A Weblog by Ben Goodger

July 18, 2006

I generally don’t use the Start menu, because of how slow it becomes, and because it’s a less efficient way of accessing programs than the QuickLaunch area. I was cleaning up the Start Menu on my Windows machine today and grumbling at how installers generally seem to spray crap into here (Firefox included - although I’d like to think we keep the hierarchy fairly minimal and avoid excessive documentation links).

Microsoft has been trying to tackle this in each successive version of Windows by making the root of the Start menu more usable. With Windows XP, your most frequently or recently used programs will show up at the top level. With Windows Vista, it looks like the programs hierarchy will be displayed in the menu using a tree view, which looks like it could be a nice efficiency improvement.

One of the biggest problems is that submenus are very difficult to use - they require a lot more coordination with mouse movement since moving to the wrong place will cause the entire chain to roll up and the user to have to begin navigation all over again.

For some reason, Linux desktops seem fascinated with this model. Worse, they impose the best that highly intelligent organizational skills can do - they group programs into folders based on function.¬†This screenshot of Freespire¬†shows how many levels in you have to go to get to OpenOffice. Do the people that build these structures ever actually use them? The answer is probably no! (consider how easy it is to launch things from the command line…)

Just throwing a GUI onto something doesn’t make it usable. In fact, it can make it more confusing. I wish some of the mainstream distributions would experiment with some new methods of launch applications aside from these baroque menu hierarchies…


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