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Readers Chime In: Bring Back the Start Button for Windows 8!

Last week's post questioning whether Microsoft should have kept the traditional Start button in Windows 8 really hit a nerve. I can't recall a topic of late that has generated such a flood of comments and e-mails.

An overwhelming majority of respondents said Microsoft should bring it back -- some went as far to say the company never should have ditched it in the first place. The pushback comes as PC sales are on pace to decline for the second year in a row and analysts are predicting Windows 8 tablets will only have a single-digit share in 2017. That's not the only bad news. As I noted Friday, now it appears Microsoft has only sold 1.5 million of its Surface devices, according to a report by Bloomberg.

While it's a stretch to blame all that on the absence of the Start button, the visceral reaction is a clear example of how resistant people are to change. "Microsoft should bring back the Start button, I think that it would definitely aid the transition of all Windows users into Windows 8, increasing sales as the result," wrote Kirk Lewis, a tech support expert in Northridge, Calif. "The start button has been the intuitive glue that all desktop versions of Windows have shared since Windows 95."

An IT pro in Montana who supports PCs running everything from Windows 98 to Windows 8 described the removal of the Start button as "probably the worst thing Microsoft could have done."

One consultant said: "This is honestly the first version of Windows I can't recommend to my business customers," while an IT pro expressed his annoyance with Microsoft. "The fact that Microsoft has once again decided that they are smarter than the thousands of administrators who use it every day once again has turned me off," he noted. "Why replace it for the simply sake of replacing it?! Bad call. This looks to me to be the next ME or Vista."

For business and enterprise environments, many IT pros are concerned users will struggle to find and easily launch their programs when running Windows 8 in the classic Desktop mode.

"I have used Win8 enough to understand Microsoft's thinking, but I believe they made a mistake by not including a fully functional Win7 style desktop so people could ease into it," argued another IT pro. "Use of Windows 8 on non-touch screen devices is awkward at best, and without the complete Win7 style interface, it requires a pretty steep initial learning curve. This is because you can't just click past the tile start screen and go to work on the desktop. You have to figure out how to use it, and how to mimic gestures with a mouse, to get anything done. I dread trying to support users through that transition. And this is from someone who has supported users thru the green screen to GUI transition, the Win 3.x to Win 95 transition, Win95 to XP, etc."

Also, third-party Start programs may not be an option for many shops, he added. "Many corporate environments will not allow it," he noted.

Despite all the complaints, a vocal minority believes all this fuss is about nothing and people need the need to change their habits. "It has been since 1995 since Microsoft made a real change in then desktop GUI," says Allen McEuin, MCSE from Louisville, Ky. "Leave it be and get used to it. It ain't 1995 anymore." And said another from Brazil: "Bringing back Start menu would be a major step backwards to this technology."

Then there are some who are actually glad to see it go. "I do not like the Start button and happy that they removed it. It is cleaner and easier to use the 'search' function or the Start screen. I have Win8 on all my computers and it really is not different than Windows 7 except [minus the] Start menu. I understand the annoyance it causes to learn new ways to do it but it is also more efficient and cleaner this way."

Noel from Kentucky agreed: "It took very little time to get to know the interface. The desktop is a click away. You can have all the apps listed with a click or have shortcuts galore. You can still have multiple Windows open. I think some of these respondents may be pushing against Windows 8 for other reasons. Bottom line is that it is a very fast and secure OS."

Microsoft had no comment on the reaction to last week's post on the topic. Though the company has surprised me plenty of times before, I wouldn't bet on Redmond bringing the Start button back.

So how am I dealing with this? I've created shortcuts on the desktop to applications I use most frequently. Using Search is another easy alternative. There are some keyboard shortcuts as well. But it appears many are less forgiving of Microsoft on this one.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/18/2013 at 1:15 PM

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Mar 25, 2013

Here's the plan MSFT, do the following: 1) Bring back the start btn, 2) Make it easy to set a default boot screen, 3) Provide the option to get rid of anything related to the metro screen when using the classic desktop (no hot corners, no swiping from the side etc). The idea is when using the desktop we should not be presented with metro'esque items, 4) Bring back Aero, 5) Get rid of the squared window corners on the 'classic' desktop (feels like it's poking me in the eye) and bring back the rounded corners. I said it before, but each time I am in best buy, people have no clue what to do with the Win8 metro screen and instead just walk away to the apple section and STAY THERE because they understand icons. But sadly Microsoft will not listen...The first look I had at the 'win blue' service pack? continues to have no start btn or ANY of the above requested changes. Maybe it's just time to go back to BSD.

Thu, Mar 21, 2013

This column and others like it are doing a disservice to everyone but the writers. The desire for a start button is merely a symptom of a much larger problem. Balmer just loves cash flow and that is all WIN 8 is about. I enjoy the TECHNO GURU FASHIONISTA PACE SETTERS that tell everyone that if they do not like WIN 8, well they are just LOSERS. The problem is with the entire structure of WIN 8 and its miserable apps architecture. I am sure all Balmer could see was cash flow with everything being purchased thru the WINDOWS STORE. The cutesy but worthless Metro apps, CHARMS BAR (GAG ME WITH A SPOON), and the entire milieu of WIN 8 is just amateurish and poor. The only thing all of the who find WIN 8 a massive step backwards is contributing to a headless behemoth. If I really wanted a phone-like interface, I would buy another phone. Oh, and by the way it wouldn't be the tile-bedecked Windows phone. Too much real estate waste on the screen with silly blocks.

Thu, Mar 21, 2013 A. Papadopoulos Maryland/DC

I will not use it on a PC. I have a small blog about it at

Tue, Mar 19, 2013 Mark Colorado

Demanding the Start button seems to me to be missing the point. Windows 8 is an interface failure on multiple levels. The single largest problem that the Start menu addressed was discoverability of applications in a clean, organized fashion. We do not need a start button/menu. However we needs something better than the Windows 3.1 idea of throwing a bunch of icons on a single screen or relying on search. Search is only valuable if the person performing the search has some expectation of the application existing on the computer and what it might be called. I support over 1,000 systems with over 30,000 potential users and depending on location those systems may have over 80 software packages installed. That is not 80 executables as we count a suite such as Office or Adobe Creative Suite as one software package. If each program in each package gets a tile we could easily be talking about 500 tiles. How do we organize that for our users? Putting icons on the desktop creates the same problem. The logistics do not work beyond the more trivial cases. Apple focuses on the consumer and that is a large part of why business have used Microsoft. At this point are we looking at Linux? At least Apple has kept their UI relatively static since OS X. Microsoft has changed up the UI four times in the same period and this change is very bad. It is not like we did not tell Microsoft during the beta phase that this was unacceptable. Anyone who read the UI team's blog learned that the UI team heard our issues then explained why their data proved we were wrong. In this case the customer is always wrong until they stop buying your product I suppose.

Tue, Mar 19, 2013 Bryan Indianapolis, IN

It's a user interface, plain and simple. All they had to do was keep the start button, and Aero as an alternative. Not doing it they've lost billions. It's also about keeping a desktop without clutter. Many have shortcuts and files all over their desktop. At some point it gets unruly. Now it's a bunch of re sizable yet unmovable colored squares. What are we in 5th grade? Microsoft just needs just one version of Windows 8 with both UIs. It's just a User Interface anyway. How much memory does that take up? It's a theme! People need somewhere to begin. IT people think its redundant, but it means everything for support staff trying to help people. Start buttons are simply a necessity. The fact that M$ couldn't see that after spending billions on a 'user experience' says everything we know about their company.

Tue, Mar 19, 2013 Stu Florida

When I loaded Server 2008 and I was confronted with libraries for photos, videos and music I scratched my head - this was supposed to be a 'business' server. The changes in navigation in Office 2010 and now W8 have convinced me that Microsoft is anti business. I don't want questions from staff about how to do the routine stuff in the new products - we have a business to run not keep trying to master the latest UI from Redmond.

Tue, Mar 19, 2013 Dan Iowa

By the way, my favorite posts on this topic, are the ones from people who bring back the start menu, and then start complaining about it not quite working right. (You have to scroll through the menus with a mouse, and it takes too many clicks to go through the submenus.) In my experience the third party start menu apps are just a crutch that let you do things until inevitably, somebody who uses Windows 8 explains how much easier it is to do things a different way, and the start menu app doesn't get used as much anymore.

Tue, Mar 19, 2013 Dan Iowa

I guess you can count me a the vocal minority then. If you really want the start button back, you can have it with a third party app, but face it, for Windows 8, a true "Start button" should do nothing more than bring up the "Start Screen". What you are probably really saying is that you want the "Start Menu" brought back. I'd bet that the "vocal minority" of users, that are saying the Start Screen works just fine if not better than the old Start Menu, are probably the people who are actually using Windows 8. That other group that pines over the antiquated Start Menu is most likely the group of users who are still using a Mac or Windows 7 or older OSs, who are essentially speaking without experience. This could turn out to be like Vista where essentially the greatness of Windows 8 does not become apparent until it is released with another name, (Windows 8.5?, Windows 9) The new version will probably have a Start button that you can enable which does nothing more than the equivalent of hitting the Windows key on a keyboard (bring up the Start Screen). Then we will all be singing the praises of the great new OS. (Remember how UAC was the devil in Windows Vista? Then with Windows 7 somehow it wasn't so bad anymore.)

Tue, Mar 19, 2013 Laz

I don't get people moaning about the whole start button. You move the mouse to the bottom left and click. Then you chose a program. The process is identical in w7 and w8. Apart from you don't have to mess around with fiddly submenus and hovering. W8 is much better than w7, and if you get a convertible laptop, its amazing.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013

Windows 3.1 didn't have a start menu. Powershell is kind of like DOS or BASIC commands that we used to run. Are we rolling back around and starting over like the fashion industry? What was old is new again? Somebody is laughing all the way to the bank.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013

While the start button may be "old" technology, that doesn't make it bad. If you are using a computer as a toy and enjoy all the new fluff that is fine. If you own a business and want productivity from your employees, that is another story. I want my employees spending time advancing their skills beyond the basics, not relearning basic navigation every three years. Any changes that are made to the UI should have an immediate benefit. If it doesn't, then leave it out. The only added value to the new interface is the benefit that Microsoft gets by marketing something that looks new. It doesn't help my business. Over the years Microsoft has vastly improved Windows. However, they could have done it without renaming and moving everything to new locations. Users could spend time digging deeper and improving their skills to take advantage of the real improvements in the OS and other software.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013

WinRT is dead. Surface RT is dead. Time to wake up in Redmond: IT'S SILVERLIGHT OR NOTHING...

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 StupidBallmer

This was the most idiotic change made by Microsoft. They should have given the option to the user. Future is the hybrid of desktop and tablet. For tablet, metro UI is grreat but for convetional desktop with mouse, start button is a must. Microsoft should have given the option to swtich between these two interfaces. With this simple change and hybrid hardware, Windows 8 would have been a super hit. Why these simple things are so hard to understand by topshots getting millions is hard to understand.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Michael Tarlton Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Back when Vista was just coming on the scene, I attended a TechNet-badged live event at a local movie theater. Different Microsoft presenters took their turns wowing everyone with all the latest "stuff" you could do with Vista and whatever the latest Office products were at that time (this was before it had been around long enough to get its tainted reputation). One thing none of them made a big deal about but I found quite interesting was how they were launching their apps. Instead of drilling down in the Start menu or double-clicking icons on the desktop, they would with click an app icon they had anchored to the task bar (this was a new concept then), or even more interestingly, the would click the Start button and simply type 2 or 3 letters of an apps name (e.g., wor, or pow, or exc, etc.). The instant search feature would magically pop up the desired app's name in the search results, and they would click it. I thought this was great because you didn't have to remember where the icon was, you just typed a few characters and the icon came to you! I always felt this was a feature that was under-promoted. I began using it immediately, but I found that very few of my peers were using it. Now fast-forward to Windows 8. In this OS, you almost HAVE to launch your apps in this manner, albeit from the Charms area instead of the Start button. As a result of my previously described experience, I had no trouble whatsoever with adapting to Windows 8. I can completely avoid the "Start screen" if I want, use the classic desktop exclusively, and not miss a beat. Perhaps if Microsoft had marketed the instant search capability for launching apps a little harder over the past few years, there wouldn't be so much gnashing of teeth now. An opportunity lost, I guess.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013

I believe that Microsoft should have made the Start Button an option, so that users are in control and can make a choice of what works best for them. Microsoft thought they knew best and forced a change on users and now users have a different choice, whether to use Window 8 or not.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Paul USA

I find these types of articles interesting. We've been deploying Win 8 with customers for some months now and, within a day, the general reaction of actual users is that Win 8 is actually pretty easy. I rarely get a lot of pushback about the Start button. Once shown how to tailor their start page titles a bit, they like it. In most places, it's the tech types that are much more stuck on the start button, desktop shortcuts and the like. They seem to get immediately hung up on the change - and don't spend the time to get used to Win 8. Once you do, most of the fuss goes away.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Dan Canada

Every week you write the same thing: last week's post on the missing start button.... Have you already run out of interesting things to write about? Or are we going through a slow news year? Or is it a trick to generate more comments than other subjects might generate?

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Tom Boston, MA

One other point - a touch interface on a desktop monitor is a nonstarter for those of us suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and, in my case, frozen shoulder. We can't reach out and drag stuff around a screen without pain. A mouse and keyboard is bad enough, but this type of interface doesn't work for us. And don't get me started about a voice interface! Here in Cubicleland, I don't feel comfortable talking to the computer with a dozen other people within earshot.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013

I don't miss the Start button that much. Now that I've used Windows 8 for a while, I think the Start Button was hindering my efficiency in Windows 7. The best example... start typing on the Start screen to search on Win 8. Now go do in in Windows 7 and you realize how much of this interface was already there. The problem is that most users never knew it. One thing that could help a lot would be if you could make the "All Apps" control (right-click from the start screen) could be made available from a right-click on the desktop... or perhaps pinnable on the task bar.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013

Let us not lose sight of the basic fact this is still 1995 technology. On a desktop PC you are still going to be using a mouse and a keyboard. You can puff yourself up about your innovative flair, but the core technology on the desktop has not changed. Kluging together a phone interface on a PC is not dumb, it is stupid.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Juan C. Vega Philadelphia, PA

The new Win8 interface is a delight. I am not sure why such a big hoopla over the "missing" Start button. The Start button was nothing more than a place to click and get a list of links to other applications. That is exactly what you have with the Tiles!!! minus the extra click. So, instead of clicking twice (Start, and then desired program), you click ONCE on the tile that represents your desired program. And, you can [with one click] go to desktop mode. I would bet that almost (dare I say, everyone) how is complaining about the missing start button, uses some sort of device (be it phone or tablet) that has NO Start issues! It's called adaptation. Move on - the ability to have one common look/feel for Desktop/Laptop/Mobile Phone/Tablet device, etc. and all work the same - that's a huge win, in my opinion. Great work MS.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Russell Oregon

It's not about resistance to change!!! We love change!!! We want more money, better health, cool new devices!!! We're resistant to counter-productivity, to making Windows HARDER to use!!! The O/S has to accomodate the innumerable Windows applications that currently exist and will exist for many years to come. We need multiple windows up at any one time, and to interact among them. Windows 8 is such an IOS wannabe that it's lost it's advantage - WINDOWS!!!

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Dennis

Once you use Windows 8 for a couple of days you get past the need for the start button. There are things that MS need to improve but the start button would be very low on my priority list.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Rob

I've only used Win8 on a tablet so far, but without using an external mouse, there is literally no way to get the 'pseudo' start button to appear. Easy enough to swipe in from the right to get it, but it should either be there or not. Hiding it and making it difficult to use is not helpful.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013

In trying to be cool again to consumers Microsoft made it harder on their business users. In my company we are not going to all be given new touchscreens. Using the new Win 8 interface without the classic desktop and Start button is a joke if you don't have a touch screen. We set up one Win 8 desktop for evaluation. I have used Windows since 3.0 and I was confused by the new UI. There is a lesson here for Microsoft. Be Microsoft, don't be Apple.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Sheila Los Angeles, CA

I support about 50 users in a corporate environment. I think the most important thing support staff needs to do is be sure the users understand that any desktop has a taskbar, which is a much more effiecient and faster method of of opening your applications and the files you use the most within each application. If the Windows 7 support staff had been teaching them all the features in Windows 7 and how to take advantage of them, then the transition to Windows 8 becomes minimal. You only have to teach them a few more 'tips and tricks" and their good to go.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Dave Wade Central California

I think the Statrt button should come back. Having supported Microsoft Products since Windows95 and NT3.5, The loss of the "Start" button is a major mistake. Many novice users, that had issues going from XP to Windows7 will not be able to deal with the changes. Those users with more skill, will find it difficult at best. I am not currently recommending Windows8 to my customers and will not do so until forced or when the GUI is easier for the novice user.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Michael Watts New Jersey

"I've created shortcuts on the desktop to applications I use most frequently." - But why should you, or anyone, have to do this. Why can't we all just have something that we click on to get to the applications we need once they're installed? Whether that's an application we need every day or once a year? "Using Search is another easy alternative." - Because we all know how well Microsoft Search works.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013

OK, Can one of you "Start Button" lovers please tell me why you like it? I, for one, hated it and was glad to see it become a start page. I can't seem to understand what the uproar is about.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Greg San Diego

Yes it is faster and seems quite stable. But to not give and option of having a start menu if you would like seems like a big mis-step. But like everyother "upgrade" we will adapt and get used to it. Just in time for m$ to change it all again.......

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 TNS

"Win8 Start" is free, and puts the start button back where you want it. It also lets you assign keystrokes to use "Metro" (are we still calling it Metro?) when you want. Win 8 runs nicely on older hardware. It made two previously unusable "StinkPAD" models run like a dream. *MY* big complaint about this program is the scrolling. Why can't I scroll on the screen with "the Hand"? I need to scroll using the sliders, which forces me to push them the OPPOSITE direction I want the screen to go. That's just dumb.

Mon, Mar 18, 2013 Steven Newman USA

Jeffrey, I love Windows 8... once I installed the free Classic Shell (C Shell)... - It restores the Start button and Program folders. Without that, it was all but unusable. With that one simple little add-in, all was great again.

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