In response to the outcry over the removal of the Start menu in the recent Windows 8 previews, Microsoft has announced that they are restoring a key piece of classic functionality before the final release of the highly anticipated operating system this fall.
“We’re listening to our customers.” said Richard Astley, Vice-president of the Consumer Review and Appeasement Program at Microsoft. “We’ve heard that it scares them to death when you change even the slightest thing that’s familiar to them, even when it’s a key part of a revolutionary and ambitious operating system that’s designed for devices they haven’t even seen yet.”
Instead of the simple touch-friendly Metro Start screen included in early previews of Windows 8, which features interactive live tiles for glance-and-go information, the classic Start menu relied on layers of folders to organize programs into a labyrinthine mess that made your PC feel truly personal. “Just finding your favorite programs could take dozens of clicks,” said Astley. “Our customers told us that it really helped them pass the time while waiting for their Adobe products to update each day.”
While Microsoft had conducted thousands of person-hours of research and gathered mountains of telemetry data over several years showing consumers seldom clicked any of those deeply buried shortcuts, they realized that people just inherently want to boot up a computer and spend several minutes mindlessly looking for that misplaced shortcut to Spotify.
So, is Microsoft bringing back the classic Start menu? “No,” replied Astley, “We’re going to give our customers something even better. The message we’ve heard from them that classic is what they really want, so we’re reaching way back into Windows’ cachet of classic tools. That’s right, Program Manager is coming back to Windows 8.”
Program Manager was the primary interface used in the Windows 3.x family of operating systems. Instead of the Start menu’s hierarchical, branching lists, it presented users with a mess of program group icons, each of which opened into another mess of windows, full of additional program icons. “It’s essentially the iOS 5 home screen,” explained Astley. “Seems to work for Apple, so we figured what the hell. Better to be safe than sorry.”
When users boot into the final release of Windows 8 on their PCs and tablets later this year, they’ll be presented with a very simple, logical grid of shortcuts to their favorite programs, in all their 8-bit glory. It was originally designed for 640 x 480 VGA displays, so it should look really sick on an HD retina display. Veteran users will be delighted to see favorite groups, including Main, Accessories, Games, and StartUp. Each group will open a separate window with links to favorite “apps,” including Paint, Minesweeper, and of course, PIF Editor. Clicking icons will launch additional windows containing your apps. Somewhere, under that endless and cluttered pile of windows, the Program Manager will be waiting when you want to switch to another app.
Here’s the early prototype Astley provided:
“Where I can find an app for forearm hair removal?”
Gone are innovative Metro features such as live tiles, gestures, and the Charms bar. The Program Manager was designed for a time when most PCs could only hold fewer than a dozen programs, so the interface doesn’t provide any mechanism for searching. And since sharing information in the days of Program Manager meant copying it onto a floppy disk and walking it down the hall to your coworker’s office, Microsoft has also eliminated any capabilities to post to popular social networks. “Social networks, you mean like the office water cooler?,” responded a confused Astley. “I don’t know about that, but it should be easy to defragment your hard disk weekly with the MS-DOS utilities we’re planning to include.”
“We have realized how just important Internet access has become to customers over the last two decades,” said Astley. “That’s why we’ve included the Network group from Windows for Workgroups. We’re not entirely sure about modern web browsers, but Telnet is pretty reliable and should work just fine for all your USENET groups.”
When asked how the classic Program Manager would translate to a touch-friendly experience for tablet users, Astley responded, “Oh no, we don’t think it’ll be easy to use at all. Oh, hell no. We expect users will probably spend even more time trying to figure out how to separate groups after they accidentally drag their icons into the wrong window. Also, Program Manager was never designed for multi-touch, so we’re just crossing our fingers that it’ll work at all.”
“We’re expecting it to be a total clusterf***,” responded Astley. “But hey, the customer is always right…right?”
Happy April Fools Day, nerds.