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Windows 10's make or break feature
From Windows 95 to Windows 10, the Start Menu has gone through many iterations.
After taking a three-year hiatus, the Start menu is back in a big way in Windows 10, which Microsoft
is set to release this summer. Clicking the Start button in Windows 10 will provide a gateway to the
most important and most-used apps on your PC.
As in every version of Windows from 95 to 7, the Start menu in Windows 10 will be where you access
all of your programs, organized alphabetically. It also will have quick links to important items like
settings and power.
But like Windows 8, the new Start button will also feature two columns of resizable tiles that update
with the latest information about weather, social media messages, sports scores, stock prices, your
latest photos and more.
First, let's take a tour of the pre-Windows 10 history of the Start menu:
Windows 95, 98 and Me: Microsoft's first take on the Start menu (below) grouped all the PC's
program files, documents, settings and power management in one place.
Windows XP, Vista and 7: Microsoft
redesigned the Start menu in 2001
(below) -- adding a second column of
quick locations. It included an avatar and
allowed people to pin their most-used or
favorite programs to Start. That version remained in place (with a few tweaks) through Windows 7.
Windows 8: Then in 2012, Start went noticeably absent when Microsoft unveiled its latest operating
And customer reaction ranged from confusion to fury.
Microsoft hears you.
But Microsoft (MSFT, Tech30) also knows that it must get the Windows 10 Start menu exactly right.
So it has been sharing iterations of it with anyone who has a preview version of the program.
Microsoft says it's getting close to the final version, but still it keeps tinkering. The latest tweak
came on Friday.
Here is what how the development of the Windows 10 Start menu has evolved over the past several
October 1, 2014: When Microsoft first introduced the Windows 10 preview, the Start menu (below)
looked like a 50/50 mashup of Windows 7 and Windows 8.
On the left was a virtual carbon copy of the Windows 7 Start menu, and on the right was a replica of
the Windows 8 "Start screen" with live tiles.
The location of the power button was the top left, and search was located on the bottom left.
February 16: Microsoft added the ability to expand the Start menu full-screen (below). A diagonal
expand button was added to the top right, which is where the power button migrated to.
The left-hand column (below) was more clearly divided into "places," "most used" and "recently
added" categories, and the arrow for "all apps" was changed from horizontal to vertical.
April 30: Microsoft then began to refine the look of the Start menu (below). The power settings
moved again, this time to the bottom left. The "places" category and icons were eliminated, replaced
with a few lines of text, including "file explorer," "documents" and settings. The "all apps" arrow was
swapped out for a new icon.
May 29: Microsoft once again fine tuned Start (below). The menu is no longer expandable with the
click of a button -- it's now a setting that you toggle. The settings also allow you to customize your
experience. For example, do you want recently opened apps to automatically appear there?
Microsoft also once again added buttons for file explorer and settings, moving them below the list of
recent apps and above power.
So what now? The Windows 10 Start menu is a major improvement over Windows 8, for sure. But it
doesn't feel quite polished.
For example, Microsoft confusingly has put notifications in three separate locations. Want status
updates and emails? That's in your Action Center. Want your daily news briefing? That's in Cortana.
Want your latest social media updates? That's Start.
Still, Microsoft should be lauded for listening to customer feedback and rapidly making changes.
And the best part of all: Even after Windows 10 is released, Microsoft will still be noodling and
tinkering, sending out frequent minor updates based on how real users like the product.
Now that's a change we can all get behind.
Related: Upgrading from Windows 7 or 8? You'll love Windows 10
Related: Microsoft just showed off the future
of the PC
Related: 'Microsoft Edge' will replace Internet
CNNMoney (New York) May 31, 2015: 6:03