The start menu or the start screen and the start button are user interface elements in the Microsoft Windows product line, which serve as the central launching point for applications.
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 Internet Explorer updates like 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 needed at all, as any programs and files can be opened by navigating to them in the File Explorer interface. However, the start menu provides a much easier 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.
Ultimately, the start menu is a single point of access to programs, documents and settings, unlike other operating systems which use multiple GUI features to access programs (e.g. a Finder menu, or Program menu), files (e.g. a hard drive or file cabinet icon) and settings (a separate "Configuration" utility or set of utilities).
On Windows operating systems before Windows Vista, the Start Button consists of the word "Start" and the Windows Logo. In Windows Vista, the word "Start" has been replaced by a blue Windows "pearl" logo.
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Windows 95 was the version in which the Program Manager was superseded by the Start Menu, which condensed the Program Manager into a popup menu that could be accessed at any time.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.
Later developments in Internet Explorer and subsequent Windows releases allowed users to customise the Start Menu and access and expand Favorites, My Documents and Administrative Tools (Windows 2000) 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.
The other significant change came in Windows Vista, where the interface of the Start Menu changed and the user was allowed to customize its color, without needing to change the theme.
The start button of the start menu/screen has also changed throughout the operating systems. When it first came out, the start menu featured a grey button with the Windows logo on the side with the words 'Start' in black to the right of the logo. The button was rectangular and it became lighter as one mouses over or clicks on it.
In Windows XP, the button changed to a green color with a white font. The button had the effect of being pressed down when moused over. When clicked, the Start button changed into a darker color.
The biggest change for the start button came with Windows Vista, when the rectangular shape was replaced with a blue sphere with the Windows logo on it. The word 'Start' was omitted entirely and it basically had the same mouseover effects as Windows XP. The Windows 7 start button is similar except the button glows when moused over and clicked.
In Windows 8, the blue sphere and the old glowing Windows logo was replaced. The new button had no sphere or glow when you moused over instead you had and logo and it shined, The background was the color of your Taskbar.
In Windows 10, there weren't too many drastic changes to the button. However, the only minor changes were that the Windows logo became a bit smaller and there is no shine when hovering on the button. The first change only occurs in desktop mode, but in tablet mode, the logo has the same size as the one in Windows 8.
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 the Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows Me, it is located in C:\Windows\Start Menu, or, if there are multiple users, C:\Windows\Profiles\(username)\Start Menu. In Windows 2000 and XP, the folder is located in C:\Documents and Settings\(username)\Start Menu for individual users, or C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu for all users collectively. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, the folder is located in C:\Users\username\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu for individual users, or C:\ProgramData\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu for all users collectively. In all examples above, "(username)" represents the name of the user. These places can be easily accessed by right-clicking on the Start button, and clicking Open.
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 "catchword", and it is frequently used in their advertising even today.
In Windows 95, it was introduced.
The start menu was redesigned slightly in Windows XP by changing the design template and layout options. However, you are able to enable the classic start menu in Properties.
In Windows Vista, the start menu changed more, and this time the word "Start" was dropped from the button, now it's the Windows logo and this was used in Windows 7 later. This new menu allowed for better organization, and a built-in Search function. In addition, the Log off and Shut down menus were grouped, and the user photo was moved over to the right. Windows Vista also dropped the option to switch back to the classic start menu, however, several programs developed by third-party developers allow to switch back by editing System.ini files.
In Windows 7, the start menu was slightly changed. The power options section now say 'Shut Down' instead of the icons used in Windows Vista.
In Windows 8, the start button has been completely dropped, and now the system auto-launched into the start screen at boot. When switching to desktop, you can go back to the start screen by highlighting your mouse to the bottom-left of the screen or by clicking the Windows button on your Windows-button-enabled keyboard. The start screen groups things differently as well, and things can be dragged and dropped. The old start menu is able to be restored by programs developed by third-parties like Stardock.
In Windows 10, the Start Menu has been restored with a interface similar to that of Windows 7, but with the second column consisting of live tiles.
- Like most facets of the Windows operating system, there are 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. Many more tips and tricks are documented on the Web.
- In 1995, Microsoft licensed the Rolling Stones' song "Start Me Up" for the Windows 95 marketing campaign.
- In Windows 95, it was possible to hide the Start button by clicking it, then pressing Esc, and then "Alt" together with the minus key. A little context menu appeared, which offered the possibility to move the button or close it completely, causing it to disappear. It reappeared after rebooting the operating system.
- In Windows 8.1,The start button returns but pressing it will only take you into the metro UI.