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Microsoft may backtrack on Start button in Windows 8

Gregg Keizer | April 18, 2013
Analysts urge company to recant design ideology as nod to customer complaints

Microsoft may recant its Windows 8 design theology, bloggers reported Tuesday, by offering Windows 8 users an option to bypass the "Modern" UI and by restoring the Start button and menu to the beleaguered operating system.

A pair of longtime Microsoft hands, Mary Jo Foley of ZDNet and Tom Warren of The Verge, citing unnamed sources and messages on Windows discussion forums, said Microsoft was considering those tweaks for an upcoming update, called "Windows Blue" by some and "Windows 8.1" by others. The upgrade, the first of a planned faster development and release tempo, is allegedly slated for an October debut.

Warren pointed to evidence that Microsoft might allow boot-to-desktop with Windows 8.1. Foley added that the Redmond, Wash., developer was also pondering a return of the Windows Start button and associated menu.

Analysts welcomed the news, assuming it's accurate.

"I don't see this as a defeat but as a good thing," said Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy. "It's shows you're willing to make changes based on customer feedback."

The tweaks would be a concession for Microsoft. Publicly, the company has repeatedly maintained that its design decisions were correct and its executives have suggested that users would, in time, learn to live without a Start button and grow to appreciate the Start screen.

Today, Microsoft declined to comment on the reports.

But contrary to Microsoft's assertions that the dual user interfaces (UIs) in Windows 8 were "fast and fluid," customers have barraged the company's blogs and the Web in general for more than a year with complaints.

They were most upset about the disappearance of the iconic 17-year-old Start button and menu, but also griped that they weren't able to boot right to the "Classic" user interface (UI), or desktop, rather than first hitting the tile-style Start screen. Both issues have been sores spots among longtime Windows users, and at the top of virtually everyone's most-hated lists.

Even Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen took Windows 8 to task, calling it "puzzling" and "confusing" when last year he urged the company that made him a billionaire to offer an option that set the desktop as the default mode on boot.

And they voted with their wallets, either by staying away from Windows 8 -- and shying from any new PC purchases -- or if forced to the new OS, by supporting a cottage industry of third-party add-ons that restored both boot-to-desktop and the Start button. StarDock, for example, claimed earlier this year that its $5 Start8 add-on had been downloaded 3 million times, with thousands of people trying it daily.

Even with that on the line, StarDock CEO Brad Wardell applauded Microsoft's presumed move. "I hope Microsoft adds back the Start button and a boot to desktop option," said Wardell in an email Tuesday. "While we would miss the short-term revenue boost of Start8, it is important to keep the Windows software ecosystem healthy and growing."


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