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The Real Cost of Returning the Start Menu to Windows

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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.

windows 8.1

Read: The Start Menu Could Be On Its Way Back to 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.

Travis Pope is a Reporter-at-large for GottaBeMobile. He's currently enjoying a romp in the dangerous quicksand that is Microsoft's Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Xbox ecosystem.

6 Comments

  1. Tim Higgins

    12/14/2013 at 4:55 pm

    Pretty strong words voicing a strong, if intolerant, opinion. Allow me to respectfully disagree.

    I think the Personal Computer paradigm, in hardware and software, has always been about choice. A device and services company that Microsoft purports to be turning into must always be aware of the needs and desires of its customers, and successfully satisfy them. I think the gist of many of the complaints is that MS has failed to adhere to this basic business principle.

    So it is only logical and rational that the leading OS maker provide both the Start Menu and the Modern Start page to its customers, and allow the customers to choose the UI they want. Remember the vast majority of Windows users are business clients, not individuals. Whole corporations would need to provide training in the new UI to their employees, and that is a lot of money to invest as an aggregate.

    As far as us old farts are concerned, both you and Microsoft can just give it some time. Eventually we’ll die off and MS can remove the Start Menu when a minority of people want it.

    • Clemence DeMendoza

      12/16/2013 at 9:21 am

      I second Tim. I have experienced some frustration with finding stuff on Windows 8.1 and its imperfect solution for the start menu conundrum. Imperfect because it added one level of indirection that I figure would work fine on a tablet, but not if I am using a mouse. Anyway, I just installed Classic Shell (http://sourceforge.net/projects/classicshell/), and it not only gave me something similar to a Start Button, it was able to give me back Start menus that looked like XP without that terrible right side restriction that appeared from Vista onwards. Up to the installation point it was just rational, logical reaction.

      What happened next when I saw this new solution working amazed me: I felt a physical sensation of relief, as if a physical burden had been lifted out of my shoulders. What I thought was just a logical conclusion actually had a powerful instinctive, gut reaction associated with it, then I remembered that it was not a Microsoft decision to give me choice, but people in the community (listed at http://www.classicshell.net/).

      If a small team working on their spare time could do it, so could Microsoft. But to me it was only interested in playing the UI-lock in game it played before with Microsoft Office to oust Open Office. And that is not choice, it is imposition, in this case imposition of a burden to force change in the habits of millions of users so that they would find switching to another UI uncomfortable if they had gotten used to it. But this time it backfired.

      As for your rant for progressiveness, etc., may I remind you that we are part of the Baby Boom era: for the next foreseeable future, we are the biggest computer user community until the traces of this big population increase wave are all gone. The population in the US is not decreasing only because the growth of the Hispanic population compensates it, otherwise it would be decreasing at this point, like Europe’s. What does this mean? Microsoft would better keep those old guys like me happy, because we are part of its cash cow for the short and mid term future.

  2. Jacob Manning

    12/14/2013 at 5:10 pm

    Yes, Microsoft could “give into it’s users” and bring back the start menu. This would effectively set it apart from the “draw a line in the sand” technique used by Apple and Google.

    However, what you perceive as “bending to public opinion like a wet noodle” can also be viewed very differently.

    Microsoft is finally doing what every fan of any tech company has asked: LISTEN TO ITS COSTUMERS!

    Instead of moving forward with whatever plan it had set in place, Microsoft is finally listening to its users and adjusting its agenda according to the users wants and needs.

  3. Bill

    12/14/2013 at 7:52 pm

    Travis, I disagree. I am on Windows 7 and quite frankly will never go to 8. In fact, I would prefer to go back to Vista. XP was the best. Not everybody wants the latest. Why upgrade if you are happy? Got it?

  4. Tom M.

    12/16/2013 at 5:43 am

    I disagree as well. This is not a philosophy issue. The tiles are designed for tablet (“finger”) use. The start menu actually works better in a desktop (“mouse”) setup. So, having both modes makes windows 8 the best o/s for crossing the two worlds. The comment “it’ll cost Microsoft the respect of the very users it’s trying to attract” is not well thought through. It is not an either / or thing. The “backward thinking” is not going back to a start menu, but it’s believing the two can’t coexist for entirely different purposes. It is true that there are people who are more comfortable with the start menu, and will still use that method even in tablet mode. But, the start menu serves a very useful purpose, and it does work better with the mouse when a touch screen is not present, or when you don’t want to take you hands off the keyboard to slide the screen, Yes, you can do that with the mouse, but it is faster to get where you are going with the mouse using the start menu. I find myself doing a bit of a hybrid approach depending upon the application, and how I have my surface pro 2 set up (on my lap for reading–mostly metro; with a keyboard and mouse for input and work–start menu).

  5. Paul

    12/17/2013 at 10:30 am

    I am a software developer using a Windows 8 on a Surface as a development machine. I spend most of my time in the desktop on a large non-touch monitor . I learned how to navigate the new Win8 interface with my mouse, and after some initial snafus I kind of like it. It is , however, intended for small touch screens. I have found it useful to rig up desktop shortcuts that kind of simulate a start menu. The truth is that there are 2 kinds of uses for Windows 8 — why not let the user decide how they want to use it. In fact, I even want that choice to be different when I’m using my Surface standalone as opposed to hooked up to an external monitor.

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