Start menu

Start menu

:"For the keyboard button that activates the start menu see Windows key."

The Start Menu and Start Button are user interface elements in the Microsoft Windows line of operating systems, which serve as the central launching point for application and tasks.

On Windows operating systems before Windows Vista, and also in Windows Vista's "Windows Classic" theme, the Start Button consists of the word "Start" and the Windows Logo. In Windows Vista's new themes, the word "Start" has been replaced by a blue Windows "orb" logo. [cite web |url=
title=Windows Vista Aero Glass and Usability screencast
author=Keith Combs
date=August 23 2006
work=Channel 9

Traditionally, the Start Menu provided a customizable nested list of programs for the user to launch, as well as a list of most recently opened documents, a way to find files and get help, and access to the system settings. Later enhancements via Windows Desktop Update included access to special folders like "My Documents," "Favorites" (browser bookmarks), etc. Windows XP's Start Menu was expanded to encompass various "My Documents" folders (including "My Music" and "My Pictures"), and transplanted other items like "My Computer "and "My Network Places "from the Windows desktop.

Technically, the Start Menu is not required, as all programs and files can be opened by navigating to them in the Windows Explorer interface. However, the Start Menu provides a much easier and consolidated way to open programs, even for experienced users. Microsoft uses the Start Menu more in each version of Windows as a way to shield novice users from the complexities of the operating system. For example, in Windows XP, the root, "Program Files" and "Windows" folders are hidden from the user by default, and access to programs is expected to be achieved through the Start Menu.


In the earliest versions of Windows, a program called "MS-DOS Executive" provided basic file management and program menu capability. This was eventually replaced by the programs File Manager and Program Manager in Windows 3.0, with the Program Manager taking on the role of the program menu.

The Program Manager was a full windowed application, which required the whole screen to be used effectively. It consisted of a simple multiple document interface which allowed users to open "program groups" and then execute the shortcuts to programs contained within.

Windows 95 was the version in which the Program Manager was superseded by the Start Menu, which condensed the Program Manager into a popup menu that could be accessed at any time. It also boasted several advantages over the Program Manager, such as the ability to nest groups within other groups, and the ability to add to the Start Menu by dropping objects (program files, document files) onto the Start Button.

Evolution of the Start Menu

Later developments in Internet Explorer and subsequent Windows releases have allowed users to customize the Start Menu and access and expand Internet Explorer Favorites, My Documents and Administrative Tools (Windows 2000 and later) from the Start Menu.

The most significant revision to the Start menu since its inception came in Windows XP. To help the user access a wider range of common destinations more easily, and to promote a greater sense of "personality", the Start menu was expanded to two columns; the left-hand column focuses on the user's installed applications, while the right-hand column provides access to the user's documents, and system functionality. Links to My Documents, My Pictures and other Special Folders are brought to the fore. The My Computer and My Network Places ("Network Neighborhood" in Windows 95 and 98) icons were also moved off the Desktop and into the Start menu, making it easier to access these icons while a number of applications are open (they could be restored optionally in the "Display Properties" control panel "Desktop" settings). Commonly used programs are automatically displayed in the left-hand menu, and the user may opt to "pin" programs to the start menu so that they are always accessible without having to navigate through the Programs folders.

In Windows Vista, the Start Menu has undergone some significant changes, with the taskbar icon no longer labeled "Start" but simply the pearl icon (of the window-frame in an orb). At the top level, the Start Menu, as in Windows XP, has 2 columns of menu choices (rather than 1 column, see image at top), but many features have moved to new option names: there are no longer "Settings" or "Run" or "Shutdown" options, but those names can be added to the Start Menu by an experienced user. As in Windows XP, the option "Control Panel" has been added directly, invoking a new Control Panel (which also has new option names differing from XP). Perhaps over 70% of the menu is new, but with obvious names (such as "Music" or "Games"). Other options can be added, such as right-clicking the Calculator accessory to add into the Start Menu.

One of the chief additions with Windows Vista is a "Search" pane or box, where users may begin typing immediately. The contents of the Start menu itself are indexed and searchable, besides the global search index. If indexing is turned on, the search box returns results on-the-fly as users type into it. This allows the Start menu to act as a fast and powerful application launcher. The Start menu search also doubles as the Run command from previous versions of Windows; simply typing any command will execute it. The Run command can also be added separately to the right column in the Start menu.

Another major change to the Start menu in Windows Vista is that it no longer presents the "All programs" menu as a horizontally expanding cascading list which utilizes the entire screen space, but instead as a nested folder view with a fixed size. The list of submenus and single items appears over the left column contents with a "Back" button below it. Subfolders expand and collapse vertically within the list when single-clicked, in a tree-like fashion similar to Windows Explorer. Single items appear at the top and folders appear at the bottom. Hovering the mouse over a folder does not open it, the folder needs to be clicked. A limitation of the new Start menu is that subfolders inside the All Programs menu cannot be opened simply by searching or double clicking. Also, as more programs are installed, a vertical scroll bar appears between the two columns. A dynamically changing icon showing the user's display picture by default is present at the top of the right column. It changes as users hover over any other item to reflect that item's icon. The "Power" button's action is configurable through "Power options" in the Control Panel, though the default setting is to put the computer into Sleep mode. Users can quickly lock their user account by pressing the "Lock" button. Additional power and account related actions are listed in a sub-menu which appears when the small arrow next to the "Lock" button is clicked.

Like Windows XP, Windows Vista allows users to switch back to the pre-Windows XP style "Classic" Start menu, however, the "Search" box is not present on the Classic Start menu.

Mobile operating systems

The Start menu is also present in releases of Windows CE and Windows Mobile. In Windows Mobile Standard, the version of Windows Mobile for Microsoft specific Smartphones, the Start menu, when invoked, does not produce a list of applications, but instead produces a separate screen of icons. While in Windows CE as well as Windows Mobile Standard operating system releases, the Start menu is located by default at the bottom of the screen, in Windows Mobile Classic and Professional, it is located at the top of the screen.

Technical details

Users may add entries by creating various folders and shortcuts in the Start Menu folder, located in the hard drive. These appear in a separated section at the top of the Start Menu, or, if placed in the Programs sub-folder, in the Programs menu.
*In Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows Me, it is located in %windir%Start Menu, or, if there are multiple users, %windir%Profiles"username"Start Menu.
*In Windows NT 4.0, the folder is located in "x:"WINNTProfiles"username"Start Menu for individual users, or "x:"WINNTProfilesAll UsersStart Menu for all users collectively.
*In Windows 2000, XP, and 2003, the folder is located in "x:"Documents and Settings"username"Start Menu for individual users, or "x:"Documents and SettingsAll UsersStart Menu for all users collectively.
*In Windows Vista, the folder is located in "x:"Users"username"AppDataRoamingMicrosoftWindowsStart Menu for individual users, or "x:"ProgramDataMicrosoftWindowsStart Menu for all users collectively. In all examples above;"x:" represents the drive letter ("C:", "D:", etc...), You can acces it by clicking on "My Computer" on the "Desktop" or "Start Menu". "username" represents the name of the user. These places can be easily accessed by right-clicking on the Start button, and clicking "Open" or "Open All Users".


The "Start Button" and its menu were lauded as a leap forward in user friendliness and interface design when they were first introduced in Windows 95. The symbol of the Start Button was, and still is, used to advertise the product. Furthermore, Microsoft has embraced the word "start" as their "catch word", and it is frequently used in their advertising even today.Fact|date=November 2007

Undocumented features

There are some undocumented features of the Start Menu, and opportunities for customization. For instance, in Classic Start Menu mode, dragging a file or program onto the Start Button creates a top-level Start Menu item. Shortcuts on the Start Menu folder with keyboard shortcut key(s) assigned respond throughout the Windows environment. The Windows Power Toy TweakUI offers many other customizations, including speeding up the response time of the Start Menu, window animation, and other "power user" hacks. [ [ Download page for Microsoft Windows Tweak UI Power Toy] ] [ [ O'Reilly Tweak UI page] ] On Windows XP and Windows Vista, it is possible to prevent specific applications from appearing in the recent programs list by modifying the Windows registry. [ [ How To Prevent a Program from Being Displayed in the Most Frequently Used Programs List in Windows XP ] ] Many more tips and tricks are documented on the Web. [ [ Windows 95/98 Tips] ] [ [ Korova Multimedia Windows 95 tips] ]

ee also



External links

*Sullivan, Kent. [ "The Windows® 95 User Interface: A Case Study in Usability Engineering"] . (C) 1996 for [ Association for Computing Machinery, Inc.] An article written by a developer on the Windows 95 UI team, detailing the usability studies and development processes that led to the creation of the Windows 95 interface.

* [ Start Menu Buttons] - Visual history of Start Button

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