It’s usually very difficult for developers to accurately predict the end users’ response to any major change they make to a product. There are times when even the most well thought out changes are rejected by users. But when the product happens to be as ubiquitous as Windows and the change in question pertains to something as symbolic as the Start menu, the task of predicting public response becomes all the more difficult.
“We recognize that to some people, any change to Windows is going to be disruptive, and so we want to make sure we continue an open dialog about those changes,” wrote Chaitanya Sareen, a program manager on Microsoft’s Core Experience Evolved team. “Since Windows is such an integral part of so many people’s lives, most any change can generate visceral reactions like ‘how can I turn it off,’ or debates over whether things are more or less efficient.”
Sareen began by narrating the story of the Start menu's evolution - from its birth in 1992 to now. He then noted that there has been a dramatic change in Start menu usage patterns across Windows Vista to Windows 7, with some of its key features increasingly becoming less popular with users. In fact, there has been an 11 percent drop in how often the Start menu is accessed.
“While 11% may seem like a small number at first, across our hundreds of millions of customers it is eye opening to see such a drop for a universally recognizable element of the Windows interface,” wrote Sareen. “We’re not talking about some hidden setting that is tweaked by a minority of people—we’re talking about a fundamental piece of Windows that people are using less and less.”
According to Sareen, the decline in Start menu’s popularity, despite its advantages like built-in search and access to All Programs, has been brought about the Windows 7 taskbar or the “Start bar”, which provides easier, one-click access to applications.
“With the Windows taskbar becoming the key launcher and switcher for the desktop, and the Start menu being revealed as a poor everyday launcher, an opportunity appeared to reimagine Start and make it into something more valuable,” he further wrote.
Microsoft seized that opportunity to come up with the Start screen: “Since we now know most of you can (and do) just use the taskbar to access the things you commonly use on the desktop, this freed us up to make Start even better at its unique strengths and to unlock new scenarios. Improved search, more room for all your programs, tiles that are alive with activity, and richer customization all suddenly become possible when the venerable, but aging, Start menu is transformed into a modern Start screen”