Windows 8 on the desktop created quite a division concerning its functionality when it initially launched with the unfamiliar "Metro"-style start screen and full screen apps. It left a lot to be desired by the old school Windows XP users that were used to Windows 7's more retro-friendly design. After the initial uproar, Microsoft gave us Windows 8.1 which improved on the initial problems, but still left a bad taste in some user's mouths.

I myself have been in this camp, looking at what the purpose was of the start screen. I found it large and in my face, throwing away the charm of the Start Menu and replacing it with a full screen app to run other apps. But my opinions at that point were based on other people's experiences. Refusing to buy it, I stuck with my trusty Windows 7, not realizing what I was missing.

The first question is whether the Start Menu or Screen is really needed?
I started using Windows 8 at work, and initially felt all my concerns were valid. The start screen felt big and clunky just like the reviewers said. It looked less sleek, and felt less user-friendly. But over the months I realized that I used Windows 8 with all its features save for the start screen with increasing enjoyment. It's fast and has many much needed features. I found myself not using the Start Screen at all. I ran all my applications from either the desktop or a quick-launch toolbar on my taskbar or pinned taskbar programs. With so many other useful features on Windows 8, I actually started liking it, simply ignoring the start screen.

Recently, I installed the Windows 10 technical preview on my personal laptop and started playing around in it. I immediately loved the start-menu fused with the tiles from the start screen. It felt right.

But then I realized something.

I never used the Start Menu on Windows 7 to begin with. Sure I would use it to access my Computer, and sometimes to run the browser. But I used the taskbar to launch most of my programs. So the fact that I found the Start Screen unusable was irrelevant, because I never used the Start Menu either.

So, I re-evaluated my opinion on Windows and its start menu. These days people don't want to click unnecessarily. They want the fastest way to launch an application. Although the Start Screen and Start Menu is only two clicks in most cases, users strive to use only one click.
Enter the taskbar. It has been present since Windows 98's Quick Launch bar, and makes it very easy to launch applications with a single click.

In fact, many people, including me, use the text search to launch programs via the Start Menu/Screen, which is also pretty fast if you're a good typist. So is the Start Menu really still necessary as a direct application and setting launching platform? With charms now introduced, and a quick way to open almost anything from the taskbar (when pinned there), will people still use the Start Menu or screen in the future?

I think they will. With the introduction of apps and the huge 3rd party application market that Windows PCs offer, you will not be able to use the limited space on the taskbar to 'quick launch' all the apps. You will need the start menu to organize your apps. And with either the start screen or Windows 10's Start Menu you have just that, sorting the tiles to have more space to add all your commonly used Apps.

It also offers multiple other useful aspects, such as the recently launched list on the Start Menu, or the very large space on the Start Screen for multiple apps and programs.
In short, it gives you much more access than a taskbar would, but take a bit longer to run programs from.

So I am convinced of the usefulness of Start. But the screen or the menu? The Start Screen has a lot more space, allowing for great customizability and layout. But it is large, and fills the entire screen, which makes it feel large and clunky.

On the other hand, the new Start Menu is much smaller, with less space for tiles. However, it feels much less obtrusive, and also feels familiar to users of the older versions.

The Start Menu has been present since Windows 95 and has been used by millions of people. Even though it has changed, it still remains a useful tool to launch applications from. I really think that moving back to the older-style Start Menu is a good move from Microsoft. It offers the Start Screen's functionality combined with the Start Menu's unobtrusiveness. It feels efficient, fits with the rest of the windows' layout, and retro users will appreciate it more.

I will of course continue to monitor the updates on Windows 10's preview as they are added, and I realize it could change at any time, but I feel the Start Menu is back, and will most probably stay.

Will people like it? Or are they already conditioned to the new Start Screen?

Time will tell.

© 2014