Is there any vendor bias in the way the Start menu determines which programs are most frequently used?

Chrissy wants to know if there is a bias towards Microsoft products in the selection of most frequently used programs on the Start menu.

The only bias is in the initial default MFU list, the one that appears upon a fresh login. In Windows XP, the default Start menu MFU contains six slots. The first three point to Windows applications, and the second three point to programs chosen by the OEM. (If the OEM chooses not to take advantage of this feature, or if this is a boxed version of the product, then the second three slots also point to Windows applications.) Which specific three (or six) programs get displayed depend on the system configuration, so it's not like there's a single initial Start menu that applies to everyone.

Once those initial MFU items are selected, the Start menu algorithm proceeds in a vendor-blind manner. (Indeed, it doesn't even know who the vendor is; no part of the algorithm looks at file version information.)

The precise algorithm that is used for determining which programs go on the MFU over time has been reviewed by government-appointed regulators, who have not raised any concerns over vendor bias.

So I hate to say it, Chrissy, but I think it's all in your head.

Comments (39)
  1. Nick says:

    I think the bias is that Chrissy prefers running Microsoft applications…

  2. Henke37 says:

    So, does "depends on system configuration" means that it's pseudo random with the seed depending on the hardware? Or is it just the classical "no particular order", but without non installed components?

  3. Joshua says:

    An appropriate response to an appropriate query.

  4. James Curran says:

    @Henke37:  I think it means "Home" versions of the OS get one set, while "Professional" versions get a different set.

    Now, while I've never noticed a vendor bias, there does seems to be some form of bias.   I've noticed that when I search for an application from the start menu, and then run it, it never appears on the MRU list.  (Oddly, the two never-MRU-ed apps I searched&ran most often were both MS app: Calc & Spider Solatary — completely blowing Chrissy thesis)

  5. Anonymous says:

    It might be a more subtle bias. There could be some negative bias to prevent useless items (for instance, READMEs and Uninstalls) from appearing on that list; Microsoft programs might be more well-engineered in such a way that they happen to avoid that negative bias. That is, all bias towards Microsoft programs would be both accidental and caused by mistakes on other vendor's programs.

  6. Ian Kelly says:

    @ZamesCurran my guess is that when you do a search on the start bar it's just a wrapper around the normal file searching stuff. So when you launch a program from that search you are really launching it like you had launched it from the file it's in, not from the start bar. As a result the start bar can't keep track of the fact that you launched it and put it in the MRU list.

  7. asdbsd says:

    @asf: I believe Media Player Classic is at the top on my 7 netbook. Ironically, it performs worse than WMP there, somehow.

  8. asf says:

    @Raymond: yes, you have to enumerate them in some order, but they should be displayed to the user in the "correct" order (Most recently used on top), not based on the internal registry locations

    [The section that draws upon most recently used programs does show them in most-recently-used order, but that's not the only source of Open With entries. -Raymond]
  9. Jeff says:

    Wouldn't the fact that the start menu is prepopulated with certain Microsoft programs introduce a certain bias toward those programs staying there? Since they are there already it's more likely that they would stay there. They're like program incumbents.

    [The programs are given only a very tiny boost which quickly fades away. See previous discussion of the MFU. -Raymond]
  10. asf says:

    Why should I care what the source is? No matter how many times I open with VirtualDub, WMP is always on top:…/mru.png

  11. Mike Kelly says:

    The algorithm seems somewhat broken in my case.  For example, RealTerm is at the top of the list although I haven't launched that for months, but I've launched Quick Books at least 6-8 times in the last month and it appears nowhere.

  12. Rick C says:

    @Mike Kelly:  Yes, but how many times have you run RealTerm?  If it's been run hundreds of times, and Quick Books 10, then the odds are the latter simply hasn't been promoted enough yet.  I've observed this exact behavior before.  In fact if you really want to know, start deleting things from your MRU list and watch:  eventually QB should show up.

  13. Jules says:

    @ZamesCurran: I believe only shortcuts are eligble for listing in the MRU applications section; if you're searching, you're probably starting the apps directly.

  14. JoeWoodbury says:

    I would actually prefer a bias sometimes. It's annoying to be doing system maintenance using some obscure tool a lot and suddenly have it show up in the MRU list.

  15. Clovis says:

    The Start menu should show programs in order of coolness, then popularity, then usefulness, then cuteness. This ordering should be determined by a Government appointed body, running a weekly global survey that people can either choose to take part in or choose to pay much higher taxes. Every year, a Start menu King and Queen would be elected, to represent the menu in human form.

    That should satisfy everyone.

  16. Dean Harding says:

    I manually pin all the programs I use to my start menu (and set the "MRU size" to zero), so I never notice anyway…

    Really frequently used programs get pinned to the taskbar, slightly less frequently used programs get pinned to the start menu, and everything else I just use search.

  17. Michael G says:

    I don't believe Raymond.

    Oh, I'm not doubting Raymond on the algorithm, or the lack of vendor bias.  I just don't believe the "I hate to say it" part.  I think Raymond enjoyed saying it. :)

  18. Historical Commentator says:

    "Every year, a Start menu King and Queen would be elected"

    When Kings and Queens ascend to the throne unmerited, they often do so by assassination.  

    This nicely parallels the situation with the MRU because, since there is no programmatic access to the MRU, ascension without merit requires similar behind-the-scenes underhandedness.  

    In other words, if your app (for example) fakes user-input to launch itself 1000's of times to get to the top of the MRU, it is only following in the traditions of humanity's ruling elite.  

  19. Sean says:

    Wow, 640K has some interesting "issues".

    I will humour him/her by responding to one point raised though…

    WMP has not been removed altogether in the EU. There is the option of buying a WMP-less version of windows, but I don't think it actually sells at all.

    It seems I'm not the only one who prefers WMP as my player of choice.

  20. MikeCaron says:

    I forget what my MRU list looked like in XP, but in 7, it seems pretty fair to me. The top six programs on my list are:

    1. Visual Studio
    2. Media Player Classic

    3. SQL Server Management Studio (ugh)

    4. Wireshark

    5. Calculator

    6. Command Prompt

    Of those, #s 3 and 4 are programs that I've only been using recently, but frequently, and so have bubbled up the list.

    One thing I'm curious about is if taskbar-pinned programs also rack up MRU points. I've got Firefox and Winamp pinned (amongst other things) because I use them all the time, but aren't on the MRU list. I don't know if this is a factor of them being pinned or of them never being closed :)

  21. MikeCaron says:

    Also, by MRU, I of course mean MFU.

    Also also, am I the only one who thinks that MFU would be something Samuel L. Jackson would say?

  22. asf says:

    The startmenu MRU might be fair, but the Open With menu is not. Windows Media Player is always at the top. But I suspect this is a (XP?) bug since WMP uses a different method of registration compared to other apps that end up in that list after normal usage.

    [As you noted, that's not vendor bias. It's registration bias. (And it's not intentional bias; you have to enumerate them in *some* order.) -Raymond]
  23. Marquess says:

    While I like the Start Menu MRU list, I'm really missing a blacklisting feature. For example, I have a shortcut to hibernation on my desktop which occasionally shows up in the MRU list (and is promptly removed).

    [I discussed this three years ago in my series on the Start menu MFU. -Raymond]
  24. John Muller says:

    It's my understanding that most copies of XP N were purchased by mistake.

    Now, I've done some testing on N versions, and ironically many 3rd party media players failed to install or run because they depend on Windows Media binaries, in case someone wants to play a .AVI/.WMA or such file in them… You'd think that the third party media player makers would at least do a quick check on the version made for their benefit.

    One scenario I found was using a 3rd party web browser with a 3rd party media player set as default… when opening a .mpeg file online it kept opening in WMP… because the media player only registered .MPG and .MPEG and the browser trucated file extensions to 3 characters (.MPE) when looking for matching players. Someone could easily paint that as WMP being evil, but it was just a combination of a lame bug-fix (a previous version of that browser had a buffer-overrun exploit in filenames) and a file type registration oversight by the media player.

    When you trip over something and smack your head on the floor, don't blame the floor.

  25. ErikF says:


    Obviously Windows shouldn't come with a media player, just like OS X, KDE and GNOME don't come with media players.

    I have no issues with how Windows does its start menu entries; if I really, truly need an item, I'll just pin to the menu! I prefer how Vista and Windows 7 do the start menu, because it's much easier to find items that aren't on the menu using the search bar.

  26. 640k says:

    > [As you noted, that's not vendor bias. It's registration bias. (And it's not intentional bias; you have to enumerate them in *some* order.) -Raymond]

    I think the government-appointed regulators should look into this also, and remove WMP all together, like EU did.

    One could also wounder why the government-appointed regulators would need to look into the start menu logic. Sometimes in the past there was of course a bias. Now, when MS got slapped and forced into compliance, they try a pr stunt: "we have no bias today" (because it was illegail, and we was forced to remove it).

  27. 640k says:

    > [As you noted, that's not vendor bias. It's registration bias. (And it's not intentional bias; you have to enumerate them in *some* order.) -Raymond]

    I think the government-appointed regulators should look into this also, and remove WMP all together, like EU did.

    One could also wounder why the government-appointed regulators would need to look into the start menu logic. Sometimes in the past there was of course a bias. Now, when MS got slapped and forced into compliance, they try a pr stunt: "we have no bias today" (because it was illegal, and we was forced to remove it).

  28. MRU-hater says:


    You can always disable (or limit to few slots) the MRU list and just pin what you want.. actually nobody knows better than you what you use the most.

  29. prunoki says:

    @Erikf: Yes, it should. So that when I send something to my mom I do not have to teach her how to install something to actually watch it.

  30. Falcon says:

    @MikeCaron: "I'm tired of these MF-ing programs on this MF-ing Start menu!"

  31. ThomasJ says:

    I might be wrong, but I think Explorer never goes on the list?

  32. DysgraphicProgrammer says:

    Do I understand correctly then that the "remove from this list" option just takes away the program's current accumulation of points rather then banning it? I have been assuming that that was a banhammer and avoiding it. I might not be using the program NOW but I might use it someday. I would rather have a deleveler then a blacklist.  

  33. ErikF says:


    I was employing irony in my reply. I have no issues with an OS having a media player (or anything else for that matter!) I also don't really care about where said applications show up in a menu initially; they can be random for all I know.

  34. Joshua says:

    Just so you know, I would have bought Windows Server 2003 N if it existed.

    Of course that need doesn't exist now as Windows Server 2008 R2 doesn't install Media Player by default.

  35. alexx says:

    What I don't understand is if I run program as another user, the Start menu still counted that as MFU point. The Start menu also put the document that was opened to recently opened items, which is pretty useless IMO, not to mention some sort of information disclosure.

    [Running a program as another user is not the same thing as logging on as another user. (Consider a program that requires elevation. You run it a dozen times every day, but under your rules, it would never shows up in your MFU.) -Raymond]
  36. Brian says:

    @Marquess: Raymond's linked post also included this link.…/284198

  37. Marquess says:

    Sorry, I completely missed that. Must be getting old …

  38. Uncle Boonmee says:

    WMP has his b*tch unregmp2.exe working for him. No other program has such an unfair advantage.

  39. Marquess says:

    “[I discussed this three years ago in my series on the Start menu MFU. -Raymond]”

    There you discussed why some programs *don't* show up. I would like some programs not to show up without using a “poison word” (the related KB article is gone anyway).

    [Please read again, particularly the sentence than begins "Incidentally". -Raymond]

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