Dear Microsoft: Add folders to the Windows 8 Start screen

commentary The software maker is bringing a Start "tip" (think Start button) to Windows 8.1. What the OS really needs is a way to better organize your Start screen tiles.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Microsoft has a host of changes in store for Windows 8.1, including a nod in the direction of a Start button that the company is referring to as a Start "tip." But one feature I think would prove more useful would be a simple folder option for the Start screen.

As you install more apps in Windows 8, the OS keeps populating your Start screen with more and more tiles. The more apps you install, the more cluttered and crowded your Start screen becomes. Anyone who installs several dozen or more apps can easily find themselves having to scroll or swipe screen after screen to find a specific app.

Microsoft does offer a few ways to organize your Start screen tiles. You can move tiles around to store them in specific groups, which you can then separate from other groups. You can even add a name to each group to identify it. You can also resize certain tiles so that they take up less screen space. Other options will reportedly pop up in Windows 8.1. But none of them really do much to reduce the clutter of an overcrowded Start screen.

Instead, why can't Microsoft simply add an option to let users set up folders? I realize the company is trying to move away from the whole concept of folders. But folders are still a useful method of organizing data. We still store our documents and files in folders; why not Windows 8 tiles?

Take Apple's iOS as an example. Older versions of iOS offered no folder option, so users had to navigate screen after screen of icons. The more apps you installed, the more disorganized your screens became. Finally, Apple introduced folders in iOS 4.0, allowing users to better store and arrange related apps. On my iPhone and iPad, the apps I use most frequently are laid out individually on my Home screen. Apps I uses less frequently are stored in folders on the second and third screens.

Microsoft could easily adopt the same principle. Windows 8 users could store their live tiles and tiles for commonly-used apps individually and move tiles for other apps into separate folders. Doing so would reduce the clutter and actually put more apps within quicker and easier reach.

The same concept could work in the All Apps screen. This screen lists every single app installed in Windows 8, with some already organized into named groups. But again, the more apps you install, the more scrolling and swiping you have to do to find the app you want. Windows 8.1 will reportedly add the ability to sort your All Apps tiles based on frequency of use as well as other criteria. That's a step in the right direction, but still falls short.

Many Windows 8 users, myself included, have bemoaned the loss of the old Start menu. Though a Start button may be destined for Windows 8.1, Microsoft is unlikely to ever bring back the full Start menu. So, why not give people a little bit of both worlds by at least offering an option to store tiles in folders?

 

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