I've learned that Microsoft will replace the Start menu in Whistler, the follow-up to Windows 2000, with options called the "Start Panel" and "Start Page." Each is designed to provide a friendlier front-end to the programs and services on your system. The Start Panel, which will be configurable from the Start and Taskbar Properties dialog in Whistler, is hidden in the Whistler Preview that was given to testers last week, but it can be easily enabled and used in place of the standard Start menu if desired. Here's a screenshot of this new feature:


The Start Page, meanwhile, is an advanced Active Desktop that resembles early design ideas for Neptune, the aborted consumer Windows project that was merged into Whistler late last year. It consolidates often-accessed programs, documents, and other files into an attractive desktop backdrop. The following image is a mock-up of the Start Page in the Whistler Preview that includes the types of elements we're likely to see in a future release:

In the Whistler Preview, the hidden Start Panel is approximately twice as wide as the Start menu and features two columns of options with "Log Off" and "Turn off computer" choices at the top. The first column features large icons for Internet Explorer and the configured email application, followed by a list of the most recently accessed applications. A "More Programs" option opens a standard Start menu. In the second column, called "My Places," Microsoft has created links for common system locations and utilities. The first section includes My Documents, My Pictures, and My Music, while the second one contains My Computer, My Network Places, and Network and Dial-up Connections. At the bottom of the second column are Control Panel, Help + Support, Search, and Run. The Active Desktop Start Page includes similar options, with prominent buttons for the Internet, Email, and Search. A toolbar along the bottom provides options for logging off, turning off the computer, and frequently-accessed locations on the system.

Like many of the new user interface enhancements in Whistler, the Start Panel and Start Page use Dynamic HTML (DHTML) instead of the standard Win32-based UI elements found in earlier versions of Windows. Whistler will include other DHTML applications as well, such as a simplified, DHTML-based Control Panel and, in the Server edition, an Administrative Tools Home Page.

Thanks to Nate Mook for tipping me off to the Whistler Start Page. Nate's report about this technology is available on the Beta News Web site