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."

Comments closed
    • DarkUltra
    • 8 years ago

    They cannot make a mouse+keyboard UI touch friendly without making every object large and bloat away the screen space. So far the ribbon menu system have some elements very large, but most are too small for finger use. I hope they let the UI dynamically change when the user disconnects from keyboard/mouse, or chooses to do so. There is so much space wasted so far on what I have seen to make desktop more touch friendly, for instance:

    huge icons on the ribbon file menu
    [url<]http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3272/3011160892_1868a17fd9.jpg[/url<] huge task bar which have often almost 70% of its area unused [url<]http://www.blogsdna.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/Windows-7-Taskbar-Texturizer.png[/url<] I really look forward to the explorer QAT and I really hope i can still set the task bar to small icons like windows 7 [url<]http://jooh.no/web/Windows_7_multiple_small_explorer_windows_file_management.png[/url<] Easier and faster to identify programs and explorer folders if I have both a small icon and its name instead of clicking an icon and identifying a thumbnail and then another click.

    • Meadows
    • 8 years ago

    My Start Menu has 23 links in it, making it pretty tall and useful. I use it multiple times a day. As a side effect, the menu chrome is stretched, giving me ample listing/scrolling room if I am to click “All Programs”. (I don’t like the default height, so this is also a plus.)

    On the other hand, I also have 16 of my most frequently started applications on the taskbar itself, so I clearly see both sides of this particular coin.

    If the new Start Menu doesn’t get “worse”, I’ll give it a spin, but I’m fine with how it is right now. It was useless in XP but I’ve been loving it since Vista.

      • dashbarron
      • 8 years ago

      It seems when you have that many start menu links and applications pinned to the taskbar, the entire point of these features- quick and easy access to critical applications- goes righttttttttttttt out the window. Keep everything else in the program files or what not.

      It’s like using a highlighter and then you end up highlighting the entire page.

        • Meadows
        • 8 years ago

        No. I have 144 programs installed, so 23+16 taken out of that is still a pretty reduced subset.

        Also, Start Menu links are much larger than the links on the complete “All Programs” list (making it more convenient and more obvious), plus you can create Start Menu links for things that aren’t necessarily excerpts from All Programs (such as a specific folder, or a specific Control Panel item).

    • Geistbar
    • 8 years ago

    [quote<]Search doesn’t have the space it deserves to quickly show you rich results[/quote<] Am I the only that gets very annoyed when they see sentences like that? What, exactly, is a "rich" search result? Honestly, I hate whoever the marketing person was who decided a few years ago that "rich" was the perfect adjective to give to technological stuff. It's such a meaningless word in these contexts. "Rich" media applications, "rich" search results, "rich" content applications.. none of it means anything! I'm actually going to stop now, as thinking about it is making me far more annoyed than a simple marketing buzzword should.

    • albundy
    • 8 years ago

    my money’s on win9. this looks to be the WinME of Win2k, and the Vista of Win7.

    • PeterD
    • 8 years ago

    “‘their vision”… pfffff…
    I don’t like “their vision”.
    Full stop.

    • JiveMiguel
    • 8 years ago

    After I upgraded to Win 7, a friend told me a tip about using the search box on the start menu to launch programs. I just type the name (or part of the name) in the search box…which gets the cursor in it automatically when you click on the start menu…and press enter and it opens the program. Doesn’t always work, if there are programs that have the same words and such. You can start programs, command prompt, control panel (or individual control panels), pretty much anything. It’s even easier if you’re used to using the start menu key on the keyboard…push the key and you get the start menu, type the word “control” and hit enter and you get the control panel. Or type “admin” and you get administrative tools (or whatever program that comes back first in the search results…it doesn’t work 100% of the time for 100% of things I want to do but it’s close.

    But after I learned that bit of info, I pretty much stopped using the start menu in the way that I had since Win 95. I hardly ever drill down through the program lists anymore, or even click My Computer.

      • sweatshopking
      • 8 years ago

      metro retains the search functions

    • Extrarius
    • 8 years ago

    Personally, I use the start menu every day, and I’ve lamented the loss of the classic start menu since the day I installed windows 7. I don’t mind MS providing an interface that works well for the average user, but I wish they would continue to include the minimalistic power-user version of the GUI.

    Since I switched to windows 7 a while back, I’ve started to understand why linux has so many desktop and window managers. If Windows 7 offered a version of the GUI (shell, control panels, included apps, etc) that matched XP in classic mode, windows 7 would frustrate me significantly less often.

      • Taddeusz
      • 8 years ago

      It dawns on me that “minimalistic” and “power user” should be mutually exclusive terms. Of course, this brings up the thought about whether or not true power users really exist anyway. Or if by virtue of humans’ limited multitasking skills whether anyone can truly be a power user? Just because one does a lot of multitasking doesn’t necessarily make them a power user.

        • Extrarius
        • 8 years ago

        “Minimalistic” and “power user” go together correctly when you’re discussing user interfaces: a power user doesn’t need hand holding, and there are many ways that the UI can get in the way rather than assisting the user in performing a task. (Command line interfaces are popular among power users for this reason. I want a nice GUI too, though.)

        For example, when I want to use a control panel item, it is usually faster in windows 7 to search for it than to try to navigate the pseudo-hierarchical structure they’ve given it, but searching in windows 7 is slower than normal navigation of the XP-Classic control panel. In this case, I know exactly what I want to do, but windows 7 slows me down by being “average user-friendly” and not “power user-friendly”.

          • sweatshopking
          • 8 years ago

          “start – control panel” REALLY that much different than xp’s “start – control panel”? the only difference is the addition of search, which IS REALLY GREAT, and is improved in 8.

            • yogibbear
            • 8 years ago

            He means an option in the control panel. The classic control panel is much more obvious about where certain options can be found. The new one, not so much.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 8 years ago

            7’s control panel is a large part of the reason I went back to Vista.

    • l33t-g4m3r
    • 8 years ago

    Oh, look. The truth is finally admitted by the perpetrators, and though I’ve been saying all this since VISTA, shills were constantly trying to stick up for the failure, and denying that a problem even existed.

    XP had a working start menu. Was it perfect? No. Was it better than Vista/7? Yes.
    Microsoft has been on this self-destructive streak for the last two OS’s, and they traded customization and efficiency for pretty graphics. Every single point listed on that critical shortcomings list is spot on. Are they actually going to fix it? Dunno.

      • bcronce
      • 8 years ago

      You can keep your XP Start Menu.. eck. 7 is so much better.

      “they traded customization and efficiency for pretty graphics” Other than Win7 is more customizable(my brother has a ton of “skins” for Win7) and more efficient(less power and faster). Really, do you must be elbow deep in your ass grabbing for something.

      • BobbinThreadbare
      • 8 years ago

      My only use for the start menu since Vista has been the search.

      WinKey -> start typing search. It’s so much faster than searching through menus.

        • l33t-g4m3r
        • 8 years ago

        Only because they ruined the start menu, and Sareen just admitted it. I don’t care if X amount of idiots like typing. I don’t. Let’s get something straight, GUI stands for a graphical user interface, which I like to click with the mouse. Typing everything seems like a step back to DOS, and I don’t like how microsoft completely ruined the GUI that worked perfectly fine on XP.
        Microsoft could have just added search to the XP menu, and updated the graphics, but no. They had to completely destroy any usability by doing all of the above listed in this guy’s bullet points.

        What’s really hilarious is that none of those points applied to the XP menu, because it worked. Microsoft needs to totally scrap their current design, and go back to the XP model. Keep improvements like search, but make the start menu actually functional.

        I keep thinking about switching to Linux, and if microsoft doesn’t fix it’s GUI, that very well may be the next time they pull a DX10 tied to the OS stunt, because I’m not “upgrading” to an unusable POS.

          • Geistbar
          • 8 years ago

          Not to be rude, but from the general tone of your posts (both these two and others) you seem to have a strong dislike for Microsoft, and more specifically, Windows. That in mind, if you hate Windows, you should just carry through with your plan to switch to Linux. With luck, if there are specific programs keeping you around, you would be able to make them work in WINE or find an alternative. Otherwise, you could still dual boot and only use Windows when necessary. I really see no reason to continue to use something you hate, when there are (for 99% of cases) more than capable alternatives available to you.

          I happen to prefer the Win7 start menu over the XP one; this does not make my approach to using my computer wrong, it does not make yours wrong either. It just means we use our computers different. Too much of XP’s technology is truly ancient however, and I think many many people dislike the changes in Vista/Win7/Win8 from XP simply because they have become too used to the XP way of doing things. People tend to be highly resistant to change.

          On a side note, dx10 was definitely something that could not have been backported to XP easily; the number of fundamental “under the shell” changes it implemented relied on system behavior that was not present in XP, and would have been more or less impossible to backport themselves. As one specific example, the new driver model* was assumed pretty heavily for dx10, and would not be an easy thing to change. Now, some things were done stupidly to try to promote dx10 (e.g. the Halo 2 port), but at the OS level, dx10 would not have been even remotely simple to have ported to XP.

          Which, incidentally, was the blame for a significant amount of Vista’s early problems; Nvidia & AMD had some initial trouble adapting to it. It has worked out much, much (MUCH) better in the long run though. I am glad that a video driver error is no longer an almost guaranteed system crash.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]you seem to have a strong dislike for Microsoft, and more specifically, Windows.[/quote<] I rather dislike how microsoft ruined their previously usable GUI, and it's not like I'm the only one who thinks this. I think Sareen is spot on, with his points of how the start menu is broken, and it IS broken. It wasn't broken in XP. This isn't specifically an XP rant either. The start menu worked just as well in 95-98-ME-2k. Vista-7 is where it stopped working. [quote<]With luck, if there are specific programs keeping you around, you would be able to make them work in WINE or find an alternative. Otherwise, you could still dual boot and only use Windows when necessary.[/quote<] That would be dx11, and gaming. Dual booting is a nogo. If I switch, it'll be permanent. [quote<]I happen to prefer the Win7 start menu over the XP one[/quote<] Well, it just so happens, the Win7 menu is broken, and has a ton of artificial limitations that the XP menu doesn't have. It's designed for looks, not functionality. Whether or not any of you want to admit it. Microsoft knows it's broken, it's just a matter of how they are going to "fix" it. [quote<]Too much of XP's technology is truly ancient however, and I think many many people dislike the changes in Vista/Win7/Win8 from XP simply because they have become too used to the XP way of doing things. People tend to be highly resistant to change.[/quote<] I'm not being resistant to change per se, as I'm being resistant to unfunctional CRAP. Have you looked at Sareen's points? [quote<]On a side note, dx10 was definitely something that could not have been backported to XP easily[/quote<] Not that I particually care about this issue, which I don't, but OpenGL supports many similar functions to dx10 and runs on XP. [quote<]Which, incidentally, was the blame for a significant amount of Vista's early problems; Nvidia & AMD had some initial trouble adapting to it.[/quote<] Maybe my memory is a little hazy, but that wasn't one of Vista's major problems. Most people complained about the bloat and slow performance. I've haven't had any problems using 8GB of ram. That driver issue doesn't even exist now.

          • Meadows
          • 8 years ago

          You call yourself “l33t” and you can’t bring yourself to type something on the keyboard, instead wanting to click [u<]everything[/u<]? You're like my mother.

            • yogibbear
            • 8 years ago

            Dangit I tried to click [u<]everything[/u<] 🙁 +100000 internets.

            • Meadows
            • 8 years ago

            I win so hard for that one, don’t I.

          • no51
          • 8 years ago

          Sounds like you want Vista. But I’m sure you’ll find some unsubstantiated excuse on why Vista sucks. I don’t remember if you were the guy that had like a billion shortcuts on their desktop/taskbar or if that was someone else.

            • Meadows
            • 8 years ago

            No, you remember that right, he was the guy with all the stupid crap on the desktop/taskbar.

            • l33t-g4m3r
            • 8 years ago

            I used to stack my game shortcuts ony the side of the screen, and it was organized in groups. Drag a folder with shortcuts to the side of your screen and you will see what I’m talking about. The problem is that you can no longer organize these folders into groups, making the feature useless for large amounts of shortcuts. Screen resolution change often resets the order shortcuts are in, which is a pretty stupid bug that has been around forever.

            The only workable alternative I’ve found is using a 3rd party tool, such as steam. Steam actually functions pretty close to how I used my game shortcut folders. You people are just idiots. I was using steam before steam existed.

      • Meadows
      • 8 years ago

      XP’s Start Menu was an atrocity that was permitted to exist for far too long.

    • yogibbear
    • 8 years ago

    ZOMG. I still use Vista x64 and it still rocks. I don’t think I’ll be upgrading to Windows 8 any time soon until I can disable Metro UI for once and for all. Anyone that does any actual WORK, like you know, the ENTIRE FRICKING WORLD THAT BUYS YOUR PRODUCTS MICROSOFT!?! wants to multi task, alt-tab, have 200 windows open all at once. You are a bunch of idiots and don’t understand who your customers are.

    Yes I pin, yes I use my taskbar. That doesn’t mean your start menu isn’t almost 95% functional as it stands. No, you go and put in a system that works for ~50% of the time vs. 95% of the time and hide all the options that I’ll need EVERY TIME I GO TO A MEETING ROOM AND USE A DIFFERENT PC to turn everything off (which I’ll probably need admin rights for and hence need to call IT EVERYTHING FRICKING TIME I WANT TO HOST A MEETING!). FU MS. FU YOU SO HARD UP THE ASS.

      • sweatshopking
      • 8 years ago

      what? you’re aware that this doesn’t prevent you from multitasking? you’re aware that when you login to a different pc, YOU’LL HAVE ALL YOUR WINDOWS SETTINGS IMPORTED FROM THE CLOUD? windows 8 is going to be sweet. you can stay with vista, as the rest of the world moves on.

        • yogibbear
        • 8 years ago

        Right. Like any serious corporate IT department will allow the cloud to sync your PC settings? Hahahahahahaha…

          • Corrado
          • 8 years ago

          You don’t think they’ll allow you to pull those settings from your domain controller or something similar, like, oh, I dunno.. ROAMING PROFILES that have been in place since the NT days?

            • yogibbear
            • 8 years ago

            Well at my work I use approximately about 20 different PCs in a month, and of those about 10 will be completely new. When I login to a new computer it takes an extra 5 mins to “sync” my personal drive and email etc. What it doesn’t do is sync ANY settings to do with how windows as an OS behaves. i.e. all my links and shortcuts are gone, my options around how folders are laid out and the default zoom, and folder settings is gone, my start menu settings are gone, my pinned and taskbar items are gone, none of my installed programs are installed. This is what we call “Roaming” profiles. Maybe my IT department is full of morons, or maybe they haven’t been given the go ahead due to security issues. I can see the addition of the Metro Start UI meaning I will have even more customisation on my desk work PC, but this will just be infuriating every time I use someone else’s PC or a meeting room PC, etc.

            TLDR. My pins and taskbar items will be lost everytime I am in a meeting. I need those pins and taskbar items else I have to use both the Metro Start UI and go in a find my programs for each thing i want to open. These are usually kept on share drives so I will have to make about 10-15 clicks to get to each application/spreadsheet I want to open rather than the current 3-4 via the existing start menu.

          • Myrmecophagavir
          • 8 years ago

          …and your response to the multi-tasking bit, to which sweatshopking most importantly replied? Windows 8 allows you to work pretty much the same as before. The point of this news is that the Start menu has been replaced with a full-screen display. How will that prevent you multi-tasking, or alt-tabbing, or having 200 windows open at once? The desktop apparently still works as it ever did.

          Also, what exactly are you referring to in your second paragraph? How will this only work for you 50% of the time? How does it hide options you need every time you go to a meeting room? I’m genuinely interested.

            • sweatshopking
            • 8 years ago

            ARE YOU SAYING I’M MOST IMPORTANT??!!?!?!? I ♥ YOU TOO! BFF’S FOREVER!! ♥♥♥♥♥

            • yogibbear
            • 8 years ago

            I don’t want a fullscreen start menu. When I’m running a meeting I want what is being displayed on the main screen to STAY there and be the prominent thing visible while I muck around searching for files in another window next to it. i.e. people can read the spreadsheet or .ppt while I’m finding the next thing to open up. If it takes up the fullscreen then it’s completely stupid as everyone gets distracted and it blocks out what they were reading.

      • PeterD
      • 8 years ago

      People who buy MS, buy it for work.
      The people who want to play, buy Apple.

        • albundy
        • 8 years ago

        …and those who game, don’t even bother with crapple.

    • DrChaotica
    • 8 years ago

    Firstly; yes, I did register an account just to post this.

    With that out of the way, what they regard as a weakness of the classic start menu (“cramped relative to available screen real estate”) is something I regard as a strength; if I’m, say, watching a YouTube video and want to start a program (something fairly unintrusive, such as Calculator), it doesn’t take focus away from what I’m already doing. The emphasis throughout Windows 8, particularly in metro apps, seems to be on doing only one task at a time unless you have several monitors; which simply doesn’t reflect the way I tend to use my computer, or indeed an efficient way of using a computer.

    I’ll concede that the start menu, in its present form, is fairly broken; particularly in terms of customisation. I’ve given up trying to keep mine reasonably well organised, but I’d rather they improve it by making it easier to manage and categorise applications; particularly if you could do so within Explorer without having to have both start menu folders (All Users and your account’s) open in separate windows. In any case, I’d certainly still prefer the start menu in its current incarnation to a fullscreen alternative.

      • Chrispy_
      • 8 years ago

      Spot on, new guy….

      Microsoft is so busy trying to help people who can’t organise their own files/menus/shortcuts that they are actively alienating those that [b<]want[/b<] to organise their stuff. With the Windows7 "pin to task bar" and jump lists, there's very little need for an actual intelligent start menu anymore. I'd be overjoyed if it was just a simple menu that I could rearrange or sort to my heart's content.

    • d0g_p00p
    • 8 years ago

    I personally hate the Windows 8 Start menu. Where are all the application icons going to be located? I hope the installers are not just going to dump the icons all over my desktop or in my taskbar.

      • OneArmedScissor
      • 8 years ago

      I’m sure they’ll just stop asking you for no reason at all.

      • tay
      • 8 years ago

      Its gonna look like d0g_p00p

    • [+Duracell-]
    • 8 years ago

    Sareen’s points make sense. I hardly use the full catalog of programs unless it’s a program I rarely use (CPU-Z, VirtualBox, etc). Everything I use commonly are pinned to my Taskbar or are pinned to the Start Menu. I hate how inflexible the structure of the Start Menu is. Yeah, you can add folders to kind of organize your shortcuts, but that just adds more clicks I need to do.

    I guess I’ll have to wait until the beta to see. I do love the Metro UI (I have a Windows Phone 7-based phone), so I’ll just have to see how my usage changes and how well keyboard and mouse are implemented.

      • njsutorius
      • 8 years ago

      i rarely if at ever use the start menu anymore. All of my programs are pinned to the task bar. i don’t even use the start menu to pin new programs i use explorer and navigate to the directory.. the only thing i ever use for start menu is the search bar when I’m trying to find word docs, excel files etc.. so basically you could drop the whole thing and just keep search and ill be fine..

        • atryus28
        • 8 years ago

        You must not use a whole lot of programs or you like having a million icons/apps on your taskbar. I still prefer the clean look of minimal amount icons on my desktop and taksbar.

        I suppose it’s all about preference. I also tend to do a lot of RDPing so that may modify it as well.

          • njsutorius
          • 8 years ago

          i have 18 shorcuts on my taskbar. so according to the article this is alot. Also according to the article is seems im trending more towards the masses which use the taskbar over start menu.. but now i dont know what my point was or if it was just comment.

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