Windows 8 Will Live or Die Based on The Start Screen

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Earlier this week, Microsoft principal program manager Chaitanya Sareen dished out information on why Microsoft ultimately decided to kill the Start Menu and replace it with the polarizing Start Screen. According to her, killing the Start Menu wasn't seen as a big deal, given that consumers and businesses had largely stopped using it.

We’d seen the trend in Windows 7. When we evolved the taskbar we saw awesome adoption of pinning [applications] on the taskbar. We are seeing people pin like crazy. And so we saw the Start menu usage dramatically dropping, and that gave us an option...

So I’m a desktop user, I pin the browser, Explorer, whatever my apps are. I don’t go the Start menu as often. If you’re going to the Start screen now, we’re going to unlock a whole new set of scenarios, or you can choose not to go there, stay in the desktop, and it’s still fast. You can’t beat the taskbar."

Sareen's comments don't tell us anything we didn't already know; Microsoft engineers have written several lengthy blog posts discussing the company's UI vision, explaining why it feels the Start Screen is superior to the Start Menu. Seven months and ~15,200 words later, this issue continues to slap Redmond in the face. Microsoft has responded to the criticism by doubling down. The Windows 8 Release Preview, which debuted on May 31, killed a number of user-created workarounds that re-enabled the Start Menu.


The new Chrome-less look W8 will introduce

Microsoft's willingness to discuss Start Screen design philosophy is great, but it does nothing to fix the underlying issues. Longtime Windows journalist and author Paul Thurrott writes: "I still have serious reservations about what Windows 8 will mean for power users and developers like me... Worryingly enough, I don't appear to be alone. I've read review after review from people who are actively working with and testing Windows 8, and the same sentiments keep cropping up. Reviewers want to love Windows 8, but they keep butting heads with Metro when they try to get work done."

TechCrunch author Frederic Lardinois notes that he's gotten used to the ongoing Metro/Desktop collision, but " it took me a good two or three weeks to get to this point. Most people also won’t have the patience to relearn how to use their computer. If it annoys pundits who are paid to test apps ever day and who generally embrace change, mainstream users will probably hate it even more."

It may be true that the vast majority of users don't launch programs with the Start Menu anymore, but that's not really the point. For years, users have been taught that the first step in solving a problem, hunting for certain applications, or accessing the Control Panel is to press the Start button. If you're the kind of user who finds computers somewhat intimidating and hard to understand, pressing Start is a giant slap in the face. It's not just that the interface is different; Redmond has removed all the secondary visual clues that previously helped users dig around for programs or settings.

Microsoft is apparently betting that positive press from the tablet market will overwhelm any negative reactions to Windows 8 on the desktop. In doing so, it's ignored the fact that 1) The overwhelming number of Windows users own desktops or laptops and 2) An OS's first few months are absolutely critical when it comes to molding customer perceptions. Everyone remembers Windows Vista as the OS that sucked, not the OS that was pretty good after a few service packs. Windows 8 will be no different.

Even after learning to use Metro, I find myself wincing every time I have to hit the Start button. I spend time with the interface because that's part of my job, not because I want to. The idea of moving my parents or other family members over to Win 8 is laughable. Having had to repress the desire to put a fist through the monitor on more than one occasion, I can't imagine the blowback, or rather I can, and want no part of it.

I've held off on writing this story because it seemed ridiculous to suggest that changing from Start Menu to Start screen could be the Achilles heel of an entire operating system. After reading comments from others who tested the Release Preview as well as working with it myself, the idea no longer seems quite so outlandish. Yes, people can learn to use W8, there's tons to like about Metro in a tablet, and Microsoft introduce a number of features on the Desktop side that make it attractive. Unfortunately, all of that may not be enough to overcome the visceral frustration you slam into when trying to use W8.

When your users divide their time between learning to use Metro and trying to find ways to never hit the Start button again, it's a sign of a problem. If the company doesn't fix it, it'll regret it down the road.
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3vi1 replied on Sat, Jun 30 2012 4:13 PM

I'm with you, Joel. I wouldn't even upgrade to it if I were running Vista. I hear Gabe Newell feels the same about Win8, and it even encouraged him to hire some Linux desktop developers as of late (Steam for Linux is finally almost here!). If that's how former Microsoft employees feel - you gotta imagine how others are going to receive it.

I keep thinking of how that Start screen is going to look six months after people install it: Have you seen how cluttered and completely disorganized most people's start menus are? Now imagine that, but in screen form.

I did not know that they're actually disabling workarounds that give users back their start menus. It's like they want to make sure you can't use it like you want to use it. What could be the logic behind limiting user freedom in that way?

In the Linux world, we occasionally get peeved at big changes to the desktop too - like when KDE4.0 came out, or when Ubuntu switched to the Unity desktop. The difference here is that there are literally 15+ other desktop environments we can switch to if we don't like the new default.

Maybe there's an opportunity for someone to write a new desktop for Win8 that replaces Microsofts! I remember we used to hack up new program managers in Win3.1 all the time - maybe all that's been lacking since Win95 is a good incentive to do it.

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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Inspector replied on Sat, Jun 30 2012 4:25 PM

I use the start menu more then anything on my computer, my desktop is completely clean and everything is pined on my start menu with the exception of messengers and browsers on my task bar.

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3vi1 replied on Sat, Jun 30 2012 4:35 PM

Yes, but you're "one of us" (I keep my Windows Start menu meticulously clean on my work machine). What do your non-IT friends menus look like? :)

What part of "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" don't you understand?

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StopElf replied on Sat, Jun 30 2012 6:30 PM

I personally loved the Windows8 previews. Yeah you had to get used to it a bit but it seemed to function great for me, I just organized my tiles into columns and groups. I do see the potential for a user to overload the start screen if they did not take care of it but why is that a MS problem? I agree it will be received like Vista but most of the people I know that complain about Vista tried to run it on XP hardware or bought $500 computers expecting something great and used 3-4yr old devices that had no support and somehow it was MS fault. I think average users just like to complain about MS and just refuse to learn how to use computers properly, which is fine, but you shouldn't be able to complain if you make that choice. I recently had a coworker get angry with me because someone told him the only way he could attach a file to an email was by right clicking it and "sending" it to mail, when I showed him the easier solution of clicking attach in the email and selecting the file. Id love to see windows8 do great I have been very impressed with MS recently We'll be getting it at work to use on a few x86 PCs and I do plan on getting an RT device to mess around with but I just feel most people take tech for granted and expect cooler, newer, more feature packed devices at lower costs with higher quality that they automatically know how to do everything with and that just boggles my mind.

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Inspector replied on Sat, Jun 30 2012 7:59 PM

lol, it looks just like their desktop, a mess and full of random programs they recently used :D.

My start menu has my most used programs and split into sections of what the program does.

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the functionality is the same for me, because I usually hit the start button and type the program, but the start screen really is obnoxious when running three screens in eyefinity or surround.

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realneil replied on Sat, Jun 30 2012 9:18 PM

I tried it on three systems over two months. I don't like Metro at all. I will never use it on a desktop.

Microsoft's proclivity to not listen to it's customers is nothing new. They want to run everything and make decisions for all of us and they STILL don't realize that we're not having any of that BS from them.

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roselan replied on Sat, Jun 30 2012 10:57 PM

The metro screen is worst than the missing start button.

In metro all apps looks quite the same, and consequently I used the search more. I tried to organize it, then tweak it, then I deleted all icons, leaving only the desktop one. Then I tried to get rid of metro, and then I installed linux mint... herrrr what?

Yup, after 15 years of trying, and giving up less than an hour later due to drivers, graphic cards, ugly looks, small glitches, games, etc, I finally switched, and it was easy. It is furiously sleek and i got really comfortable with it in less than 2 days (which still amazes me). When I work, or surf/play, I simply forget I'm not on windows anymore.

With 8 I was sighing each time I had to do something windows, or even when my mouse decided to wander near screens borders. Now my stress level is way down, and I'm happy to be on a system that ain't fighting me at each corner.

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*** the start menu and *** the start screen. All I need is that little search bar. Since they introduced that in Windows I have not once looked at my start menu. I type the app I want and boom, theres the shortcut, thank you. I really dont see the need for anything else, ever. It makes sense for people who dont know their *** like I do, I guess. As far as I am concerned, I will get 8, jump right into it searching for ways to get that search bar into my taskbar and make the windows key direct to it. The end.

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Inspector replied on Sun, Jul 1 2012 12:24 AM

Well for apps that you use daily, its a lot quicker to just click the program then do a search on it... If you know *** use it... Searching isn't hard just takes a few seconds longer, i use it too but for games and programs i barely use once a month.

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Joel H replied on Sun, Jul 1 2012 12:59 AM

Mayhem,

It doesn't sound like you do much in the way of software testing. Tell me -- what do you do when you don't remember the name of an app? Do you keep a mental list of 100-150 separate software programs, including the ones you use only once every few months?

Maybe you do. If so, my hat is off to you. But the biggest problem with the Start Screen isn't the way applications are displayed, it's the way it breaks all previous organizational structure, flattens everything, and throws out all of the old cues for where information is actually found.

Roselan, enjoy your tasty mints.

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JDiaz replied on Sun, Jul 1 2012 3:28 AM

"Microsoft's proclivity to not listen to it's customers is nothing new."

Well, if you read the comments on their developers blog not everyone is actually telling them the same thing. There's plenty of posts from people who actually like it for example and not just negative posts. So perhaps they are listening but they're just not hearing what you're thinking they're hearing.

Take this youtube video post...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBVUeGOhJp8

From someone showing how to use W8 with just keyboard and mouse and who even thinks W8 is easier to use on a desktop than a tablet because some features for mouse use isn't available with the touch screen usage.

Even here, we got one or two posters saying they either have no problems or they actually like it.

While MS goals are more than just introducing a new OS but involve long term plans of how they want to start taking advantage of new technology and eventually change how we use computers and what they are applied towards.

Smart Glass, apps that can run on any Windows device, new ways of interacting with data, etc. are all things MS is striving for and helps explain why they're sticking the course.

While Windows 7 will be continued to be supported till 2020. So even MS doesn't expect everything to change over night, but only time will tell if they've made the right choices or not.

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roselan replied on Sun, Jul 1 2012 10:28 AM

Guys, everyone has is own habits.

And it's nice to be able to instinctively customize the interface to match them! If it's possible without cluttering menus or going to the deeps of the net for a fishy tool, all the better. The status bar has so much success not only because it's practical to use, but because it's easy to add apps to it too.

With 8 everything is more complicated, or not even possible. The metro thing is brand new, invading and quite rough. I'm sure that in two years there will be hacks and utils to do what we want, and maybe some of them without lousy malware.

The problem is that Microsoft acts as a bully, and tries to force it down our throat aggressively. They actively and publicly prevent such customization. This is new. (the "publicly" part at least).

Finally, here, on Hothardware, we ain't the usual windows users, and our perception is biased as our relationship with our rigs is so.... intimate? ;)

I can see people using metro as a "second desktop", and they will clutter it as much as their normal desktop. However, I can tell you that more than the start button, the lack of easily accessible shutdown or restart button will triggers *tons* of loud complaints (even if it took me one week to notice as I use alt+F4).

When people ask me "why is it like that? How can I do that?", I tell them and propose them workarounds when there are some. I see them grimacing in frustration often. Nothing will change on that perspective, there will simply be more long faces.

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Marco C replied on Sun, Jul 1 2012 10:52 AM

Microsoft can solve this entire problem by simply giving users the choice to load the OS with either Metro OR the Desktop as default. Plug the start menu back in and then everyone's happy. There are enough good things coming with WIndows 8 that it'll be a worthwhile upgrade, provided people LIKE using it.

Give your customers a choice Microsoft.

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JDiaz replied on Sun, Jul 1 2012 4:53 PM

"With 8 everything is more complicated, or not even possible."

No, it's not so one sides as some things may be more complicated but others are simplified and it's still possible to do pretty much everything. They're just mostly done differently than what you're used to.

Like for power users you can add the Control Panel to the desktop just you could in Windows 7. The "Godmode" registry hack seems to still work too.

There's also plenty of keyboard shortcuts that'll probably change a lot of people's minds about Windows 8 if they'd only look them up and memorize them.

The spot where the Start Menu used to be can be just be right clicked to bring up a basic alternative for quick access to Control Panel, System, Device Management, Task Manager, Command Prompt, Search, Run, etc.

The Start Screen has customization options like you can put category descriptions and organize it any way you want.

For Multiple Screen setup desktops you can even leave the Start Screen on one screen and stick to the desktop for the other to cut down on needing to switch between them all the time.

Windows 8 even has advantages for multiple screen setups like how it handles the task bar for each screen. So you'll no longer need 3rd party solution to fix that issue as you would with Windows 7.

It's actually easier to find things like the Defragmenter or Disk Cleanup than it is in Windows 7. Along with making it easier to change the language settings than it is with Windows 7, especially if you aren't using the Ultimate version of Windows 7.

Desktop Gadgets still exist in Windows 8...

While people are usually resistant to change but that doesn't mean the change isn't for the better.

After all people made a lot of the same complaints when Windows was first introduced and people complained why they should change from command line to a GUI or even when they first introduced the mouse and people complained why they should use that when they could more easily use keyboard with shortcuts they already had memorized.

Mind many systems people are testing Windows 8 on aren't even 100% compatible, while also Windows 8 RP is still a beta.

So what will be telling is how people feel after they have gotten used to Windows 8, with the final release on official hardware, and we won't know that for sure for another year at least as it'll take time for people to get used to it and can finally give an unbiased opinion on it.

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JDiaz replied on Sun, Jul 1 2012 4:56 PM

A bit of over simplification, people's issues are more than just the Start Screen but how the whole OS works differently.

While eventually MS wants to get rid of the desktop, as they're mainly leaving it for now for legacy support. So also a question of where MS wants to take the OS and whether people will agree or not that it would eventually be a good direction or not.

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My company has users worldwide, and we are NOT going to run Metro. Period. We'll continue to use Windows 7 until we can get something that doesn't require an investment of $10,000 per user to retrain them to user their desktop and laptop PCs. That number is real, not a fantasy. We can't afford that kind of investment for a $90 OS. That also means we won't buy new OEM PCs if we're forced to get Windows 8 without a rollback.

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rrplay replied on Sun, Jul 1 2012 8:20 PM

Marco C:

Microsoft can solve this entire problem by simply giving users the choice to load the OS with either Metro OR the Desktop as default. Plug the start menu back in and then everyone's happy. There are enough good things coming with WIndows 8 that it'll be a worthwhile upgrade, provided people LIKE using it.

Give your customers a choice Microsoft.

yep I see it in a similar way, should we actually have the choice to load Windows 8 without the Metro UI. Microsoft actually listened to the feedback that has been mentioned time and time again, if not MS does not take care or bothered to take notice to the bulk of the feed back since the  very first Release Preview.

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JDiaz replied on Sun, Jul 1 2012 9:06 PM

Such attitudes are probably why there are still companies that are still on XP. However, eventually it does become cheaper to go with the newer OS once it becomes the dominant OS but that can be years after original release. So for now it's more Windows 7 turn at bat, spurred on especially because MS is dropping XP support April of 2014.

Really, it wasn't until about a year ago that Windows 7 market share grew from about 35% to about 54% now and it'll be similarly a few more years before we see more serious adoption of Windows 8.

While OS adoption is a issue for pretty much any platform. Like for Android only about 7% of all devices have been updated to ICS since it's release and now they have to deal with the 4.1 release.

Even with Apple and OS X not everyone is using the latest version even though they tend to be more affordable than Windows releases and this includes newer systems that are perfectly capable of running the latest OS X.

So it's perfectly understandable if your company wants to wait before updating, but I wouldn't assume it never will and will actually wait till Windows 9 or necessarily choose an alternative solution.

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Joel H replied on Sun, Jul 1 2012 9:20 PM

Stupid, pointless image is stupid and pointless. Windows 98 wasn't good until SE, Windows 2000 isn't on your list at all, Windows XP SP2 was enough of an overhaul to qualify as an OS launch in different circumstances, and Windows 7 was a Vista overhaul / tweak with a lot of improvements but few fundamental changes.

JDiaz,

Any time I have to spend re-customizing the OS to make it as useable as Windows 7 is lost work time I could've spent working. That's why this matters. The question isn't "Can I eventually make the Windows 8 desktop suit my needs?" it's "How much productivity will I lose until I do so?

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Dave_HH replied on Mon, Jul 2 2012 12:27 AM

Of course Joel isn't commenting on your post here, SD, just the image itself. :)

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JDiaz replied on Mon, Jul 2 2012 2:36 AM

"Any time I have to spend re-customizing the OS to make it as useable as Windows 7 is lost work time I could've spent working. That's why this matters. The question isn't "Can I eventually make the Windows 8 desktop suit my needs?" it's "How much productivity will I lose until I do so? "

You're assuming everyone thinks Windows 7 defaults are okay, but Windows 7 gets custom themes and 3rd party UI modifiers just like previous Windows versions. So obviously that's not the case!

Besides, there's lots of different ways for people to work and not everyone feels doing something the same way is the most efficient for them. Thus the problem of assuming one way is automatically better just because you're more used to doing it that way.

Will there be a learning curve, of course but that's more or less true of any major OS changes. But it's also true that you don't have to switch to a new OS right away either.

People have managed to hold onto XP for a very long time and if people want to they can hold onto Windows 7 for a long time too.

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Joel H replied on Mon, Jul 2 2012 7:13 PM

JDiaz,

I agree with you on the following:

1) Not everyone likes Win 7 defaults.

2) Not everyone dislikes Win 8.

3) People work in different, equally valid ways. The only thing that matters is whether or not it works for you personally.

The reason I think Metro is an increasingly bad bet in W8 isn't because it's different; I'm well aware of the perceptual bias which leads people to rate familiar things as better. When I've used W8 on a touchscreen device -- sticking exclusively or very nearly exclusively to Metro -- it's great.

Let me reiterate that for emphasis. On a tablet, Metro is great.

The problems kick in when trying to work in desktop. At that point, Metro is not great. It's not the same thing as saying "This is bad because I don't know how to use it," it's bad because it breaks all previous conventions and yet can't break away cleanly. If you work on a PC, you simply *can't* stop using Desktop -- which means every time you're dumped into Metro, it's a problem.

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Super Dave:

That's it in a nutshell Super Dave. LOL!

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JDiaz replied on Mon, Jul 2 2012 9:30 PM

That's a point of view and it's valid, but not everyone agrees

Take this youtube video for example...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBVUeGOhJp8

Now that person actually finds W8 more useful on a desktop than on a tablet and he's not alone.

While also mind that MS isn't entirely done tweaking. The removal of Aero was to help make the transition between the desktop and Metro less jarring and they may have other tweaks they still plan to impose to make it more natural. While the Release Preview still has Aero, so it's not yet final...

This is not to say that I disagree there won't be any issues. There will be a lot of people that agree with your point but people can get used to just about anything over time. So only time will tell... I'm just pointing out that initial reactions tend to be exaggerated and changing the desktop experience is something that's going to happen sooner or later regardless of what happens to Windows 8.

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rmsnowco replied on Tue, Jul 3 2012 11:54 AM

Best Windows 8 hint I've come across is typing the name of the program you want to start. A list will come up and you can choose from that. Works in any Win 8 screen.

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FishSauce replied on Thu, Jul 12 2012 8:51 AM

This should have been a user option. Both the start menu and the metro crap.

Because people can get used to nearly anything doesn't mean it is all right and good.

An obvious example:

There are women that are raped nearly every day but have gotten used to it.

Would you say that makes it right and acceptable to rape any women because they will get used to it ?

Of course not !

It seems like microsoft wants to copy apples locked in and locked down business model.

Trying to get full control over the platform and what gets installed on it.

Basically they decide if you are allowed to installed and use hobby software and if you pay them they might allow it too. For instance you have to pay for the SDK.

God damn, microsoft is getting as fanatic and extreme as apple. This is really bad.

We already know what will happen if microsoft succeeds.

Take a look at xbox, it's over-priced, filled with licensing bullshit that makes games over-priced and pricey to develop. xbox is a very unfriendly device both to consumers and hobby tinkerers.

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Just saw this one today - hope it cheers you up a bit, Joel!Big Smile


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realneil replied on Tue, Jul 24 2012 10:06 AM

Ha-Ha!

Good pic Super Dave.

Dogs are great judges of character, and if your dog doesn't like somebody being around, you shouldn't trust them.

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