Why doesn’t the Windows 7 Start menu have a pushpin for pinning items?

You may have noticed a minor inconsistency between pinning a program to the Start menu and pinning a destination to a program's Jump List. Although pinned items appear at the top of the respective lists, and both the Start menu and Jump List let you right-click an item and select Pin/Unpin, the Jump List also lets you pin and unpin an item by clicking on the pushpin. Why doesn't the Start menu have a pushpin in addition to the right-click menu?

For a time, items on the Start menu did have a pushpin, just like items on Jump Lists. The design had a few problems, however. Start menu items can also have a triangle indicating the presence of a flyout menu, and the presence of two indicators next to an item made the interface look awkward and too busy. And what do you do if an item has only one indicator? Do you right-justify all the indicators? Or do you place the indicators in columns and reserve blank space for the missing ones?

Internet Explorer ¤ ▶
Command Prompt ¤
Internet Explorer ¤
Command Prompt ¤  

Both look ugly for different reasons. The right-justify-everything version looks ugly because the pushpin appears to keep moving around. The blank-space-if-no-flyout version looks ugly because you have a pushpin hovering in the middle of nowhere. (Imagine trying to click on one of these things: You just have to "know" that the magic click spot for pinning an item is 20 pixels to the left of the far right edge.)

But the real death blow to showing a pushpin for pinning items to the Start menu was the usability testing. Users had trouble figuring out where to click to pin an item or to open the Jump List and frequently got the opposite of what they wanted. Since opening the Jump List is by far the more common operation, it won the battle of the prominent UI affordance, and the option for pinning and unpinning was left to a context menu.

Which, as it happens, is where the pin/unpin option started in the first place.

Comments (31)
  1. Raphael says:

    Now if Windows were an open source project, there would be an option for this.

    I sure hope I didn't just give the developers of ReactOS some ideas.

  2. Nick says:

    This is really a non-issue anyway seeing as the pin context menu item has been around on the start menu for a while.

  3. None says:

    Hindsight, why not (hope the formatting works):

    ¤ Internet Explorer ▶

    ¤ Command Prompt

     Notepad         ▶


  4. garyk says:

    one inconsistency that always bugged me was the lack of an option to pin windows update to the start menu or taskbar. click start/ all programs and right click on windows update, no options. every other item has those 2 options.

  5. Dan Bugglin says:

    None: Then users would think they are icons and get confused.

    Also it leaves an ugly blank space between the icon and menu border when you're NOT hovering, IIRC… I think the pin only comes up on hover on the jump list?

  6. Paul M. Parks says:

    @garyk: Not sure about the specific answer to your question, but if you Shift-Right-Click the shortcut then the option to pin the Start Menu is present. Or, you could just drag the shortcut from the All Programs menu directly to the pearl, at which time you'll be prompted to pin the shortcut to the Start Menu.

  7. Tim says:

    @garyk: Like Paul M. Parks, I'm not sure about the specific answer either, but I do find it interesting that while /most/ of the items do have the Pin to Start item, some others do not. Windows Phone Support Tool and Microsoft Web Platform Installer, for instance. Wonder what the deciding factor is.

  8. Chris Haas says:

    @garyk: There's a list of excluded executables in the registry at HKLMSOFTWAREMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExplorerFileAssociation. If you remove WUAPP.EXE from AddRemoveApps and reboot you'll be able to pin Windows Update. Most of those items in the list make sense but I'm not sure why Windows Update was added.

  9. xpclient says:

    I remember the early leaked Windows 7 milestones had it but it disappeared with the arrival of Start Menu jump lists (which btw are equally important for pinned item feature parity with the taskbar). I was going to request pinning items in the "Recent Items" (formerly "Documents") menu which shows a global/mixed list of all recent documents from all programs, so that clearing document history would still keep pinned documents, but horrors, Microsoft decided to de-emphasize the Start Menu in favor of the annoying Start Screen, instead of introducing the Start Screen just for tablets, and keeping the Start Menu for PCs.

    Another way btw to pin as already mentioned is drag and drop.

  10. Unpin is a potentially destructive operation, so it makes sense to bury it a little deeper.

  11. Jim Jones says:

    Surely everyone installs Classic Shell after ten minutes of struggling with the Win 7 Start Menu.

  12. Joshua says:

    Why is it that so many people forget the shell is just another application. It can be swapped out entirely except for the shell hooks in the common dialog boxes.

  13. Nik says:

    Jim Jones: surely everyone installs Windows 3.0 after ten minutes of struggling with Win 7.  Yeah, right.

  14. blah says:

    "Users had trouble figuring out where to click to pin an item or to open the Jump List and frequently got the opposite of what they wanted."

    Er, one would click on the appropriate icon I would think. Seriously, Microsoft needs to set a real bar for just how much stupidity it's willing to tolerate. Many people should not even be eligible for usability tests. I can only imagine how many interesting features die in Microsoft's lab because of epic morons.

  15. jader3rd says:

    @Jim Jones

    I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not. What's there to struggle with the Win7 start menu for? You type what you want, and you see it. No need for navigation. Programs that are used frequently are pinned to the TaskBar. It pains me when I have to use an older system, I have to dink around navigating a random mess to find things.

  16. Tud says:

    Why can't I add a single document to the taskbar (as if it were an application) for convenient one-click access? Why does adding a "toolbar" (aka a folder menu) to the taskbar awkwardly make it a few pixels bigger? Why can't I disable icon grouping without enabling show text? Why can't I have the icons on the right or the center?


  17. Rob Paveza says:

    @Tud: This is something to ask your document application developer, not the Shell team.  IE8 can let you add URLs to the taskbar with their own icons.  Clearly the hooks exist.

  18. alegr1 says:

    Now if anybody knew how to pin the WDK/SDK help viewer to the taskbar or the start menu.

  19. pan_2@LJ says:


    >Why can't I disable icon grouping without enabling show text?

    Because you end with 16 same icons for your 16 opened documents.

  20. Jim says:

    It's nice to see that, mitigating the complexity of adding this to the context menu, the context menu has been significantly simplified (unless you hold ctrl+shift). The same is true of taskbar icons, as I think has come up here before.

  21. Jolyon Smith says:

    @"blah":  Er, one would click on the appropriate icon I would think.

    Well, I think that was the point.  When not currently pinned there is no icon thus nothing "appropriate" to click on other than the empty space where the "pinned" icon would subsequently appear.  But your comment itself shows the way I think… why not have a pinned-state icon which toggles, rather than an icon whose other state is "I don't exist" ?

    Not that I personally am bothered too much by these things.  What I do find annoying though is that such things are decided by usability panels… all too often the dominant/majority preference turns out to be the friendliest to the most people and the larger the groups of people in any sample, the dumber they tend to be and certainly the less the "average" of the group resembles me, the specific and unique instance that I am.

    Give ME the choice, don't subject me to the tyranny of the popular vote.

    Perhaps I don't mind clicking on an empty space to toggle something.

    Perhaps I would prefer having the pin icon INSTEAD of a jump list (who says I have to have both ? … oh yes, that majority again)

    But as I said, ultimately there are far more important things in life, and someone has to make a choice as to what is optional/configurable so whatever.

  22. Rob Paveza says:

    I think the option is really unnecessary, anyway.  Manipulating jump lists with pinning and unpinning is, by its very nature, much more frequent of an operation.  You may pin programs to the start menu now and then, but more common is the manipulation of the MRUs *of those programs*, because you're working with their documents.  When I set up a new computer, I disable the Start Menu MRU list altogether and pin everything that I use to the Start menu.  Would it be more handy to be able to pin those items to the start menu while I'm doing that?  Absolutely.  But after that first setup, the only other time I ever pin a new program is after I install something new.

    @Raphael: Maybe is Windows was an open-source OS, there would have been an option for this, but then something cool like jump lists would have missed the mark because the developers were wasting their time getting the pinning icon to work right.  Or maybe it wouldn't work correctly in Hebrew.

    I remember going to PDC 2008 and hearing from the developer who created the new Start Menu.  My take-away was that 18 developer-weeks were spent on the new Taskbar.  That includes the icons, jump lists (and COM interface) – basically, the most visible difference between Vista and Win7 was completed in 18 dev-weeks.  All of the rest of the time between Vista and 7 was work on things like localization, documentation, testing, and all of the other myriad of things that have to happen when creating a product that will be used by billions of people.

  23. A jump list sounds a lot like a submenu.  Pin and Unpin sound like things that would go in a submenu.  So:

    Instead of having the jump list appear only sometimes, have a submenu (which looks a lot like a jump list) appear all the time.

    In the submenu, show all the items in the jump list, and a Pin or Unpin entry.

  24. Jeffrey says:

    Now if anybody knew how to pin the WDK/SDK help viewer to the taskbar or the start menu.

    Gosh, this bothered me too, until I found the trick.  Rename the WDK/SDK shortcut to remove the word "Documentation".  (I just changed it to "Docs").  Then you can pin it to the taskbar.

  25. xpclient says:

    @Tud: "Why can't I add a single document to the taskbar (as if it were an application) for convenient one-click access?"

    You can pin any document or any folder to the taskbar for 1 click access. Just create a shortcut anywhere with "<path to app.exe> <Document.extension>" in the target and you can pin to the taskbar and delete the shortcut. e.g. "Notepad.exe" "List.txt" or "Explorer.exe" "%windir%".

  26. Rename the WDK/SDK shortcut to remove the word "Documentation".  (I just changed it to "Docs").  Then you can pin it to the taskbar


  27. alegr1 says:

    > Rename the WDK/SDK shortcut to remove the word "Documentation".

    The scary thing is that this works. This means somebody actually ordered to implement that misfeature to intentionally prevent pinning of specific shortcut names. That PM must be slapped with a keyboard across the face, and then publicly lashed with a bunch of USB cables.

    [This was done to avoid polluting the Start menu with stuff that isn't important. Note that threats of physical violence do not go over well with the authorities. -Raymond]
  28. I guess this is where you'd write code to make the UI "smart".

    Treat the icon, name, pushpin, and arrows as a set of columns.

    If there are no arrows in a menu, remove the arrow column making the pushpins right justified.

    If there are any arrows in a menu, then have all columns visible.

    If all columns are visible and one item does not have an arrow, make the pushpin accept clicks from both the pushpin and arrow columns.

  29. 640k says:

    Another case of programs which tries to be be smart, fails, and ends up as a stupid laughter. KISS.

  30. Gechurch says:


    Your "smart" UI would confuse the heck out of a lot of people (me included, I imagine). A good UI is very consistent and well-defined. I can imagine a number of different support calls Microsoft would get:

    "I often click the far-right of a Start Menu entry to look at recently used documents. I did it a minute ago and instead unpinned the program. I've taken a closer look and the arrow has disappeared and has the pin where it used to be. Why?"

    "Why does such-and-such Start Menu entry sometimes have an arrow and sometimes not? I noticed the arrow sometimes appears even when I haven't run the program once."

    "I'm used to having the arrow to the far right of Start Menu entries. I've just finished setting up my new computer and noticed I don't have any arrows. Were these removed in a serice pack? Strangely there is a blank spot where the arrow used to be, but instead of showing recent documents they act as thought I've pressed the pin icon (which I didn't). It looks like whoever removed the arrows left a bug in the UI."

  31. Gechurch says:


    Jump lists are certainly submenu's. I don't agree that they would be a good place for pin/unpin to go though. Jump lists deal with documents, where as the Start Menu or context menu entries deal with the program. Also, doing so would break consistency with existing UI (ie. right-clicking a taskbar icon).

    I think the choice to remove it was the right call. Right-clicking is dead simple for those of us that know it's there (and we only need to do it once, ever, for each program). Inexperienced users that don't know about context menus would soon have their favorite programs on the Start Menu list because the Start Menu shows the most frequently used programs. I really don't think we've lost anything here.

Comments are closed.