Windows 11's moving Start button messes with muscle memory and more
In many regards, the move from Windows 10 to Windows 11 is not a massive one. While there are undeniably a lot of changes and additions -- both visible and under the hood -- the operating system still looks, feels and functions much as it has done for years.
But while it may seem that there's not much to learn, there are still elements of friction that gripe in Windows 11. The redesigned context menu is a good case in point, dividing users into those who love it and those who hate it. And then there is the Start menu. Of course, there is a new look here, but that's not the problem.
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Since the arrival of the Start menu over a quarter of a century ago, the Start button used to access it has been located to the left-hand side of the taskbar. 25 years plus is a long time to build up muscle memory, but in moving the Start button to the center of the taskbar in Windows 11, Microsoft has seemingly ignored this in bringing the Start menu "front and center".
I've been using Windows 11 since the first preview build was made available, and I've been happy enough with it to install it as my main operating system on my office PC. In terms of bugs, the only thing I've encountered is constant crashes from Skype, but the Start button positioning is irritating.
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Now, I'll be honest, this is not a make-or-break issue for me. It's not something that annoys me enough to shun Windows 11. Perhaps the reason for this is that I don't use the Start menu all that much; I never have.
But whenever I do, I am reminded that it has moved. I'm sure I'll get used to it being centered, but my cursor still automatically darts to the lower left of the screen to hunt down the Start button. But it's not there. Because it's now centered. Except it's not. The Start menu is centered, but not the Start button.
And this brings me on to my more serious complaint.
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The muscle memory I've built up over the years can, of course, be retrained. If an interface element relocates, I can get used to its new position. But the problem is that the Start button is not in a fixed position.
The reason for this is that the contents of the taskbar -- by which I mean the Start button, any pinned apps, and the icons for any open apps or windows -- is what is centered. Use a desktop shortcut or a Start menu entry to open an app which is not already in the taskbar, and a new icon will added to the right hand side, and everything will shift to the left to accommodate it. This means that the Start button has now moved to a new position.
The change in position from the addition of a single taskbar button may be small, but it's something that messes with the user experience. Open several apps which do not have pinned icons, and the migration of the Start menu can be quite marked.
See also: Windows 11 could spell the end of the Blue Screen of Death
So, what's the solution? It's difficult to say, really. The only way to (pretty much) guarantee the Start button will stay in the same place is to pin every app I need to the taskbar -- but of course there will always be something that is overlooked that requires a trip to the Start menu.
Another option would be to use the Windows key on my keyboard to open the Start menu. This is a solution, but it doesn't feel like a good solution.
Or I could just avoid the Start menu all together -- but this is hard when it comes to doing things like accessing Settings and shutting down Windows.
Ah well... put up and shut up, perhaps?
It has been pointed out that I could simply head to Taskbar Settings and opt to have everything left-aligned. I was going to curtly respond that not only did I know this, but point out that I'd written an article to this effect -- and then I realized I hadn't actually written said article in the end!
Anyway, I am aware of the ability to get things back to how they were in previous versions of Windows, but that's not really the point.
With this article I was meaning to draw attention to the frankly odd design and UX decisions made by Microsoft in moving the Start button. Having a frequently used control move around the screen is… well… it's unusual. I'm struggling to think of another instance of it happening.
Yes, I can move the Start button back to the left, but this is not how Microsoft thinks I should be using it. The company would prefer that I have it sort of centered in the taskbar but have it shift left and right throughout the day.
It's easy to forget that while readers of BetaNews are highly computer literate, the vast majority of computer users are not. I do not have stats to hand to back up this idea, but I would be willing to bet that most Windows users change no settings at all, beyond perhaps slapping a new desktop image in place. That means that most people are going to be using -- or battling with – a migrating Start button. It just strikes me as a very odd move by Microsoft. It introduces unnecessary uncertainty.