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Microsoft defends its Windows 8 Metro Start screen

In the face of ongoing user concerns about the new Start screen in Windows, Microsoft continues to try to explain and defend its decision to switch to the new Metro user interface design.

Lance Whitney/CNET

Microsoft is trying to justify its new Windows 8 Metro user interface Start screen in the wake of ongoing concerns and complaints from unhappy users of the developer preview.

In the latest update to the Building Windows 8 blog, Alice Steinglass, the group program manager for the Core Experience Evolved team, tried to explain the need for a new approach to the Windows Start screen.

Citing evidence that more people are using the Taskbar to launch programs, Steinglass said that the traditional Start menu is limited in scope as it's not well-optimized for launching or searching for applications. As such, Microsoft felt the need to rethink the entire Start process in Windows, including the overall Start screen.

"The Start screen is not just a replacement for the Start menu--it is designed to be a great launcher and switcher of apps, a place that is alive with notifications, customizable, powerful, and efficient. It brings together a set of solutions that today are disparate and poorly integrated," Steinglass said.

Microsoft designed the new Metro UI Start screen to give users access not just to their applications but to provide live updates to news, people, activities, and other relevant items, according to Steinglass. Users will also be able to customize the Start screen beyond what's possible in the current developer preview, giving them more control over how they tile and group the tools that they use.

In yet another change from the past, Microsoft has jettisoned the concept of folders, claiming that folders are more often used to bury things rather than organize them. Instead, the Windows 8 Start screen will prompt users to unite their apps by group.

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"Once the apps are organized into groups, zooming out provides an at-a-glance view of the groups (similar to looking at a folder list)," explained Steinglass. "From the zoomed out view, you can jump directly into any group just as you would open a folder. For those wishing to stash certain programs out of sight, you can always remove the pinned icon from Start and use search to access it, or just put the program at the far end of the Start page. This is by far the most efficient way to manage a large library of apps."

Windows President Steven Sinofsky acknowledged that the new Start screen is an attempt to be all things to all people.

"We designed Start to be a modern, fast, and fluid replacement for the combination of launching, switching, notifying, and at-a-glance viewing of information," said Sinofsky in a preface to the blog post. "That's a tall order. And of course, we set out to do this for the vast majority of customers, who are more familiar with the Start menu, mouse, and keyboard, as well as for new customers using touch-capable devices."

But as many of the commenters have pointed out, a Metro-based Start screen that may work smoothly on a mobile device with a touch screen doesn't work as well on a PC dependent on keyboard and mouse. In response, the post tried to assuage PC users unhappy about the Metro UI that the current developer preview doesn't paint the whole picture.

"There are things we're still working on, that aren't yet finished in the Developer Preview," Steinglass said. "For example, we know there are bugs in interacting at high speed with the scroll wheel on the mouse, and we're working on fixing these. We're also adding the ability to instantly zoom out with the mouse and keyboard, and we're looking at ways to make scrolling faster and easier. And, we are working on fixing a bug in the Developer Preview that causes inconsistent and slow page-down/page-up behavior. We're also looking at making rearranging more predictable for mouse, keyboard, and touch."