What might a new Windows Start Menu look like?

Microsoft is believed to be planning to reintroduce a 'mini' Start Menu with a coming Windows release. But what will it look like?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

If Microsoft does end up reintroducing a Start Menu to a future release of Windows, as sources are hinting, does it necessarily mean that menu will be identical to what exists now? And if it's not, does that defeat the purpose?

Your best friend or worst nightmare? Looks like a new version of the Windows Start Menu may be making a comeback.

Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott blogged earlier this week that his sources had indicated Microsoft might be planning to make two key user-interface changes to a coming version of Windows. One of these is the ability to "float" Metro-Style/Windows Store apps on the desktop. The other was to bring back the Start Menu, alongside the recently re-introduced Start Button.

I've seen a number of commentors wondering why Microsoft might reintroduce the Start Menu, since the Windows 8.x Start screen (the tiled interface) was designed to be a new representation of the Start Menu. The short answer is to help existing Windows users -- specifically, the more casual, non-power-user types -- figure out how to navigate Windows 8 without tears or fears.

Windows 8, even with the positive changes Microsoft made with the 8.1 release, still presents a usability hurdle for some who are familiar with older versions of Windows. Even if it can be mastered relatively quickly, Windows 8 works and looks different enough to keep some from considering the move away from their more familiar and productive Windows variants. And Microsoft wants Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 users to upgrade, not hold back or switch to a totally different platform because they are worried about Windows 8's learning curves and/or retraining costs.

A number of third-party tools, including Stardock's Start8, Classic Shell and Pokki, have found success with Start Menu add-ons designed for Windows 8.x.

Since Thurrott's initial December 10 report on the return of the Start Menu, I've heard from my own contacts that this is highly likely to happen. Microsoft is, indeed, highly likely to bring back Start Menu. Supposedly it's being called internally "mini-Start," (as it won't be a full-screen Start Menu like in Windows 8), one of my contacts said.

Microsoft may opt to introduce this new Menu as part of the "Threshold" Windows wave in the spring of 2015 or possibly before that, via some kind of Windows 8.1 update. I've heard there is an "Update 1" coming for Windows 8.1 in the spring of 2014, but no word as to how many subsequent updates may be in the pipeline.

Next-to-nothing, my contacts claim, has been determined by the team as to what this new Menu will look like. Will it include the same current category list (Documents, Pictures, Music, etc.) as Microsoft's current Start Menu on Windows 7? Will it be a menu of Metro-Style tiled apps? No tiles? Will it interact with the Start button that's on the Charms Bar in Windows 8 in some way? No word.

I'd assume the Start Menu will be a Desktop thing, like the 8.1 Start Button is. Maybe it will simply provide users with a mini version of the list of all the apps installed on their Windows 8.x machines.  I'd expect it to be designed to work decently with touch, even though from what both Thurrott and I have heard, the primary target audience for the new Start Menu will be those using Windows 8.x with keyboards and mice.

I know haters are gonna keep hating on this idea. But assume it's happening: How do you think Microsoft should design the new Start Menu?

Editorial standards