Microsoft claims it took the controversial decision to remove the Start button from the traditional Windows desktop because people had stopped using it.
The lack of a Start button on the Windows 8 desktop has been one of the most divisive elements of the new user interface. It had been widely assumed that Microsoft removed the Start button to force people to familiarise themselves with the new Metro Start screen, which is the centrepiece of the Windows 8 overhaul. However, speaking to PC Pro at TechEd in Amsterdam, a senior Microsoft executive told us that the old Start menu had already fallen out of favour with users of Windows 7.
"We’d seen the trend in Windows 7," said Chaitanya Sareen, principal program manager at Microsoft, referring to the telemetry gathered by the Microsoft Customer Experience Improvement Program. "When we evolved the taskbar we saw awesome adoption of pinning [applications] on the taskbar. We are seeing people pin like crazy. And so we saw the Start menu usage dramatically dropping, and that gave us an option. We’re saying ‘look, Start menu usage is dropping, what can we do about it? What can we do with the Start menu to revive it, to give it some new identity, give it some new power?’"
"So I’m a desktop user, I pin the browser, Explorer, whatever my apps are. I don’t go the Start menu as often. If you’re going to the Start screen now, we’re going to unlock a whole new set of scenarios, or you can choose not to go there, stay in the desktop, and it’s still fast. You can’t beat the taskbar."
Sareen also claims that people are taking advantage of keyboard shortcuts to open applications, instead of resorting to the Start menu. "Press the Windows key and 1 and you’re already in IE [if IE is the first item pinned to your taskbar]. It’s so fast."
Metro for desktops
Sareen was also quick to dismiss criticism that the Metro interface is better suited to touchscreen devices than laptops and desktops.
Demonstrations during the day had seen two Microsoft presenters struggle to make gesture controls work on laptop trackpads, with the Start screen intermittently failing to scroll when the presenters swiped two fingers across the trackpad, for instance. Sareen insisted that the touchpad drivers were still "very, very early" and were "still being refined".
He also claimed that the Metro interface "really works well with the mouse and keyboard", highlighting features such as the option to search for applications simply by starting to type its name on the Metro Start screen.