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Of all the confounding changes made in the latest Windows 8 consumer preview, few upset people quite as much as the removal of the Start button.
But what hasn’t been clear is why Microsoft removed the feature, which has been a central pillar of Windows for over a 15 years.
The answer might be obvious: People weren’t using it. In an interview with PCPro, Microsoft program manager Chaitanya Sareen said that as users began pinning more applications to the taskbar, start button usage took a major hit. Instead of going to Start menu to access applications, users were just clicking shortcuts. The taskbar was just too fast and convenient.
To get this user information, Microsoft used telemetry, technology that allows designers to monitor how users interact with their software. User behavior has played a major role in the development of highly controversial features like the Ribbon in Office 2007. Now, it’s being used to remove the start button.
Microsoft, then, was at a crossroads: How could it make the Start menu useful again? The idea behind the feature has always been to provide a simple and central launching point for applications and tasks. Any change to it would have to retain that capacity.
So Microsoft Metro-fied it. Now, with Windows 8, users are given the Start Screen, a customizable home screen that allows easy access to users’ most oft-used applications. This, naturally, is something that many users will initially hate, but, as with most controversial user interface decisions, it’s also something that most users will eventually get used to.