The Ultimate Countdown: Navigating Through the Evolution of Windows Start Menus

Ever since Windows 95, Microsoft’s Start menu – a sprawling and searchable list that gathers the essentials of a PC experience in one spot – has been the heart, both metaphorical and literal, of its operating system. Viewed in the order by which they arrived, Window’s Starter skyrockets through a strange and unpredictable past filled with both fan-favourites and outright scandals. We’re here to rank all the Windows Start menus, beginning with the most bizarre and ending with established fixtures in our digital lives.

From Pixels to Panes: The Story of the Start Menu

The Misses in Innovation: Windows 8

But Microsoft stopped a long way short of that. Its hasty jump, in Windows 8, to a Start screen that replaced menu and button with something radically different fell flat on its face, giving Microsoft its worst bellyflop in the history of its interface prototyping.

Course Correction: Windows 8.1

As a result of this negative feedback, Microsoft created the operating system Windows 8.1 to bring back the Start button and placate its user base. As an upgrade, it still provided a better experience than its predecessor but maintained the imperfect organization of the Start screen, the awkward moving and resizing of tiles, and the lack of a cohesive desktop experience that users had long learned to love.

New Horizons with Flaws: Windows 11

In Windows 11, the Start menu tried to be modern. The tiles were removed, and the button was centred. Yes, actually modernised. Still, it has a set of other issues. Users complained about the lack of personalisation options, a ‘Recommended’ section that didn’t fit the audience, and then came the ads to the Start menu.

A Glimmer of Hope: Windows 8.1 RT & Legacy Systems

Within that later group, there was a sigh of relief in the return that Windows 8.1 RT represented – the old mixed with the new (and foreshadowed the eventual Windows 10 Start menu). The classic Windows 95, NT 4.0, and 2000 design was also celebrated for its simplicity, and simplicity sometimes does win the day.

Refinements and Missteps: Windows 98/ME and XP

With the introduction of Windows 98, ME and XP, the Start menu was tweaked iteratively. Features were added that made the menus easier to use, like the Log-Off button, and made the UI feel more modern. Windows XP in particular was lauded for the refreshed visual design of the Start menu. It updated it from the one-pane to a dual-pane design, which was more visually vibrant and, more importantly, helpful.

The Pinnacle of Convenience: Windows 10

With the arrival of Windows 10, the company seemed to settle on an equilibrium between function and style by reviving the Start menu with a shiny new, user-friendly design. However, Microsoft couldn’t quite resist serving up ads for its own products, a decision that is likely to come up a lot in the end-of-the-year reviews for Windows 10’s debut.

The Golden Era: Windows Vista/7

First is the apex of the Start menus – the versions that shipped with Windows Vista and Windows 7. Vista and 7 dramatically refined the Start menu, adding polish and sheen while losing unnecessary or irritating features.

What Lies Ahead for the Start Menu?

It could be the last evolution of the Start menu: we will only know if future versions go back to the comforting, Vista-ish, 7-ish principles of Start menu design or if Microsoft proceeds down an experimental path further away from its fan base. With the lukewarm reception given to Windows 11, particularly because of the shock caused by the new look of the Start menu, the company is at a crossroads.


From the days of Windows 95 to today’s Windows 10, Microsoft has been one of the key innovators of computing. Founded in 1975, the firm rose to prominence with its Windows operating system and is currently one of the most recognisable technology brands in the world. The company’s story over the years has ridden a tide of peaks and troughs, but their avid pursuit of the future of user experience continues to ripple through the tech world even today. And as we contemplate the next move with the Windows Start menu, we may conclude that Microsoft has not even come close to the end of its road. Every iteration of the company’s success continues to demonstrate an ambition to innovate in response to users and the technology of the day.

Jun 16, 2024
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