When Microsoft first removed the Start Menu in builds of Windows 8, I flinched. It’s presence had been drilled into my very existence. Every computer I ever touched had that Start Button and its accompanying area of shortcuts and deep links in the right hand corner. On the other hand: this was the birth of a new Microsoft, a Microsoft that finally understood that a strong sense of purpose and design where the only way to appeal to a new generation of users. And so I used Windows 8 and I learned to live with the new Start Screen and its set of accompanying apps. Eventually I learned to love them.
So you can imagine my concern when rumors of the Start Menu’s return began to surface late yesterday. Here I, and millions of people who were all ready to embrace change are, learning how to use this new operating system and its foibles only to learn that Microsoft could have plans to up-end the entire endeavor for the sake of pleasing users who won’t let them evolve Windows.
Returning the Start Menu to its perch won’t just cost a bit of development time, I suspect it’ll cost Microsoft the respect of the very users it’s trying to attract.
It all starts with the failure of many industry-watchers to understand what Microsoft’s real problems are. For sure, the pricing of Windows devices certainly isn’t doing the company any favors. However, in my opinion Microsoft’s real struggle lies in attracting and hanging on to the next-generation of users. And no, I’m not talking about those users who care about how many spreadsheets they can open in Word.
In my experience these users have vastly different priorities than Microsoft typical user base. These users are the first teenagers to have become young adults in a world that isn’t dominated by Windows Mobile, capacitive touchscreens and Clippy the office assistant. They value simplicity, they love design and most importantly, they respect bravado. These are the Microsoft fans that arrived with The Zune, evangelized Windows Phone and cheered as Microsoft finally began to get things right with Windows.
To be clear, I’m not saying that the needs of the young and bold outweigh the needs of nearly a billion PC users worldwide. If Microsoft thinks returning the Start Menu and allowing users to avoid the entire Metro environment is a good thing for them, maybe they should do it. What I am saying is that a strong sense of self, competent design and the ability to draw a line in the sand are all things that the next generation of users, perhaps without even knowing, appreciate from Google and Apple.
I guess what I’m really saying is Microsoft can reintroduce all the features it wants. It can again, ask users to relearn a paradigm it took away and hope that backtracking to keep the to the old guard of PC users for just a bit longer will help it gain marketshare. Or, it’s entirely possible that Microsoft could actually earn users’ respect by setting a clear vision, delivering on it and not bending to public will like a wet noodle.