Raymond Chen on the “Start” menu

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Technology
August 25th, 2003 • 9:55 pm

I am afraid that Raymond Chen’s recent blog entry on Windows’ “Start” menu is typical of the attitude that explains why so many things in Microsoft products are so flawed and user-hostile:

But one thing kept getting kicked up by usability tests: People booted up the computer and just sat there, unsure what to do next.

That’s when we decided to label the System button “Start”.

It says, “You dummy. Click here.” And it sent our usability numbers through the roof, because all of a sudden, people knew what to click when they wanted to do something.

So why is “Shut down” on the Start menu?

When we asked people to shut down their computers, they clicked the Start button.

Because, after all, when you want to shut down, you have to start somewhere.

(Besides, if we also had a “Shut down” button next to the Start button, everybody would be demanding that we get rid of it to save valuable screen real estate.) (My emphasis)

So basically there is a “Start” button in Windows because people are dumb. The first thing that a Windows user sees when he boots up is something that’s intended to insult his intelligence. Nice.

Maybe if people don’t know what to do after they’ve booted up their computer, it’s because they don’t know where stuff is. I don’t know what kind of “usability tests” Microsoft conducts and who is recruited for those, but in my informal usability tests with family members and friends and colleagues who use Windows, most people are utterly confused about the way things are organized in Windows and, half of the time, when they save or copy something, they don’t know where it went.

I am not saying that Mac OS X is perfect in that particular respect, but even in its imperfect application of the “spatial desktop metaphor”, it’s still much better than Windows, with or without a “Start” menu.

Then there is the issue of where people go when one asks them to shut down their computer. Raymond Chen says, “They clicked the Start button”. Maybe it’s because they didn’t see what else they could do? Unless you have customized your Windows environment, if no windows are open and minimized in the Taskbar, the Start menu is pretty much the only thing that you can click on! It’s hardly proof that the “Shut Down” command needs to be there!

Finally, the last paragraph is a perfect illustration of this pervasive attitude at Microsoft: Besides, if we also had a “Shut down” button next to the Start button, everybody would be demanding that we get rid of it to save valuable screen real estate.

Did they actually research this? Not based on what Chen is saying. They just assumed that “everybody” would be demanding more screen real estate — when the Taskbar is such a waste of screen real estate to begin with, since it covers the entire bottom of the screen even if it contains no minimized windows.

Then of course there is the fact that, if you want to restart your Windows PC, you have to:

  1. go to the Start menu
  2. select the “Turn Off Computer” command
  3. choose “Restart” in the Turn Off Computer dialog box

Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

Sometimes I wonder on what UI planet Microsoft people are living. You certainly don’t want to visit it. In ORDER to land on that planet with your space module, you’d probably have to press “Take off”.

(And it also looks like every blog page on that planet has “PermaLink” as its title, regardless of its actual contents.)

12 Responses to “Raymond Chen on the “Start” menu”

  1. Matthew says:

    restart in the shutdown option is REALLY daft.

    I suppose MS cant have a Windows menu so Start is their only option

  2. CyberZorn says:

    “and it also looks like every blog page on that planet has “PermaLink” as its title, regardless of its actual contents”

    You mean the HTML title of the page? examples?

  3. Pierre Igot says:

    The Raymond Chen blog entry that I referred to (and every other blog entry in his blog if you use the “PermaLink” link).

  4. Alex says:

    I couldn’t resist commenting…

    >> basically there is a “Start” button in Windows because people are dumb.

    You just love to pick fights, don’t you? Chen said dummy in a friendly way, and you go all the way to conclude that Start == dumb. How interesting. To a new user (dumb or not) the Start button is an excellent idea, and it’s not at all intrusive for experienced ones.

    Yeah, don’t even get me started on ‘screen space’. How much does that ‘dock’ thing take on the Mac?

    About shutting down… Start being the only thing to click, wouldn’t you click *it* to find the shutdown command? If MS were to put a permanent Shutdown button, you would be *so* bitching about wasted screen space.

    Restarting… People do that very seldom, except when the system is unstable or some software was installed. It’s tolerable to click through it rather than have it there, *wasting screen space*, when you rarely ever need it. And making it an option under “shutdown” makes sense, because mental model-wise it’s nearly the same thing.

  5. asdf says:

    You can make the taskbar auto-hide so it wastes 0 pixels as opposed to 28 pixels (and I think the dock in os x is much larger than 28 pixels). I’ve used OS X for 2 hours total in my lifetime but that seemed like the biggest waste of screenspace since CDE. They love bombarding you with huge buttons/icons, large fonts, and lots of padding. Of course, I’m comparing this to my windows 2000 setup. I really hate the way xp and longhorn looks (because they ripped off apple. Again).

    To shutdown or restart your computer you can simply push the shutdown and restart buttons on your case (and yes windows goes through the whole shutdown process instead of just immediately shutting off).

  6. Pierre Igot says:

    asdf: You can make the Dock auto-hide too. As for wasting screen space, it’s always a delicate balance. If you use too little padding, things look cramped and it’s too easy to click on the wrong thing by mistake. If you use too much, people get the impression of a waste. I would definitely like Apple to fine-tune things in Mac OS X (grid spacing in the Finder, for example), but on the whole I think the balance is right. You also need to remember that the future of computing will need to be resolution-independent, so that things can look the same on a screen with 150 dpi as they would on a screen with 90 dpi. Both Windows and Mac OS X still have to be improved significantly in that respect, but the scalability of several aspects of the Mac OS X interface is a positive start.

    Alex: In my book, “dummy” *IS* derogatory. It’s really farfetched to see it as a “friendly” insult.

  7. Andreas Magnusson says:

    I just wonder, do you still eject diskettes on MacOS by dropping the disk-icon on the trashcan?

  8. Pierre Igot says:

    I haven’t used a diskette since, oh, 1998. But if you’re asking about ejecting CDs or other volumes, in Mac OS X, I drag them to… the Eject icon or more simply I use the Eject button on my keyboard (above * on numpad). Much safer than risking to eject a volume while the drive is reading or writing on it if you ask me :).

  9. Matthew says:

    it wont eject it if its in use when you drop it on the eject icon anyway, itll just warn you.

    the eject by dropping stuff on the trashcan is an old argument thats irrelevant now, but that they didnt have much choice for anyway back when it was originally chosen.

    Its a VERY minor problem compared to Windows MANY UI flaws. Like down up down right left reading of elements on the screen and many more minor irritations.

  10. Pierre Igot says:

    Matthew: I was referring to the behaviour on PC computers :). And my point to Andreas was precisely that the criticism no longer applies.

  11. Matthew says:

    ok Pierre, sorry i was wondering.

    We get floppy disks in to work off PC users sometimes and mostly the files are corrupt or the disks are just broken.

    CD-Rs are dirt cheap and most people can email – but thats another argument

  12. Leonardo Herrera says:

    > Did they actually research this?

    I bet they did. Also, I bet many people had the same issues with all this UI decisions back at the time. There is one thing you are completely ignoring: who is the targeted audience. It’s not the average Mac user, who usually has been trained (graphic artists comes to mind,) it’s not the Linux hacker, it’s not the IT professional. MS applications are targeted to the casual user, and that’s why they’ve become the most successful software company in the world. So, I guess we should give them some credit.

    And every “insult” can be taken as friendly, depending on context.

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