Windows 8.1 – Start button: Yes; Start Menu: No

 Windows 8.1 Start Button

Although Microsoft has said nothing officially long-time Microsoft watchers Mary Jo Foley and Paul Thurrott have both been singing from the same song sheet in the last 24 hours claiming confirmation from sources that while the Start button will return the Start menu is dead.

If it’s true I can only shake my head in disbelief. When you’ve got market analysts IDC openly blaming Windows 8 for the double-digit collapse in PC sales in the first quarter of 2013 you’d think it’d be time to admit Modern UI hasn’t been the brilliant success Microsoft expected.

The word is however that Windows 8.1 will deliver a Start button that when clicked will launch the new Start screen not a traditional menu. There’ll be the option to launch Modern UI’s ‘All Apps’ screen but that’s as close as you’ll get to a Windows 7-style Start menu.


Better or worse?

Frankly if it comes to pass I can’t think of a more ridiculous setup. The Start button (or the lack of it) became the symbol of all things users didn’t like about Windows 8. Those who love Modern UI have no trouble launching or using it as it stands so for them a Start button will be little more than quaint. No it’s those who want – even need – the traditional interface that have struggled to come to terms with what Windows has become. So providing a Frankenstein Start button that simply launches the interface those users would rather forget isn’t the way you win friends influence people or rebuild PC sales.

But it doesn’t end there. Right now fixing the Start button/menu issue in Windows 8 is actually dead-easy – you just install Classic Shell and you get an extremely functional Start button/menu replacement. But the real question is how will Classic Shell Start8 and other Start menu replacement apps cope with Windows 8.1? Will we be now stuck with two Start buttons? Can the Microsoft button be turned off or hacked to launch the Classic Shell start menu instead of the Modern UI Start screen? These are questions that still need answering.

The good news is that at least Windows 8.1 will have an option called ‘Boot to Desktop’. That said apps like Classic Shell already have this ability to bypass Modern UI. Also ‘Boot to Desktop’ will be of cold comfort if clicking the Start button just takes you back into the new interface regardless.

There’s a simple solution to all of this – it’s called ‘giving users what they want’. Stop corralling users into a one-size-fits-all setup and give them the choice of Modern UI or the traditional Start menu. If Classic Shell can dock desktop and Metro apps plus still let Modern UI do its thing surely Microsoft can figure it out.

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