Windows 8.1 to bring back Start button - but not the menu
It looks as though Microsoft finally listened to public opinion about Windows 8. The company is launching a new version of its software, and bringing back the start button.
Released last October, Windows 8 was a dramatic departure from the traditional Windows interface. The old desktop familiar to Windows users were still there, but it was hidden behind Modern UI (formerly Metro), a new, shiny tablet-style interface designed to support a new class of devices. The start button, which was always an anchor for windows desktop users, had disappeared.
Microsoft has had problems with negative customer feedback before, but they generally involved new features, such as Clippy, the annoying assistant that was included in Microsoft Office versions 97 to 2003. Windows 8 is perhaps the first Microsoft product that has received broad user criticism for taking something away. Users really missed that Start button.
The evidence? Downloads of software designed to bring back the start menu for the operating system. And, of course, the fact that Microsoft decided to bring it back (sparking internal battles, according to some).
The idea behind Windows 8 was to create an interface worthy of the move to tablet computing. Tablets may have gained enormous traction with the iPad, but this is something that Microsoft had tried to do as early as 2003, when it released a tablet version of its operating system. Sales of Windows tablet PCs didn't really catch on, though, and Apple stole the show seven years later.
In any case, Microsoft has seen fit to redesign the system, today announcing an 8.1 revision that will be available as a preview on June 26. There are various updates in this revision of Windows, which has been expected for some time and codenamed “Blue”, but perhaps the most significant is its rethinking of the start button.
"PCs today are evolving for a world of mobile computing where people interact with their devices through touch, and we designed Windows 8 for this," said Antoine Leblond, corporate VP for windows program management at the firm in a post today. "But we also recognise there are many non-touch devices in use today – especially in the commercial setting. As such we've focused on a number of improvements to ensure easier navigation for people using a mouse and keyboard."
Now, there will be a start 'tip' visible in the taskbar at the bottom left, which reports say will throw up a grid of applications for users to choose from. The old start menu will remain absent, though.
The other big interface change: Windows 8.1 will now enable users to "boot into alternate screens", according to Leblond, which I'm guessing means booting into the desktop. This will appease users who were confused by the jarring differences between Modern UI and the traditional desktop interface, and who want their old desktop back by default. It also risks reducing Modern UI to second-class citizen status for many, although there are signs that it already had this status.
Windows 8.1 will also include a copy of the latest Internet Explorer version, 11, and will thankfully restore the address bar and tabs to the screen view. And the search functions will be enhanced, with a Bing-like interface and an aggregated results view.
Will these changes be enough to make you upgrade to Windows 8?
Danny Bradbury, MSN Tech & Gadgets