Why Microsoft removed the Start button from Windows 8

The cause behind Microsoft's controversial decision to remove the Start button from its latest operating system is really quite simple: people had just stopped using it.

The lack of this flagship feature has quickly become one of the most divisive elements of the Windows 8 interface, prompting many to assume Microsoft was hell bent on familiarizing its users with the new Metro Start screen.

But a senior executive with Microsoft cleared the air while speaking to PC Pro at this year's TechEd, the company's annual event for developers and IT professionals.

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"We'd seen the trend in Windows 7," shared Chaitanya Sareen, principal program manager at Microsoft. "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?'"

The obvious answer was nothing, or at least that's what Microsoft is choosing to believe. But Sareen goes on to explain the declining use of the Start button was not entirely responsible for its eventual demise.

"So I'm a desktop user, I pin the browser, Explorer, whatever my apps are. I don't go [to] the Start menu as often," reveals Sareen. "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."


Apparently not everyone is as easily convinced. CNET's Lance Whitney, for one, is quick to point the flaws in Sareen's undying allegiance to the Metro Start screen.

"Windows 7: I'm working in the desktop and want to launch Adobe Photoshop, a program I use only occasionally. I click on the Start button, open the folder for Adobe Suite, and select the shortcut for Photoshop. Clean, simple, and quick."

"Windows 8: I'm working in the desktop and want to launch Adobe Photoshop. Since I use it only occasionally, I don't have it set up as a desktop or taskbar icon. I press the Windows key or click the thumbnail in the lower right hot corner to launch the Metro Start screen. I hunt for the tile for Photoshop, assuming I decided to keep it on the Start screen. If not, then I have to open the Apps screen to locate the software. Finally, I find and click on its tile. Windows then brings me back to the desktop to launch Photoshop. Huh? How is that more efficient or more powerful?"

Whitney highlights just one example of the perils of Windows 8, noting that Microsoft continues to "feel pressure to justify its decision to kill off the Start button." The company received plenty of backlash — via the Building Windows 8 blog and other online resources — from PC users upset with the radical change.

Microsoft appears to be a little bit out of touch with its user base and Whitney finds reproach in its proclivity to focus on data.

"There's something about Microsoft basing its decisions on 'telemetry' that bothers me," he scorns. "How many users participate in the Microsoft Customer Experience Improvement Program? And who are they? Average users? Power users? Using data to help make decisions is fine. But at some point, you have trust your own instincts and listen to the direct feedback from users, even if they disagree with you."

(PC Pro photo)