Microsoft released the first public preview build of Windows 10 on October 1, 2014. Many Windows power users, myself certainly included, were curious to observe the changes that Microsoft made to the Start screen/Start menu system.
Well, prepare for the full run-down, my friend. I have Build 9841 installed as a VMware Workstation virtual machine, and I’ve thoroughly tested the new and changed functionality. Let’s get this done!
Windows 10 default behavior
On a freshly installed copy of Windows 10 Technical Preview, the operating system boots directly to the “classic” Windows desktop. At first glance, the appearance of the Windows flag icon in the lower-left corner of the screen may lead you to believe that the Start screen is just around the corner—not so.
As you can see in the following screenshot, clicking the Flag button reveals the “new” Start menu. I’ve annotated the screenshot, so let me describe each part for you.
This is the “new” Start menu in Windows 10 Technical Preview.
- The search “omnibox” that has been with us since Windows Vista is still around, although I much prefer to hit Win+R to invoke the Run box.
- The All Programs menu has become All Apps. You’ll see Windows 8/Store apps in here in addition to classic Windows applications.
- Yes, we still have the PC Settings Windows 8 app, but you’ll be pleased to observe that all the “Metro” apps now run windowed instead of full-screen by default.
- The User menu and Power button do some cool things that I discuss separately later on in this article.
- Obviously, this is the show-stopper. A mini Start screen with live tiles!
As I said, you can still invoke the Run box by pressing Win+R, the Search tool by pressing Win+F, File Explorer by pressing Win+E, and so forth. Tapping the Windows key alone simply opens the new Start menu, as expected.
Where did the Start screen go?
At first blush, the Start screen appears to be completely removed from Windows 10 Technical Preview. Scouring every item in the Start menu, I was unable to find any references to it.
Then I opened the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties Control Panel item by right-clicking an empty area of the taskbar and selecting Properties from the shortcut menu. On the Start Menu tab, we have an option called Use the Start menu instead of the Start screen, as shown below.
You can control and customize the Start menu and Start screen with the Control Panel.
Unchecking that box tells Windows that you prefer to use the Start screen instead of the revamped Start menu. This event requires that you sign out and sign back in, though. Here’s the dialog you’ll see before that happens:
You are required to sign out if you switch between the Start menu and the Start screen.
After you sign back in, press the Windows key or click the flag button. Start screen ahoy!
Microsoft made some nice tweaks to the Start screen.
Take a closer look at the previous screenshot. Do you see anything different? In my opinion, Microsoft made excellent use of customer feedback. Notice that we have access to the taskbar even when we’re in the Start screen environment! Check out Michael’s post if you want to switch back and forth between the Start menu and the Start screen.
Now don’t get too excited—the taskbar disappears once you move your mouse away from it. For all I know, this is a programming bug that won’t appear in the final product. Starting Windows Store app from the Start Screen still results in a windowed experience and a cool app menu, which I’ve opened for you in the next screenshot:
In Windows 10 Tech Preview, Windows Store apps all run in windowed mode.
Clicking around in the new Start menu
Let’s reset the setting in the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties Control Panel item to bring back the Start menu and spend some time clicking around it to discover what’s new.
One big complaint that customers had concerning Windows 8 was difficulty in finding the Log Off, Restart, and Shut Down commands. While it will still not be entirely obvious to many customers that we can click the User icon in the Start menu, doing so gives you the ability to swap out your account picture, lock the computer, or sign out.
You can click or right-click just about everything in the new Start menu.
Clicking the Power button gives us easy access to the Sleep, Shut Down, and Restart commands.
We can easily manage system sleeps, shutdowns, and reboots through the Start menu.
Finally, right-clicking a live tile allows you to unpin, pin to taskbar, uninstall, or resize the app. By the way, you can pin apps from the All Apps folder to the Start menu by using the same right-click process.
We have limited control over live tiles in the new Start menu.
Customizing the new Start menu
My impressions are that Microsoft hasn’t given us too much customization capability in Windows 10 Technical Preview. Perhaps it’s a work in progress? For one thing, the Control Panel is called Taskbar and Start Menu Properties once it’s open, but Taskbar and Navigation in the Control Panel list.
Anyway, open that Control Panel, switch to the Start Menu tab, and note that we can improve our privacy with one click by selecting the option Clear personal info from my tiles. Next, click Customize to invoke the Customize Start Menu dialog.
Customize the Start menu by using the Control Panel.
I may be missing something, or it may just be incomplete functionality, but somehow I expected more to choose from here. At the moment, I don’t feel I have as much control over the live tiles in the Start menu as I’d like. What do you think?
One thing you can do is change the Start menu color scheme. Right-click an empty area of the desktop and select Personalize from the shortcut menu. In the Personalization Control Panel item, click Color. You can tweak the Start menu color theme by adjusting values in the Color and Appearance panel, as shown in the following screenshot.
Microsoft lets us change the color theme used in the Start menu.
What about the upgrade use case?
I’d like to run an experiment for you. I have two Windows 8.1 machines, each installed with a different Start menu replacement:
What do you think will happen if we perform an in-place upgrade to Windows 10 Technical Preview on these boxes?
Uh…the Start menu replacements are removed. In fact, you actually get a “wipe and load” scenario instead of an in-place upgrade. When you open the Programs and Features Control Panel item, you don’t see the Start menu replacement software I installed—you see nothing!
Do not perform an in-place upgrade with preview software.
I’m pretty sure that Microsoft will give users the ability to perform an in-place upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 8.1 and keep all their software—not just their Start menu replacement product.
In the meantime, I want to stress in the strongest possible terms not to perform an “upgrade” to Windows 10 Technical Preview on any production system!
Conclusion: Answering Michael
In a recent 4sysops article Michael argued that the Start menu doesn’t have any advantages over the Start screen.
Here is my opinion on this matter, from the perspective of a long-time Windows power user who has no real insight into the inner workings at Microsoft:
Microsoft got overzealous with the notion of writing a single operating system that looked and acted identically on all possible hardware platforms. What they discovered was that sometimes a square peg truly doesn’t fit into a round hole; touch-centric UI features are simply not a great match on desktop computers, generally speaking, and vice-versa.
Personally, I am overjoyed at the return of the new Start menu. I’m a keyboard-centric person, and speed is one of my highest priorities when evaluating an operating system. I found the sluggish behavior of the Start screen unbearable, not to mention the endless hunt for app icons in a colorful wash of color and kludginess.
At the moment, I’ll keep my Start menu replacements firmly in place on my Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 machines. Perhaps Microsoft will reinstate the Start menu for these operating systems in a future service pack? One can only hope.