Change is good, says Microsoft, especially when it comes to the Windows Start Menu.
In a post to the Windows 8 blog on Tuesday, Alice Steinglass — a manager with Microsoft’s elaborately named Core Experience Evolved team — explained that the new version of the company’s flagship operating system is “reimagining” the Start Menu because, well, people barely used the old one.
According to Microsoft data, Windows users launch most of their programs from the Taskbar. Between Windows Vista and Windows 7, Microsoft saw an 11 percent drop in Start Menu usage — not a staggering number, but one the company felt it should deal with.
“We realized that it was serving mainly as the launcher for programs you rarely use,” Steinglass said. “The Start menu is not well-optimized for this purpose. It affords limited customization, provides virtually no useful information, and offers only a small space for search results.”
Steinglass explained that the new Windows Metro Start Screen will allow far more customization than the Start Menu could ever offer. Open and available applications will be visible all at once — much like you get with the “all applications” shortcuts on Apple machines. A Windows 8 user can pin their desired applications — an email client, Word, a weather forecast app, etc. — to the Start Screen for easy access, rather than relying on navigation from a menu.
In another post, which launched the discussion about the new Start Menu, Microsoft’s Chaitanya Sareen recognized that any change to Windows is “disruptive,” but then she drove home the reasoning behind the new tool. Much as keyboard commands once bowed to mouse commands, Sareen said, moving to the new Start Screen would set the stage for the next great phase of user interface evolution on PCs: touchscreens.
Touchscreen tablets have changed the way many people use computers, and touchscreen monitors are now entering the PC market, with HP releasing a large line of TouchSmart monitors last month.
But Microsoft will need to balance the expectations of “old school” mouse users with those of the touchscreen “new school.”
“As a mouse user, Metro really makes me feel like a second class citizen. Many things take extra clicks as well as entire screen wide mouse movements,” one commenter complained, referring to Microsoft’s new touch interface.