What is the impact on the Start menu of long-running programs?

Let's take another look at the basic principle that determines which programs show up in the Start menu:

Each time you launch a program, it "earns a point", and the longer you don't launch a program, the more points it loses.

If you stare at this long enough, you might see a hole in this principle: What about a program that you launch once and keep running all the time? According to the rule, this program would "earn a point" when you first launched it, and then it would gradually lose points even though you clearly use this program frequently. (Here, "frequently" is an understatement for "all the stinking time!")

Thus was born another fine-tuning rule: For each consecutive day◊ a program was kept continuously running, it "earned a point" as if you had launched it yourself.

This little "feeding the program points under the table" was enough background radiation to keep the program afloat in the points race, but not so much as to overwhelm the programs that you actually launch frequently. After all, if you keep the program running all the time, the Start menu didn't have to give the program high placement. Most of the times you open the Start menu, you don't need to launch that program; it's already running. The program just needed to be kept from dying out completely.


In extreme cases, it might even drop all the way to zero, at which point the program would act like you'd never run it at all!

◊"Day" here is shorthand for a more complicated definition (taking into account idle time), the details of which are not relevant.

Comments (33)
  1. eric says:


  2. oliver says:

    So you think easter eggs are more appropriate than daggers and asterisks? </rant ;->

  3. Blank says:

    I enjoy this series, but this entry puzzles me.  Why would these programs need a boost?  If they shouldn’t be in the start menu, then who cares how many points they have?

  4. Marco M says:

    Maybe, but just maybe, to display “hey you use it always” in the install/uninstall dialog.

    (the maybe is not irony, I truly don’t know if it’s the same score system or not, which would be a good question…)

    (also, doesn’t this entry give a cheat mode for apps ? You can keep your app running hidden in a low mem profile after the user clicks exit and earn points in the background..)

  5. John says:

    He did that specifically to piss you off.

  6. Leo Petr says:

    They need a boost because every so often one has to restart the system. You want them easily accessible at startup.

  7. Jacob Alber says:

    "* start will then, obviously, be to make a shortcut to the Startup-folder of the user’s Program Start-menu folder."

    Which will really start angering people when they try to launch old applications that simply cannot live without Administrative priviledges (and refuse to split into a Service/Client app) through the startup folder on Vista; every restart will launch a Systray popup that says something along the lines of "A startup application was blocked from running."

  8. Blank says:

    Ok, perhaps they reuse the list for the uninstall dialog, and that could make sense.

    But otherwise, even with the boost, it sounds like it will still not make it to the start menu list.  But instead it will just have a respectable number of points.

    So it doesn’t seem to change the observable effect of the system.  How does this tweak affect the user?

  9. ChrisMcB says:

    The start menu is suppossed to be a list of commonly used programs. Not Most Recently Used.

    I tend to leave programs running, with the exception of a few apps like instant messengers, most apps play nicely with memory and resources so I can leave them running. If they loose points when they aren’t started. Eventually, as Ray pointed out they would drop to zero. Then these odd programs I run once a year would show up in my start menu. If I run enough one offs I would fill my start menu. The next time I reboot (less than once a month) I would have to root around for the programs I normally run.

    Fortunately, because of these tweek I don’t do that. The start menu is a list of programs I normally use, not just a list I start most often.

  10. Ishmaeel says:

    Glad to know you put so much thought into the process that filters the start menu.

    Too bad it’s one of the few options I turn off as soon as I install Windows⊜.

  11. SM says:

    @andy: You mean like, "There are unused icons on your desktop?"


  12. Josh says:

    Now I’m curious as to how it knows I like VS in the menu, but not Outlook or Messenger. I’d imagine because Outlook is in my quicklaunch bar, and Messenger auto-starts up, but there are other similar things… Like I always have taskmgr open, but that’s not in the list, and doesn’t apply to either of the above scenarios. Maybe tomorrow will enlighten me :)

  13. andy says:

    "They need a boost because every so often one has to restart the system. You want them easily accessible at startup."

    I can imagine a nice balloon tip for this, instead of giving points, similar to the Desktop Cleanup-stuff: "Howdy! You’ve run application X for a long time now, would you like it to start every time you start* Windows?" :-)

    But… many people gets pissed off whenever the computer tries to do something "magical" based on their behaviour, and soon a conspiracy theory about Microsoft tracing program usage etc. is started & how they prepare for the Third World War or something like that.

    * start will then, obviously, be to make a shortcut to the Startup-folder of the user’s Program Start-menu folder.

  14. Mathematician says:

    ⊜ is U+229C, also known as "circled equals". It is a mathematical operator.  It can not be used as a footnote. But it is not much different than misusing the single and double daggers.

  15. alex.r. says:

    Josh, by default taskmgr doesn’t have a shortcut in the start menu. That would explain why it’s not in the list.

  16. Andrew says:

    l⊜l, awesome! ☺

  17. Andrew R says:

    I’m a programmer; asterisk is known as the "indirection operator"; I thus claim it cannot be used as a footnote.

    Asterisk was originally for indicating birthdates, but has become the defacto for signaling footnotes; I see no reason to use it over any other symbol if the context makes the meaning clear.  This is called evolution in a natural language; it’s not a bad thing.

    Raymond, thank you for your insight and knowledge sharing.  I don’t think there are many people who could do what you manage.

  18. Joe White says:

    Is there another tweak that exempts apps in the Startup group from appearing in this "most-used" area? It seems likely that there is — otherwise autostart nuisances like Acrobat Quick Start and Java Update would be in the top positions by this "long-running apps" rule.

  19. Dean Harding says:

    I can’t tell if "Mathematician" is serious or not…

  20. Mathematician says:

    Andrew R,

    It depends on your programming language. One could also make similar arguments for the following symbols: ; , . % & ! ” ‘ : ( ) and others. Do you propose to write English without using the period, semicolon, or quotes, to name just a few?

    Of course none of this is relevant. We are writing English, not programming code. So it does not matter that the asterisk is an “indirection operator” in your programming language. In the context of written English, which is what we are doing, it is and may be appropriately used for footnotes. The single and double dagger have a clearly defined and accepted usage as well.

    The circled equals symbol has a clearly defined usage as well in mathematics, but unfortunately not as a footnote marker in written English.

    To Dean Harding: Yes, I am serious. I am aware of the footnote issues here. I am not judging. It is Raymond’s prerogative to write as he wishes. That writing reflects upon him, too.

    [Could you please point out where I put up a “No Fun Allowed” sign? And seeing as you’re a mathematician, I’m particularly disappointed. Mathematicians are normally quite fond of wordplay and other silliness. -Raymond]
  21. Jamie says:

    ⊜ != easter egg, it’s a Death Star. If it were an egg it would be oblong†, it’s clearly round with a trench.

    Here’s how it’s used. If you disparage Raymond’s Death Star, it’ll come sink your home planet‡.

    Nit Pickers Corner

    † If you disagree, place this dagger in your eye.

    ‡ Still have issues? Two daggers for your heart*.

    * Oh you think Raymond worries that we might share the same living space, Earth? He’s got a Death Star.

    Proof no one reads the comments.

  22. Vorn says:

    I’m not really sure I like this behavior.  On my machine, I run my music player, IRC client, AIM client, and email client constantly, and almost never have need to reopen them.  But there they would be, taking up space in "most frequently used" where Excel or a text editor – frequently used programs that I don’t use like constant services – could be.


  23. Drak says:

    @Vorn: if you really frequently use them they will aqcuire more points than the long-running programs anyway.

    Raymond: use any symbol you want to designate footnotes, it’s fun! ƒ might be nice for next time (ƒ for ƒootnote)

  24. dereferenced_null_pointer says:

    Does all this background bookkeeping still occur if you use the "classic" start menu?

  25. bug says:

    ⊜ doesn’t display correct in IE+XP (only a generic square is displayed), but works flawless in firefox on the same computer. Daggers, double daggers and asterisk is displayed correct.

  26. Dean Harding says:

    Next time, try <font face="wingdings">&#255;</font> for a footnote marker, that’ll stir things up :-)

  27. NotABug says:


    ⊜ displays perfectly fine on my IE+XP box.

  28. Rick C says:

    Whether that specific character shows upor not may depend on what fonts etc settings the user has.  My home PC has some of the Far East Asian fonts so I can see Japanese on websites even if I can’t read it, but my work one doesn’t.  Usually things like that symbol will appear on the home box but not on the work one–I haven’t checked this one page yet with the home machine.

  29. ulric says:

    yes, well, your "circled equals" symbol

    looks to me here like a delicious burger.

    and now I’m hungry :P

    ink blot test?  :D

  30. ulric says:

    hey it’s true, the ⊜ character doesn’t display correctly when used in the comment section on IE 6 under XP.  

    [Wow you’re so cool for pointing that out. Perhaps you can even explain why instead of just pointing it out. -Raymond]
  31. Neil says:

    I can explain why, at least on Windows:

    IE 5/6 don’t do per-character font fallback. So unless your character is formatted in a font that includes it (which Raymond did via an explicit <FONT> tag for the circled equals), you’ll see your font’s fallback symbol, usually a square box.

    Gecko-based browsers, such as Firefox, do do per-character font fallback, so that it will find a font that includes the circled equals sign even if the page author asked for a different font. (I don’t know the algorithm used to choose the fallback font.)

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