Removing Start for Windows 8 was the right thing to do

Like them or loathe them, Metro-style apps are here to stay, so let's stop agonising over the lack of a Start button — here are the very good reasons why it makes sense to get rid of it.
Written by Ben Woods, Contributor

It's now time, unless you plan to stop using Windows for the rest of your life, to get over it: the Start button is gone, and that's a good thing.

ZDNet's own David Gewirtz revealed recently how much he hated the decision to remove the Start button and how unintuitive it makes tasks that were previously second nature. And he's by no means alone; a lot of people don't like the fact it's gone, and would rather not have the Windows 8-style (let's just call it 'Metro') interface. 


Likewise, Mary Jo Foley questioned whether 'normal' users will miss it and choose to use a third-party tool for re-instating a 're-imagined' version of the Start button. 

What the Start menu did — what it was really useful for — was being able to access or execute a variety of different functions within Windows, whether that was pulling up the registry editor, quickly accessing a shortcut to favourite program, or whatever.

But that doesn't make sense with a touchscreen. Think about it: let's imagine Windows 8 did have a Start button in its desktop environment. Every time you wanted to find something via Start, you'd have to switch to the desktop view, tap in the Start search box, type in the name of what you're looking for, and then select the right result from the dialogue window.

And that's presuming you're using a device with a keyboard. With just a touchscreen, you'd have to tap open the on-screen keyboard, which would obscure the Start search box anyway.

Now think about the same process in Windows 8's Metro environment: you can swipe from the right-hand side of the screen, tap the search 'charm' (icon) and start typing, and the results will appear right there in the main display space. 

The bonus of the search charm is that it does predictive matching. If you want to open Notepad up quickly, for example, you tap open the charm, start typing 'N-O' and it will display matching apps, whether these are desktop or Metro-style apps.

It will return matches across settings and files too — though these don't all appear in the main display space at the same time, keeping things relatively straightforward.

Another benefit is that if this fails to return what you're looking for, clicking on the Chrome icon below the search charm will directly fire up an internet search using whatever term you've already typed in. You'll be able to trawl the internet and get exactly where you need to, without explicitly going to another part of the system to fire up a browser. You literally tap one icon.

Go with the flow

The 'flow' around the way platforms are used is changing, and it's not just Microsoft doing it. The BlackBerry 10 OS — although a very different beast — has a similar ethos in parts, with the emphasis firmly placed on not having to switch between applications to carry out tasks discretely. Not having to go in and out of different programs to achieve what people want is the ultimate goal.

So while the removal of the Start menu might disorientate people initially, with some time to get used to it, they should quickly realise it's nearly as powerful as the Start menu, which was never going to fit into the new OS world order.

I've been using a Windows 8 tablet (alongside a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, where necessary or appropriate) as my everyday computer for the last eight weeks or so. There's nothing I've needed to do that is more complicated in Windows 8 than Windows 7, and there's plenty that's easier


That's not to say I'm completely sold on all the changes that Windows 8 has rung in. I'm none too keen on the complete lack of plug-in support for browsers in Metro mode. For example, it's inconvenient to have to open up a different instance of Chrome on the desktop to watch Netflix just because the Metro mode doesn't support the Silverlight plug-in. There's no getting around that being annoying.

Add in the fact that Microsoft hasn't provided developers with the APIs required to make an RT-tailored browser, and the picture looks even worse — but it's not one I can see persisting in the long-term.

Some believe the UI has been dumbed down in Metro mode — that if you want to reach PC settings via the right-hand bar, you only get cut-down access, and that you'll need desktop mode to get at the rest. That's right, to a certain extent: if you select the settings charm, what you get is a precis of the full options. But if you know what you want to do — say change the audio output — you won't need to switch to desktop view first.

Instead, you use the charm to search words 'audio' and 'devices', and a whole bunch of matches will pop up, long before you get to the end of typing it. Search is the new Start, just like it is on the internet.

Like it or lump it, the Windows 8 (Metro) interface is here to stay: Microsoft has designed Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and a whole bunch of services like Outlook and Sky Drive around the touch-friendly Metro interface. It's not going anywhere.

There are proper things to moan about with Windows 8, but the lack of a Start button isn't one of them.

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