Windows 8 felt a lot like a shotgun wedding. Whether we wanted it or not, we were all forced into the brand-new and definitely-not-our-Start-menu Start screen. In fact, it wasn't clear how to find the desktop, or even get to the Start screen from the desktop. It was like you were supposed to hold your hands to your forehead and somehow channel instructions from spirit of Steve Ballmer to get anything to work.
For many of us, the Windows 8 Start screen was the symbol of everything Microsoft had done wrong. It upended years of customer experience. It provided no native choice or option. It hid all visual cues. It attempted to force a flawed vision of computing down the throats of its customers.
I am convinced that the mobile revolution and the high uptake of tablets wasn't solely because tablets were the new hotness. I'm convinced that Microsoft's seemingly suicidal effort to collectively piss off all its customers hurried the process along -- and that resulted in a vastly diminished traditional PC business.
Many of us who were committed to the Windows platform routed around the Start screen by installing little add-ons that returned Windows 8 back to something seeming like sanity.
The Start screen was a failed experiment, set to join Microsoft Bob and Clippy in the bowels of business school case studies along with New Coke and Jell-o for Salads (yep, that was a product).
But unlike New Coke, the Start screen wasn't taken out and shot. It eventually wound up buried in Windows 10, accessible as an option.
After Windows 8, Microsoft reluctantly started listening to customers (those it had left). When Windows 8.1 rolled out, there was a barely functional Start menu that made it as clear as possible through its poor design and barely functional functionality that the product's designers were only grudgingly putting the Start menu back in.
Sometime between Windows 8 and Windows 10, something changed. I'm not saying it was the replacement of Ballmer with Satya Nadella, but Windows 10 was clearly the spiritual successor to the ultra-popular Windows 7, and the Start menu proved it.
Out of the box, there was a task bar and a button on the screen where a Start button was supposed to be. Tapping that button resulted in an actual start menu, a bit different from Windows 7, but instantly recognizable and navigable.
Interestingly, and to me, initially annoyingly, the Windows 10 Start menu also included the tiles from Windows 8 I had hoped were permanently consigned to the dustbin of history.
And yet, they weren't all that annoying. I removed all the Windows Store junk, and some of the other low-end tablet-style app icons, eventually removing every tile from the tile section of the Start menu.
Now, I had a Start menu, and a bit of a blank area. That was okay. Windows acted like Windows, and all was good.
But then. But... then.
But then my desktop started to annoy me. This, as it turns out, was not Microsoft's fault. This is the media center machine I've talked about before, which I share with my wife. We had merely put too much crap on the desktop.
We like putting shortcuts to file shares right on the desktop, for fast and easy access. We never drag and drop directly into those icons, but we like them there to quickly find our share folders.
We have a lot of share folders. They fill up about a third of our messy desktop.
What, thought I, if I put a few of them into the tile space of the new Windows 10 Start menu? There wouldn't be much harm in that, right? I wouldn't be giving into the forces of the Start screen by just putting a few files in the tile area. Right?
So I did. And it was good.
Sadly, I had more icons than there was tile space on the Start menu, as you can see below.
Typing "start" into the Start menu got me to Start Settings, where I turned on Show More Tiles.
This, however, didn't actually show more tiles, it just added in some more blank space. If I had used icon-size tiles it might have given us more tiles, but we wanted to see the names of our shares and so all we got was more blank space.
There was another option. The unacceptable option. The option that I swore, in revenge for the long 12 months between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, I would never invoke. I am referring, of course, to the Use Start full screen setting.
But I did. I turned it on.
And it was good.
Now, we had our shares and my task bar, too. As it turns out, we don't use the main Start menu all that often. We normally launch programs from my task bar. But we like having the Start menu to get access to settings and programs and everything else in the system.
With the Start screen using the full screen, when we press Start, we get all our shares in tiles, but hitting the three bar hamburger at the top left of the screen gives me back the full start menu.
I'm not fully sold on the full screen Start screen, but merely because there are some nits I'd like to see fixed.
For example, you don't appear to be able to pin individual documents as tiles. You also don't appear to be able to change the icon for shares, so if you use smaller icons, all the shares look identical.
But these are minor cosmetic issues. The fact remains that I'm now using the Start screen because it adds value. You might want to give it a try yourself.
In some ways, this is a lot like what Windows 8 offered. The big difference is that I incrementally turned on those options when I wanted them, rather than being dumped in a foreign environment without any clues. That's a much better UI design and that's why Windows 10 has a much brighter future than Windows 8 ever did.