The Windows 10 Start Menu Goes Back to the Future

Microsoft put it back, and not a moment too soon.

The Windows 10 Start Menu
The Windows 10 Start Menu.

Windows 10 is Microsoft's next-generation operating system (OS). It promises to improve on the less-than-warmly-received Windows 8, adding needed features and cutting out unneeded ones.

That list starts with, well, Start. Easily the biggest goof-up Microsoft made in the look and feel of Windows 8 as compared to Windows 7 was the elimination of the Start button, which popped up a menu of recently used programs, search window and helpful shortcuts to your documents, the control panel, music and other necessities.


Can You Say Debacle?

The idea behind killing the Start button was that people had to be forced into the new touch-first world. Windows 8 had Tiles, which one could touch and activate. What really happened, though, was that people looked at the new user interface (UI) and couldn't figure out how to do anything. It made people mad, and sales of Windows 8 still haven't recovered, even though it's now a mature OS that's been updated and improved several times.

Looking to put the non-Start button debacle behind them with the next version, Microsoft has placed Start front and center in Windows 10 (don't ask me what happened to Windows 9; I think Microsoft wanted a feeling of some distance between the OSes, so that no one would think any of Windows 8's mistakes carried over into the next version).

Here's what you need to know about the Start menu in Windows 10 (please keep in mind that this information is from a Windows 10 Technical Preview; that means the software is still in the development stage, and some of these features may -- in fact, will -- be different in the final version.

But they won't be so different as to be unrecognizable from what's here. And, of course, I'll update you on any changes.)

Start Me Up

As you can see in the screenshot at the beginning of this article, it's more like Windows 7 than it is like Windows 8. Pressing the "Windows" key in the bottom left brings up the Start menu.

The new menu is a cross between Windows 7 and Windows 8, but will be more familiar to Windows 7 users who haven't used Windows 8, and were put off by the lack of a Start button. It calls up a list of the most-used apps, and clicking on the "All apps" icon at the bottom, just above the Start button, brings up a list of all applications on the computer.

One nice touch with the list is that it groups items in alphabetical order, making it easier to search. So under the letter "M" on my copy of Windows 10, it lists three different apps: Maps, Money and Music. It's less cluttered than a screen with and endless list of 200 apps.

Above the "Most used" apps list is three other items: File Explorer, Documents and Settings. Both File Explorer and Documents mostly appear to do the same thing, providing access to the files and folders on your hard drive. File Explorer goes further, listing recently-opened files, and folders that are frequently used. Documents seems less useful, simply replicating what File Explorer does but offering fewer shortcuts to recent content. By contrast, the default Windows 7 Start menu has only the Documents menu on it.

Tile Control

Although it's more Windows 7-like than ever, Windows 10 doesn't forget that it will also be used on touchscreens, from laptops to tablets to phones.

So the Tiles from Windows 8 are still there, but to the right of the app listings. Similar to Windows 8, they can be dragged around and resized.

All of this stuff -- the app listings, search window and tiles -- are locked inside a larger box, which sits in the bottom-left corner of the UI. The tiles can't be dragged off of this box, unlike Windows 8, where they can be put wherever you'd like. This "Start Box," if you will, takes up about a quarter of the desktop. It has a dual-ended arrow in the top-right corner which will expand the box to fill the entire desktop. The box itself is now translucent, so you can see what's behind it.

Next to the arrow is another power button to shut down your computer. This is convenient when you have the Start menu filling the screen.

What Users Want

With the new Start menu, it's obvious Microsoft understood the problems users had with Windows 8's "Touch first, everything else second" idea. Many folks -- including yours truly -- work most productively in a desktop environment, with a mouse and keyboard. Touchscreens are great on tablets and phones, along with convertible laptops (laptops that can be used as tablets). They have a great deal of usefulness in certain scenarios.

But Microsoft seems to be figuring out that people use computers in different ways, and that means Windows, the foundation of its company, needs to adapt to those uses. It sounds so simple, but the execution has been lacking. With the Windows 10 Start menu, Microsoft takes a big step toward getting it right.