Why did the word Start disappear from the Start button?


Commenter Mike Dunn would like to know why the word Start disappeared from the Start button in Windows Vista. After all, adding the word Start helped new users figure out what they should click first.

I don't know but I can guess. To emphasize that these are guesses, I went back in after I wrote them and added all sorts of weasel words. It sort of saps the punch from the statements, but it's one of those things I've learned that I have to do to avoid the more egregious forms of willful misunderstanding.

First of all, it might have been a leftover from one of the older designs for the Vista taskbar, one which, as I dimly recall, changed the default taskbar docking position from the bottom of the screen to the right-hand edge. (I am under the impression that this design may have been shown off at a PDC from a few years ago, but perhaps not.) Under those circumstances, we would be in the situation where the word Start disappears, so there would be no point showing a helpful piece of text when the only people it helps would be people who wouldn't know how to re-dock the taskbar anyway.

Second, the design folks might have wanted to give Windows Vista a distinctive new "look", and a fancy new Start button could serve as one of those elements.

Third, introducing a new element with a new design might be one of those things that lawyers like to see, because it might make a copyright claim more defensible. As I recall, during the period of Windows Vista development, there was an ongoing issue with a competing operating system which appeared to have copied many visual elements from Windows XP, and I'm guessing that lawyers like it when a new element is even more distinctive, because, in my totally uninformed, unofficial, and untrained legal opinion, doing so might help to remove the defense that the element is generic and therefore is not subject to copyright.

Yes, the word Start was added specifically to address a usability concern, but it may have been the feeling that in the over ten years since the Start button was introduced, people had been exposed to it in other ways, perhaps even ways they didn't expect. You may have noticed that the Start button cues have been slowly disappearing over the years. The big dialog box that appears the first time you boot Windows which has a miniature screenshot with an arrow pointing to the Start button? Gone. The arrow that animates across the taskbar which says Click here to begin? Gone.

By the time the first-time user has reached the desktop, the circular Windows Vista logo has been presented numerous times. It's on the boot screen, it's on the logon screen, it's on the box packaging. When it appears in the corner of the screen, the feeling of the designers may have been that the user has already been nudged plenty of times into clicking on it.

Comments (48)
  1. kog999 says:

    perhaps computer hardware designers should have taken a hint from windows 95 and put a big red Start stickers with giant arrow pointing to the power button, that way users would know how to start the computer(the power symbol doesn’t have any meaning to some people). oh and dont forget simular markings on the monitor. with a little note saying they need to press the button on both the computer and monitor, and maby a diagram showing how a button works. i bet they would have saved lot of support call or at least gotten then further along in the process. never underestimate the level or ignoriance of users.

  2. Karellen says:

    "during […] Windows Vista development, there was an ongoing issue with a competing operating system which appeared to have copied many visual elements from Windows XP, and […] lawyers like it when a new element is even more distinctive, because, […] doing so might help to remove the defense that the element is generic and therefore is not subject to copyright."

    Somewhat ironically, using a project logo rather than wording for the main "launch" menu button is a feature copied, in turn, from some other competing desktop environments.

    But, it’s a good job (IMO) that MS won the "Apple vs." lawsuit on "look and feel" so that competing desktops can get inspiration from each other in such a fashion, making things easier and more "intuitive" for users.

  3. Nish says:

    What baffles me now is why I never wondered about this. I don’t think I even noticed! Good question from Mike though, and a great reply from Raymond. Thanks to both of you.

  4. DrkMatter says:

    It has been my experience that computer illeterate people shy away from the Vista start menu even more than they did Windows XP’s. If the program they want doesn’t have a desktop icon, they freeze and call for help.

  5. R. Bemrose says:

    I assume it has something to do with the strangeness of having to click Start to reach Shutdown.

    That and it’s much easier to refer to it as the Windows button now, rather than just the start button.  I’m not sure if the Windows docs now call it this or not.

  6. someone else says:

    Why did "Open/Open Alll" and "Explore/Explore All" disappear from the Start button text menu in Windows 7? Is that the next wow simplification that I should be bowled over by? A lot of evil changes took place in Vista and Windows 7. Things which were useful and constant from Windows 95-XP. I know the answer again is "With Windows Search, users can quickly and easily find the stuff they need with a few keystrokes" but hey I prefer organizing my Start menu the way I want. Few would know to try right clicking on "All Programs".

  7. Koro says:

    Few would know to try right clicking on "All Programs"

    That’s actually the first thing I tried.

  8. Joe Dietz says:

    Another possibility is that such usability concerns are irrelevant now days.  My grandmother is on her 3rd windows computer now after all (and long ago voluntarily ditched AOL along with a number of her other 80-something trailer park friends).  There can’t be that many completely ‘new-never-used-a-computer’ computer users out there now days.  Heck my 3 year old uses a windows (vista) computer in pre-school.  Even if there are a few remaining, they are surrounded by people that would point them in the right direction quickly.

  9. WndSks says:

    Back in the day, I hex edited explorer to remove "start" (More space on the taskbar, yay)

    When XP came out, you would hack uxtheme.dll instead and use a custom VS with a (thin) taskbar with a small start button

    (And with 7, the shell&taskbar is really going in the wrong direction, so much so that you need to use a 3rd party shell)

  10. James Schend says:

    Few would know to try right clicking on "All

    Programs".

    Really? I didn’t know you could get there any other way.

  11. Peedy says:

    I always thought it was gone to reduce the space the button took (especially the XP one which with visual styles on, was disproportionately large). The only minor issue it creates is for KB/step by step how-to articles. They now have to include the Logo image wherever they said "Click Start".

  12. Anonymous says:

    @WndSks Have you played with the taskbar properties?  It’s more adjustable via the GUI in Win7 than ever before.  (Without needing to use the hex editor.)  In particular you can choose "Use small icons" and "Taskbar buttons: Combine when taskbar is full".

  13. Jim says:

    Thanks Ray for the detailed explaination. It shows that even such small change was not without many involved to consider the consequence. Many features in the design are more involved with non-computer issues.

  14. Raymond II says:

    Adding some characteristics:

    • It’s "language neutral." A minor thing in this context, perhaps.

    • A round shape may have been considered more aesthetically pleasing, and catches attention in a predominantly rectangular world.

    • The round thing (orb) is also present in the Office 2007 suite, except for Outlook.

    • The round thing (orb) is probably used to collect the global functions of an application in one place, perhaps even viewing the Windows GUI as an application as well.

  15. gkeramidas says:

    mouse over the start button in win 7 and the "start" tooltip will appear. don’t know about vista, never used it too much.

  16. CGomez says:

    My observation so far has been:

    Techies just click the new orb.

    People who use computers a lot (they are addicted to Facebook or something) have no problem with the orb, but the Office orb in the upper left corner eludes them.

    The paradigm the Office team may have been going for doesn’t seem to work.  The idea may have been "okay the lower left is where you start with the OS.  the upper left will be where you start with the application you are working in".  It might have worked fine except the Ribbon makes you feel comfortable that you will find you answers in the Ribbon.  That works fine until you need to print.

    People who can’t figure out how to start off using Vista/7 couldn’t figure out how to start off in 95 anyways, so you still have to guide them through it.  At this point, they start mumbling about how everything is all different.  But then you sit them down back in front of their own computer and they just start mumbling about how nothing works anyway.

    Just my observation.

  17. Chris K says:

    The logo is on most modern keyboards now too. Another place it could be seen, and the key has exactly the same function as clicking on logo, and it doesn’t have start written on it.

    @R. Bemrose

    I think the only people who have a problem with using a Start button to shut down the computer are those who like to whine about Microsoft.(Warning car analogy) It’s no different to turning the ignition key in my car to stop it from running. Or hitting the button marked POWER to turn my TV off. "But I don’t want to give it MORE power!?"

  18. zooba says:

    It also now matches the ‘Windows’ key that seems to be on most keyboards.

  19. NB says:

    It also now matches the ‘Windows’ key that seems to be on most keyboards.

    And the Windows key DOES still have "Start" on it!

  20. ERock says:

    @Chris

    The ignition thing isn’t applicable because, yes, it’s being used, but it’s being used in the opposite rotation of it being turned for starting. Using opposing actions to cancel the previous result is consistent with good operator controls. What’s the opposite of click, anyway? Lift your finger from M1 while hovering the cursor over the button?

    The POWER button on an appliance is very clearly a toggle. You’re not expected to use that button for anything other than powering on or off. Unlike the Start button that you click for shutting down… or running specific programs… or finding documents…

    That said, I don’t think hitting Start to Shutdown is such a terrible thing anyway. Shutdown isn’t instant, so starting shutdown [routines] seems consistent to me. Also, where else would it go?

  21. Wang-Lo says:

    …But I still don’t know what to click on when I want to STOP it.

    -Wang-Lo.

  22. JC says:

    My guess is that it was just a visual design issue, because if you turn off themes like I do, you’ll see that "Start" still appears, just has it always has from Windows 95 onward.

  23. Z says:

    such a pity you had to dumb your writing down to fit people who aren’t smart enough to understand that this is a blog… especially the paragraph that starts with "Third," and exposes legal reasons, so many "might"s and even whole weasel phrases…

    well at least you did warn about it at the beginning of the post, but that didn’t make it any less annoying to me.

    thanks for the post, keep the good info coming, and don’t let mis-readers disturb your writing! :)

  24. steveg says:

    Gary et al, you weren’t alone. The stupidest UI decision since Bob has been removed. Office 2010 restores the File menu.

  25. John Gardner says:

    I don’t think its any of those.

    I’d bet "internationalization"

    Someone would have had to localize that word "Start" in that image in every language, no?  And now the start button looks different for everyone and is different sizes, etc.

    The windows logo doesn’t have to be modified at all.  There’s nothing worse than trying to internationalize text on images!

  26. WndSks says:

    @Anonymous: Are you kidding me? Forced always on top, Can’t turn off previews, no floating deskbands, forced "group sorting" etc (And that’s just the taskbar, don’t get me started on the file manager part of explorer)

  27. Bob says:

    Here’s the real question – how many people have ever complained about "pressing start in order to turn it off" without either being prats thinking they’re funny, or being such a beginner that sending an email requires asking for help?

    Seriously, unless you waste a chunk of space just to have the "stop" button on screen ready for the end of the day, there’s few sensible places to put the turn off command.

    And once you’ve learned "click start to get the menu with useful commands, then click the shut down command", its not the most complicated thing you’ll ever do with a computer.

    I’ve met cabbages that can learn this, and move on.

    We may as well have another round of the hilarious and original "why do you park on a driveway and drive on a parkway" routine.

  28. Marquess says:

    @WndSks

    Sure you can turn of previews (not that I see any problem with those). Previews require Aero. No Aero, no previews. And surely Aero must be evil for you. (By the way, the Standard Theme still has Start on the button)

  29. mtimdog says:

    The bottom of my Orb is cutoff on my laptop, and for the life of me I can’t find out how to fix it.  :(

  30. Leo Petr says:

    I would have thought that "Start" would be a pain to localize. You’d need a short word in every language Windows supports to correspond to "Start", and there are likely languages out there that have no short word for this purpose.

  31. Gary Briggs says:

    Perhaps it’s just me, but the first time I used the new version of office, it took me a really really long time [measured in minutes] to try clicking the button at the top left, because it didn’t look like any button I’m familiar with, at all.

    My goal was to export as HTML. None of the obvious save icons worked, I couldn’t figure it out when I tried to right click to add stuff.

    To be fair, it had been a decade since I really used windows in earnest, and even longer since I used Office like I meant it. Also to be fair, perhaps the start button being in the bottom left [like every other version of windows has] is sufficient. Earlier I mentioned familiarity – I *am* familiar with a big button in the bottom left. Just not an *application* having a big, different-shaped, button at the top left.

    But I’ve personally suffered from the lack of indicators on the orb in the new version of office. My wife found the new office a sufficiently large UI learning leap that she has moved to a popular alternative office suite.

    Gary (-;

  32. Lawrence says:

    I think this was a brave move; Windows has been very closely linked to the Start button/menu ever since the whole "Start-it-up" campaign of ’95. Plenty of companies would have decided it was there to stay, forever!

    That said, I’m not sure whether I like it… I liked the larger-target of the rectangular Start button… Then again I don’t use it that often anyway, I put everything on Quick Launch.

  33. Drak says:

    @Lawrence

    If you like having a big Start menu target, move your startbar to the right hand side on vista/7. The logo will still be the small orb but it will trigger anywhere on taskbar before the location of the first window.

  34. klmno says:

    @steveg:

    Office 2010 hasn’t restored the File menu. In fact the actual menu behind the button is gone (it got replaced with the Backstage View). The orb got a new square look to resemble a ribbon tab which most users are familiar with. Lesson learned, back to square buttons (Yay!).

    @Lawrence:

    I’d argue that the hit area of the round  Start button in Windows is actually larger than that of the old square Start button (check it out). There is also a good reason (usability) why the hit area of the round button isn’t round although technically that wouldn’t be hard to do by making the transparent pixels in the button image "transparent" to mouse clicks.

  35. Jim Jones says:

    The first time I used XP "Start" was the last thing I clicked, I was looking for "run".

  36. pulp says:

    that the word "Start" disappear is not completely correct: if you remove the transparency on the start button window the word "Start" will appear again ;)

    see: http://img46.imageshack.us/img46/4725/startbutton.png

  37. Marquess says:

    "I liked the larger-target of the rectangular Start button…"

    The Start button occupies the whole taskbar above and below it, so if you move the cursor to the very corner of the screen, you’ll hit it.

  38. abadidea says:

    IME as a tech-savvy student in a school full of bimbos, replacing the rectangular Start button with the circular Logo button caused almost no problems, because the button was always abstract anyways– you just think of it as ‘the big button in the corner.’ Office’s replacing of File with a matching button, however, confused absolutely every single last person (even though it glows on first run) because ‘File’ means something concrete and is present in *every program* separately while only Windows itself has the Start button. Office threw away a meaningful UI paradigm while the taskbar merely tweaked one, IMHO.

  39. WndSks says:

    @Marquess: That’s not the point, previews require aero because of the dwm (You can emulate it with WM_PRINT[CLIENT] of course, but not smooth and with video) I think aero glass is a gimmick, but I still keep it on (And in IE, they made the UI suck just to show off more glass)

    The point is, MS is forcing you closer and closer to a apple like dock and removing the options advanced users like (And even stuff that has been standard in windows for 15 years)

  40. John Topley says:

    "Someone would have had to localize that word ‘Start’ in that image in every language, no?  And now the start button looks different for everyone and is different sizes, etc.

    The windows logo doesn’t have to be modified at all.  There’s nothing worse than trying to internationalize text on images!"

    Already a solved problem since Windows 95 came out.

  41. Lazbro says:

    The removal of the text may have to do with saving horizontal space on the taskbar. My French speaking colleagues have ‘Démarrer’ resulting in a gigantic taskbar button. This at low res (netbook) and you have a button the size of a ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign.

    I don’t know what the complaints about the Office orb are about. Ok, it’s style over usability like the media players 10 years ago (but unlike today’s IE it is still possible to be productive with it); but it’s the giant thing in the top left corner of the screen and giant logos that do nothing didn’t seem very Microsoft to me. When I couldn’t find the ‘save as’ button on the first tab, I clicked the orb and voila.

    But thanks to all the complaints about it, the file operations are now in a new ribbon tab in 2010 so you lose the currently selected tab, woo-hoo.

    I have absolutely no idea why the comments button in Word is on a different tab than the postscript button and annoya… annotations buttons, though. Customisation may be overrated (until someone invents online profiles like any sensible web-based tool) but I wonder if the button locations on the ribbon were based on market research or simply on the need to have a button count in the same ballpark on each ribbon.

    And the ribbon in Paint is the Cadillac Eldorado of UI design: taking a cool new visual idea and taking it to gross horrible excesses.

  42. @Lazbro: Your analysis of the "File" tab in Office 2010 is incorrect. In the beta, clicking the File tab brings up a full-window "dialog" where the user may save, print, etc. Once the task is finished, the previously selected tab is restored.

  43. Marc says:

    @someone else Also the first thing I tried!

    I know a lot of people who in XP, right click on the start menu and click Explore to quicky open Windows Explorer. Microsoft obviously noticed and added a menu for it when you right-click the start menu.

    I also noticed in Vista that the start menu was taller than the taskbar itself. With a window maximised, you still had 3 or 4 pixels of start menu covering my window. Not a problem but looked slightly odd to me.

  44. Falcon says:

    With the mouse pointer in the corner, the Start button is still selected, so it effectively has an infinite target area.

  45. Worf says:

    The only reason I know the office orb is the File menu is because of some free online training hosted by Microsoft (part of the Power Together thing). It said to hit the Alt key and you’ll see the shortcut keys (as per normal menus, too). "F" just happened to be beside the orb.

    So Alt-F-S does Save like it normally does, and hey presto, the file menu!

  46. Rowboat says:

    Mind you, if you set Vista to use classic Windows visuals instead of the incomprehensible colorful bubbly stuff – one of the first things I did when I got the Vista-running laptop I’m currently using, though I intend to replace it with Windows 7 soonish anyway – it’s a rectangle with "Start" on it again, as it should be for ever and ever, amen.

  47. tjbll says:

    I really don’t mind the orb on the start menu, but I absolutely hate it in Office – just one more reason to use Office (Excel apart) as a read only medium.

    Since the classic start menu was dumped for Windows 7, I barely use its horrible octopane successor.  I have Ctrl+Alt[a-z] key bindings for all my frequently accessed applications/projects and use Ctrl-Alt[0-9] for my VMs.  I hide the desktop icons, which bemuses my offspring as a pleasing corollary. It would be good if these icons could be hidden selectively, but perhaps blank is best.

    Pretty much everything else is covered by Search, which in this iteration is quite good.  I do wish search was on the tool bar rather than the start menu.

  48. Mike says:

    I remember my first exposure to a sophisticated UI, which was at work on an IBM OS/2 machine back in the early 90’s, which replaced an IBM dumb terminal that linked to the mainframe.  The Power On was obvious, this big huge toggle switch.  But they just plopped the machine on my desk without much in the way of explanations, and let me try to figure things out on my own.  No real problems, with all the pre-installed software I needed, but when I went to turn it off for the day, I was stymied.  I knew I wasn’t supposed to just power it off, but there was no obvious (or even subtle) indicator of how to do a graceful shutdown.  I left it on overnight (against company policy at the time), and next day, being stubborn, I spent a couple of hours trying to figure it out (no Internet at the time).  I thought that the Help would help, but no matter how I phrased the question how do I turn the computer off, nothing helpful appeared.

    I finally gave up and called the company Help desk.  "Oh, that’s easy," she said, "simply minimize everything and right-click on the desktop.  You’ll see an option labelled ‘Shut Down’.  Click that."

    Right-clicking on an apparently empty surface was basically hiding something in plain sight back in those days, for me at least.  And the phrase "shut down" seemed more applicable to a nuclear plant than what amounted to an appliance.  "Honey, please ‘shut down’ the vacuum cleaner, I can’t hear anyone on the phone."  I guess using the phrase "turn it off" was too suggestive of just flipping the power switch, a verboten act.

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