A Visual History of the Windows Start Menu

By Kate Knibbs on at

Microsoft debuted Windows 10 today and it has a solid Start Menu. Good job, Windows! But before snazzy Live Tiles, a departure and a return, the Start Menu went through many reinventions. Some went better than others.


Windows 95

A Brief History of the Windows Start Menu

Image via Wikimedia Commons

This is where it all started. Looking at this I can pretty much hear the "OOOOEEHHHAAAU UUHHHGGGHHEEUURHHH" dial-up internet noise. Windows 95 couldn't be more '90s if it was a Pog.

The Start Menu didn't exist before Windows 95. Prior to that, people just used Program Manager like schmucks.

So the bar was set pretty low with 95. And at the time, that was fine. The original Start Menu made it far easier to pull up programs, and it represented Microsoft's forward thinking. Getting to Minesweeper was a snap and life was simple.

Microsoft treated the basic Windows 95 Start Menu with the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude for a while. It went largely unchanged on Windows NT 4.x, Windows 98, Windows 98 SE, Windows Me, and Windows 2000.


Windows XP

A Brief History of the Windows Start Menu

Image via microsoftwindowstechs.com

By the time Windows XP debuted, the Start Menu was in need of a makeover, in looks if nothing else. Microsoft substantially revamped it, providing two columns and more customisation options. One huge improvement: quick access to documents, pictures, and other personal files.


Windows Vista

A Brief History of the Windows Start Menu

Image via www.techiehq.net

For Vista, Microsoft made mostly small adjustments to the two-column template introduced by Windows XP. The Start Menu in vista wasn't bad, but it didn't offer much of anything new. The biggest change during this period was that the Start Menu now expanded depending on what you clicked without obscuring the original options.


Windows 7

A Brief History of the Windows Start Menu

Image via Wikimedia Commons

While Windows 7 successfully fixed some of the problems plaguing Windows Vista. It didn't do much for the Start Menu, which hardly changed. One of the only big differences was that you were no longer able to convert back to the classic Start Menu on Windows 7, so that sucked.

At this point, Microsoft was deep in the Ballmer Years, but the CEO's flamboyance didn't influence the stale Start Menu design.


Windows 8

A Brief History of the Windows Start Menu

Image via www.bleepingcomputer.com

When Windows 8 came along with its grand dreams of unifying tablets and desktops, the Start Menu got its most radical (and controversial) adjustment; it went fullscreen.

The Start Menu became the "Start Screen," and used Live Tiles instead of familiar little bars. It's not like these tiles didn't work on the desktop, but they were so different from the Start Menu people were used to that it caused everything sort of mass hysteria. The recent programs list was relegated to search and power settings got shunted to the infamous Charms bar settings. It was kind of a mess.


Windows 10

A Brief History of the Windows Start Menu

And now here we are. Back to a proper Start Menu. Windows 10's Start Menu combines the basic efficiency that made everyone go bananas for the Windows 95 incarnation, but it also incorporates Live Tiles in a way that makes sense without being offensive. You can go fullscreen if you want to, but it's not required. It's the best of both worlds.

Welcome back pal. You never went anywhere, but we missed you all the same.