Microsoft Answer Start Screen Criticisms

Microsoft have published a ‘very’ long blog post today explaining their justifications for the new Start screen in Windows 8, especially in regards to usability and finding and running applications.  The main reasons for implementing the new Start screen are based around aspects such as reducing DPI sizes on modern monitors making small things harder to hit, scrolling and searching in the Windows 7 Start Menu becoming difficult because of this and larger icons being easier to hit on screen, both because of their size and because the brain finds it easier to remember where things are in a two dimensional space, rather than a single one dimensional one.

I’ll deal with the main points in the blog post, as they offer some valuable insight into Microsoft’s decisions and choices for Windows 8.

Start Screen Icons vs Start Menu Folders

 In Windows 8 we assume that there are even more apps (and sites) than the XP/Vista/7 eras and so we needed even more scale. We also wanted to provide an at-a-glance view and a navigation model that requires much less dexterity. By using the full screen, we can now show more apps without the need to scroll or navigate hierarchy. By flattening the hierarchy, we provide a way for you to leverage the iconography of the apps and remove the burden of clicking through folders trying to find an app under its manufacturer’s name. Over time this will also address another common complaint, which is that when renaming, combining, or reorganizing folders (which you might do in order to keep the menu from wrapping) you would lose the ability to uninstall cleanly, and thus subject yourself to a periodic garbage collection of your Start menu to avoid dead links.

In addition to the limited real estate, apps in All Programs are buried under folders and subfolders of hierarchy, without any iconography to help you navigate to the right place. To make matters worse, things are often jumping around as you expand and collapse folders looking for the right app, making the experience even less efficient. Some have noted that this limitation is a design regression from the Windows XP Start menu. While technically that is true, we are fundamentally working with a menu, and as such, it is a single column with hierarchy that requires significant dexterity to navigate. The feedback around the scale of the old Windows XP design was resoundingly negative over time and led to the redesign for Vista and Windows 7.

Microsoft say here that for IT Pros with larger screens there will be more apps available in the main view on the single screen, 80 on a full HD monitor as opposed to just 20 in the All Programs list of the Windows 7 Start menu.

They go on to say how they have now also modified the Apps search screen however based on user feedback.  People were saying it was difficult to find the app they needed when some sub-apps for their main software sometimes had obscure names and were difficult to find in an alphabetical list.  In the screenshot below, Microsoft show that in current builds, Apps are displayed by folder more in keeping with the current method in the Start Menu.

Spatial Recognition and Muscle Memory

The blog goes on to explain how Windows 8 takes advantage of Human psychology where icons are concerned.

The grouping of tiles in the Start screen was designed with these principles in mind. We know that sizes of groups will naturally vary based on the kinds of items that you’re throwing together. Not only does this flexibility help with organization, but it also helps by creating a heterogeneous layout where shapes and sizes vary from group to group. This makes it easier to find a tile when you know it’s in a small group with an uneven edge on its right side or in a large group that looks like a full rectangle.

Start Screen Customisation

Microsoft say that better customisation options for the Start Screen are coming in the beta.

The personalization of the Start screen is one of the features that we want to make great, and we’re still iterating on it and to make it better. In the Windows Developer Preview, you can already try flexible group sizes, unpinning tiles, and resizing wide tiles to square tiles. And in the Beta, you’ll also be able to use other improvements based on this dialog, in addition to creating, naming, and rearranging groups.

Jumplists and the Start Screen

One of the most interesting aspects of the blog is how it addresses Jumplists.  They do this by quoting a tweet from a user of the Developer Preview.

@tN0 wrote:

“Implement Jump Lists to the Live Tiles at the Start screen. Swiping up on a tile or right click could bring up a Jump List.”

Having a way to quickly access content within an app is a great feature and we’re happy to see the enthusiasm and increasing usage for jump lists in Windows 7. We have developed something new for Metro style apps that builds on the jump list concept. We think it will be even more powerful for end-users and an even richer opportunity for app developers. But first, some background on jump list usage in Windows today.

Mouse Distance and Mouse Clicks

One very common complaint so far regards the Windows 8 Developer Preview is with the distance people have to move their mouse on large screens.  Microsoft had an interesting response to this.

We took a look at desktop monitors, and by controlling for constants a and b because we’re on the same device, and varying D and W based on the targets in the Start menu and Start screen, we calculated the speed of acquiring an app link. We then applied a heat map to show the results and see the following comparisons:

If you count the number of items that show up as green (delineated with the white line,) it is considerably larger on the Start screen (about 17 square tiles) than on the Start menu (2 apps). So there are many more items that you can reach more quickly on the Start screen.

This is just a taster of the full blog post, it’s very detailed and interesting.  You can read the full article here.

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16 Responses to Microsoft Answer Start Screen Criticisms

  1. Jim October 13, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    “Considering my resolution is 1920×1080, I have all the applications I
    use right in the Windows 7 taskbar (small icons). On the rare occasion I
    want to run another program, I hit the windows key, type the first few
    letters of the program’s name and hit enter when it finds it. Voila the
    program is running.

    Being on computers for long periods of time
    as well as late at night finishing up work while half asleep, it will
    not be comfortable to have to continuously raise my arms and touch
    navigate a 24″ screen. It’s just not productive. Let’s think about it

    I have a 1800DPI mouse set at full speed, moving the
    mouse a little more than an inch crosses the entire screen (1920px).
    Moving the mouse up or down a little less than an inch covers the height
    of the screen (1080px). Now my 24 inch screen has a width of roughly 22
    inches. So lets compare, what is faster? Moving a mouse one inch, or
    moving your arm 22 inches. Of course assuming you have two arms you can
    divide that number by two, so you need to cover 11 inches with each arm.
    Now up and down as well, so my screen is 12 inches tall. Again divided
    by two is 6 inches. 6 times 11 is 66. So you need to cover 66 square
    inches with each arm. However with a mouse you’re covering 1 square

    Seems to me my mouse is 66 times more productive. ;p

    if you’re talking about getting rid of your keyboard as well. That’s
    just ridiculous. I type over 100 words per minute. On a touch screen I
    type maybe 25 words per minute. Imagine writing a 3000 word essay on a
    touch screen.

    I think touch screens are a phase, they’re far from
    being productive in comparison to a mouse and keyboard. They’re good
    for mobile computers and probably for people who are computer
    illiterate, but far from good for computer enthusiasts.”

    • Rudi Visser October 14, 2011 at 5:20 am #

      Microsoft never stated that they were intending to get rid of Keyboard / Mouse interaction and have fully acknowledged that it’s still a requirement for some applications that require them, and of course the use cases also.

      BTW, I type 120wpm and manage around 40-50 (depending on what I’m writing) on my phone (HD7) alone. A tablet / fullsize touch keyboard would be way faster, I hope.

    • JohnnyG321 October 14, 2011 at 7:23 am #

      I actually responded to your similar post in a previous article, so I won’t repeat it here.  Mouse and keyboard are more productive for some applications, but not all or even most.  The keyboard and mouse aren’t going anywhere.  Windows 8 fully supports both and will continue to do so.  

      • Jim October 19, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

        I’m curious. Name some applications that a touch screen would actually be more productive in than a mouse and keyboard? Comparing to say a 5000dpi mouse, with a keyboard which you have shortcuts / hotkeys for everything you want.

    • walkergw October 14, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

      Maybe you guys are too young to remember the mouse vs keyboard war.  Basically it boiled down to speed vs natural input.  There was no denying it, keyboard blew away the mouse in speed tests.  The problem was it required memory of shortcuts.  Productively the keyboard adherents said the mouse would never go over.  look who one that war.  Microsoft calls on this war and its ultimate end as a sign it is on the right track.  I think Microsoft is absolutly correct.  Touch screen will not replace either keyboard or mouse, but it will add imensely to the natural useage of computers and other devices.  Screaming for the status quo will put you on the loosing side of this issue.  There may be people who dont use a mouse at all, but not very many.  Will you be the one to not learn how to use touch when it makes sense?

    • Jason Johndrow October 17, 2011 at 9:56 am #

      if you try it in Windows 8, Keyboard works fine on start screen. Just type the first few like you do now and apps come up.

  2. Guest-C14 October 14, 2011 at 5:41 am #

    The Start Panel looks nice in the screenshots provided by microsoft; however i think it will quickly become untidy when people start installing apps which also includes things like readme and uninstall files along with the actual app icon. imagine looking at a big start panel that has more readme’s and uninstalls on it that actual applications… wont look quite as pretty then

    • JohnnyG321 October 14, 2011 at 7:17 am #

      The Start screen is customizable.  It contains only the apps you choose to put there.  It’s basically the place for you to put your favorite apps.  The Apps screen (which the one that comes up when you search) contains all of the apps.  Think of the Start screen as your task bar – your place to pin your favorite or frequently used applications and the Apps screen as the equivalent of All Programs in the start menu.

  3. Tommy October 14, 2011 at 10:37 am #

    If Microsoft doesn’t give us an option to completely get rid of Metro and the new Start page I won’t be upgrading. I didn’t have this strong of a negative reaction to Vista…that’s saying something!

    • walkergw October 14, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

      No problem, you will be just like those people still using Windows 98.

      • Jim October 19, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

        Yes, because not “upgrading” from Windows 7 is like staying in the stone age. /sarcasm

        You will be just like those people who buy anything because it’s “new”.

    • XenoSilvano October 17, 2011 at 6:45 pm #

      Next year when average people begin using Windows 8, they are going to have their brains blown away (in the negative form) upon clicking that start button.

      It would be utterly absurd for Microsoft to force metro on users.. but in the absolutely ludicrous circumstance that they are crazy enough to do so, I’m more than sure that there will be all sorts ‘metro disabling programs’ available soon after launch, just like the start menu launchers available for the Windows 8 Developer Preview. But of course, forcing all those users who just want to use the standard start menu to go in search of some metro removing solution would just be an added hindrance.

      When I began using the metro interface in the Developer Preview for Windows 8, it wasn’t long before I was pressed to find some sort of metro killing app online to vanquish my frustration.

      …and thus the strange and confusing metro interface was No More!

      I thought the Ribbon interface with Office 2010 and now Windows 8 is fantastic; the use of organised tabs along with icons makes the overall function selection process so much more streamline and intuitive. Metro on the other hand is just a joke, there is no way anyone is going to persuade me enough to use that abomination.

      • JohnnyG321 October 19, 2011 at 11:34 am #

        I’m quite sure that Windows 8 will be configurable.  I’m not sure they will make a Start Menu available, but I’m sure there will be a way to do so. 

        Personally, I think the Start screen is worlds beyond the Start menu, I strongly suspect that most (not all, but most) people who dislike it now fall into one of 3 camps:

        1) They’re not very familiar with it yet.
        2) They’re making judgements based on an incomplete product.
        3) They’re stubborn and just don’t like change period.

        That said, I think that whether you use Metro vs Desktop is going to depend largely on what you use your computer to do and where you use it.  (Number crunching/ word processing vs. checking email/using Facebook  and sitting at your desk vs. sitting in an airport, etc.)

        What many people seem to miss is that Metro is an ENABLING technology.  It’s additive.  If Microsoft wanted to force you to use it instead of the desktop, they simply wouldn’t have included a desktop and Metro would be the ONLY UI in Windows 8.  That’s not what they’re doing. 

        The fact is, the way YOU use your computer is not necessarily the way that EVERYONE uses their computer.  Microsoft recognizes that and they’re creating an OS that lets use use your computer the way you want to use it.  They’re not taking anything away.  They’re giving you better ways to do the same thing.

        By the way, I HATED the ribbon interface in Office products when they first introduced it.  I still don’t especially like it.  I didn’t find it intuitive at all.  But then, I have been using Office since it first came out and intuitive for me was finding things where they always were.  But I recognize that it probably makes most capabilities easier for a new user to discover and I’ve come to terms with it. 

        In the same way that you found the ribbon intuitive, I think that most new users will find Metro intuitive.  And I think that if you don’t stubbornly resolve not to like it, you’ll warm up to it the way I warmed up to the ribbon.

    • Vulak'Aerr October 21, 2011 at 1:37 am #

      Nobody says you have to use Metro, but until you try it, I feel like you’re totally over-reacting. Icons are so 2009.

  4. Enrique November 16, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    Dear Microsoft i hope you can hear me honestly the metro UI is really not working for you.
    changing from one page to another just to get the start menu is very anoying what i recomend
     you to do is make a metro UI in the desktop with aero features that will blow our minds like the windows
    gadgets and make it more live and 3D animated, what i mean is just how we have our desktop today
    but with the Metro UI as background and some aero features. Dear Microsoft being the copy cat
    does not work be the leader not the follower apple sucks and you try to be like them will
    make you suck…Think outside the box HTML5 is good make it better..
    any questions contact me @

  5. Enrique November 16, 2011 at 4:25 pm #

    Dear Microsoft i hope you can hear me honestly the metro UI is really not working for you.
    changing from one page to another just to get the start menu is very anoying what i recomend
     you to do is make a metro UI in the desktop with aero features that will blow our minds like the windows
    gadgets and make it more live and 3D animated, what i mean is just how we have our desktop today
    but with the Metro UI as background and some aero features. Dear Microsoft being the copy cat
    does not work be the leader not the follower apple sucks and you try to be like them will
    make you suck…Think outside the box HTML5 is good make it better..
    any questions contact me @

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