The death of the Start menu: Microsoft's defense goes into high gear

Microsoft has written volumes about how we don't need a Windows 7-style Start menu in Windows 8 -- Microsoft is wrong

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The final blog talks a bit about enterprise IT, but many of the proffered advantages of the Start screen approach apply to the Start menu as well -- for example, the ability to remove items from the Start menu and lock it down. While the final version of Windows 8 will "support deployment scenarios that include Start screens with a layout of tiles that matches their business group's needs, allowing for an even greater number of pinned apps to be pre-defined for their users," it isn't at all clear that having more Start screen tiles will do anything to improve worker productivity. The ability to put 150 app tiles on a 27-inch monitor's Start screen just gives me a headache.

Before you haul out the tar and feathers, realize that all of this is changing. In the Developer Preview, you only see simple demo Metro apps, for example, but soon many of the apps you'll want to use all the time will be on the Start screen. That may make the black hole more appealing. Or maybe not. We're still in the Developer Preview -- not even in beta -- so anything can happen. But more and more people are starting to get worried that the black hole will ship in the final version of Windows 8.

(By the way, you can bring back the old Windows 7 Start menu in the Windows 8 Developer Preview. J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog shows you how. Be aware of the fact that by filling in the black hole, you lose the ability to see the Metro tiles.)

Microsoft says that this debate about Start menu versus Start screen is "eerily like the debate in the 1980s over whether a mouse was a gimmick, a productivity time waster, or an innovation in the user experience." I disagree. The debate is a whole lot more like the one over the ribbon in Office 2007. (Full disclosure: I don't like the ribbon, and I never have.) In that case, Microsoft made a wholesale change to the user interface, throwing away a perfectly usable -- but arguably less capable -- interface that millions knew, replacing it with a new interface that threw everyone into months of therapy.

I hope and pray that the current Windows 8 management team learned a bitter lesson from the Office 2007 team. (I say that realizing fully that they're basically the same people.) Office 2007 sales took a hard hit because enterprises -- and, to a lesser degree, individuals -- didn't want to learn the new interface. It would've been trivially easy for Microsoft to build Office 2007 with both the ribbon and an option to switch the old menus back on. Microsoft didn't, and it lost a lot of sales because of that decision.

Even if the Start screen is the greatest thing since object-oriented programming, Microsoft still needs to give us an option to bring the old Start menu back. It doesn't need to be pretty. It doesn't need to do anything different. It doesn't even need to link to the Metro, er, Start screen apps. It just has to be there. Give us a chance to use both the Start menu and the Start screen, and let us make the transition at our own pace.

This story, "The death of the Start menu: Microsoft's defense goes into high gear," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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