Microsoft: Metro Start screen is the evolution of the Start menu

The new Metro Start screen in the Windows 8 Developer Preview has drawn a wide spectrum of responses—some positive, some not so much. In a new post on the Building Windows 8 blog, Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky and Chaitanya Sareen have gone into a fair amount of detail about their vision for Metro and the future of the Start menu.

Sinofsky notes that, although some are calling the new Start screen a "Metro shell," Microsoft sees it more as "the evolution of the Start menu and associated functions." That's because, according to Sareen, the existing Start menu suffers from a number of critical shortcomings:

  • 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.

Sareen points to statistics that show Windows 7 users are using the Start menu less often than in Vista and, instead, are relying on the new taskbar as an app launcher. A whopping 85% of users have "three or more items pinned to the taskbar," but only 23% can say the same for the Start menu. In her view, "the taskbar has evolved to replace many aspects of the Start menu." The new Metro Start screen is supposed to address some of those shifts in usage patterns while addressing lingering usability issues with the Start menu.

Of course, that's not to say the Metro Start screen in the Windows 8 Developer Preview won't improve:

Will there be a way to close Metro style apps without going to Task Manager? (Yes there will be, but we also want to talk about why you probably won't need to use it.) Are we going to do anything to make the mouse more efficient in scrolling through your programs in Start? (Yes, we'll improve that experience, and show you much more in the beta.) Some of you have talked about it feeling less efficient to cycle through your recent programs compared to using the taskbar (and we'll have more to say about that in future posts).

It's important to realize that Metro is clearly not meant solely as an alternate UI for Windows users with touch-enabled devices. Parts of Metro are designed to replace elements of the old Windows desktop interface. Microsoft also sees touch as a vitally important part of the future PC. As Sareen explains, "We believe that, as with the mouse, we will see touch augmenting, but not replacing, most every aspect of the PC experience over time."

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