Why Microsoft Is Bringing the Start Menu Back to Windows 8

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In his short time as Microsoft  (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) CEO, Satya Nadella has shown a willingness to reverse mistakes made under his predecessor Steve Ballmer and an openness to trying new things. He has also shown that he understands that the days of Microsoft being the only game in town are over and that a willingness to make changes based on what customers want is essential.

In office only two months, Nadella has made a number of bold moves including the recent launch of Office for Apple's  (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) iPad. But his boldest decision yet came April 2, when the company announced it would return the traditional Start Menu to its Windows operating system.

The Start Menu change -- which will be part of a free Windows 8 update at a to-be-determined date -- corrects the single biggest thing customers dislike about the operating system.

How Microsoft got here

Windows 8 essentially has two interface options -- the visual "Metro" screen optimized for touch, and a variant on the traditional Windows desktop. The problem was that no matter how well it works, the Metro interface with its tiles and tablet-style design was a huge change that some customers would not like. 

The alternate traditional desktop screen looked like the previous interface but it lacked the Start Menu, which made it not very useful. Offering a version of the traditional desktop that lacked the menu that people used to access their programs was actually worse than only having the new interface would have been. The alternate screen accomplished little and mostly served as a reminder to people of what they were missing.

Microsoft sort of remedied the problem in its Windows 8.1 update returning the start button in a fashion. Clicking on the returned button leads to the Start screen (the visual interface), not the traditional pop-up Start menu.

Putting the start button back but not having it do what it used to do seemed like an arrogant move from a company that did not realize its customers could just leave for Apple devices or ones running Google's  (NASDAQ: GOOG  ) Android software.

How Microsoft is fixing it

The Start Menu will return with its old functionality along with "Live Tiles," (those squares that update automatically in Windows 8), and the ability to find and install Microsoft's universal Windows apps (including its news, finance, sports, and weather apps). It won't be exactly the same but it should be familiar enough to satisfy longtime Windows users

"Your prayers haven't quite been answered, PC fans, but Microsoft is definitely listening to your concerns—and it's bending over backward to create a Windows that mashes its touch-tastic, cloud-connected vision of the future together with the keyboard and mouse that the PC faithful know and love," Brad Chacos wrote on PC World.

By relenting Nadella has shown that he is willing to admit mistakes and give customers a say in the products they use. 

Windows is still huge business

Despite the frosty reception Windows 8 has gotten from some customers and potential customers, the Windows division has done over $18 billion in revenue for each of the past three years, according to Microsoft's 2013 annual report.

Still the company knows it faces challenges to Windows, which has lost market share to Android.

"The Windows operating system faces competition from various commercial software products and from alternative platforms and devices, mainly from Apple and Google," the company wrote in its 2013 annual report. 

Returning the Start Menu to its previous state may not reverse the gains of Android, but it should solidify the Microsoft base. Some business moves are about gaining new customers, but this one is about keeping existing users happy and in the Microsoft fold. 

What this means for Microsoft

"Our commitment is to make Windows more personal and accessible to individuals," said Terry Myerson, executive vice president, OS Group at Microsoft, at the company's 2014 development conference.

What he meant was that Microsoft, under its new CEO, would not be charging ahead without considering the needs of its customers. That's a huge concession for a company that under Ballmer and his predecessor, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, could do whatever it wanted.

Windows was launched in 1985 and it had no real competition for over 20 years. Yes, Apple existed but until the iPhone in 2007 and the iPad in 2010, the company was a niche player. If Ballmer had acknowledged that first Apple then in a different (but more damaging) fashion Google changed the operating system business, he might still have a job.

Doing something as relatively simple as putting back a popular feature that makes customers more comfortable with Windows shows a refreshing lack of the arrogance that marked Microsoft under its previous leaders. It also shows that Nadella's Microsoft is a new kind of company -- one that understands that user feedback matters in a way it did not previously.

What Nadella is doing is good for Microsoft's business in the short term, but the fact that he is willing to do it shows that the new CEO will bring real change in the long term.

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Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (3)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2014, at 4:56 PM, JoeLemon wrote:

    The start menu isn't really coming back. That start button will just open up the live titles in desktop. It is like a hybrid of the old start and the new. Microsoft still doesn't get that people don't want a touch OS on a desktop.

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2014, at 8:51 PM, ban566 wrote:

    i was going to reinstall my win8 i removed and see what the new UI 8.1 up date looked like and also keep it on my extra system till this up date gose live and when i tried to reinstall my windows 8 cd that i bought in January of 2013 and used for 8 months before wiping my system and reinstalling my win7 on my gaming rig and MS activation is telling me my key is not any good click here to buy a new key

    and is not giving me any way to call tech support

    well you know what it is now in the trash and i will never use win8 in any form i am done

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2014, at 9:43 PM, JabbyJohns wrote:

    "Windows division has done over $18 billion in revenue for each of the past three years, according to Microsoft's 2013 annual report"

    They forgot to mention that $18 billion dollar revenue figure is only from the predatory prices that they charge the one rich person who still uses Windows! ;-) I abandoned that ship as soon as they announced the discontinuation of support for XP. I'm not gonna be manipulated by Microsoft into buying a new OS every year. In that case I would have to buy a whole new computer because my hardware doesn't support any of the newer Windows operating systems. Can't afford that.

    $400 for a one PC license for the complete Office Suite 2013?! I mean c'mon Microsoft! We're not made of money and there are competitors entering the market. You can't just charge whatever you want anymore like you have a monopoly on the market! It's good but not $400 good. That is way too much for the casual home user that's only going to use the program maybe a few times per year. With the cheaper options you don't get everything that you would want and even then the price is still out of reach for us "common folk". Not to mention it's just going to go out of style in a year or two when newer versions are released and Microsoft sends "security" updates through to remove features from the older versions so you're forced into buying the newer version. They should be slapped with racketeering charges.

    Q: How can you tell if someone is rich?

    A: They have MS Office Suite installed on their computer!

  • Report this Comment On April 03, 2014, at 9:56 PM, rajeevji wrote:

    I think all the changes being done to windows 8 should be in done in windows 9 and windows 9 should be free for the windows 8 owners

  • Report this Comment On April 04, 2014, at 2:14 AM, chrismireya wrote:

    @ JoeLemon:

    Windows 8.1 has a Start Button that takes you to the new Start Screen (with Windows 8 "live tiles").

    The upcoming Windows 8.1 update 1 (or whatever it is ultimately called) will bring a brand new "Start Menu" that will be similar to the Start Menu in older versions of Windows.

    In other words...

    When you click on the Start Button, a Start Menu will pop up on the bottom left of your screen with a list of programs, folders, icons and some live tile icons.

    This was unveiled (for just a moment) yesterday. It represents a radical departure from the Start Screen-only philosophy that Windows 8 was pushing and a return to a more traditional Windows experience.

  • Report this Comment On April 04, 2014, at 7:46 AM, PhillipDeCooch wrote:

    If Nadella wants to be the hero of MS, all he needs to do is listen to users and make products they want. Obviously, there is no one size fits all when it comes to end users. It would only make sense to have a basic user version and a power user version. Trying to force a one size fits all OS on people will never satisfy everyone. Some will want cutting edge while others will want what they are used to.

  • Report this Comment On April 04, 2014, at 7:19 PM, Theinsultedelf wrote:

    It's a step in the right direction but lets be serious. This has nothing to do with listening to the customers in a positive sense. This is damage control pure and simple for a sinking OS ship with Win9 still a ways out. I do however give Nadella credit for doing what Ballmer had too much pride to correct when he knew his baby died.

    M$ has never cared about it's customers. Always before it's been like the American auto industry in the 70-80's. It's been, this is it , take it or leave it. Win8 is this way. Then the Japanese arrived and said what do you want in a car? We will build it. This killed the US auto industry. Apple and Android are the Japanesse and M$ can not afford the subborn bullheadedness of a Gates or Ballmer anymore who refuse to admit they aren't the only game in town anymore and can't continue foolishly and insultingly dissing their long time customers to try and catch some tablet users.

    Win8 could have been just as great a OS as Win7 has been if it had had two UI's choosable by the customer. One for the traditional desktop and one for the new touchscreen people. That way both crowds would have what best suits their system.

    I will always have a desktop PC. I'm a hard core gamer. I want a proper KB&M desktop environment/UI. I will never buy a touch screen for my desktop. It's worthless there. The only touchscreen devices I have are a Kindle and a Google Nextbook for which I really don't have any real use for other than Skyping and playing what pitifully passes for games on mobile devices.

    Ballmer's mistake was assuming touchscreen is the entire future for all computing and shoving his vision down every Windows users throat when touch is only an addition means of using computing devices.

    Though some people are replacing their desktops with tablets the vast majority of people buying tablets are doing so as ancillary devices. These days individual people use multiple computing devices not just their desktops. Now when we leave home where our Desktop lives I can grab my tablet on the way out and still have access.

  • Report this Comment On April 04, 2014, at 8:17 PM, sypoth wrote:

    @Joe, you are thinking the 8.1 update, this update will literally make it so you do not ever have to use the Metro interface at all period.

    Also let me improve this line for you motley "The problem was that no matter how well it works, the Metro interface with its tiles and tablet-style design was a huge change that some customers would not like"

    This is how it should read. "The problem was no matter how much a select few people liked the change to the metro interface, the majority of other customers mostly anyone who uses a computer for more than an entertainment box hate it because of it's slow, clumsy, open interface that opens up into convoluted and difficult to navigate menu's that take up the entire screen rather than provide slick and easy access to options that were placed at their finger tips before.

  • Report this Comment On April 05, 2014, at 6:28 AM, Jeffsd wrote:

    Thank god. Windows 8.1 might be the most stable operating system ever written, windows or Mac, but the GUI is ugly and un intuitive. What a mess, I'm glad they are fixing it. I hope they fired everyone involved in that horrible layout.

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Daniel B. Kline

Daniel B. Kline is an accomplished writer and editor who has worked for the Microsoft's Finance app and The Boston Globe, where he wrote for the paper and ran the business desk. His latest book "Worst Ideas Ever" (Skyhorse) can be purchased at bookstores everywhere.

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