Windows 8: Evolving the Startmenu

Posted by bink on October 4 2011, 8:56 PM.

How is the Start menu used?

….let’s discover how people are actually using it. We thought it would be interesting to see how the usage of the menu has changed over time. Figure 3 reveals the change in Start menu usage across the two versions of Windows.

Table listing Start menu features and their percent change in usage: Pictures: -61%, Documents: -56%, Control Panel:-54%, Pinned items: -51%, All Programs: -42%, Computer: -40%, MFU: -28%, Start menu open: -11%. Fig 3: Change in Start menu feature usage between Windows Vista and Windows 7

It is striking to see how dramatically different the use of the Start menu is in Windows Vista vs. Windows 7. Some of the Special Folders (what we call those items on the right side of the menu) dropped in use by over 50%. Likewise, people accessed pinned items on the Start menu half as often in Windows 7 than they did in Vista. People also access All Programs and the MFU far less often. Finally, we see an 11% drop in how often people are opening the Start menu at all. 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. 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.

So why the change in how people are using the Start menu? Here’s a hint—it has something to do with that bar at the bottom of your screen that was introduced in Windows 7.

The “Start bar”

The evolution of the Windows taskbar directly impacted the Start menu. What once was locked behind a menu suddenly came closer to you. The most obvious advancements were the introduction of Quick Launch by Internet Explorer 4.0’s Windows Desktop Update in 1997, as well as the more recent taskbar pinning in Windows 7.

Interesting side story: did you know that Quick Launch was initially disabled by default in Windows XP because some people believed the MFU list and pinning in the Start menu would suffice? We saw a volume of evidence to the contrary, and so we reversed the decision (though back then, the data upon which we based these decisions was limited, so we don't really know what a broad variety of customers were doing). What we took away from this was that it was important for you to be able to designate what apps you care about, see them all in one place, and have them be one click away, rather than trying to guess what is important through software heuristics or having important items mixed with less important items.

To really bring this all home, let’s take a look at where people are pinning their apps. Figure 4 reveals that 85% of people have three or more items pinned to the taskbar compared to a mere 23% who have the same number pinned to the Start menu. Although the taskbar and Start menu have different pinned defaults, many people do customize both of them when they want to. The message is clear that the majority of people want most of their apps on the taskbar rather than having to dig into Start.

Top bar chart shows 41% of users pin 0 apps to Start menu, 21% pin 1 app to Start menu, and 5% or less pin 5 or more apps to Start. Bottom bar chart shows 9% or less of users pin either 0, 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9,or 10 apps to the taskbar, while  30% pin 3 apps to taskbar, 23% pin 4 apps to taskbar, and 15% pin 5 apps to taksbar. Fig 4: Number of pinned apps on the Start menu (top) vs. on the taskbar (bottom)

Full story at Windows 8 blog:

Evolving the Start menu - Building Windows 8 - Site Home - MSDN Blogs