106. The Missing Start Menu
The hardest thing to do in a big company is to do something. —Old “Microspeak” saying
This section was the most difficult to write. At least people look back favorably on Clippy. The Windows 8 Start screen lacks any kitsch or sentimental value. It was the wrong design for the product at the wrong time and ultimately my responsibility. This is not the story of the design. There are better people to write about the specifics. This is not a story of ignoring feedback or failing to heed the market, but a story of just what happens when you’re out of degrees of freedom. This is the story of the constraints and the rationale for how we managed a situation that we saw as a quagmire. The good thing about the Start screen was everyone had an opinion. The bad thing was most of those opinions were not favorable.
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The Windows 8 Consumer Preview release went out and received many many initial positive reviews. March 2012 was looking like a good month on our way to a late summer RTM. We were especially pleased that we had made no major strategic changes to the product since the Developer Preview and earned those early reviews with the Consumer Preview.
I had one big concern and the team continued to iterate on the issue. From the very first time we showed the interface, there were questions from the press and online discussions about the “two modes” of Windows 8. That is the “tablet” mode and the “classic” or “desktop” mode. The first time we were asked this was at the All Things D conference by a reporter after our very brief overview of the user experience. The most recent time this came up was in the David Pogue review when he said “Windows 8 seems to favor tablets and phones. On a nontouch computer like a laptop or desktop PC, the beauty and grace of Metro feels like a facade that’s covering up the old Windows. It’s two operating systems to learn instead of one.”