Microsoft Defends Windows 8 Start Screen

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Microsoft has responsed to user gripes about the use of the tile-centric Start screen in Windows 8

Microsoft is working hard to justify its decision to change the Windows 8 Start screen.

Like its choice to include the “ribbon” user interface in the Windows 8 version of Windows Explorer, Microsoft’s decision to offer a Windows 8 Start screen composed of active tiles is proving somewhat controversial for a subset of Windows watchers.

Controversial Change

“We know major changes like this can be controversial and we are looking forward to continuing this dialogue with you,” Marina Dukhon, a senior program manager lead on Windows’ Core Experience team, wrote in an 11 October posting on the “Building Windows 8” blog, which serves as one of the primary channels for Microsoft talking about the upcoming operating system. “I wanted to address some of the specific topics that have been brought up so far as they pertain to the design.”

In the current Windows format, the Start button opens a menu with a list of applications. An “All Programs” tab within that menu opens a plethora of folders and subfolders. Microsoft’s engineers believe this is an inefficient system, particularly in light of increased user focus on apps and websites.

“In Windows 8 we assume that there are even more apps (and sites) than the XP/Vista/7 eras and so we needed even more scale,” Dukhon wrote. “We also wanted to provide an at-a-glance view and a navigation model that requires much less dexterity.” The Windows 8 Start screen, she added, offers more apps without the need to scroll or click through a file tree.

Microsoft is also developing the customisation options related to the Windows 8 start screen. “The personalisation of the Start screen is one of the features that we want to make great, and we’re still iterating on it and to make it better,” she wrote. “In the Windows Developer Preview, you can already try flexible group sizes, unpinning tiles, and resizing wide tiles to square tiles. And in the Beta, you’ll also be able to use other improvements based on this dialogue, in addition to creating, naming, and rearranging groups.”

Radical Departure

Microsoft has also used the blog to defend its decision to integrate the ribbon user interface, which offers tabs and icons in a horizontal or vertical panel, into Windows 8.

“We chose the ribbon mechanism, and to those that find that a flawed choice, there isn’t much we can do other than disagree,” Windows and Windows Live division President Steven Sinofsky blogged 2 September. “We are certain, and this proved out, that the dislike of the ribbon is most intense in the audience of this blog.”

Certainly Windows 8 will offer a radical departure from the traditional Windows.

That tile-centric start screen will make the operating system more palatable for tablets, and in theory allow Microsoft to challenge Apple’s iPad in the touch-screen space. In addition, users will have the option of flipping to a desktop interface. Other entries in the “Building Windows 8” blog have discussed issues such as the Windows team’s attempts to reduce runtime memory requirements and malware security, in an apparent bid to convince potential users that Windows 8 can serve equally as a robust operating system for desktops and laptops, and as a lightweight interface for tablets.

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