Start menu

Start menu
Component of Microsoft Windows
Introduced inWindows 95
Last included in
ReplacesProgram Manager
Replaced by

The Start menu is a user interface element used in Microsoft Windows and other operating systems that provides a central point for accessing basic operating system functions such as power options and settings, as well as launching programs and viewing recently open documents.

History[edit | edit source]

Prior to the introduction of the Start menu, Program Manager offered similar functionality using an MDI window. The peculiarities of Windows 3.1 window management meant that the program manager window would often get lost behind other windows, requiring the user to minimize multiple windows in order to launch an application. The program itself also suffered from its rather complex interface, with some common tasks such as exiting Windows being hidden in confusingly named menus.

Microsoft aimed to fix this problem with a new desktop metaphor user interface originally planned for Cairo and later ported to Chicago. An initial design tested in 1993 included a tray with the System, Find and Help buttons -- each exposing a part of the base operating system functionality in a menu. Applications could be launched by browsing the "Programs" directory on the desktop, which was similar to the Windows 3.1 experience. The design further evolved in the following months, resulting in a single menu that combined the three menus and the Programs folder into a single interface.

Classic start menu[edit | edit source]

The classic Start menu introduced with Windows 95 was a single column menu that contained power options, as well as shortcuts to help, settings, documents, and installed applications. It was also possible to add custom items on top of the menu by creating shortcuts in the Start Menu directory. By default, the main menu used 32x32 icons and displayed a operating system branding banner on the left side. However, it could also be switched to small mode, which used 16x16 icons and didn't show any banner.

Although a new Start menu design was introduced in Windows XP, the classic Start menu was still retained as an option up to Windows Vista.

Start panel[edit | edit source]

The Start menu was redesigned in Windows XP builds starting with build 2250 to feature a two-column design. The left column included links to the user's frequently used and pinned programs, as well as shortcuts to the machine's default internet and email program. There was also an "All Programs" menu for the user to access all programs installed on their computer. The right column featured quick links to folders such as Documents, Pictures, Computer and Network, as well as recently opened documents. On the bottom were power options, and on the top was the user's account name and picture.

Windows Vista updated this menu design to include an inline scrollable menu for the All Programs menu, as well as the removal of the icons on the right column. The Connect To and Printers items could no longer be expanded, and it was no longer possible to press the Shift key after opening a program to keep the menu open. Later, Windows 7 removed the links to the user's internet and email programs, changed the design for the power button and introduced Jump Lists for the pinned Start menu items.

Start screen[edit | edit source]

Windows 8 completely removed the traditional Start button, and introduced the DirectUI-based Start screen, which used a tile interface similar to Windows Phone. It completely removed the links to common folders, as well as the user's recent documents and frequent applications. The background and accent color for the Start screen could now be customized, and tiles could be organized into groups which could be named. Windows 8.1 Update 1 later improved the Start screen by adding Search and Power buttons to the top-right corner, and added a context menu when right-clicking on tiles.

Because of Redpill, early builds of Windows 8 had their Metro components disabled including the Start screen. It can be enabled using various tools such as Redlock and Metro Unlocker with the other Metro components. The first Windows 8 build that has Start screen enabled out-of-the-box is Windows 8 Developer Preview. Starting with Windows 8 build 8128, Redpill was integrated to the OS and the Start screen can no longer be disabled.

Windows 10 Start menu[edit | edit source]

Windows 10 re-introduced Start menu as an XAML-based taskbar flyout. The left side of this new menu included links to frequently-used applications, as well as user folders. The right side featured a similar tile design to the Start screen, however the menu could be put into full-screen mode, resulting in an experience similar to the previous Start screen. In Windows 10 Anniversary Update, the left column was updated to now include a list of all apps, as well as a list of user folders in a hamburger menu. Windows 10 build 17004 slightly updated the apps section of the menu to use Fluent Design hover effects. Windows 10 build 20161 updated the tiles and app icons so that they no longer have an accent colour behind them.

Windows 10X and Windows 11[edit | edit source]

Windows 10X introduced a centered Start menu design that removed the Live Tile functionality whilst also introducing a search bar and a recent items list, in addition to overhauling the installed applications list.

After the cancellation of Windows 10X, much of its functionality was moved over to Windows 11, including a start menu similar to the one seen in 10X build 19563 and above, albeit with a missing search bar. The search bar was later re-added in build 22000.65.

Gallery[edit | edit source]