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Return of the Microsoft Windows® Start Menu

Microsoft Windows has been the mainstay of computer operating systems, thanks to intuitive design and genius marketing. The operating system is the software that runs your computer, allowing hardware like mice, keyboards and printers to interact with your computer. It provides the GUI (graphical user interface) so that you can run applications, browse the web and perform all the necessary functions that a computer provides. Windows 1.0 was the first public version, released in November of 1985. At the time, it revolutionized operating system design for the PC. Previous versions had no graphics, just text. Each command had to be typed in. For the average user, remembering all those commands was a challenge. Adding a graphical user interface created a more intuitive design, allowing new users to “click” applications and see the various functions you could perform with the computer.

Microsoft’s current operating system of choice, Windows 8.1, is still somewhat new to the market. Like most new operating systems, adoption has been slow and somewhat painful. Although there are a lot of really cool, nice-to-have features – as well as improved security – the user experience is so much different from previous versions. When I first loaded up my test station, I was impressed with the “tiled” look of the user interface. Simple enough, clicking on a tile took me to that application. Gone was the familiar look and feel of a start menu. Admittedly, this took some getting used to. And lead to a few frustrated expletives being uttered.

Microsoft purposefully designed Windows 8.1 for touch enabled screens, and to mimic other devices they sell. The Surface Tablet, the Windows Phone, even Xbox One are using the tiled interface. The idea was to create a similar experience for users across all devices, thereby making it easier to transition from device to device. While the idea is sound, making such a massive change can create some difficulties. After all, the people that actually USE the software have to be able to get around in it. That task should be easy, not made difficult with “improvements”.

Microsoft recently provided a first look at Windows 10, the successor to Windows 8.1. Latest information sets the release date sometime in the middle of 2015. Windows 10 is being touted as having many of the features of Windows 8.1, but fixing all the problems. It’s almost like Microsoft released Windows 8.1 to test the new design, so that Windows 10 could incorporate any corrective actions needed.

Much to my surprise (and satisfaction) the start menu has returned, although tweaked a bit from the familiar look of Windows XP or Windows 7. In addition to the normal start menu features, there are now tiles located to the right of the start menu. This design seems like a good compromise for users who like the start menu, but also the convenience of the tiles. For Windows Phone and tablet users, the start menu is automatically disabled as it’s not needed. You can manually enable it if you so desire.

The search bar on the Windows 10 start menu is also more robust. In addition to searching your local computer for the text entered, it also displays search results from the web. So typing in “kittens” would search your documents and pictures, as well as the internet for “kittens”. So that elusive kitten’s document will be easily found, and you can look at kitten pictures from your internet search. Reading back through that, I’d probably pick a manlier subject to search.
Task View is a new feature of Windows 10. Task View lets you quickly view all desktops with running applications, so you can easily switch between them. While you could do something similar to this previously via keyboard shortcuts or by clicking around a bit, Task View is much simpler and faster. For users like myself, who often have a few applications going at once, it will speed up and simplify moving between them.

Some of you reading this will ask “I loved my Microsoft XP and Windows 7 – it’s what I know – why can’t I just stick with that?” So why do Microsoft, and other software vendors, end support for older versions of software? Much of this has to do with cost. Maintaining support staff, software developers, and other faculties to support more than a few versions of software would be very expensive. By focusing on just a few different versions, companies are able to invest the time and energy needed to properly support and improve them. As new versions are released, the old ones are retired. Additionally, other enhancements are added to improve the stability and reliability of the software. This is necessary to meet the demands of security, as well as newer and faster hardware.

Looking back, Microsoft has come a long way from Windows 1.0. When I started my career, Windows 95 was “awesome”, but not remotely as stable as later versions. When new versions are released, I embrace the change and look forward to exploring the new features. After all, change can be for the better!

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Matt Rice, CTO

Matt is a graduate of Central Maine Technical College. He has been with Burgess since 2001, acting as Service Manager, then General Manager, before becoming an owner. Matt focuses on developing and delivering technologies that fit best with customer needs.

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