking the Start menu away? I screamed in defiance! I felt defensive. I felt protective. I vowed to fight to the death to protect my way of computing! No one was going to take the Start menu away from me.
Then, as I pondered my next expletive, it hit me. Maybe the Start menu has reached the end of its usefulness. The more that I thought about what I had read in those two posts, the more sense it made to me. I could see a lot of parallels between Microsoft's description of the way that most people currently use the Start menu and the way that I work in Windows 7. Maybe it is time to evolve to the next phase in application management. Maybe the Start screen is the direction to go.
Pondering the past
As I began pondering Microsoft's revelations further, I thought back to the day that I first saw the Start menu after installing an early beta release of Windows 95. (Believe it or not, it came on 20 some floppy disks.) I remember thinking that while the Start menu looked interesting, it would never fly. People liked having their icons displayed on the screen within the confines of Program Manager's group windows. There's no way that people would adapt to and begin to use this new-fangled menu contraption.
However, by the time that the Beta program was done and "Start Me Up" by the Rolling Stones became the anthem of Microsoft's Windows 95 marketing campaign, I was hooked! To me, the Start menu was far superior to the Program Manager's group windows, and I literally hated having to go back and work on Windows 3.x and Windows NT 3.x systems.
Unfortunately, my sentiment for the Start menu wasn't shared by many of my colleagues or many of the users who I supported. Everywhere that I went, I found the Windows 95 desktop plastered with hundreds of icons while the amazing Start menu sat in the corner virtually unused, except for when shutting down the operating system. An anomalous fact that many folks found humorous -- You have to click Start to shut down the system? Hardy-har-har.
But, I was determined to make the world see that the Start menu was the way to go, and fortunately I had the platform from which to do so. As the Editor-in-Chief of the Cobb Group's Inside Microsoft Windows 95 journal, and later the Inside Microsoft Windows 98 journal, I wrote numerous articles about using and customizing the Start menu, in the hopes that people would soon forget about icons on the desktop and begin to adopt the Start menu.
Of course, over time folks began using the Start menu more and more, and in some small way I like to think that I contributed to that. (My wife is snickering as I write this.)
Regardless of how it happened, the fact of the matter is that the Start menu became the anchor of the Windows operating system and has been so for the better part of the last 16 years. So, I don't think that it will quietly ride off into the sunset anytime soon.
Now, as I mentioned earlier, some of the things that Microsoft pointed out about the way that people currently use the Start menu really hit home for me. I really don't use the Start menu the way that I used to -- especially in Windows 7. I keep a few icons pinned to the Taskbar -- Windows Explorer, Windows Media Player, and Internet Explorer -- and have icons for the rest of the programs that I frequently use pinned to the Start menu. Furthermore, since the operating system is so stable, I rarely shut it down or restart it, thus several of the programs that I use on a daily basis, such as email, antivirus, and IM, run all the time. Since I don't shut them down, I rarely need to launch them.
Most of what is buried on my Start menu are programs that I need only occasionally. And when I need them, I don't wade through the folder structure clicking here and there to find them. I just click the Start button, type the first few characters in the program name, and, boom, there it is -- magically unearthed by the Start Search feature.
So, do I need the Start menu anymore? Not really! Am I going to mourn its disappearance? Probably not!
Don't get me wrong, I still see the value in this venerable tool. And I surely hope that Microsoft isn't planning on killing off the Start menu completely in Windows 8. I trust that even though they are putting the emphasis on the new Start screen, some semblance of the Start menu will live on in Windows 8 for those who want it or need it.
For me, I say bring on the Start screen! I'm ready!
I'm ready to begin using tiles that represent my applications. I'm ready to have live tiles that continuously deliver information from the Web right on my screen. I'm ready to organize my apps into groups and then take advantage of the Zoom feature to get an at-a-glance view of the groups. I'm ready to be able to search for files or applications and have the results display on the entire screen. I'm ready to have a screen that extends beyond the boundaries of my monitor that can be accessed fluidly with a swipe of my mouse.
Yes, I said mouse. I expect to see, and Microsoft has stated that beyond the Windows 8 Developer Preview, the operating system will provide much better support for the mouse and keyboard.
I'm ready for a change!
What's your take?
Do you feel that the Start menu has outlived its usefulness? What do you think about the Start screen? Are you ready for a change? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.