Former Microsoft employee slams Windows 11's Start Menu design

Aug 31, 2022
Windows 11 News

The Windows 11 Start Menu is once again drawing flak from users, this time from a former Microsoft employee. Jensen Harris, who worked at the company for 16 years, slammed the Redmond company for ruining the Windows 11 Start Menu's design.

Former Microsoft employee slams Windows 11's Start Menu design

He posted a series of tweets to share his opinions about his experience with Windows 11.  He termed the Start Menu as the flagship user experience, and says that he was shocked by its design in the latest OS.

Image courtesy: Jensen Harris

Former Microsoft employee criticizes Windows 11's Start Menu design

Microsoft recommends Edge as the default browser wherever possible, even going as far as to changing the default browser a bit complicated. This is something that has been widely criticized among users, the tech community, and even other browser makers.  These ads extend to the Start Menu of the operating system. Harris compared the Edge recommendation in the right panel of the Start Menu's Search interface to the Internet Explorer toolbars from the 2000s.

He said that the Bing Wallpaper app ad at the top of the search result looks like banner ads from the Geocities-era. The ex-Microsoft employee seemed to have been equally appalled by the inconsistent design principles in the UI, particularly mentioning the corners of the ads and buttons, one of which was rounded, another one has a square edge, while a third has a squircle design. That's kind of ironic considering that the rounded corner design was touted by Microsoft as one of Windows 11's design standards.

Harris also questioned the company's intentions about placing ads in the Start Menu, asking whether the amount of money that the wallpaper app makes is worth "cheapening" the user experience. The former Microsoft engineer also criticized the migration of the Start button to the center of the taskbar.

Harris was the Director of Program Management for the Windows User Experience.  So one can imagine he has a lot of insight about the GUI. He recalled the time when Microsoft once prioritized the design of the Start Menu, explaining how his team had created a special ligature for the font used in Windows (Segoe UI). They had to work on aligning the S and t in Start together. But that is no longer the case. Harris highlighted the importance of the UI, while mentioning that many designers whom he worked with are still at Microsoft. The talent is there, but it doesn't seem to be utilized correctly.

I think he is spot on with his arguments, the Start Menu is after all one of the most used features in the OS. But it is barely recognizable if you're coming from an older version of Windows, which in turn ruins the user experience. There are of course other issues in Windows 11, such as the lack of an option to move the Taskbar to the top or the sides of the screen, Taskbar right-click menu, etc.

Users have complained about the Start Menu in Windows 11 ever since the first preview version of the OS was released, but when a person who was formerly in charge of software design at Microsoft gives their opinion about the UI, it hits on a different level. It clearly shows that the company is not focusing on the user experience.

Former Microsoft employee slams Windows 11's Start Menu design
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Former Microsoft employee slams Windows 11's Start Menu design
Jensen Harris, a former engineer at Microsoft, has criticized the Windows 11's Start Menu design.
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  1. stax76 said on September 5, 2022 at 6:44 pm

    Being dependent on the Start menu isn’t ideal because MS has a habit of changing it too often, instead I recommend Flow Launcher.

  2. Ray said on September 1, 2022 at 8:30 pm

    Ashwin, can you link to the tweets Jesse wrote?

  3. Karen said on September 1, 2022 at 3:17 pm

    Employees don’t care what the public wants. They just want to stay employed. If this means ruining a good OS or a formerly good search engine (Google), they run with it.

    1. Mystique said on September 1, 2022 at 3:49 pm


      That’s not always entirely true.
      I work for a company that I am often at odds at but also take it upon myself to be make positive changes and influence the culture in a more positive manner. Often at times its also about leaving things as they were because some changes are not for the best.

      I can imagine designers created many concepts that were vastly better and it seems that this engineer obviously felt strongly about certain things. being a former employee may be an indicator of his displeasure, having said that 16 years isn’t as long as many imagine and is in line with the decline of windows if you will.

      1. Anonymous said on September 2, 2022 at 2:24 am

        Being a former employee does not mean an indicator of displeasure. If that’s the case, he would be voicing his displeasure long time ago after he resigned.

      2. Mystique said on September 2, 2022 at 2:17 pm

        That may be true but how do we know that he didn’t do it behind closed doors. I guess we don’t. Some days you also get a bee in your bonnet, maybe he had to use windows 11 out in the wild and it began to grind his gears and ate away at him which caused him to lash out. Maybe his next door neighbor ran over his cat, maybe he dropped his ice-cream off the top of his cone… I guess we will never know but I appreciate that he said what he said. If you and I say something it means nothing and bears no real weight but if a former employee does it has a little more impact wouldn’t you say.

        I also feel like 16 years doesn’t place him in the region of the good years of windows development either and the lead up to this version of windows was just as bad.

    2. Ivan said on September 1, 2022 at 3:40 pm

      The Windows 10 start menu was the best version of it

  4. Mystique said on September 1, 2022 at 9:03 am

    I will also say that System Explorer (no longer developed and seemingly abandonware) is vastly superior to the built in windows task manager and has been for several years.
    It’s as if Microsoft sees these third party products and says… Hey I think we can copy some of these ideas but make a worse version of them and tout it as a revolution.

  5. Mystique said on September 1, 2022 at 8:55 am

    This is nothing new and reminds me of the situation at Mozilla. The devs are no doubt talented but the management is trash.

    The start menu has been garbage since windows 8 upwards. Do yourselves a favour and install open-shell or pay for software such as StartIsBack/StartAllBack. The problem is that the issues run far deeper than the start menu. The entire UI is shambles and don’t get me started on the control panel and Settings page.

    Here is another example of convoluted trash. Once upon a time you could right click on the system tray and edit the visible icons efficiently with a few three or four clicks tops now you have to go through and entire ordeal just to achieve such a feat.

    People have to deploy privacy tweaking applications to null the general garbage from Microsoft, control the updater, edit the taskbar further beyond just the start menu, fix explorer, the context menu, default application, etc etc.

    Windows is a perpetual alpha/beta project that is more of a service than and OS that one can trust and depend on.

    I totally agree that Microsoft should open the source for the OS and let the community build the OS. I am relatively sure that the build that the community could come up with would be wildly better than anything Microsoft could come up with on their own.

    Tabbed explorer is something they are just now starting to add and its light years behind something like QTTabBar. Could you imagine what the developer of such third party applications could come up with if they were given access to the source code of windows and possibly even paid to work on their product.

    1. ShintoPlasm said on September 2, 2022 at 6:18 pm

      Just, for the love of god, don’t let the GNOME devs get their hands on that source code!

  6. Corky said on September 1, 2022 at 8:33 am

    Microsoft seems to have fallen foul of what most big companies seem to suffer from at some point in time, upper management, marketing, and PR thinking they better know what the customer wants than the actual people working on and designing the product even though most of the time the people working on the product do so because they have a real passion for it.

  7. Shiva said on September 1, 2022 at 8:10 am

    I could even stand the new start menu in the sense that I don’t even open it having fully configured FreeCommander (along with XnView and Everything), but the taskbar…
    Aside from the fact that for a couple of programs I still don’t see compatibility to Win11, if I am going to waste time behind updates where I have to be a guinea pig and where the same programs to patch these embarrassing innovations risks don’t keep up with constant changes, hell no.

    A quick exploration and immediately the downgrade and OpenShell. Let alone if everything goes smoothly, I don’t remember Firefox in dark mode starting with a white flash that gives you a headache and then with the recent updates Internet Explorer wasn’t supposed to get out of the way?

  8. reverie72 said on September 1, 2022 at 7:12 am

    the UI remind me with some configuration my linux installed on my home. its looks like gnome 42 with arc menu extension

  9. Anonymous said on September 1, 2022 at 3:26 am

    As mentioned in article, having talented people won’t help if the higher ups are crap.

    I wonder why many crap people ends up on high position.

  10. Peterc said on August 31, 2022 at 6:12 pm

    Okay, I’m asking this question in good faith: Can anyone point to *anything* in the native UIs of Windows 8, 8.1., 10, or 11 that’s actually more functional, more consistent, more attractive, or easier to use than the native UI of Windows 7?

    I only tried 8 very briefly while casually checking out new laptops in stores, and that’s in fact what prompted me to start switching to cross-platform apps to the extent possible and to begin trialing different Linux distros in earnest (a very worthwhile endeavor for anyone who’s alarmed at the direction Microsoft has been taking in recent versions of Windows). Windows 10 came bundled with my new laptop (whose hardware doesn’t support a “downgrade” to Windows 7), and though I tried using the native Start Menu for a good three months, I couldn’t *stand* it and ended up installing Open-Shell, which I use to this day.

    So again, can anyone point to *anything* in the native UIs of Windows 8, 8.1., 10, or 11 that’s actually more functional, more consistent, more attractive, or easier to use than the native UI of Windows 7? (The only things I can think of are “Task View” and, if you group Taskbar buttons, the ability to cycle through a given program’s open windows by repeatedly clicking on their grouped button.)

    1. Jody Thornton said on September 1, 2022 at 11:23 pm

      Actually – form a DESKTOP perspective, with Classic Shell added on, Windows 8 is actually a lot more like Windows 7. The menus, control panel items, MMC snap-ins and functionality, are almost identical to Windows 7. Once you get past the lack of Aero Glass (never cared for it), centred title bars, and flatter control buttons, it’s really just a flatter but more responsive Windows 7.

      OK so the login screen has that “metro” look to it. I’m over it. And there’s not much additional telemetry gathering in Windows 8 over Windows 7. Now, Windows 8.1 has slightly more.

      As for Windows 10, and now Windows 11, I’m right there with ya! – Can’t stand either of them.

    2. clas said on September 1, 2022 at 7:08 pm

      Yes, You hit the nail right on the head. Win7 was the top. I am on it with a new pc. You can still get win7pro for free. I installed it and have been running easy and fast and cool for 9 months. Never a blue screen, never a lockup or any other problem. Bitdefender free, a good vpn, common sense and regular backups and you are good to go.
      Have control over updates and just laugh at those who always think that newer is better. Oh, and I have had “rounded corners” for a long time. Best of luck to all.

    3. Flip3dee said on August 31, 2022 at 10:47 pm

      The problem is there is none. After Windows 7, everything Microsoft touched turned into trash. We can only restore a functional UI by installing third party tools. Microsoft needs be split up seriously. I would be better if Microsoft open-source Windows that way they can focus on their azure cloud crap, while the community fixes Windows the way it should be.

    4. Clairvaux said on August 31, 2022 at 8:38 pm

      @ Peterc

      I couldn’t really help here, since I’m still on Windows 7… I’ve never ventured further.

    5. Seeprime said on August 31, 2022 at 8:22 pm

      When you right mouse click on the Start button, Windows 8 through 11 bring up a power user menu. Windows 7 is quite scant in comparison. Otherwise, I agree that 7 is more user friendly than its descendants.

      1. Peterc said on August 31, 2022 at 10:09 pm

        @Seeprime: That power-user menu actually looks *pretty damn useful* to me, as I’ve been accessing Event Viewer, Device Manager, Disk Management, and Command Prompt (Admin) moderately often lately and the power-user menu is a very easy way of getting to them. I’m just going to have to remember to use Winkey+x to invoke it. Really appreciate the tip!

    6. Herman Cost said on August 31, 2022 at 7:05 pm

      Glad to help. Obviously telemetry and the recording of your activity for Microsoft’s use is a lot more functional. And you can certainly view many more advertisements (err..I mean suggestions) from Microsoft. And you get to have Bing and Edge forced/pushed on you. Not to mention Office 365. And you are kept more safe via forced updates even if you might not really want them for a year or so until the user-based beta testing is complete. And oh yes, there is a beautifully curated news feed, specially censored by freshly minted and woke graduates from the finest universities to make sure you don’t get any exposure to the wrong kinds of viewpoints. Sure you might have to live with an awful start menu and some of the other downgrades that have taken place in Windows 11. But aren’t all these improvements worth the tradeoff?

      1. Peterc said on August 31, 2022 at 10:17 pm

        @Herman Cost: You’re preaching to the converted! You know, Microsoft should really offer a choice between a Woke news feed and a Deplorable news feed, to get both camps to hate and fight each other instead of focusing on the fact that they’re *all* being profiled and data-mined to an extent that would have made Stasi *green with envy*. You read it here first!

  11. John G. said on August 31, 2022 at 3:39 pm

    The W11’s start menu is such a kind of combined crap that nodoby really understands. Furthermore I wonder when another employee will tell us his truth about the nonsense of the new “dock” taskbar and the new menu options and so forth. Anyway I would prefer that the employee was still working in MS, because it’s really easy to talk being a former one, please guys, be more valiant! It’s ok that you work for the money, but please do stop releasing such this monthly crap. Hopefully, it’s probably that someone else will also explain so many other silly things that are currently making W11 the worst unusable amount of garbage ever done by a billionare company, no respect for the users at all. W10 beats W11 in so much senses that it’s barely a clearly act of BDSM to install it at your computer. Thanks for the article. :]

    1. Anonymous said on September 1, 2022 at 1:23 am

      I understand it. “Give us simple” we said. Microsoft went a few steps too far. I still prefer it to anything with ****** live tiles.

      1. Anonymous said on September 1, 2022 at 8:52 pm

        They are very easy to remove

    2. windowstwelve said on August 31, 2022 at 9:28 pm

      In terms of usefulness and design, Windows 11 is a total failure. It appears adorable to kindergarteners but is completely unusable for work and productivity in the real world. It appears as they employed a group of inexperienced college students to work on Windows. One year later, the most basic features, like expanding the start menu, navigating straight to the all apps section, or turning off the recommended area are all still missing. Let’s not even start a discussion on Windows 11’s two worst features, the new taskbar and right-click menus. They are not worth your time. These inexperienced developers are too busy adding MSN, dumb webized widgets, and other scattered advertisement throughout the UI, that makes the operating system feel malicious.

      Windows 11 is the outcome of Microsoft’s terrible decision to put a snake oil salesman in control of software. Starting with Panos Panay, every single Microsoft employee who worked on Windows 11 needs to be fired.

  12. just an Ed said on August 31, 2022 at 3:21 pm

    Sadly, most companies see their customers as being more property than customer, nowadays.

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