Microsoft Explains Rationale Behind Controversial Windows 8 Start Menu

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News Posted: Wed, Oct 5 2011 3:36 PM
The Windows 8 Start Menu Screen is shaping up to be a bone of contention between Microsoft's engineers and those following the company's Building Windows 8 blog. In a series of recent articles, Microsoft's Steven Sinofsky delved into the history of the Start Menu (the basic concept is 16 years old) and discusses its various shortcomings.

Part of the impetus for a re-think comes from Microsoft's own research, which shows that Start Menu usage declined dramatically from Windows Vista to windows 7, thanks in considerable part to the debut of taskbar pinning.




Windows 8's Start Screen does away with classic Start Menu functionality and replaces it with an entirely different model. Microsoft believes users will create a dashboard of applications, with app tile updates delivered via the Windows Notification Service. The distinction here is important for mobile devices with limited battery life—the tile updates with the latest news or information, but updates are delivered via a single process. A dashboard full of tiles, in this case, doesn't translate into a screenful of battery-sucking applications. Sinofsky writes:
"We expect corporate applications to be developed that display Live tiles for important internal systems and processes too. You can envision even the most mundane uses being improved by this ability to track live data... Apps can still represent themselves with just an icon and a name....  But, for most of today’s more relevant and connected apps, a simple icon and name is limiting, when they have so much more information they can share. And that information can be shared at a glance without any window management or any context change on your part.
 

Unlike the flat-listed Start Menu, the Start Screen can be customized and grouped as the user wishes. Group names and strict organization policies aren't required—if you prefer to group a diverse selection of applications you tend to start at the same time, that's fine. If you prefer to keep things segregated according to more traditional schemes (Applications, Games, Internet, etc) that's fine, too. Application searches are now fullscreen affairs, with more room devoted to displaying results. In Windows 7, if a Start Menu search didn't turn up the right data, the user had to switch out to Explorer and search again. Windows 8 does away with that distinction.



Search results are now visually linked to the type of file found. Photos will return a thumbnail image, applications return an icon, etc. Again, this functionality was available through Explorer under 'Icons' view, but absent from the Search Menu.

Get Your Updates Off My Dashboard

The most consistent criticisms of the Start Screen concept center around two facets of the design. First, the idea of constantly updating tiles might sound great for a consumer-centric tablet but for any sort of work environment, it's a nightmare. It's hard to imagine anything more distracting than a bunch of tiles constantly updating themselves in the background.

Granted, most workers keep multiple apps either full-screened or covering the desktop, but that only brings up another sore spot—application switching. Sinofsky writes: "when you’re launching a new app, you’re leaving the thing you’re currently doing. So we wanted to take advantage of the whole screen to make launching and switching apps as efficient as possible. The full-screen Start gives you the power and flexibility to launch more apps with a single click."

Again, that sounds great for consumer applications, but less than ideal for business apps. Oftentimes, launching a new app has nothing to do with leaving one's current task and is instead part of the same workflow or a companion task meant to be completed at the same time. When Microsoft talks about being able to use Windows 7's "snap" functionality to view two apps simultaneously, it feels a lot more like a restriction than a benefit. The screenshot below illustrates the advantages of the current design—options that won't be available in Windows 8's two-app world.



This screenshot is from my own desktop, captured while writing this article. The browser window on the left contains the Building Windows 8 blog entry in question; the right-hand window has one of the associated images. IM conversations are in the lower-right-hand corner, while Notepad overlays (but doesn't block) the actual blog entry. I consider this a fair workflow example precisely because it's so simple. There's no 3D editing or advanced image processing going on, just two browser windows, IM conversations, and Notepad. Under Windows 8, at least with Metro, this sort isn't an an option--at least, not yet.
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Metro is the kind of interface design I would expect from a six-year-old with a box of crayons. It's meant for stupid people with 15-second attention spans. It's completely inappropriate for professional workplace usage. I've allowed the draftsmen, engineers, customer service reps, and receptionist here to try it out, and it is universally reviled (and in the case of engineers, cursed in terms that would make a sailor blush).

The next thing I did was find a third-party tool to turn off Metro and the Ribbon. The same people who hated Metro (e.g., 100% of our professionals) said, "I could live with this" once those two items were gone.

Good job, Microsoft, once again you're alienating 99% of your core customers for the sake of making something that looks good to Apple iPad fanboys.

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why was I not asked to beta test 8 I always beta test for you guys

madchrley220@msn.com

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AKwyn replied on Wed, Oct 5 2011 5:50 PM

I have to slightly agree... Though Metro was designed mostly for Tablets rather then Desktops but that doesn't excuse the fact that we can't use more than 2 apps is real disappointing; though if you're thinking of a workplace situation, you can still keep using Windows 7 since they're not phasing that out or forcing you to upgrade by any means necessary. I remember some workplaces still running Windows NT/2000 just because it works, sure it might be scary sticking with what you have when it's unsupported but if it ain't broke, why fix it?

Also the ribbon interface has been around a long time, in fact it's been in Office since the 2007 edition and I ain't seen many major complaints about the ribbon interface. In fact if they managed to make a workplace version of Windows 8 with the ribbon and no metro, I'm sure it'd be widely recieved.

 

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CDeeter replied on Wed, Oct 5 2011 6:12 PM

The thing is, Microsoft has said the you will be able to switch to the Win 7 interface if desired. Are you saying that isn't true?

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The other issue is that legacy apps do not have the metro tiles... The new start menu is complete BS though I do like the option for the Metro UI for newer apps. At a school where we have over 30 applications installed on all our machines this totally will suck.

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AKwyn replied on Wed, Oct 5 2011 7:19 PM

Well if RTietjens said he needed a non-Microsoft third-party tool to disable the Windows 8 features then I'm guessing it's false.

 

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I played with the Metro UI for a few days and I hated it. I figured out how to put the Apps that I wanted onto the UI, but it still was a PITA as far as I'm concerned.

So Microsoft, hear me now!,.......don't even try to force feed this to me, it will not work.

If you insist on this stupid interface being foremost and first to display on Windows-8 when it's released, I will,....~and I know~ that a vast majority of people will,......stay with Win-7 just like we did with XP for ~~How Many Years??~~

It sucks and we don't like it.

Change it for desktop use.

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Joel H replied on Wed, Oct 5 2011 9:56 PM

1) You will always be able to switch back to the Windows 7 UI. That said, the design team isn't telling people to plan to switch to the Windows 7 UI. The plan is to give people a better Metro experience, such that they only use the Windows 7 option because they have to.

2) Dont' judge the current developer preview as if it's a finished product. That's a very silly thing to do, Realneil, and extremely premature. That's not to say criticism isn't valid, but make sure the things you dislike are actually intended to *stay* the way they are, as opposed to being actively in development. Right now, virtually everything is classified as a work in progress.

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JDiaz replied on Wed, Oct 5 2011 10:27 PM

Correct, they're not even at the point of beta/release candidates release yet. They got about 300 things they are going to work on for the final release and barely even started yet.

Though it's still good to voice any concerns to let the developers know early on what direction we want them to go... Just in case :P

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realneil replied on Wed, Oct 5 2011 11:05 PM

Joel H:
Dont' judge the current developer preview as if it's a finished product.

I'm not,...just trying to let them know what I think of that steaming smelly UI. Without input what will they do?

Joel H:
That's a very silly thing to do, Realneil, and extremely premature. That's not to say criticism isn't valid, but make sure the things you dislike are actually intended to *stay* the way they are, as opposed to being actively in development.

How am I supposed to know what they're thinking? If I don't forcefully express myself they'll do what they want to do, again. (shades of Vista)

Many people are up in arms about this, it's not just narrow minded me.

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You know, Steve Jobs (RIP) is quoted as saying Microsoft just makes second rate crap (paraphrased of course).

I agree with him. Over the past 15 years of the Desktop OS, Microsoft got it right twice. XP was rock solid to work with and Windows 7 was a natural evolution that actually worked.

In their effort to keep the desktop relevant, they are trying, once again to borrow design from a device that doesn't work like a desktop.

Maybe Microsoft should GET OUT OF THE OS interface business. Imagine them providing the base OS and then an efficent Framework that allows 3rd parties to design interfaces for all type of devices.

You couldn't imagine how the interface would come about?

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realneil replied on Thu, Oct 13 2011 7:56 PM

HerschelHorton:
Microsoft just makes second rate crap

OK, So what about ~Microsoft Bob~?,.....HuH?

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Microsoft removed the Start Menu and the Start Button completely. If I wanted to do all my office work on a tablet, I would have gone and bought myself a new iPad (which I still might do, if I’m forced to choose between a Windows tablet and an iPad). Why can’t we just leave the tablet market to Apple and the PC market to Microsoft? Don’t get me wrong, I like Windows 8 in general, but what happened to freedom of speech and choices. In Windows XP we had the choice to switch back to the Classic Start Menu and in Windows 7 we have XP Mode.

It looks like in Windows 8, the only choices we have are to tablet or not to tablet. Rizonesoft started a petition to ask Microsoft to at least give us a choice between the interfaces and bring the Start Menu back. Go here: http://www.rizonesoft.com/2012/bring-back-the-start-menu/ for more information about the petition. Please help Rizonesoft accomplish this almost impossible task by signing and sharing this petition.

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I did read about new Windows 8. I think it is quote different from Windows 7. I think i might stick with Windows 7 for few years. I know Windows 7 in its 2nd year. I dont understand why Microsoft made a quick move to new Windows 8.  I think that I agreed with RealNeil on this issues.  l think  Windows 8 should be change bit with stuff that will work on Desktop and laptop.

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Many times in the past, Microsoft has tried to dictate what people will be doing with their PC's and how they would be doing it. Every time they did, it was fed back to them in an extremely uncomfortable manner.  Computer users do not like being dictated to, and they'll stand up for themselves when they feel that they have to.

It's very simple really,.......sales of Win-8 will be lackluster unless they come to heel with this idea that they can force-feed Metro to the masses.

Their philosophy of control has landed Microsoft in hot water before and it's about to again. I can see no good reason to buy into the Metro UI concept when it does nothing to further my PC (not Tablet) user experience.

As I've said before, I'm glad that I have Win-7 to stay with and keep using, while I totally ignore Win-8 long enough for Microsoft to learn the ~hard way~ yet again.  (Have you ever had a child that was impossible to 'bring along'?)

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AKwyn replied on Tue, Mar 6 2012 8:22 PM

Reading that post just gave me an idea; why doesn't Microsoft just give you the choice to use either the Metro UI or the Desktop UI during the post install procedure? I mean they could lessen the impact that Microsoft is trying to force Metro on it's users while simplifying the distinction between the various interfaces (one's for tablets, one's for regular PC's.) Of course, it's unlikely that they'll do this but it's a good idea nonetheless.

 

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Yes, It's a good idea that's been suggested to them, pleaded to them, screamed at them, but they do not hear us.

So now we just talk to them through our wallets. Simple,........

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