Windows Confidential

A Look at the Evolution of Shut Down on the Start Menu

Raymond Chen

In Windows 95, Shut Down was a menu option on the Start menu, giving stand-up comics joke fodder for years. (For the record, Shut Down is on the Start menu because during usability testing, when we asked people to shut down the computer, the first thing they did was click on the Start button. If that’s where people look for the Shut Down option, then that’s where we’ll put it.) In Windows 95, clicking Shut Down displayed a dialog of shutdown options.

When Windows XP redesigned the Start menu, the Shut Down option was retained as the last item on the Start menu, but it was renamed to Turn Off Computer. The underlying behavior remained unchanged, however. Clicking on Turn Off Computer called up a dialog of shutdown options as before.

Windows Vista got rid of the extra click and provided a one-click Power button on the Start menu, but with a flyout menu providing additional shutdown options if you didn’t like the default behavior. And if you didn’t like the default behavior, you could change it from the Power Options control panel.

A study of usage data and other user feedback revealed that this simplification actually created confusion. The vast majority of the time users were opening the menu to shut down rather than using the big friendly button, even if the action they chose matched what the button would have done anyway.

Based on this discovery, Windows 7 made a seemingly superficial but actually quite significant change to the Power button: Instead of an ambiguous icon, the Start menu now displays text that says what pushing the button will do. This addresses one reason why people go for the flyout: because they don’t know what the Power button will do! If you’re not satisfied with the action listed on the Power button, you can still open the flyout menu to see the other available options.

Note that I describe the flyout menu as showing the other available options. The option that duplicates the Power button is not on the flyout. This illustrates another lesson learned from years of user research: If there’s more than one way of doing something, users often get confused about which method they should use. Imagine a light switch with three positions: On, Off and Off. Many people would say, “Why are there two positions labeled Off? Is one of them more off than the other one? Is one of them for when I’m turning the light off for a short time, and the other when I’m turning the light off for a long time? There must be a difference between them; otherwise, why would they have two of them?”

Oh, and if you want to change what the Start menu Power button does on Windows 7, you can customize that from the Start menu Properties dialog. This illustrates a third small change to the Power button on the Start menu: Instead of putting the configuration of the Power button in the hard-to-find Power Options control panel—home to where you can customize what the computer does when you perform any of the various shutdown-ish behaviors—the configuration for the Start menu Power button is on the Start menu itself. If you think like a geek, the Power Options control panel is the logical place for configuring the Power button on the Start menu, because that’s where you control the computer’s power management decisions. However, most people don’t think like geeks, and the Start menu Properties is a location users are much more likely to stumble across when looking to configure the button.

In a sense, we relearned the lesson from Windows 95: put a setting in the place where users look for it.

Raymond Chens Web site, The Old New Thing, and identically titled book (Addison-Wesley, 2007) deal with Windows history, Win32 programming and microwave popcorn.