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The Start menu is a user interface element used in Microsoft Windows operating systems since Windows 95 and in some X window managers. It provides a central launching point for application and tasks. Depending on the operating system or window manager, the menu might have different names, such as Kickoff Application Launcher in KDE, Start screen in Windows 8 or LX Panel in LXDE.
Traditionally, the Start menu provided a customizable nested list of programs for the user to launch, as well as a list of most recently opened documents, a way to find files and get help, and access to the system settings. Later enhancements via Windows Desktop Update included access to special folders like "My Documents" and "Favorites" (browser bookmarks). Windows XP's Start menu was expanded to encompass various My Documents folders (including My Music and My Pictures), and transplanted other items like My Computer and My Network Places from the Windows desktop. Until Windows Vista, the Start menu was constantly expanded across the screen as the user navigated through its cascading sub-menus. As of Windows Vista, the Start menu covers a fixed portion of the screen. As of Windows Server 2012, the Start menu (known as "Start screen") covers the entire screen.
Microsoft Windows 
In Windows 1.0, a program called MS-DOS Executive provided basic file management and program menu capability. This was eventually replaced by File Manager and Program Manager in Windows 3.0, with Program Manager taking on the role of the program menu. Program Manager was a full windowed application, which required the whole screen to be used effectively. It consisted of a simple multiple document interface which allowed users to open "program groups" and then execute the shortcuts to programs contained within.
The Start menu was first introduced in Windows 95 superseding the Program Manager, being comparable in some respects with Apple menu in Mac OS operating systems. Program Manager had lacked the ability to nest groups within other groups. However, until Windows 8, there was no such limitation in the Start menu, where Start menu folders could contain sub-folders. Items could also be simply added to the Start menu through drag-and-drop. Windows 95 also introduced the concept of shutdown and log off; central to this concept was the Start menu that until Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, served as a central hub for the various methods of ending a Windows session.
Later developments in Internet Explorer and subsequent Windows releases have allowed users to customize the Start menu and to access and expand Internet Explorer Favorites, My Documents and Administrative Tools (Windows 2000 and later) from the Start menu.
Second generation 
The next major change in the Start menu since its inception came in Windows XP. To help users access a wider range of common destinations more easily and to promote a greater sense of "personality", the Start menu was expanded to two columns. The left-hand column focuses on installed applications, while the right-hand column provides access to My Documents, My Pictures and other special folders. This column also includes shortcuts for Computer and Network (Network Neighborhood in Windows 95 and 98), which have been traditionally placed on Windows Desktop, making it easier to access them even when the Desktop is obscured. The contents of this column can be customized. Commonly used programs are automatically displayed in the left-hand menu. Users may opt to "pin" programs to this side of the Start menu so that they are always accessible. A sub-menu item at the bottom of this column grants access to all items of Start menu.
Prior to Windows Vista, the Start menu consisted of group of menus and sub-menus that cascaded and expanded, obscuring the initially visible portions of the screen beneath them. In Windows Vista, however, cascading menus were replaced by a sliding window in the left pane of the Start menu. Whenever All Programs item is clicked, the contents of the left pane slide off the left edge of the Start menu and the All Programs menu slides in from the right edge of the left column. This menu presents a tree view of it hierarchy that expands towards the bottom, with a vertical scrollbar whenever needed. Also added in Windows Vista is a Search box that allows users to search for the Start menu shortcuts or other files and folders. The search box features incremental search: If indexing is not turned off, the search box returns results on-the-fly as users type into it. Since the found items can be immediately opened, the Start menu search box replaces the function of Run command from previous versions of Windows. The Run command can also be added separately to the right column in the Start menu.
Windows XP and Windows Vista allow users to switch back to the "Classic" Start menu featured before Windows XP, a feature that is not available in Windows 7.
In Windows 7, the search results pane now covers both columns of the Start menu. The search box is extended to support searching Control Panel items. The right column in Windows 7 links to Libraries instead of ordinary folders. Most importantly, however, items on the Start menu support Jump lists through cascade buttons on their right.
Third generation: The Start screen 
On Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, an updated Start menu known as the Start screen was introduced, which now covers the entire screen and no longer features the right column. The Start screen shows much larger icon tiles for each program and, whenever possible, displays dynamic content supplied by their respective program directly on the tile itself (known as a "live tile"), behaving similarly to a widget. For instance, an email client may display the number of unread emails in its live tile. The Start screen allows users to uninstall their programs by right-clicking on them and selecting "Uninstall". Pinned apps can be placed in groups. The search box in the Start screen is initially hidden but jumps into view as soon as it receives a keyboard input. True to its namesake, the Start screen is the first screen that a user sees upon login.
This menu has its roots in Windows Mobile and Windows Phone: In Windows Mobile Standard, which runs on smartphones, the Start menu, produces a separate screen of icons. Windows Phone was the original host of the design principles of the third generation Start menu.
The Start screen no longer supports several previously available features: A list of recently launched program or shortcuts to special folders no longer appears on the Start screen. It no longer supports more than one level of nesting for groups in All Programs view. Drag and drop support for adding new items to the menu as well as reorganizing the contents of All Programs view is no longer available. Although the Start screen still features the user interface to log off, for the first time in the history of Windows, it does not provide any facility for shutting down, restarting or activating sleep mode or hibernation.
Unlike Windows Vista and Windows XP, Windows 8 does not feature an alternative Start menu. There are 3rd party Start menu replacements such as Classic Shell and Start8 that add the classic or second generation Start menu.
The Start menu may be launched either by pressing ⊞ Win (the Windows key) on a keyboard or its equivalent on a tablet device, or by clicking on the visual Start button. Prior to Windows Server 2012, the Start button can be found on the taskbar. On Windows operating systems before Windows Vista, the Start Button consists of the word "Start" and the Windows Logo (the word "Start" was localized for each different language version of the system, for instance reading Avvio in Italian). On the Windows Vista and Windows 7 desktop, the word "Start" has been replaced by a blue Windows "orb" logo. However the user can revert to displaying the word "Start" and the Windows Logo by setting the theme to Windows Classic. The Start button on Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 is moved from the traditional taskbar to "charms", a hidden secondary taskbar located to the right of the screen (accessed by swiping in from the right on multitouch devices). The Start screen is accessed by either by that button or by clicking the lower left corner of the screen.
Location on disk 
Users may add Start menu entries by creating folders and shortcuts in the associated 'Start Menu folder, located on the operating system operating media. These appear in a separated section at the top of the Start menu, or, if placed in the Programs sub-folder, in the Programs menu. The location of this folder however, depends on the operating system installed:
- In Windows 9x, this folder is located either in "%windir%\Start Menu" or, if there are multiple users, in "%windir%\Profiles\[username]\Start Menu" path, where [username] is the account name of the user.
- In Windows NT 4.0, the folder is located in "%systemroot%\Profiles\%username%\Start Menu" for individual users, or "%systemroot%\Profiles\All Users\Start Menu" for shared shortcuts. One distinguishing feature is Windows NT 4.0 is that the Start menu separated the per-user shortcuts from the shared shortcuts and by a separator line and used different icons for the program folders in per-user and shared menus.
- In Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, the folder is located in "%userprofile%\Start Menu" for individual users, or "%allusersprofile%\Start Menu" for shared shortcuts.
- In Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, the folder is located in "%appdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu" for individual users, or "%programdata%\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu" for the shared portion of the menu.
In Windows Server 2003 and earlier, the folder name "Start Menu" has a different name on non-English versions of Windows. For example, on German versions of Windows XP it is "Startmenü". Windows installers generally use the Windows API to find out the real names and locations of the Start menu and Desktop folders. However, since Windows Vista, all Versions of Windows use the same English named folders and only display different names in the Windows Explorer.
TweakUI, an unsupported utility program from Microsoft, offers additional customizations, including speeding up the response time of the Start menu, window animation, and other hacks. On Windows XP and Windows Vista, it is possible to prevent specific applications from appearing in the recent programs list (the left pane of the Start menu) by modifying the Windows registry.
See also 
- "Designing the Start screen - Building Windows 8 - Site Home - MSDN Blogs". Blogs.msdn.com. 2011-10-04. Retrieved 2012-12-06.
- Spector, Lincoln (2012-09-06). "Give Windows 8 the Start menu it deserves". PCWorld. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
- Gregg Keizer (2012-09-27). "$5 buys a Start button, Start screen bypass for Windows 8". Computerworld. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
- Keith Combs (August 23, 2006). "Windows Vista Aero Glass and Usability screencast". Channel 9. Microsoft. Retrieved 2006-11-04.
- Teach Yourself Windows 2000 Server: Using Windows 2000 Server
- Download page for Microsoft Windows Tweak UI Power Toy
- O'Reilly Annoyances.org Tweak UI page
- How To Prevent a Program from Being Displayed in the Most Frequently Used Programs List in Windows XP
Further reading 
- Sullivan, Kent. "The Windows 95 User Interface: A Case Study in Usability Engineering". (C) 1996 for Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. An article written by a developer on the Windows 95 UI team, detailing the usability studies and development processes that led to the creation of the Windows 95 interface.
- Patent #5920316 - "Taskbar with Start menu"