I keep reading critiques of Windows 8 whose central premise is that Microsoft needs to bring back the Start menu.
And I ask, in all seriousness, why?
Yes, there are legitimate concerns about the changes in the Windows 8 user interface. The learning curve is steep, some of its most basic new functions are difficult to discover, and parts of the UI are, frankly, unfinished and in transition. Windows 8.1 needs to fix those problems.
But simply plopping a Start menu on the screen isn't the solution. The problems with Windows 8 weren’t caused by the removal of the Start menu. All of the things you can do with the Start menu in Windows 7 can be accomplished using the new interface.
Don’t believe me? Here, look at the Windows 7 Start menu, where I’ve highlighted its core functions.
Let’s go through each of those five parts.
1 - Search
In both Windows 7 and Windows 8, you start a search by tapping the Start button or moving the mouse pointer to the lower left corner of the screen and clicking. (The fact that there’s no Start button in Windows 8 doesn’t matter; that gesture still works.)
In Windows 7, you can begin typing as soon as you see the Start menu. Your input appears in the box at the bottom of the Start menu, and as you type, the Start menu’s contents adjust to show programs, settings, and files that match your input.
That unified list might be a good thing if you find exactly what you’re looking for. But it’s limited to the top three results in each category, which means your search term has to be very specific or you have to click the heading to open another window. At that point it’s not really a shortcut anymore.
In Windows 8, you can just start typing at the Start screen to begin a search. Results appear immediately as tiles on the left, and you’re not limited to three items in the list.
Click (or tap) Settings to find matching results in Control Panel options, as shown below.
And then there’s Files search, the weakest of the three options. I get more complaints about this than any other aspect of Windows 8, so here’s a tip. Ignore the Files option on the Start screen and use the search box in File Explorer (on the desktop) instead. If you remember the keyboard shortcut Windows + E, it’s easy.
2 – Pin
In Windows 95, it was a big deal that you could pin program shortcuts to the Start menu. But Windows 7 added the ability to pin programs to the taskbar, which meant that you didn’t have to visit the Start menu at all.
The taskbar is still there on the Windows 8 desktop, which means you can still pin your most frequently used programs to it, which means once you get to the desktop and pin those program shortcuts you can mostly ignore the Start screen.
And you can pin programs (including some system shortcuts) to the Start screen too.
So, those desktop programs you use occasionally but not often enough to warrant cluttering the taskbar with? Pin them to the Start screen in a custom group. Call it Utilities or Extras or, really, whatever you want, and those pinned shortcuts are never more than a tap of the Windows key away.
There's an All Programs shortcut at the bottom of the Start menu that leads to a cascading menu. It takes at least three clicks to find a program there (Start, All Programs, folder name). In Windows 8, you can see the same program shortcuts on the All Apps menu, which is three clicks away: Start, right-click, All Apps.
3 – User Account
Did you even know that clicking the icon at the top of the right column opens the User Accounts section in Control Panel? Very few people know about that little trick, and even fewer have the need to use it more than once or twice a year. In Windows 8, you can find it by opening Control Panel, typing user in the search box, and clicking the User Accounts tile in the search results.
But if this little icon’s a dealbreaker for you, well, I guess you need the Start menu.
4 – Files
The right side of the Start menu holds shortcuts that open top-level folders in Windows Explorer: your user profile, your Documents/Pictures/Music folders, and (of course) Computer, where you can browse your entire file system starting with drive letters.
Does anyone still use these shortcuts in 2013?
File Explorer (the new Windows 8 name for what used to be called Windows Explorer) has a shortcut on the taskbar. It has a Favorites section in the sidebar on the left, where you can put shortcuts to the folders you use most often. You can pin folders, drives, and libraries to the Start screen. Here's what a suitably customized Start screen looks like.
This custom screen has a bunch of useful administrative tools under the Desktop tile, and a separate group of shortcuts to folders and system locations just to its right.
You don’t need a Start menu to browse files, honest.
5 - Settings
The Windows 7 Start menu has a shortcut for Control Panel and Default Programs. You can pin either or both of those shortcuts to the Start screen, the taskbar, or both in Windows 8. The thing is, though, you’ll be much more productive if you search for the specific setting you’re trying to find. Enter a search term on the Start screen, click or tap Settings, and go.
That Devices and Printers shortcut on the Windows 7 Start menu can’t be pinned to the Start screen or the taskbar. But really, when was the last time you visited that page? Did you even know it existed?
Yeah, I thought so.
So tell me again why taking the Start menu away made you less productive and why bringing it back will restore that lost productivity?
Seriously, I want to know.
Update: Several people have asked, what about the power buttons? Ha. I remember the jokes in 1995 when everyone thought it was hilarious to point out that you clicked "Start" to shut down. On modern hardware, the operating system and the hardware work together.You want your notebook to sleep? Close the lid. You want to shut dpown your PC? Press the power button. You want to lock your PC? Learn the keyboard shortcut Windows key + L.
You can even customize these settings:
Back in the dark ages, Windows couldn't respond to these requests from hardware, and if you tried shutting down by pressing the power button you would lose your work. But that hasn't been an issue in years. Every modern PC design supports these features.