Win10 Start Button: What’s an Application Launcher For?

The Windows 10 Start Menu is still buggy and barely functions for its intended purpose: finding, organizing, and launching programs.

The bugs I’m dealing with (through a couple of updates since the public release of Win10) are pretty basic:

1. The tiles section doesn’t preserve the positions of the tiles. They get moved, more or less at random, when the system reboots.

2. Tiles don’t update on screen when I rearrange them — I have to sign out and back in, or reboot, to refresh and see the layout.

3. When programs are added to the Start Menu, their tiles don’t appear until a refresh. Same with removing a tile. Windows doesn’t provide a manual way to force a refresh. And of course it should be WYSIWYG anyway.

4. Icons are missing in almost every tile, even after deleting the Windows icon cache. Only about 5% of my programs show their icons in the start menu (including most of Microsoft’s programs as well). Most of the so-called “apps” do have icons, perhaps because they live in a different Start Menu buffer. There are rumors that the main buffer for program items is limited, and that overflow corrupts the entire Start Menu system. Indeed, these tile and icon bugs don’t affect my other computers, which have fewer programs installed.

5. The missing icon problem also affects the scrolling list of “all apps” — hardly any programs display anything but a white rectangle.

With these issues, the Start Menu is (obviously) almost completely useless. It cannot be used to quickly find a program unless you use giant tiles (which display the program name). Alternatively, you can carefully search through the All Apps list, but then you must know the correct name of any rarely-used utility (or perhaps its vendor) to find it alphabetically. (E.g., how do you find SmartEdit.exe, published by Bad Wolf, if you don’t happen to remember Bad Wolf?) And visually scanning a long vertical scroll is fatiguing, ignores the other screen resources, and is an obsolete, utterly non-GUI paradigm.

Windows Search is an alternative, if you feel like typing the name of an application, but it’s a work-around, at best, for a graphical user interface that has failed entirely in affording quick visual access to programs. And if you don’t figure out how to disable the “search on the web” defaults, every time you search for a program you get a monstrous load of irrelevant hits, while telling the world about what you’re doing.

So what should the Start Menu do?

1. My goal would be to have a clean, attractive environment for organizing my programs so I can find them visually and launch them with a single click. One click for the GUI, one click to launch.

2. I need to arrange the tiles any way I see fit. I decide what tiles are displayed. Arranging them is intuitive and interactive. Arrangements are never altered by the system.

3. I need to save these arrangements and reload them so I can try different kinds of organization, or make layouts for specific workflows or users.

4. I need to have a comprehensive display of All Programs that’s based on the links created by the programs’ installation routines.

5. I need to manage the All Programs display to facilitate finding things, and to minimize the need for excessive scrolling.

5.a This means sorting the display in various ways.

5.b It also requires optional filtering to show only certain kinds of links (e.g., don’t show all the uninstall links, or the multi-language help file links).

5.c And it requires more than one display mode (e.g., a “flat” mode with nothing nested inside sub-folders; or an “expand all” and “collapse all” button for folders). Considerable intelligence could be built into the All Programs interface.

6. I need to optimize visual recognition in the launch mechanism itself (currently the garish tiles paradigm):

6.a Display the publisher’s icons in the highest resolution available. Icons are extremely recognizable, and designers put tremendous effort into making them distinctive and attractive.

6.b Icons should not have brightly colored squares behind them. This usually obscures the visual cues in the icon itself. Some icons do need a background, and I should be able to set the color if I want a background.

7. Some provision is needed for up to a few dozen most-commonly used programs, such as we used to have in Win7, Win8, and Win8.1 on the upper left side of the Start Menu panel. This list should be mine to configure or manage, not just an automatic list of programs which happen to have been invoked the most.

If Windows 10 doesn’t get the Start Menu working, and improve it to actually serve users with more than a handful of programs installed, then all the bally-hoo concerning this “major upgrade” will pale in the light of a clunky, ineffectual user interface design that’s simply too little and too late. How many programmers do they have up there? The mind boggles.

Meanwhile, I guess we’ll have to work around Microsoft’s disingenuous blocking of ClassicShell, which brilliantly simulates and enhances prior Start Menu designs, and accept that the giant in Redmond still, after all these years, really doesn’t know how to design a GUI.

By the way, Win10 appears to have blocked ClassicShell if you’re using a version much earlier than the latest (4.2.4 as of this writing). So if your problems with Win10 Start Menu are anything like I’m having, ClassicShell (with its excellent enhanced Start Menu features) may just be a life-saver. You can get it from their website: I’ve used it since Win8 came out, and I’ve never had a problem with it. Oh, and it’s free.


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