The Problems with the Windows 8 Start Screen

A lot of attention has been paid to the problems that enterprise users have with the new Windows 8 Start Screen. Most of the discussion seems to center around the fact that the old-style Start Menu is no longer available, but I don’t think that’s the issue. The problems are inherent in the new Start Screen itself, and the reason that the discussion is focused on the old Start Menu is simply that it happens to do the job better than the new Start Screen. I think that if Windows 8 had a navigation mechanism that helped enterprise users accomplish their tasks, nobody would be clamoring for the restoration of the old menu.

Here are what I think are the main problems with the Start Screen:

  • It’s a poor use of screen real estate. The main reason to use the Windows 8 desktop (aside from the fact that an application will only run on the desktop) is to have multiple applications and files open on the screen. Clicking on the Start button and having entire display taken up by the Start Screen is disruptive and breaks the desktop metaphor. The old Start Menu, on the other hand, only took up a small portion of the screen and could be quickly dismissed, restoring the screen to its previous state.Even worse, when multiple displays are used, Windows 8 allocates an entire display to the Start Screen. The old Start Menu never permanently monopolized a display.
  • It’s insufficiently hierarchical. The new “Metro” (for want of a better term) apps are simple and self-contained, and the Start Screen is designed to display them in a uniform wall. Enterprise software is different and much more complex. Many enterprise products (including JNBridgePro and the JNBridge adapters) are suites of applications and associated tools and scripts, plus documentation, source code, and examples. When installed in Windows 8, everything is installed in a tile at the top level of the Start Screen. While it’s true that tiles can be grouped, that’s insufficient – we need ways to hide less-used tools, and to group applications and documents by function. The hierarchical folders of the old Start Menu serve that purpose just fine. The grouped tiles of the new Start Screen do not.
  • It’s unsuited for exploration. Microsoft has stated that the main reason the Start Menu was phased out was that users typically pinned the applications they most frequently used to the task bar, and didn’t much use the Start Menu.  That’s probably true, but it doesn’t help much with complex enterprise applications that, as stated above, have multiple tools and documents, many of which aren’t frequently used and probably wouldn’t be pinned to the task bar. In addition, the user will likely not be aware of most of these more obscure tools and documents until they’re actually needed. In such cases, Microsoft suggests using the search mechanism to find the file by typing its name, but that assumes that (1) you know its name sufficiently accurately to get a good match in the search, and (2) you know that the file actually exists even before you search for it. Shouldn’t there be a usable mechanism for drilling down into the product’s installation hierarchy to discover these lesser-known tools and files? The old Start Menu allowed us to do this, but the new Start Screen doesn’t really support this activity very well.

What do you think about the Windows 8 Start Screen? Do you think it will help you do your work, or will it get in the way. Leave a comment, or contact us at