Ending a Windows tradition

Start button in Windows 95
It has been just a little over 11 years since the concept of the “Start” menu was introduced to Windows 95. Ever since, “Start” has revolutionized the way people launched applications on their computer. Today, it is quite easily the most commonly associated visual element with the Windows operating system. But Vista is going to change all that.

Start menu comparison between Windows XP and Windows Vista

“Start” has been in the center of ridicule ever since it was introduced. The contradiction of using “Start” to shut down the computer was unbelievably humorous to some. The label “Start” has been removed because it is no longer relevant in computing today, as we have become so familiar with the concept that it has become redundant and almost annoying.

The new button has been named “Windows Pearl” and “Windows Jewel” by some, however, the label of the button remains to be “Start”. I presume the name has been kept for legacy support, as undoubtedly ever piece of Windows documentation refers to the “Start” menu. Even so in the Windows Vista help files.

“Start” plays an important new role in Windows Vista as the launching pad for everything you’ll want to do on the computer. By integrating search into the “Start” menu, not only does it make finding files and applications much more convenient, but it changes the whole philosophy of “Start”. Where “Start” only used to only concern applications, in Vista, it will help you access everything on your computer.

An example of how “Start” is changing in Vista can be clearly demonstrated by email. In previous versions of Windows, to access email you could normally launch your preferred email application by using the “Start” menu. But in Windows, you could simply search the contents of your email straight from the “Start” menu, and open up the exact email you are looking for without even touching your email application. This not only brings convenience to finding content, but also fundamentally changes the way we work with applications and files.

The new “Start” allows for much more than just launching applications. Just like how Spotlight in OSX has revolutionized the way people work with documents and files, the new “Start” will do the same for Windows.

15 insightful thoughts

  1. *lies flowers on the start menu’s grave* I think it is better this way. (I don’t have vista, but when you hover over the *orb*, does it still say “Click here to begin”?

  2. It is a bit weird that Office 2007 and Vista both have orbs – having two on the screen at once. I am not sure about the usability of the orb, maybe it was a “we want it to look cool” feature. I just hope messenger doesn’t get orbed too.

  3. You can still use the Win+R shortcut to open “Run”, alternatively, you can just type the command straight into “Start” and most of the time it should work.

  4. The start-menu concept is flawed /anyway/, since it adds an additional click (and expensive miliseconds) to do anything.

    There are dozens of start-menu alternatives, from the excessibly aesthetic (and imo, unusuable) to the utilitarian. I feel a decent start-menu/panel replacement shouldn’t require any clicks to open, should have no delays, must be clearly labelled, and be aesthetic.

    Until we see the wonderful new UI I’ve been hearing about in Windows Vienna, I recommend you check out FreeLaunchBar.

  5. Perhaps you might want to suggest what’s the best alternative to a start menu which simultaneously supports legacy and is “usable”. I think MS has done an excellent job at getting rid of the cascading menus for All Programs, and an extra click, is it really going to eat your life? You can always hit the start key on your keyboard and then use accelerated shortcut keys to navigate your way around. I don’t get it, FreeLaunchBar also requires a click, or you can probably assign a shortcut key, but hey that’s the same as the start panel? And what happens when your launch bar gets a billion shortcuts in it, it’ll be just as hell trying to find your app.

  6. Well now that i come to think about it, i used to explain to people how to open things by saying “go start, programs” etc. now its
    “go ‘shiny jewlely thing’ -> programs”

    although i guess you COULD go jewly thing type ahead nero
    but what if you don’t know the exact name of their app, and they HAVE to go through the start menu system!!!
    But its not the start menu system anymore
    AGHHH tech support issues for new computer users are going to be hard from here on..

  7. David Burela, just tell the user to press Ctrl+Esc or the WinKey, like how you use WinKey+PrntScren to get the System control panel up when the user isn’t knowledgeable enough to get to it the long way.

  8. NON-Cascaded Start menu of Vista has one undeniable advantage – it doesn’t require users to hunt precisely through endless sublevels of tiny menus. It saves users’ desperation when they accidentally click away from a submenu, avoiding the need of starting “the hunt” again. It requires one or two additional clicks (note that submenus tend to expand automatically in Vista), but is MUCH easier to aim the desired item.

  9. And this is a good thing? The Folder-file metaphor has been with us from the beginning, and it didn’t come from computer-land, but from office organization bureacracy-land, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Vista appears to be replacing the metaphor of opening drawers and files and folders to find things that are organized in a rational way with a giant Junkpile that one accesses with Magic Search Word typed in a blank box. “Windows” originally succeeded over DOS because it replaced command-line incantations with a menuing system that allows users to organize things and find things without remembering all the magic words, or the precise name of a file. Search is important but MS seems to be losing its mind here with the threat of Google looming, and I predict it won’t be good for them in the long run.

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