Why could you close the Windows 95 Start button?

Raymond Chen’s The Old New Thing – one of the best Windows blogs on the web – has a very interesting item up about a certain bit of behaviour in Windows 95 I was unaware of. Basically, there’s a neat little trick where you can close and move the Start button. It wasn’t a feature, but a bug.

The Old New Thing has tons of these kinds of stories about older (and current) Windows releases, offering a glimpse into the more human side of Microsoft. This story is about the Start button. If you highlighted the button, and then pressed alt + - (alt and hyphen), a system menu would appear, allowing you to both close the Start button (it would vanish) or move it. Here’s some screenshots of this in action.

You may wonder, was this intended functionality? It seems kind of odd that you would be able to close the Start button and make it vanish; very confusing if it were to happen to less technically inclined users, especially in the pre-widespread internet days. As it turns out, though, it was a bug.

“The person who first wrote up the code for the Start button accidentally turned on the WS_SYS­MENU style. If you turn this style on for a child window, Windows assigns your child window a system menu,” Chen explains, “System menus for child windows may sound strange, but they are actually quite normal if you are an MDI application. And the standard hotkey for calling up the system menu of a child window is alt + -.”

Even though this was a bug, Microsoft still wrote a Knowledge Base article about it – but only about moving the button, not about closing it. As you can imagine, this little featurebug can be used for some serious pranking – my high school self would’ve loved to have known about this stuff. As one of the comments on the post reads, “one of my favorite things to do when I was younger was go to stores and close the start menu button on all the demo computers”.

As childish as it sounds, I would’ve totally done the same. Whenever we had to work at the computer back in high school, I spent most of my time trying to circumvent the various administrator-imposed limitations to Windows. Suffice it to say, my high school needed better administrators.

Or a different operating system.


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