The Start Menu, a highly important and desired interface in Windows Explorer, was introduced by Microsoft in 1995 with the release of the revolutionary OS of the time, Windows 95. The start menu is such an important part of Windows, major criticism followed the replacement of the start menu with the much-hated Start Screen in Windows 8. There was so much critizism that Microsoft brought it back in 2015 with the release of Windows 10. In Windows 10, you can remove all of the live tiles to the left of your list of programs to make it truly look like a start menu again.
Start has grown, changed, and even has previously been removed as previously mentioned. There is so much history that we have created a few sections for you to look at below explaining how Start has changed in the past couple of decades.
The Early Days of Start in 9x and NT based OS' (1995-1999)
The start menu was officially released in Windows 95 in August of 1995. The start menu and taskbar are the features that made Windows 95 so revolutionary. These features increased the usability of Windows ten-fold. (No pun intended)
You could actually get such a mode in Windows XP and Vista as well by choosing the Classic Start option.
In its early stages, it only had a list containing Programs, Documents, Help, Run and the Shutdown option. The Start menu quickly become popular because of its ease of use and ability to quickly allow the user to find programs and files without the trouble of having to find them in File Explorer.
The Redesign of Start in Whistler and Windows XP (1999-2006)
Whistler 2250 was the first build to introduce the redesigned start menu. The redesign quickly began to form into the XP Start Menu that we know of today taking around 6 builds to fully develop (though the editor thinks that the one in build 2267 is pretty elegant).
So then XP came along and widened the Start menu to two columns. The first column contains the programs that are most frequently used, and the second column contains Control Panel, Run, Your Personal files, and much more. Unlike the Whistler start menu previously shown, Windows XP shows the name and profile picture instead of only the name of the user. The start menu at this stage still contains the Log Off and Power buttons.
Despite the new redesign, Vista and XP still allowed you to switch back to the classic menu from 9x and 2000.
Improving on Start in Windows Vista and 7 (2006-2012)
5 years after the release of Windows XP and the debut of the redesigned start menu, Vista arrived with the new Aero-based start menu. The general outline of the start menu was the same, but the style of the start menu had changed quite a bit. New options were added such as Devices and Printers, Help and Support, and Default Programs. It still showed your recently used programs and any programs you'd like to add to it. One major difference that people disliked in Vista is the fact that there was a power button there that actually hibernated the PC instead of shutting it down. Due to some backlash over the so-called "fake" power button, however, this was fixed in Windows 7 with text stating that the said button would shut down the computer. Search was also integrated into Vista/7's start menu to allow the user to search for files and programs much, much easier. Search is a feature that is still available today.
Windows 7 introduced Jump Lists, which shows the recent websites and other items that you previously used and/or opened in the Recent Programs list. You also had the ability to pin these items to your start menu as you did with Windows XP.
Windows 8 introduced the much-hated Start screen in Windows 8 and removed the start menu completely (which was surprisingly the first time in history that they had done so). This was done as a movement to make Windows more tablet friendly and to fit in with the Metro design language. This move by Microsoft was criticized heavily.
Many people liked the Start menu so much that they installed replacements like Start8 which provided a Windows 7 or Windows XP styled Start menu and occasionally, replacements were included with new PCs of the time.
Windows 10 finally reintroduced the not-so-long-awaited start menu back into Windows, this time with a twist.
Instead of reintroducing the Windows 7 style start menu, they took a page out of Windows 8's book and introduced live tiles to the right of your program list instead of the previous links to your setting and personal files. Also, a full screen most was introduced to continue to make Windows tablet friendly.
The left column has the same purpose as before, while the right column now serves a different purpose. It consists of the live tiles which were present in Windows 8 and 8.1. You could do everything which you could previously do with the live tiles, such as rearranging and increasing/decreasing the size of the tiles.
The backlash previously mentioned is living proof that the start menu will never die. People like it too much.