Skip to main content


Extract 2 from 'Windows 7 and Vista Explained: A guide for blind and partially sighted users'

Section 8. The Start menu - a closer look

The Start Menu is activated by pressing one of the two WindowsKeys on the keyboard - remember these are located two keys to the left and two to the right of the SpaceBar. The following sections describe the Start Menu and how to use it.

8.1 Opening and closing the Start Menu

The Windows key is a toggle; if the Start Menu is closed, pressing one of the WindowsKeys opens it. If the Start Menu is open, pressing a WindowsKey closes it and takes focus back to whatever you were doing before you opened the Start Menu. This helps you get back to work quickly. As mentioned above, if you press Escape while the Start Menu is open, focus is left on the Start Button, from where you have keyboard access to the Taskbar, Notification Area and Desktop.

If you have a keyboard without the WindowsKey, you open the Start Menu with Ctrl + Escape, and close the Start Menu with Escape. However, using Escape means that focus is left on the Start Button. To switch back to any running program use the "Switch To" command (Alt + Tab, see later Section 33.1 "Switching between windows") or Tab to the Taskbar, arrow to the program icon you want and press Enter.

8.2 The Start Menu - overview

The Start Menu allows you to start working with files and programs on the computer. It contains lists of shortcuts to programs, locations and files. These shortcuts are pointers to the actual items on your hard disk, allowing you to launch them from the Start Menu without having to know exactly where they are physically stored on your hard disk.

It is important to remember that the organization and display of items on your Start Menu does not reflect the organization of programs, locations and files on your hard disk. The Start Menu has new features which aim to make it easy to use and efficient, such as a Search box so that you can find items on it simply by typing their names.

In Windows Vista (but not in Windows 7) you can change to the "Classic" Start Menu, which looks and acts like the Start Menu did in earlier versions of Windows (see later Section 34.2.1 "Classic view").

The Start Menu consists of two vertical columns. The left-hand column is a list of programs, while the right-hand column is a list of tools or places. The default Start Menu is illustrated in Figure 4 (page 58).

Note - for Windows Vista, the two items at the top of the left-hand column by default are for Internet Explorer and Email. These are "pinned", meaning they keep their position no matter how frequently you use them. The right-hand column is also slightly different, the main difference being that the last item is a toolbar - a horizontal row of (for example) a Sleep/Hibernate button and a Lock split button from which various shut down options are available.

Figure 4: Start Menu (see Sections 7 and 8)

Figure 4: Start Menu (see Sections 7 and 8)

Figure 4 description: The Start Button has been activated, which opens the Start Menu above the Start Button, partially covering the desktop. The Start Menu is in two columns. The left-hand column shows the names of the most recently-used programs. Near the bottom of this column is the "All Programs" item which can be used to open a list of all available programs. At the very bottom of the column is the Search box, which has focus when the Start Menu opens. The colors of the left-hand column are black text on a light background. The right-hand column contains shortcuts to various important locations and programs, and the Shut down split button (for information on split buttons see later Section 13.5.7 'Button variations'). The colors of the right-hand column are white text on a dark background. End of description.

8.3 Moving around the Start Menu

It is possible to explore the Start Menu in a number of different ways:

Arrow keys: You can explore items within a column using UpArrow and DownArrow. This moves focus (shown as a highlight) to each item in turn. When you reach the top or bottom of the menu, focus cycles around. You can also use LeftArrow and RightArrow to move between the columns - except when focus is on a split button or menu, when RightArrow opens the sub-menu.

Tab key: From the Search box, successive Tabs take focus to the top of the right column (list of tools starting with account name), then to the bottom of the right column (Shut down split button), to the top of the left column (what is here depends on what programs you've used recently), then to "All Programs" and back to the Search box at the bottom of the left column. Within each of these areas, arrow keys can be used.

First letter navigation: If focus is in the Search box any letter or number pressed will be taken as part of a search term. But if focus is moved from the edit area - without typing a character into it - by pressing either Tab or an arrow key, then pressing the first letter of a menu option will move focus to that menu option. If more than one item begins with the letter, successive taps of the letter will cycle through the items. Note that the Shut down split button is a graphic only, so can't be found in this way - you have to use arrow keys or the Tab key to get to it.

To illustrate this in practice, one way to get to Help and Support is to press Windows, Tab, H. If there are other items starting with H, then focus moves to the first item starting with H, and repeated presses of H will move focus to each item starting with H in turn. Activate the one you require by pressing Enter.

Chapter continues...