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Microsoft explains reason for Windows 8 Start menu

Already receiving concerns from users over the new Metro-based Start menu in Windows 8, Microsoft is planning some changes to the feature but believes that it's the right step.

Lance Whitney/CNET

Windows 8's new Metro-based Start menu has already aroused concerns and questions among users, but Microsoft sees the feature as a natural evolution.

In the latest Building Windows 8 blog, Chaitanya Sareen, program manager lead on Microsoft's Core Experience Evolved team, acknowledged some of the questions about the new Start menu from worrisome users.

"With regard to the main user experience, particularly Start, we're noticing some themes in your comments," Sareen said.

"Will there be a way to close Metro-style apps without going to Task Manager? (Yes there will be, but we also want to talk about why you probably won't need to use it.) Are we going to do anything to make the mouse more efficient in scrolling through your programs in Start? (Yes, we'll improve that experience and show you much more in the beta.) Some of you have talked about it feeling less efficient to cycle through your recent programs compared to using the Taskbar (and we'll have more to say about that in future posts)."

Although Microsoft has several tweaks in mind before Windows 8 officially launches, Sareen tried to explain why the company has adopted the new touch-centered Start menu. Comparing using touch with using a mouse, he said touch screens have become mainstream pretty much everywhere except for the PC. But the move toward touch on the PC has to start somewhere.

"Just like the introduction of the mouse, innovations like this do not happen without new OS support, new apps, and new hardware," Sareen said. "We believe that, as with the mouse, we will see touch augmenting, but not replacing, most every aspect of the PC experience over time."

Related stories:
• Windows 8 to offer both Metro and desktop interface
• Will Windows 8 Take the Touchscreen PC Mainstream?
• Windows 95 to Windows 8: Microsoft's love affair with the Start menu
• Windows Start menu over the years (screenshots)
• Windows 8 Developer Preview: Come and get it

Taking us on a tour of the Start menu from Windows 95 to XP to Vista to Windows 7, Sareen noted how the feature had to evolve and improve with each new operating system. But even in Windows 7, the Start menu can present certain drawbacks, such as a lack of true customization and a cramped sense of space.

Moving beyond the Start menu, people now rely on the Taskbar, notification area, and desktop icons to launch applications and perform other tasks. The goal behind the Windows 8 Start menu was to take all of those elements and create a more harmonious approach, according to Sareen.

"With the Windows Taskbar becoming the key launcher and switcher for the desktop, and the Start menu being revealed as a poor everyday launcher, an opportunity appeared to reimagine Start and make it into something more valuable...Improved search, more room for all your programs, tiles that are alive with activity, and richer customization all suddenly become possible when the venerable, but aging, Start menu is transformed into a modern Start screen."

Although the blog post touched on this topic, it didn't specifically respond to the general concerns that many people have over the Metro UI. But Sareen promised further blog posts on the new Start menu, giving readers more opportunity to chime in with their comments and questions.