My mom won’t care about the Windows 8 Start button

Disclaimer: I am an independent Windows 8 developer who used to work for Microsoft. My family uses Windows PCs and iOS devices. When working on HTML5 projects I sometimes use a Mac to develop. Its crazy, I know.

There has been a lot of talk about the lack of a Start button in Windows 8.  Or more accurately, a statically placed visual icon in the Desktop app which the user can click on to return to the Start screen.

What happens if the user is in the Desktop app and moves there mouse into the same area, perhaps even driven by muscle memory?  A little thumbnail of the Start screen shows up and when clicked takes you to the Start screen.

For even faster travel back to the Start screen, just press the Windows key and you’re there. It’s stunning, really.

I do agree though, it’s not in your face and you have to learn how to do it. Should they put the Start button back in the task bar?  Sure, just use the new Win8 logo and you’re done.


Do I think this is going to be a real issue for my mother, grandparent or my kids? No.  At least I hope not.  If so, something went terribly wrong.

Try this.

Go to one of your non-techie Windows-using friend’s computers and hit the amazing start button.  Take a look at the most commonly used programs.  What do you see?

This is what I found:

  1. Web Browser
  2. Photos, Music, Video, Messaging, Twitter, Facebook, Reader
  3. Windows Explorer, Microsoft Office, Video Chat, Calculator, Snipping Tool
  4. QuickBooks, Family Tree Maker, Minecraft, League of Legends

Those are examples of commonly used Windows Programs. Now how does that compare to the new fandangled Metro style apps which run from the Windows 8 start screen and not the Desktop app?  You know the one missing the Start button.

Web Browser
You can do just about everything in the browser, the web is amazing. You may even be able to build an OS on it.  Is there a Metro-style browser in Windows 8? Yes, its IE10 and hey it has way better support for CSS3.  Are there more coming? Yes, Firefox is confirmed.

Mail, Photos, Music, Video, Messaging, Twitter, Facebook, Reader
There are Metro-style apps already available in the Consumer Preview that perform these functions. Are they awesome? Almost, definitely promising, but I believe they will be better for release. And if not, there will be other options via the Store.

Windows Explorer, Microsoft Office, Video Chat, Calculator, Snipping Tool
These programs are not  yet available as Metro-style apps. If Microsoft does not make them available then they’ve failed here.  And the good news is, as far as the last three are concerned, there will be other options via the Store.

Quickbooks, Family Tree Maker, Minecraft, League of Legends
These are examples of programs that are likely not to be changed (ever or anytime soon) to Metro-style apps, for some reason or another – existing investment, technical philosophy, etc.  This is where it hits the most and we might need that little Start button back. And if you don’t convert or get a hook in the Store somehow, less and less Windows users will adopt your program and instead use one of the other options via the Store.

My mom won’t care about the Windows 8 Start button
Because hopefully she will be too busy hanging it in Metro style land; not breaking her computer rather finally getting to it enjoy it.  One of my first “ah-ha” moments with Windows 8 was looking at the Settings app.  “My family could use this!” I thought.  It’s way friendlier and less intimidating than the Control Panel.  Thanks Metro design language.

…other options via the Store
You may have noticed this phrase come up more than once in this post.  That’s because this is big clincher, the thing that makes everything work.

Quick, guess how many Windows programs my 10-year old daughter has installed? 0

Now how many apps has she installed on her iPod? At least 30 or 40.

What does the mean?  She loves her iPod way more. I believe that once she sets up her Win8 PC in the same manner as well she’ll be hooked. When my wife customizes her Win8 PC she’ll be happier and more productive. When my mom customizes her Win8 PC (or I do it for her) she won’t be lost anymore.

As for those of us power users
I need my Visual Studio and Photoshop to pay for all of these apps and Windows 8 PCs, so I need to learn to be comfortable moving between the Start screen and the Desktop app. The good news is it’s not that hard. You really just need to know Win, Win+X and Win+C.

Try it out. Besides, your other hand needs something to do while you’re mousing around.

15 thoughts on “My mom won’t care about the Windows 8 Start button

  1. I’ll take the opposing side to this debate by stating its not so much about can they learn it more along the lines will they learn it 🙂

    I’d say that most adoption occurs in a conservative fashion, as you can’t but help notice the elephant in the room – Windows XP. Had Microsoft allowed this OS to be sold still to this day, we’d probably not see as much of the Windows7 success as we see before us. Combine the reality that Enterprise Agreement’s are forcing a lot of businesses(s) hands to adopt Windows 7, lets just say that adoption at the moment looks great from a quantitative analysis – not – so much from a qualitative.

    Windows8 will sell, and it will get adopted but will it be a success or game changer since the Start Menu is “new”. I’m not inclined to agree, as if you look back on historical trends with Windows, especially at the “light-up” features that were pitched as being the way forward, they in turn never gained traction (yes, SideBar Gadget(s) i’m looking at you).

    Is it fair to say that the Start menu may take on the existence of being an Application and less a functional component within the Windows Operating system? How will peoples minds shift in this direction and lastly is it a sustainable model that will outlast the initial “wow” factor that has both negative/positive emotions attached around change.

    Who is the target audience for Start Menu? … in your example you cited “most commonly used apps” and came up with a pretty healthy list of frequent usage in most PC’s. Windows 8 StartMenu is now designed to solve this problem right?

    If so, then why are the people who the problem is being solved for aren’t exactly racing out to embrace it via videos like Chris Prillo’s dad?

    Seems to me a case evangelising the solution to the tech crowd and less proving that the non-tech crowd are embracing it. I think that’s why there is scepticism in the room, as on paper it sounds good yet in reality its giving a false positive.

  2. I completely agree. The only thing I’ll miss is hitting the Windows key with my thumb then typing the first few characters of the application I’m looking for and hitting enter. Win+F isn’t much more cumbersome. But, there are plenty of launcher apps available for power users.

  3. @Scott Barnes – Agh! There are two points here. Will my mom get lost like Chris Pirillo’s dad? Yes, if there is no start button. But my hope is she will never need to go to the Desktop app to ever worry about it.

    Second point – will my family adopt the Start screen? Yes, they already have thanks to iOS. This one is nice because the tiles move and it runs on the big monitors.

    @Mick – good news, in Windows 8 CP, you can just hit the Win key, start typing and then hit Enter. It hasn’t changed 🙂

  4. Every time I use Windows 8 I like it a little more. It is very much a “who moved my cheese” situation. My biggest concern is that they are introducing a very steep learning curve for new users and existing, non-power, users. I say that because the second those non-techie friends and family members get kicked back to the desktop mode they are going to get quite frustrated trying to figure out how to get back. Once they learn the charms are there, it will be an enjoyable experience for sure, but it’s the learning part that concerns me. There is absolutely NOTHING that indicates to the user what they should do as far as the charms are concerned.

    I just can’t get over the feeling that I’m being punished for using it on a desktop.

  5. If you can’t adapt to Windows 8 then you maybe to old clueless and had the same problems when you started using Windows XP. I did put my kids in front of different version of Windows and Linux and they never complaint about chrome, start menus or coloring. They don’t have any strong feelings about OS’s at all. They just care about content and how they get there and how well it works. Kids are approaching things way more natural then we do because they are not yet conditioned on how to interact with an electronic device. MS is right by putting content and touch first in Windows 8.

  6. So far the removal of the Start Menu is a ‘BIG FAIL’ for me. The Start Screen is a very different way of working from the traditional Start Menu, and the issue for me that I don’t think Microsoft ‘gets’ is understanding that each of a my machines play a different role in my daily life. My main desktop is my workhorse. It’s where I need to be as efficient, focused, and productive as possible… and I need the OS to help keep me in ‘flow’ rather than detract me. In my opinion as a ‘power user’, I shouldn’t have to ‘learn to be comfortable moving between the Start screen and the Desktop app’, that is a cop out. Instead, a great user experience should minimally be adaptive to my workflow, flow naturally, and be intuitive to where I see and feel the clear value coming from the enhanced UI experience. This is not what I’m getting with Win8.

    After a couple of weeks using Win8, the experiential transition between the Start Menu and the busy, colorful, and lively UI metro search desktop is jarring, and completely unnecessary (especially when all I want to do is open a recently used or pinned app). What I don’t think Microsoft understands with respect to this change is that there is an actual benefit (for Power Users) to keep my main desktop visible while using the Start Menu. Seeing familiar windows, icons, and open apps in the background while performing a task allows my mind to continue to process and focus on what’s next. But by switching me into the new metro Start Screen, I’m now disrupted by the color, the transition, and the full screen. The experience breaks my concentration and flow, it disrupts my mind and my productivity, rather than assisting it.

    I like the ideal of being able to switch into a metro style interface when I’m in a different mode, but I want it on my terms, and I should never be forced to do so. The integration of the two UI’s by force is unnecessary and feels disorderly. Instead Microsoft should keep both, allow the user to choose, and provide an alternate way of accessing the metro Start Screen.

  7. @Mike I felt somehow the same till I discovered that I can instantly search after hitting the Win key. Now I don’t even see the Metro UI when fast type e.g. Win + “cmd “+ Enter , its instantly like it was with Startmenu. All the important stuf like Outlook, VS, BLend, etc is pinned to the taskbar anyway.

  8. @Brian – yes, and I think the touch gestures are easier to find, as opposed to which key you need to press. There’s a Touch Interaction guide here:

    @Jan – Agreed on content first and instant search

    @Mike – you make a good point that you must be visually done with whatever is staying open in the Desktop app, which is not how we’re used to working or all that efficient. I’m guessing they’ll add something back in. Maybe a vertically list with instant search that is as wide as the snap view UI.

    I still hope this is just a power user issue, though. Thinking about some of the points you mentioned, I realize not only does the success of “Metro Only for Mom” depend on the right apps existing there but also her gaining a good understanding of how Charms work. Hmm…time for some more user testing.

  9. I get the point that none technical people probably don’t need to go to the desktop based on what apps they normally use. But there is one critical point your missing. What happens when curiosity finds the Desktop tile? It is inevitable that they will find the desktop.

    The problem is not that their is no Start Icon but the start icon and many other features like shutdown or the app list is not Discoverable. There is nothing that will help people discover these features. You could create an intro video but that would only help people that install windows for the first time. It won’t help them if the installation/setup was done by someone else.

  10. @nitro52 – Yes, in the current design if my mom accidentally entered Desktop mode and then did not by chance find the mouse hotspots (any corner) to get back to Start, she would likely restart by holding the power button down. If there’s one thing she knows, its how to do a reboot.

    Is that broken? Yes. Will they fix it by adding some visual cue to the Desktop app? I hope so. Do I hope my mom never enters the Desktop app so she can enjoy a simpler to use version of Windows? Yes.

  11. Unless Windows has OEMs implement Metro Design principles on hardware, I think his mum will be able to discover the button.

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